Constructed: 1828 - 1829
Architect: Attributed to Braddish Billings
Location: 2100 Cabot Street, Ottawa
Built as a family home by Braddish Billings, Gloucester Township's first settler in 1812, the Billings House is a classical design inspired by Georgian architecture. A home of distinction, it was constructed in 1828-1829 with the help of artisans brought in from New England. Idyllically sited on a forested hill overlooking the Rideau River, the house was the center of the Village of Billings Bridge.
The home’s classical style is defined by its rectangular massing, symmetrically organized central block and entries with matching front and rear facades, front sloped pitched roof with end chimneys, and open porch with columns supporting a balcony. Fine classical detailing can be seen in the dentilled cornice and window headers.
In 1831, the east wing of the family’s previous home built in 1815 was moved intact and added to the new house. Alterations over the years included the removal of a two-storey verandah and the addition of dormers and a west wing, resulting in its current appearance as a central pavilion with wings.
After the death of Braddish Billings in 1864, his widow Lamira continued to live in the house with their two unmarried daughters, Sabra and Sarah. The house and estate remained home to the Billings family for several generations.
In 1959, the family sold a section of the estate lands for the development of single family housing.
The first hint of a threat to the Billings House itself came in 1965 when Captain C. A. Billings, great-grandson of Braddish Billings, appeared at the Ontario Municipal Board in an effort to rezone the estate lands to allow for increased density. The application was denied.
The Billings House was designated as a National Historic Site of Canada on November 28, 1968.
Despite this recognition ( which is honorific and carries no protection ) a more serious threat soon emerged when in June of 1969, a development group optioned the property with the intention of demolishing the Billings House to build 20 single-family, luxury homes on the estate lands.
Historian Gladys Blair led the opposition to the proposed development. A member of the Heritage Committee of A Capital for Canadians (which later became Heritage Ottawa), Ms. Blair galvanized public support with numerous advocacy articles and interviews, even meeting with the developers in an effort to save the property.
By 1970, with public pressure intensifying, the development group offered to donate the Billings House and three acres of land to the Ontario Heritage Foundation, conditional on obtaining zoning approval for new town houses and an apartment tower on the remaining 8.5 acres.
Adjoining property owners added their voices in opposition along with the Heritage Committee. After extensive negotiations, the City of Ottawa purchased both the Billings Estate House and grounds, taking possession on June 30, 1975.
Heritage Ottawa co-founder R.A.J. (Bob) Phillips summarized the Heritage Committee's titanic struggle to save the Billings Estate House In the December 1981 issue of Ottawa Magazine:
"It seems inconceivable today that the distinguished home of one of Ottawa’s earliest settlers was almost made into a vacant lot. It was saved by the longest and most emotional struggle ever to surround the preservation of a heritage building linking Ottawa to its roots.
The struggle began against enormous odds in 1967. The Billings House, its future now secure, was opened for the enjoyment of the public in 1980. By then the mayor and most city fathers were thoroughly alive to the value of our heritage. Conservation was becoming strangely respectable."
The City of Ottawa continues to own the Billings Estate, where it now operates the Billings Estate Museum.
Heritage Ottawa counts helping to save the Billings House as one of its most important early advocacy efforts.