10. City Registry Office

Constructed: 1873 - 1874

Architect: Recorded as "Mr. Hudson"

Location: 70 Nicholas Street, Ottawa

 

The City Registry Office formed part of the 19th-century judicial precinct, which included the Carleton County Courthouse, Registry Office and Gaol. The architect, recorded as “Mr. Hudson,” likely followed the prototypical building plan prepared in 1868 by Kivas Tully, Ontario’s first Provincial Architect and Engineer.

Conveniently located across from the Courthouse, the Registry Office housed important property deeds, lot surveys, mortgages and land instruments, while providing retrieval and transcription services to the public.

The Ottawa Registry Office’s classical temple massing gives the small-sized building its solid appearance. Pleasantly proportioned, the cut stone trimmed buff brick walls, round-headed windows and door arches with rusticated quoins and elaborate joined chimney stack (since partially removed and capped) contribute to its dignified presence.

In the interior, three brick barrel-vaulted spaces define the public, administrative and storage functions. Solid iron doors and iron window bars and shutters protected the documents from fire. The heavy ledger books were on movable cases that ran in iron tracks set in the stone floor. To secure the building against theft from tunnelling, the stone foundations extend 4 metres into the ground.

In need of larger quarters, the registry office moved to a new building on Elgin Street in 1909. The Nicholas Street building was eventually leased to the Women’s Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa in 1917, which operated the Bytown and Ottawa Historical Museum there from 1926 until 1951 when the society moved to larger quarters in the Commissariat, now the Bytown Museum.

During that time, in 1935, the City sold the registry office to the federal government.

The Registry Office was later occupied by the Ottawa Tourist and Convention Centre from 1954 to 1966. Several short-term leases followed, including the Youth Drop-In Centre, the New Canadian Services and the Federation of Citizens’Associations. 

Recognizing the significance of the building to the city’s history, City Council designated the City Registry Office under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1978.

In 1980 the building was left vacant, and remains vacant to this day. The City Registry Office was acquired in the 1990s by Viking-Rideau Corporation (developer and former owner of the Rideau Centre) as part of a land-exchange deal with Public Works and Government Services Canada. The arrangement, however, included no commitment to preserve the designated City Registry Office.

Over the years Heritage Ottawa has worked to raise awareness about the need to preserve the City Registry Office by adapting it to a new use. Members have researched the building’s history and condition, produced media handouts, and staffed the building during “Doors Open Ottawa” when the owner has agreed to open it to the public. 

Discussions with Viking-Rideau included the possibility of moving the City Registry Office to another site, or incorporating it in an expansion of the Rideau Centre. Heritage Ottawa favoured the latter proposal and lobbied the City to make retention of the Registry Office a condition of municipal financial support for any expansion of the Rideau Centre/Congress Centre.

In a 2003 letter to the mayor, then Heritage Ottawa President David Flemming wrote:

“The Old Registry Office … is a stunning example of a 19th century land registry office and is one of only four of its kind still remaining in Ontario.”

Despite ongoing efforts, the City Registry Office remains vacant and at risk of demolition by neglect.

Heritage Ottawa actively advocates against demolition by neglect, a major issue in the preservation of heritage properties, and will continue to advocate for adaptive reuse of the City Registry Office.