The building currently home to the Truro branch of the Colchester East Hants Public Library was originally a teacher training school – the Provincial Normal School, which later changed its name to the Provincial Normal College (1909) and then the Nova Scotia Normal College (1951). The school was established between Prince and Victoria Streets in 1855, and in 1857, a Model School was opened next door where teachers in training could practice. In 1878, the original school building was replaced with the brick building that still stands today. For 83 years, teachers were trained in that building, until 1961 when the school moved to a new campus on Arthur Street and was renamed the Nova Scotia Teachers College.
The Provincial Normal School was designed by German-Canadian Architect, Henry Frederick Busch (1826-1902), who practiced in Halifax from 1862 until his death in 1902. The three-storey brick building was designed in the Second Empire Style and constructed between 1877 and 1888. This architectural style, which was popular during the second half of the nineteenth century, was influenced by French Renaissance architecture. It is characterized by the mansard roof, symmetrical features, heavy ornamentation, unpainted brickwork, and Palladian-style windows. Once complete, the building quickly became an architectural landmark in Truro. In 1900, the Science Building was erected next door on Young Street, where teachers took science-related classes.
In June of 1951, the tower of the building was struck by lightning during a storm and destroyed. Following the relocation of the Normal College in 1961, the building housed the community’s YMCA and then a boxing club. From 1982 to 1983, the building continued to function as the YMCA playschool and a meeting place for other organizations, such as La Leche League.
In 2014, after standing vacant for several years, the Town of Truro decided to transform the building to accommodate the new Colchester East-Hants Regional Library. The building was rehabilitated by McKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects and an addition was constructed. The new sustainable design was integrated with the old building to create a space that both met the contemporary library’s needs and simultaneously preserved the heritage-registered property. The new library was completed in May 2016 and serves as a focal point for the civic square in front. The interchangeable public space is used as a skating rink in the winter and a space for concerts and events during the summer. In the evening, coloured spotlights highlight the building’s features. The revamped public building is a point of pride for many Truronians.
Not only is the building iconic in Truro, but the legacy of the Normal College is widespread. For many years, it was the only school of its kind in Nova Scotia. It produced many influential teachers, and many prominent people attended the school such as John Stewart, a physician who was considered “The Pioneer of Modern Medicine in Nova Scotia” for introducing antisepsis to the province during WWI. Other notable attendees include Giantess Anna Swan (1846-1888) and Benjamin Christmas, the first Mi’kmaw to graduate from the Normal School.