Dalhousie was founded as a non-denominational college in 1818, and for almost 70 years classes were held in a building on the Grand Parade at Duke and Barrington Streets (today the site of Halifax City Hall). By 1885, Dalhousie had outgrown its original downtown home. After securing donations and negotiating a new location with the city of Halifax, it was decided that the site of the new campus would be at the foot of Carleton Street and bordering Morris Street.
In September 1887, the new Dalhousie College opened its doors. The new building was central, yet separated from the bustle of downtown, and with ample open space around it, athletic activities and future expansion would now be possible. For several years it was simply known as the new Dalhousie College building. In 1919, it was renamed the Forrest Building after Rev. John Forrest, Dalhousie's third President.
The building was designed by architect J.G. Dumaresq, in a style unique among Canadian universities at the time. The three-storey brick building was designed as a basic beginning, with future additions figuring in Dumaresq's original plans. The central tower was 145 feet high, only ten feet lower than the Citadel. The interior was spacious and bright, a great improvement over the old building, and featured an arts library of 1400 square feet and a museum, both convertible in classrooms.
Between 1887 and 1914, the Forrest Building was the only Dalhousie building. As the university expanded in the early 20th century, the Forrest Building anchored the Carleton Campus, which today houses the faculties of dentistry, medicine, and other health professions, and is adjacent to the IWK Health Centre and the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre.
The Forrest Building has undergone extensive renovations and refurbishments over the years, most recently a significant exterior restoration project that began in 2002 and saw work done to the brick, windows, soffits (the undersides of eaves and other exterior features), gutters, dormers, and the shingle roof. The Forrest Building is currently home to the Nursing, Physiotherapy, and Occupational Therapy programs.