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Remembering Phil Pacey

The death of Phil Pacey was announced today.  It was announced on CBC Radio 1 at 7.30 am, on the local news.

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Phil Pacey, along with his wife Betty, fought for the preservation of built heritage in Nova Scotia for at least the last 30 years.  Phil was a founder of Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia, a province-wide organization which for years has led the only serious opposition to rapacious developers and their lackeys in the provincial government and municipalities who green-lighted the destruction of many of our heritage buildings.   

In his academic career, Phil was a professor in the Chemistry Department at Dalhousie University. After he retired about a decade ago, he and Betty spent almost all their time writing, lobbying HRM council and building a network of people in Nova Scotia who care about preserving buildings, vistas and liveability in our cities and towns. And I was one of his recruits.

He, with Heritage Trust, fought the destruction of architectural jewels in Halifax—notably CBC Radio’s Art Deco building across from the Public Gardens. We fought the Twisted Sisters project.  We fought for lower buildings and against Halifax becoming a skyscraper city.

In the last few years, Phil, the Heritage Trust and the Save the View Campaign actively opposed the building of the new Nova Centre – the city’s new convention centre.  Though ultimately unsuccessful in stopping its construction, Phil persisted in opposing the construction of the unnecessary new centre. Because of him there was hardly a resident of HRM who was not  aware of the boondoggle of the new trade centre.

Today almost everyone who visits or lives in Halifax can see the problem of this gargantuan, over-sized hulk that blocks the public’s view from Citadel Hill, and which has eaten up at least one downtown street. The Nova Centre, though still unfinished, has driven many small businesses to sue the city, as the Nova Centre’s perpetual construction woes have all but driven away the clientele of small restaurants and bars’ near Argyle St. and put others out of business.

I remember Phil best from our polling in supermarket parking lots and on street corners throughout Halifax one winter.  He and I asked hundreds of residents if they supported public financial support for the Nova Centre.  At this point, three levels of government (including the province’s then-NDP government) prepared to turn over more than $150 million to a private developer to build the Nova Centre.  

Our polls showed that Nova Scotians did not want to put their money into a private developer’s hands – but the building went ahead.  In late 2010, CCPA-NS published Chris Majka’s excellent article Convention Centre in NS – Economic Wellspring or Bottomless Pit?” Only now do we see the results –the Nova Centre is neither finished nor is it even needed.  When told the Nova Centre was behind schedule –more than 7 conventions scheduled for 2017, willingly agreed to move to the 30 year old  existing convention centre. No problem at all.

Finally, Phil and Betty were strong proponents of Designated Heritage Districts.  With their help, Schmidtville, where I live, will soon get that status.

There is far more to say:  Phil was a good friend, who cared passionately about heritage and making the city more liveable for all.   Phil was a national treasure.  He deserves far more than this short tribute.

Judy Haiven is a longstanding member and former executive member of Nova Scotia’s Heritage Trust. She read this tribute to the more than 200 people who attended the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – Nova Scotia gala fundraising dinner in Halifax on October 21. 




  1. I worked together with Phil for years as members of Friends of Point Pleasant Park, an organization in which he and his wife Betty played pivotal roles. He was unrelenting in the pursuit of what he considered fair and just, pouring enormous energy and work into efforts to make Halifax a better place for all. Dogged determination doesn’t due justice to Phil’s persistence – he was someone who simply never gave up. He was a man of great courage, determination, and strength of conviction. And at the same time of quiet graciousness and generosity. He will be greatly missed by the many people whose lives he touched and who benefitted from his work and vision.

  2. Thank you Judy for your excellent to tribute to a man, so many of us admired and respected. For one who was such a strong advocate, he was always polite and set a good example to all of us who were his supporters. I find it hard to believe that Phil has gone from our midst. Now is the time to offer support to Betty who was a staunch ally to Phil in his efforts. They are members of our church, Fort Massey on Tobin at Queen, a fine old heritage building which Betty has described in a publication. We remember when some renovations were being done to the exterior and Phil went to great lengths to locate the same bricks as the original ones. As I age, I am less active as once I was but I am glad Phil has kept me on the mailing list. Phil’s demise is a terrible shock but we must maintain his advocacy for our City as a fitting tribute.

    Signed: Angus McDonald Email ar550@chebucto.ns.ca

  3. So sorry to learn of Phil Pacey’s passing. I wish to express my gratitude for the work that he did on behalf of Heritage Trust. I know for certain that he followed his heart and did what he believed important, valuable, worthy! When I was on city council I spoke with him numerous times, listened to his point-of-view, and always appreciated his input. Sincere sympathy to his family & friends.

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