A construction crew made an unexpected discovery while remodelling the grounds surrounding the Nova Scotia legislature last summer. While installing a new electrical system, a backhoe struck what appeared to be bedrock but turned out to be something entirely different.
“It was a total surprise to the archaeologists and the construction crew,” April MacIntyre, principal archaeologist, told CBC.
“What we discovered was an open, dry-stone-laid chamber with a semicircular, vaulted-type roof,” she added.
The chamber is located near the corner of Prince and Hollis streets in front of the Joseph Howe statue.
MacIntyre recently filed a report with the government, detailing her findings. She characterized the mysterious vault as “a subterranean stone-walled feature measuring approximately six metres north-south by four metres east-west and approximately three metres high to the top of the silt that has collected on the floor.”
Due to safety reasons, remote cameras were used to explore the chamber.
The origin of the vault, which is approximately the size of a living room, is unknown despite its high-profile location. MacIntyre researched the area and was unable to find any records or maps with information about the chamber.
She was able to date the roof to the late 18th century or early 19th century and noted in her report that a similar structure—an underground store—was built in the late 1790s at Fort Anne in Annapolis Royal, N.S.
Archaeologists found over 1,500 objects on the work site, including glass and pottery pieces. They were able to assemble some of the fragments into partially complete bowls, goblets and basins. Experts also uncovered a well, coal chute, stone walls, storm drains, and drain pipes.
The chamber’s entrance has since been closed, but MacIntyre hopes the government will further examine the area using radar and that additional archeological excavation can take place.
The government is reviewing the report, and it’s unclear what the next steps will be.
In the future, the parking lot on the side of the building will be turned into a park, and MacIntyre hopes she’ll be allowed to examine the land during the process. She believes a buried stone enclosure wall is linked to either the governor’s cottage or governor’s mansion, which were some of Halifax’s most important building when the city was founded.