Architect(s): Francis Conroy Sullivan | Allan Keefer
Location: Lansdowne Park, 957 Bank Street, Ottawa
Located in Ottawa’s Lansdowne Park, the Horticulture Building was erected over nine weeks in 1914 to serve as a venue for the Central Canada Exhibition’s annual horticulture show. It replaced an earlier Horticultural Hall built in 1899. For 75 years, it was also used as a curling venue during the winter. The Horticulture Building is the only building in Ottawa to have been designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act three times, and to have had its designation revoked twice.
The design of the Horticulture Building is attributed to architect Francis Conroy Sullivan (1882-1929), although the drawings were prepared by the office of architect Allan Keefer (1883-1952), another local architect. The exact roles played by each architect are unknown.
The Horticulture Building is an excellent interpretation of the Prairie style pioneered by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959), as illustrated by its rectilinear massing, symmetrical composition, strong corner piers, slab-like roofs with broad cantilevered wood cornices, band of clerestory windows with geometric glazing patterns, horizontal stone banding, and minimal but stylized ornamentation.
The Horticulture Building had two distinctive components, a flat roofed, two-storey entrance hall, often used for banquets, and a truncated gable roofed, single storey exhibition hall to the rear. The exhibition hall is notable for its column free space achieved by 80-foot long riveted steel trusses. Both components were built of composite masonry and steel. The broad concrete floor was flooded in winter for curling. A cantilevered gallery was accessed from the banquet hall.
The last horticultural show was held in the building in 1965. From 1971 to 1977 it operated as a Sports Pavilion exhibiting the sports history of the Ottawa Valley. The Glebe Curling Club had leased the building during winters from 1914 until its disbanding in 1969, at which point it was used for pay-as-you-go curling until 1992. Thereafter, it was used sporadically for other events before it closed in 2012.
On November 7, 1984, City Council had approved The Lansdowne Park Development Strategy, which called for the phased removal of certain buildings on the exhbition grounds over several years. The Horticulture Building was scheduled for demolition in 1991.
Heritage Ottawa waged a spirited fight to save the building, and with broad community support was instrumental in having it designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act on May 2, 1989.
By 1990, plans were being developed to turn Lansdowne Park into a $22.5 million trade show complex. On June 27, 1991 City Council voted to demolish the Horticulture Building to make way for a new convention centre—and repealed its heritage designation in order to do so.
To create public awareness and support, Heritage Ottawa organized a demonstration in December 1991, followed by a public lecture and rally in February, 1992. Hundreds of local citizens signed a petition to save the building.
The advocacy effort was effective. The demolition plan was abandoned, and Council re-designated the Horticulture Building on November 3, 1993. Although no funding for its restoration was approved, the building appeared to have been saved.
On September 14, 2007 the City of Ottawa announced an International Design Competition for the Revitalization of Lansdowne Park.
In March 2008, the competition was suspended and subsequently cancelled to consider an unsolicited development proposal from Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG).
In June 2010, City Council voted to partner with OSEG and proceed with its proposed redevelopment plan, which included a massive new sports and retail complex. The plan required moving the Horticulture Building 140 metres to the east, “to situate it more prominently within the revitalized Lansdowne Park while refocusing its traditional role as a community gathering place”. In fact, the move was undertaken to accommodate additional retail development and below-grade parking.
Heritage Ottawa made numerous, ultimately unsuccessful petitions to have the City direct OSEG to leave the Horticulture Building in situ.
To remove any heritage-related impediments, Council repealed the building's heritage designation for a second time. Heritage Ottawa was one of the objectors to appear before the Conservation Review Board (CRB) in April, 2011. Although the challenge was successful, the City chose to ignore the CRB decision and proceed with moving the Horticulture Building.
It later became clear that the move involved demolition of the building's north elevation and three bays—a loss of 20% of the building.
Once the OSEG development of Lansdowne was complete and the Horticulture Building was relocated and rehabilitated, City Council voted to designate the building yet again—for a third time–under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act.
When asked why Heritage Ottawa did not support this third designation, former president David Flemming noted that “It really doesn’t make any difference if the building is re-designated, it won’t be protected any more than it was the first two times!’’
The Horticulture Building currently houses a restaurant and public reception spaces, which the City rents out for both private and community events.