8. La Salle Academy

Constructed: Bishop's Palace ca. 1843-1845  |  Bytown College 1852-1853

Architect:  Unknown

Location: 373 Sussex Drive, Ottawa

 

The former La Salle Academy complex includes two significant mid-19th century buildings: the Bishop’s Palace and the Bytown College, both fronting on Sussex Drive between St. Andrew Street and Guigues Avenue.

The Bishop’s Palace served as the residence of Monseigneur Guigues, the first Catholic bishop of Bytown, between 1847 and 1850. It is the oldest building on Sussex Drive, and one of the first “substantial” or stone residences constructed in Bytown after the Vesting Act of 1843, which permitted freehold sale of lands controlled by the Ordnance Department.

The modest 2 ½ storey Georgian style building is a 5 bay symmetrical design with a medium pitched gable roof. The north wall extends above the roof line as a parapet with embedded chimney, designed to prevent the spread of fire.

An elliptical arched main door is brightened with attractive fan and side lights. The even coursed, squared rubble walls and smoother cut stone trim of the window lintels, lug sills and corner quoins is typical of the era.

Adjacent to the Bishop’s Palace is the former Bytown College, which incorporated the earlier building as an annex. Founded by Monseigneur Guigues, it was Ottawa’s first bilingual school and forerunner of the University of Ottawa, which occupied the buildings between 1853 and 1856. The French-language La Salle Academy occupied the site from 1888 to 1971.

The more imposing yet graceful Georgian-style college stands 3 ½ storeys with a dormered mansard roof topped by a distinctive octagonal cupola. The central 3 bays of its 7-bay façade are slightly recessed and feature a tall, round-arched main door with multiple transoms. This motif is repeated in the centred triangular dormer with Palladian window and hooded fan light. The quality of the ashlar walls and cut stone trim of the window lintels, corner quoins and end chimneys reveals the work of highly skilled stone masons.

In early 1968 the Collegiate Institute Board (CIB) took over the administration of seven private French-language high schools in Ottawa, among them the La Salle Academy.

The first real threat to the building can be traced to June 24, 1969, when the CIB announced plans for a new École Secondaire De La Salle on St. Patrick Street, part of the Lower Town Urban Renewal Project.

Concern intensified in 1971 when the school moved to its new site and word leaked out that the historic building had been sold to a group of Toronto developers planning an $8,000,000, six apartment complex.

The National Capital Commission’s (NCC) omission of the La Salle Academy from the Sussex Drive “Mile of History” initiative in 1961 (a Government of Canada Centennial Project) suddenly took on greater significance.

The Heritage Committee of A Capital for Canadians (forerunner of Heritage Ottawa) organized a four-part public seminar “The Heritage of the National Capital” at Algonquin College in 1972 to raise awareness about endangered properties such as La Salle Academy.

Welcome news came in 1973 when the federal government announced it would purchase the complex for use as office space.

The restoration of the La Salle Academy, undertaken in 1975 by NCC architect and later Heritage Ottawa president John Leaning, saw important original features reinstated.

Writing in Ottawa Magazine in December 1981, R.A.J. (Bob) Phillips, co-founder of Heritage Ottawa, summarized the organization’s involvement: 

“Heritage Ottawa was still aching from the loss of the Rideau Street Convent when the Christian Brothers and some developers had a scheme for a commercial highrise … . When a planning hearing was called, City Hall looked like Christmas Eve in a shopping centre as the swelling ranks of conservationists sought to speak against another Convent disaster. No one voted for the development. The federal government then acquired the property, and undertook an ambitious restoration as a gift to all who pass on Sussex Drive. …”

La Salle Academy was designated a Classified Federal Heritage Building in 1988 for its important historical associations with educational development in Ottawa and in Upper Canada.

It later housed the Canada School of Public Service and continues to be occupied by federal government offices. Today, the former La Salle Academy is considered to be an important component of the “Mile of History” on Sussex Drive.