Book Fetes Work of W.E. Noffke

Photo by Jean Levac

Friday, April 12, 2013


W.E. Noffke designed so many of Ottawa's buildings that from cradle to grave "you could live in a Noffke world," says Ottawa architectural historian Shannon Ricketts.

Ricketts, author of Werner Ernst Noffke: Ottawa's Architect, notes that a local residentcould be born in a Noffke hospital, grow up in a Noffke house, attend a Noffke school, worship in a Noffke church or synagogue, work in a Noffke office, and be laid to rest in a Noffke funeral home.

"Many of his buildings have survived and continue to fulfil their intended purposes, which speaks to the quality of the building itself," Ricketts says. "He built what people really enjoyed living and working in."

For example, the Central Post Office, built in 1939 at the corner of Elgin and Sparks streets, is one of the city's most elegant buildings. The Blackburn Building on Sparks Street wasone of Ottawa's first high-rises when it opened in 1913 and houses the Privy Council Office. The charming Spanish colonial revival-style fire station in Old Ottawa South is now a community centre.

Noffke was born in 1878 in a German region of what is now Poland. After immigrating to Ottawa at young age with his family, he studied architecture at the Ottawa School of Art.

During a 60-year career, he became one of the city's most influential and prolific architects. He made his last entry in his job book in 1960 at the age of 82.

When he died in 1964, he left a legacy of some 200 buildings in the nation's capital.

Noffke is best-known for colonial revival-style houses in the Glebe built during the teens and 20s. He also designed gracious houses in Sandy Hill, Rockcliffe Park, and on Island Park Drive in Westboro, many of which have become official embassy residences.

Those who associate him with houses will be surprised to discover his range. Projects include the downtown chapel of Hulse Playfair and McGarry, the Champagne Bath on King Edward Avenue and, unexpectedly, the two-storey commercial block in the ByWard Market, the one with the IrvingRivers store on the corner.

The Medical Arts building on Metcalfe Street features exceptional and intriguing ironwork, while an extension to the General Hospital (now the Élisabeth Bruyère Health Centre) greets patients with a lovely art deco entrance.

One of Noffke's last major commissions was the Russian embassy, built in 1957 for the U.S.S.R. on Charlotte Street.

Some 80 buildings survive, though Ogilvy's department store on Rideau Street was demolished just days ago. Potentially at risk of disappearing is the complex of red-brick laboratory buildings on Booth Street, which the federal government plans to sell.

Ricketts's 100-page book is based on research conducted 20 years ago for her master's thesis. It focuses on existing structures and includes walking tour maps and images by Ottawaphotographer Brian Glenn.

Heritage Ottawa, a group dedicated to preserving built heritage, is the publisher.

Despite Noffke's importance, this is only the second book about him. (A small exhibitioncatalogue was published in 1976.)

"It would have been a crying shame for Ottawans not to have access to this wonderful story," says Leslie Maitland, president of Heritage Ottawa.


April 17, 2013: Reception at 6 p.m., Lecture at 7 p.m. Auditorium of the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library. Admission is free. 

2016 UPDATE: Purchase the second edition of Werner Ernst Noffke: Ottawa's Architect here on the Heritage Ottawa website.