The Legacy of Prince Edward in Halifax, 1794-1800

The rotunda on the Bedford Highway is an eye-catching building for its round shape and Classical features. It's one of several landmarks in the Halifax area credited to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, and the only surviving building from the Prince's country retreat on the Bedford Basin. His estate was as grand as it was enchanting, and much of it an ode to his French mistress, Julie.

On May 10th, 1794, His Royal Highness, Prince Edward, future father of Queen Victoria, and Major General in the British army, arrived in Halifax from St. Kitts under a twenty-one-gun salute. His mistress, Madame Julie de Saint Laurent, left England in July and sailed into the harbour on the Westmorland packet on August 19th. The Prince had a penchant and a talent for landscape enhancement as well as architectural design. The first improvement he made was to Fort George, or Citadel Hill: he tore down the vulnerable old stockade that skulked there, and then he sliced fifteen feet from the top of the hill, using the excavated earth and rocks to fill hollows in the slope. On the flat plane this created, the Prince built a rectangular earthen fort whose ramparts, and the surrounding ditch, carved a harsh geometry. On each corner, he erected a stone tower, which offered viable protection to the town. 

On the north flank of the hill, the Prince built a spacious and elegant wooden mansion. Its main entrance was set off by a wide portico supported by Corinthian columns, which faced the marshy common on the west side. Running down to Cogswell Street on the north slope was a large ornamental garden and a carriage drive with an entranceway complimented on either side by a post holding a large, ornate copper lantern. As the lanterns' flames shivered in the night air, the hill was garlanded with pantomime gaiety. 

The mansion was the scene of many formal levees, dinner parties, and gay balls attended by gallant army and navy officers, loyal colonial officials, and gentry of the town. From the portico, the Prince and his guests had pleasing prospects of the Halifax landscape, as well as the harbour. With these innovations, the Prince had set the stage for his legacy – the cultural expression of Halifax. The most important aspect of that expression is architecture, and the Prince's architecture is distinguished by its character. He loved the Classical Palladian style, and his legacy can be seen in the Old Town Clock, the Martello tower in Point Pleasant Park, and St. George's Church, with its Rotunda – a reverend example. Over the years, the Prince's architectural eccentricity became both a symbol and a monument to the culture of Halifax. However, the most imposing of all Edward's creations was his country retreat, Prince's Lodge, which had a wide view of the Bedford Basin. The retreat actually belonged to Lieutenant Governor Wentworth, who had built a small villa there. A year after he arrived, the Prince leased the property and remodelled the villa and turned it into a spacious two-story residence with long, narrow windows and a double-decked portico after the Italian style. It was constructed of wood, and inside was a huge impressive ballroom and a large, richly decorated hall used for levees. The rooms were furnished with elegant mahogany furniture, some displayed delicate painted china with basketwork rims, and all were heated by handsome white marble fireplaces. Adorning the wall spaces between windows stood tall, pier-glass mirrors. Throughout the adjacent woods was a romantic footpath that continuously twisted and turned as it spelled out the name 'Julie' – romantic not only for its imaginative fancy but also for the ornamental Chinese Pagodas, with strings of copper bells chiming softly in the breeze, that were hidden among trees along the way. There were also tiny shelters with seats and little strips of glass that hung from the eaves, glittering in the bright sun, tinkling softly and musically with each breath of air as if in open invitation to sit down. But the outstanding feature of this secret garden was a brook, diverted from a nearby stream, which tumbled over a series of mini waterfalls into a lake, the natural shape of which had been altered into that of a heart as a mark of Edward's love for the mysterious Julie. And, of course, there was the round music pavilion overlooking the basin. The whole estate, embedded throughout with luscious flower gardens, looked like an enchanted forest.