This is the Jubilee House.
We’re approaching Year Seven of our seven month project to restore this Tudor revival “missing link” mansion in Halifax. Everything is taking longer and costing more than I ever possibly imagined… and I have a pretty good imagination.
More Resurrection than restoration. The Tudor design style bridges the gap between Victorian and Craftsman Halifax residential architecture as well as the gap between practical common sense and pure passion. I’ve been awestruck and mesmerized by this house since I was a kid. Now its resurrection is our family’s daily life.
We financed the project by mining for gold under the vinyl siding of three other Halifax houses. It’s an incredible and rewarding experience.
Restoring an old house as a couple can be a challenge that actually strengthens a marriage and gives it a stronger sense of purpose… once the dust settles. Designing, decorating, and discovering; building is believing. We’ve taken on this project as we’re also building a new blended family.
Wood and Work
The Jubilee House has the kind of original woodwork old house lovers only dream about. In this series we’ll share what it’s like to live with it everyday in an active rough and tumble family life, along with intimate before and after details of our often unintentionally hilarious restoration and decorating adventures.
It’s actually a concrete house
The Jubilee House is a Halifax landmark at the corner of Jubilee and Beech. It was built about 100 years ago by a well-known Halifax shipping family, the Mathers. The house builder was William Benjamin Sandford a much admired masonry contractor who lived just up on Walnut Street.
The Mathers’ ships carpenters added some unique features to this Tudor revival mansion including built in cabinetry that anticipated the Craftsman home style and astonishing round rooms upstairs and down. The home was eventually sold to the Keiths a prominent Halifax family and for the second half to the 20th century belonged to Boufie Chisholm (nee Keith) who was a well known community activist and philanthropist. She used the house for many public events and in support of charitable causes including the Children’s Help Line and the earliest Designer Showcases in Halifax in support of local trades.
The house was open so much that there are few in the city above a certain age who haven’t been in the house on one occasion or another or at least noted the goings and doings.
Secrets wait and whisper
Despite its altruistic uses the house is steeped in rumour, scandal, and gossip that the older neighbours are always more than happy to share with us.
I first saw the Jubilee House on a drive through the city with my friends from Waverley in 1980. Though we saw many fabulous historic houses on that day The Jubilee House stuck with me for years. When I started at Dal the house was always a ground marker for where I was in that part of the city.
I always just wondered who lives there and what kind of life must they have.
I lived in the neighbourhood through the 80’s and 90’s, finally had a family and bought our first house on Allan St. with some money my grandmother had saved for a downpayment. $2000! More money than I had ever imagined.
I worked on the Allan St. house for 10 years and when I sold it I had enough for the downpayment on the house at the corner of Oxford and Jubilee. Only a block away from my dream house I joked.
The Oxford and Jubilee property was a mess. It took two years to get the thing restored to its original shape, but it had a great history as a billet house for pilots and nurses in the war and was a very satisfying project.
Through this time I noticed the Jubilee House was empty for a while, then for sale. It was crushing because I was in the middle of this project and didn’t have the money to even think about it.
It was bought by a developer who immediately entered into a push and pull with the city about tearing it down and building six condos on the property.
I spoke to the city and wrote letters about the historic and neighbourhood defining value of the house. But it was too late. The developer smashed down the outbuildings and bulldozed around the property trying to get the zoning redone.
Eventually a couple years went by with the house empty and falling into disrepair… the edge of unfixable.
Then on a very cold new year’s day in 2010 a real estate agent who I had lamented to about the property stopped in front of our house when I was packing up the kids for a trip to grandma’s. She said the developer was stuck for cash and would likely take an offer.
I worked out what I thought I could get for the Oxford and Jubilee house, now finished, and did the math. If I was careful I could make it work if he would discount the value of the Jubilee house to zero and sell it at just the lot price.
He did it ! In the winter of 2010 we moved from a very nice property to one that had no running water, electricity or proper plumbing. There was a giant hole in the roof, one corner of the house had collapsed a little, and the night before we closed the deal a pipe broke and flooded the main entryway destroying woodwork and floors.
But still I was happy!
We got down to work finding the frozen pipes that broke, getting the water restored, pulling the old knob and tube wiring, installing the new furnace, and cleaning up the mess.
Restoration / Resurrection
It took about six months to get all the systems working and basic restoration done. Most of the work was about taking out bad renovations that had been done since the owner died. It had further been divided up into a kind of rooming house layout with walls even dividing bathrooms. We learned a lot about the house and the original owners in the process.
There are still major jobs to be done: the windows need to be restored, the gutter system which is copper and lead, and some of the plaster needs to be stabilized. But it’s a surprisingly comfy, easy home to live in and all the rooms are working and serving a purpose. The basement has become a classic jam space and the attic a little apartment for the kids… maybe one day an office.
This winter the big projects have been landscaping the back yard and a new vintage brick patterned driveway which you can read about as the project progresses in a race against winter time.
Today one of the upstairs rooms has been transformed into a nursery for Dot with some unique features that Amanda will share.
This past spring Amanda and I exchanged wedding vows in the public parlour rooms. We’ll be sharing our experiences hosting events and occasions here in upcoming series.
I love this place and I’m happy to be able to say I really do own my dream house. We’ll be sharing the experience of how we created value by not renovating but by stripping away the renovations of others.
It took 20 years of work on other houses, and more than a little bit of wrangling and risk, but now, when I walk down Jubilee I don’t have to wonder who lives there and what they do. We have a long list of resto-repairs that I need to get to!
From woodwork to housework, Amanda and I are looking forward to sharing our experiences caring for this old house.