45. Lisgar Collegiate Institute

Construction: 1874 | 1891 | 1902 | 1907

Architects: William Tutin Thomas and Walter Chesterton | James Mather | Horwood and Taylor

Location: 29 Lisgar Street, Ottawa


Lisgar Collegiate Institute was Ottawa's first purpose-built public secondary school.  Dalhousie District Grammar School / Carleton County Grammar School (Lisgar’s predecessor) had occupied five previous locations between 1845 and 1874, before moving to the Biddy (later Lisgar) Street site, purchased on June 17, 1872.  It became Ottawa High School in 1871, Ottawa Collegiate Institute in 1873, and Lisgar Collegiate in 1922 after the opening of Glebe Collegiate.

The original 2 ½-storey, mansard-roofed Gloucester limestone Gothic Revival style school was designed by Montreal architect William Tutin Thomas (1828-1892) in association with Ottawa architect Walter Chesterton (1845-1931).  The rectangular plan had a central projecting south entrance wing and north projecting wing with belfry.  The cornerstone was laid on June 4, 1874 by the Earl of Dufferin, Canada’s third governor general.

In 1891, Ottawa architect James Mather (1833-1927) designed an addition on the south side of the building that included a new main entry.

On January 30, 1893 a fire in the second floor laboratory spread through the back wall of the building and burst through the roof, which collapsed onto the floors below.  Reconstruction was undertaken following plans and specifications by Mather, and the school was re-occupied on December 1, which suggests most masonry was salvaged.  The belfry was relocated above the south entrance.

In 1902, a 2-storey, flat-roofed addition to the east was built designed by Mather in Collegiate Gothic style.

On July 15, 1907 tenders closed for “several works required in building certain alterations and additions,” including a gable with parapet on the 1891 entrance wing and an attic floor on the 1902 wing.  A new rectangular 2 ½-storey west addition with an auditorium was designed by Edgar Lewis Horwood (1868-1957) and Lawrence Fennings Taylor (1864-1947) in Collegiate Gothic style.

Although threats to close Lisgar Collegiate occurred throughout its history (always preceding the decision to invest in its expansion or renovation), the greatest threat to its future was in 1974, just as the school set out to celebrate its 100th anniversary.  The “Lisgar Collegiate Institute 1843-1993" anniversary book records the following:

Faced with declines in student population in the core of the city, and disproportionate costs of running antiquated physical plants, and an Ontario Fire Marshall’s report questioning the basic safety of the school the Ottawa Board of Education had some hard choices to make. … Should repairs exceed fifty percent of replacement cost, the ministry [of Education] indicated, the building in question should be abandoned.

Early in 1975, the Ottawa Board of Education (OBE) retained the firm of Schoeler and Heaton to determine the cost of repairs.  The estimated $4 million investment was confirmed by W.S. Burnside Ltd., construction managers. 

The National Capital Commission, City of Ottawa, Ontario Heritage Foundation and local citizen groups all pledged funds to complement generous grants from the Ontario Ministry of Education.

Parents, staff, students and alumni mobilized and formed the “Future of Lisgar Committee.”  On April 2, 1974, 1,300 people filled Lisgar Collegiate’s auditorium and a number of classrooms for a special meeting in support of saving the school.  Former Heritage Ottawa president R.A.J. Phillips, by then the executive director of the Heritage Canada Foundation, gave a passionate and moving speech on saving Lisgar Collegiate.

On January 26, 1976, the OBE approved a $4.8 million budget to renovate the historic school.

Lisgar Collegiate was designated under part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act on March 15, 1976, in recognition of its architectural value and its role as Ottawa’s first high school.

Lisgar Collegiate is also associated with many important Canadians, including former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson, basketball inventor James Naismith and actor Lorne Greene.

Lisgar Collegiate continues to operate as a secondary school within the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board.  Its reputation for excellence was confirmed by its ranking as 4th best high school in Ontario by the Fraser Institute in 2015-2016.