The following letter was sent by Dr. Christina Cameron to the City of Ottawa's Planning Committee, the Mayor and all Councillors in advance of Planning Committee's meeting of June 13.
June 8, 2019
City of Ottawa
Subject: Proposed addition (fifth iteration) to the Chateau Laurier
I would like to thank the members of the Planning Committee for the opportunity to present my views on the important matter of the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier.
My views have been shaped through fifty years’ experience in the field of heritage conservation as Director General of National Historic Sites at Parks Canada and more recently as the Canada Research Chair in Built Heritage at the University of Montreal. I led the Canadian delegation to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee from 1990 to 2008 and was elected twice as its Chairperson.
Many concerned citizens and organizations have made a convincing case that the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier does not meet Standard 11 in the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada which requires a new addition to be compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place. While the proposed addition to the Chateau Laurier is obviously distinguishable from the original, the design is not compatible with nor subordinate to the historic building and its setting.
My intervention is focused specifically on the protection of important views. I refer to the illustration by the proponent that shows the new addition from the Rideau Canal. The proposed addition is situated in a significant cultural landscape in the heart of Canada’s national capital. This landscape, nationally known and recognized as a part of our national identity, includes the Chateau Laurier, a National Historic site of Canada, Major’s Hill Park, the Rideau Canal World Heritage site and the broader context of the Parliamentary Precinct. The proposed addition blocks views to and from the historic Chateau Laurier and obscures -- rather than enhances -- the relationship between the park and historic building. As seen from the canal, it also blocks the north façade of the hotel and diminishes -- rather than complements -- the picturesque historic hotel.
When the Rideau Canal was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2007, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee and its technical advisory body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), raised concerns about the narrow buffer zone along the canal that did not protect the wider setting. While ICOMOS agreed that the boundaries of the nominated property were adequate to protect the structure of the canal itself, the advisory body called for clearer definition of the visual setting beyond the buffer zone of the canal and appropriate measures to ensure the protection of important views. In its response to the World Heritage Committee, Parks Canada acknowledged the importance of protecting the Rideau Canal’s scenic vistas. The agency made a commitment to study the visual setting along its length and to protect those areas which contribute to the quality and understanding of the canal in its setting.
This interest in protecting the visual setting of the Rideau Canal explains why Parks Canada and the National Capital Commission raised concerns in 2017 about a proposal for an apartment building behind Southminster United Church near the canal. Parks Canada, custodian of the Rideau Canal and the lead federal agency for World Heritage in Canada, recommended a reduction in height of the proposed apartment building so that it would be subordinate to the church building as viewed from the canal.
That the protection of views is an important international issue is demonstrated by decisions of the World Heritage Committee. Two examples make the point. In the first example, the Committee opposed the proposal for a tall building on the edge of St. Petersburg, a World Heritage site, leading eventually to the withdrawal of the project in that location by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. In the second example, the Committee opposed the construction of a major bridge in the Elbe Valley World Heritage site at Dresden. In this instance, the German government refused to withdraw the project and the Committee de-listed the site from UNESCO’s World Heritage List because the new bridge irrevocably damaged the Outstanding Universal Value of the Elbe Valley landscape.
I urge the Planning Committee to reject the fifth iteration of the Chateau Laurier addition in its entirety. I would also encourage the proponent, Larco Investments, to withdraw the current proposal because of its negative impact on the setting and its lack of community support. I am confident that a completely new design can be developed that respects the architecture, setting and viewscapes of this iconic cultural landscape. I urge Mayor Watson and the City Councillors to stand firm in demanding a project that will be valued by our own and future generations.
Christina Cameron C.M., Ph.D., FRSC
Canada Research Chair in Built Heritage (2005-2019)
University of Montréal
Mayor Jim Watson