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Centuries-old Halifax house completes its journey to new location

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HALIFAX - A 249-year-old Halifax home considered to be one of the city's oldest crept into its final resting place Sunday after a painstaking and delicate two-day journey through the winding streets of the city's downtown.

Dozens of people braved the bitter cold to watch Morris House arrive at its new home on a lot on the corner of Creighton and Charles streets Sunday afternoon.

Slated for demolition in 2009, the house was saved by the Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia — which bought the structure for one dollar and partnered with housing groups and the Ecology Action Centre to find it a new lot in the city's north end.

The grey-shingled, historic building is slated for renovation and will eventually become a home for nine young people who have experienced difficulties finding housing.

"It's very emotional, a little overwhelming," Kim Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Ecology Action Centre, said just after watching the structure roll onto the lot — the culmination of a three-year effort to save the house.

"It was pretty surreal seeing it."

A committee that included the Ecology Action Centre, Metro Non-Profit Housing Association and the ARK youth centre partnered to raise $27,000 for the move, and to provide the new purpose as affordable housing.

Morris House droned past some of the city's most famous landmarks during its journey over the weekend, including the historic clock tower and Citadel Hill.

But the adventure didn't come without its complications.

Inside, bricks and mortar fill in the space between the wooden beams — a technique called brick nogging — making the structure far heavier than modern housing of similar dimensions.

During the first phase of the move early Saturday morning, the moving company had to call in two front-end loaders to give an added push for the heavy house to make it up the city's steep Sackville Street.

On Sunday, crews placed wooden boards over robust fibre optic cables so that the house could manoeuvre over the planks and into its designated spot. Nova Scotia Power utility crews had moved utility lines to permit the final stages of the move.

The driver of the tractor-trailer towing the structure tooted his horn just after the house crept over the delicate wiring and into the lot. Onlookers clapped and cheered as crew members — wearing oversized smiles — shook hands in celebration.

"We move a lot of big houses and it's not the biggest job, but it was an interesting job," said Sheldon Rushton of S. Rushton Construction, the company tasked with moving the house. "It feels good to have it there now and be part of the history.

"It's one of the oldest houses in Halifax and we helped save it."

As Catriona MacEachern gawked at the spectacle, she put herself in a centuries-old Halifax and imagined the history of the house.

"I think of the guys... that built (the house) and what might they think of all of this and how they didn't have any wires overhead or otherwise to worry about," said MacEachern, laughing.

"That's quite amazing to think of who was in the neighbourhood and the cows that would have been going up and down the street rather than these trucks and people."

Halifax resident Laura Whittaker said she had been tracking the move since it embarked on its expedition from the city's south end Saturday morning.

"We wanted to see how it would be done," said Whittaker. "It's interesting how old it is and that they're taking the time to relocate it."

A study by Mount Allison University has estimated that Morris House was built in 1764 — just 15 years after the city was founded.

The researchers credit a cooper named Dennis Heffernan as the first owner, and say it was used as an office by four generations of the Morris family, a dynasty of chief surveyors of Nova Scotia.

Later this week, the process of moving the house onto fresh foundation will begin, said Rushton.

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