Brian Anthony to Committee of Adjustment: This is not a "Minor Variance" but a Major Heritage Issue of National Proportions

Rendering: Larco Investments

Wednesday, September 18, 2019


The following letter was sent today by Brian P. Anthony, past Executive Director of the Heritage Canada Foundation (now National Trust for Canada), to the Committee of Adjustment.

Dear Secretary-Treasurer,

Re: Proposed Addition to the Chateau Laurier

I write with regard to this critically important issue as a former Ottawa resident of long standing. Now living in Toronto for the past twelve years, I still have strong Ottawa ties, having lived there with a couple of minor exceptions since 1959 when I was in my teen years. During that time, I have seen Ottawa grow and change and have witnessed, in the name of development, the loss of a long list of heritage buildings whose only apparent crime was standing in the way of much-vaunted progress. The Capital Theatre, the Bytown Inn, the Rideau Convent, the Daly Building, the old Postal Station A, the downtown Carnegie  (Ottawa Public) Library, the original Roxborough. All of these and more lost landmarks were buildings of which I still have strong memories, buildings that were an important part of the cityscape of the nation’s capital, and therefore an important part of my Ottawa life. I appreciate that the matter now before the Committee of Adjustment is not one of demolition, but the construction of a new building can have just as damaging effect on the cityscape as the demolition of an old one.

By way of introduction I should say that I am not writing simply as a former citizen of Ottawa - - although that should be sufficient for current committee purposes - - but as one of Canada’s veteran cultural administrators whose long career, beginning at the National Arts Centre in the 1970s, spans some four decades or more. A central component of my career was my time as executive director of the Heritage Canada Foundation (now the National Trust for Canada) from 1995 to 2005, an organization whose primary focus is the preservation of the built heritage of Canada. I also served as a member of the Rockcliffe Park LACAC while still in Ottawa. Now in Toronto, I remain a member of the National Trust for Canada and am also a member of Heritage Toronto. For a number of years I was a member - - and, until recently, the Chair - - of the Heritage Committee of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, a venerable pre-Confederation organization with impressive heritage assets. I am also working on a personal heritage project of considerable national significance. This submission, then, is not just a personal one but one based on years of professional experience as well.

As mentioned at the outset, the construction of a new building can have as negative effect on the built environment as the demolition of an old one. The proposed addition to the historic Chateau Laurier falls into that category. I am by no means suggesting that the old cannot be successfully married with the new. Here in Toronto, my favourite example of this kind of union is the modern Koerner Hall addition to the Royal Conservatory of Music heritage building, a new addition that respects and embraces the past - - the handsome old building is often used, not only for ongoing academic purposes, but for film and television shoots  - - and celebrates the new with an addition that is both architecturally and acoustically stunning. (The famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma dubbed the hall the Temple of Tone and insisted on performing at its gala opening.) But such examples have sadly been the exception to the rule. All too often, the marriage of the old and new has been a shotgun wedding, with a developer - - and I use this often euphemistic term lightly - - grudgingly incorporating a facade here or another heritage element there in order to squeak by local heritage requirements and calm local citizen sensibilities. And then there are those proposed undertakings that do not even pretend to join the old with the new in a state of marital harmony. The proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier, a National Historic Site, is a blatant and unapologetic example of this regrettable sort.

The matter before the Committee of Adjustment is not one involving a minor variance - - let us put that notion to the eternal rest it deserves - - but a major heritage issue of national proportions. Ottawa is the capital of Canada. The Canadian parliament buildings, their precinct and the immediate surrounding area which includes the Chateau Laurier, constitute a heritage district that should - - and does - - serve as a beacon, as an inspiring symbol of our nation, to the rest of the country and beyond. This is ground that should be treated with utmost respect. No such respect is apparent in that which is now before the Committee of Adjustment, and the application should not be given its favourable consideration. I would therefore urge the committee in the strongest terms possible to render a decision that reflects this recommendation and sends the applicant back to the drawing board.

When I was a young man working at the NAC - - itself a National Historic Site just across the square from the one under review - - I was told the probably apocryphal story of a young operatic tenor who, having performed a famous aria, was greeted with cries of “encore, encore”. The singer happily obliged such requests again and yet again until, growing tired, he stepped to the edge of the stage and asked the audience how many more times they wished him to repeat the performance. “Until you get it right,” came the reply. I leave you with that thought.

Please do not hesitate to let me know if you or the committee members require further information or clarification.

Yours sincerely,
Brian P. Anthony