Location: 412 Sparks Street, Ottawa
Located adjacent to Christ Church Cathedral, the Robert Nicholas Slater House was among the eight buildings that formed the Cathedral Hill Heritage Conservation District when it was created in 1989. The house was built sometime before 1887 and purchased by Robert Nicholas Slater (1851-1920) from the estate of his great-grandfather, Nicholas Sparks.
The 2 ½ storey brick house was built in the Queen Anne Revival style and was characterized by its picturesque, irregular massing of forms.
The front elevation facing Sparks Street had a gabled projecting bay with a polygonal bay window decorated with wrought iron cresting. A ground floor porch protected the off-centre main entrance and a large enclosed two-storey verandah enlivened a west-facing gabled wing. Tall chimneys with decorative caps adorned the steeply pitched gable roof and inside, noted features included detailed plasterwork and highly decorated marble and tile fireplaces.
Robert Nicholas Slater, a civil engineer and railway contractor, resided there until his death in 1920. Afterwards, the house remained occupied by various members of the Slater family until at least the 1940s. An apartment was added in 1923 and several other apartments were created during the 1940s.
By 1973, the house was owned by the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa, which maintained the ground floor rental apartment. For a number of years, the house served as a branch of Canterbury House, a religious bookstore.
The Cathedral Hill Heritage Conservation District (HCD)—an area bounded by Bronson Avenue and Sparks, Bay and Queen streets—was created and designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act in 1989. The bylaw (By-law 286-89) states in part:
“The remaining houses now surrounding Christ Church create a richly textured tapestry of urban built forms. Some have historical associations with the Anglican Church or important Ottawa families, while others represent unique architectural patterns, and eclectic styles of the period…”.
In 1992 the Anglican Diocese, in need of funds for the restoration of Christ Church Cathedral, received permission from the City to redevelop its Cathedral Hill land — including most of the Heritage District. Their development concept called for the demolition of 412 Sparks Street and two other houses at 441-443 Queen Street.
In August 1992, before any action on demolition was taken, the house at 412 Sparks sustained damage in a fire. Heritage Ottawa requested that the City have a conservation architect evaluate the building.
The City agreed to discuss options for preserving the house with the Diocese. Heritage Ottawa consulted with developer Sandy Smallwood of Andrex Holdings, who was prepared to move the building to a new location at Bronson and Laurier and restore it.
When conservation architect Julian Smith and Sandy Smallwood were finally granted access on April 14,1993, they discovered that an architectural salvage dealer had removed two marble fireplaces and other important architectural elements, at the invitation of church officials, just one day before. The resulting loss of integrity and state of disarray put the feasibility of preservation in doubt.
The former Robert Nicholas Slater House was demolished on May 6, 1993 as Heritage Ottawa and protesters watched. The site was converted to a 50-space parking lot.