The building now known as Henry House was constructed between 1834 and 1835 for Halifax stonemason, land owner, and businessman, John Metzler. The two-and-a-half story ironstone house has notable architectural features: granite façade, raised foundation, front entrance off to one side, symmetrical windows, and pronounced corner quoins. It is a perfect example of the Halifax House style popular in the early nineteenth-century Halifax as well as several cities and towns in British North America. While it was occupied by several elite Haligonians for over a century, the house is now named for its most influential resident, William Alexander Henry (1816-1888).
William Alexander Henry was born in Halifax but raised in Antigonish. There Henry studied law, and in 1840, he was admitted to the Nova Scotia Bar. That same year, Henry became involved in politics, winning a seat in the Provincial House of Assembly as the Liberal member for Antigonish. Henry’s political life, while long, had its ups and downs. He lost his seat in 1843, regained it in 1847, became Solicitor General in 1854, Provincial Secretary in 1856, and switched to the Conservative Party in 1859. By 1864, Henry was appointed Attorney General of Nova Scotia.
In September of that same year, Henry attended the Charlottetown Conference, which shaped his view of Canadian confederation. Henry returned home an ardent supporter of uniting the colonies and was vocal about the benefits he believed it would bring. He went on to attend both Conferences in Quebec and London, England, where he helped draft the British North American Act. While some Nova Scotians supported confederation, Henry’s riding of Antigonish was vehemently opposed to it. As a result, Henry lost the Antigonish seat to an anti-Confederate in Canada’s first federal election in 1867. After returning to the law, Henry was elected Mayor of Halifax in 1870. In 1875, he was one of the first judges appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada.
Henry, his second wife, Christianna, and their eight children were tenants in John Metzler’s house between 1854 and 1864. While he had yet to achieve the things for which he is best known, William Alexander Henry remains the house’s most influential resident, which is why it now bears his name. Henry House continues to have cultural and historical value in Halifax, and in 1969, it was named a National Historic Site of Canada.