Heritage Ottawa: Letter to PM | 24 Sussex Drive

Photo: Library and Archives Canada / National Capital Commission Fonds / e011197508

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

HERITAGE OTTAWA

On February 6, Heritage Ottawa submitted a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regarding the future of 24 Sussex Drive. The letter was copied to the leaders of the opposition or their representative; the minister responsible for the National Capital Commission, which oversees Official Residences; the minister responsible for national historic sites and federally-designated heritage properties; and the CEO of the National Capital Commission. Here is the text of that letter.

 

February 6, 2019

The Right Honourable Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington St.
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Re: 24 Sussex

Dear Prime Minister Trudeau,

Heritage Ottawa respectfully recommends that the Government of Canada appoint a committee headed by a widely respected, non-partisan Chair to make recommendations concerning 24 Sussex and concerning Prime Ministerial accommodation.

Heritage Ottawa is the foremost non-profit group in Ottawa dedicated to the appreciation and conservation of Ottawa’s built heritage and special places. We are writing to you to suggest a go-forward for 24 Sussex Drive, to address the question of conservation of this historic property, and perhaps also provide a path forward for prime-ministerial accommodations.

As you are very aware, this is not just any home. It is a nationally significant place that belongs to all Canadians. It is part of a suite of buildings designed in the Gothic Revival Style erected at the time of Confederation. 24 Sussex (built 1867-68 by Joseph Merrill Currier, lumber baron and member of Parliament), along with Earnscliffe (home to Canada’s first Prime Minister, Sir John A. Macdonald), and the Parliament Buildings themselves are all part of an elegant landscape of structures, located on one of the most dramatic – and iconic – landscapes in Canada that speak to the founding moments of our nation. It has been the setting for many important political events. For these reasons, 24 Sussex is a Classified Federal Heritage Building.

It is tragic that the building has been allowed to degrade.

Heritage Ottawa advocates conservation of this building for the reasons given above. Good heritage conservation allows for buildings to be upgraded and to evolve. In the case of 24 Sussex, it is the exterior walls and landscape which have been identified as historically significant. That given, there is great scope for imaginative and creative rehabilitation and new design. An upgraded building, suitable for a family and small entertainment events, and perhaps even some public access, and yes, which is also ‘green’, is very much possible. The greenest building is the one that is already there. Please do not condemn this fine building to landfill.

We hear the voices of those who feel that a building with such limited public access should not be the recipient of funding. It Is true that 24 Sussex does not have the public profile of the White House or 10 Downing Street (the latter is also not open to the public). But lack of public access can be addressed. Perhaps for one year after rehabilitation the reception spaces of the house could be open to the public. And even once occupied, perhaps it could be open once a year during Doors Open Ottawa, as are many ambassadorial residences in the city. How about an online virtual tour, which would reach all Canadians?

It is lamentable that federally-recognized places have no legislative protection in Canada; we are the only G7 country to lack such protection.

But there is a solution to this: strike an all-party committee, chaired by a respected, non-partisan individual – former Governor General David Johnston comes to mind – to make recommendations concerning 24 Sussex and concerning prime ministerial accommodation which the heads of all political parties might be prepared to live with, and live in.

For more on 24 Sussex, see the many posts on Heritage Ottawa's website and visit historicplaces.ca .

 

Related Reading:

It's Time to Tackle 24 Sussex | Canadian Architect, March 8, 2019