On April 9, Heritage Ottawa submitted a letter to Dr. Mechtild Rössler, director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, and Dr. Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Chief of Europe and North American Unit, World Heritage Centre, regarding the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site and the proposed addition to the Château Laurier Hotel. The letter was copied to the ICOMOS International Secretariat; the ICOMOS Canada Secretariat; Parks Canada; the National Capital Commission, and the Mayor of Ottawa. Here is the text of that letter.
9 April 2019
Dr. Mechtild Rössler, Director of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre
7 Place de Fontenoy, 75007 Paris, France
Dr. Isabelle Anatole-Gabriel, Chief of Europe and North America Unit, World Heritage Centre
7 Place de Fontenoy, 75007 Paris, France
Subject: Rideau Canal World Heritage Site and Proposed Addition to the Château Laurier Hotel
Dear Dr. Rössler and Dr. Anatole-Gabriel,
On behalf of Heritage Ottawa, Ottawa’s foremost not-for-profit dedicated to conserving the built
heritage of Canada’s Capital, I am writing to you regarding an imminent threat to the Outstanding
Universal Value of the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site - a proposed addition to the Château Laurier
that, if constructed, would destroy the visual integrity of the Ottawa locks.
The Ottawa locks, located where the Rideau Canal meets the Ottawa River, are the largest single set of
locks within the entire Rideau Canal World Heritage Site. These locks are framed by the Canadian
Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier Hotel, both National Historic Sites of Canada. This is a
viewscape of international importance, and it has been so recognized by the Canadian government in its
Landscape Character Assessment & Planning and Management Recommendations (2013). On the
recommendation of the World Heritage Committee that consideration be given to strengthening the
visual protection of the Rideau Canal outside its 30m buffer zone, Parks Canada completed an
assessment of the visual character of the Canal Corridor. The resultant recommendations list the flight
of Ottawa Locks and associated heritage buildings, and views to the Parliament Buildings and Château
Laurier, as quintessential to the Rideau Canal experience. Yet, despite your recommendation, the
Government of Canada and the City of Ottawa have been negligent in their lack of protection of the
Rideau Canal’s visual values and setting.
A proposed addition to the North side of the Château Laurier stands to forever compromise key
panoramic vistas from the Rideau Canal locks, the Ottawa River and Quebec shoreline, the National
Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of History, and from Parliament Hill. A National Historic Site of
Canada in its own right, the Château Laurier is a picturesque, early 20th-century railway hotel and is one
of the most recognizable historic buildings in Canada’s capital. The massing and materials of the
proposed addition make no attempt to respond thoughtfully to, interact with or even acknowledge the
distinctive design and forms of the historic hotel. The rectilinear form, near-symmetry and relentless
horizontality of the proposed new structure are entirely incompatible with the Château Laurier’s
picturesque character and romantic sensibility. To say that Heritage Ottawa is dismayed is an
understatement. If allowed to proceed, the proposed alterations will forever compromise this significant
heritage building, its prominent site, and iconic views in the heart of our nation's capital.
To date, the Government of Canada has provided no leadership on this issue, despite the planned
addition sparking immediate public outcry. This follows on the heels of a questionable record on the
part of the Government of Canada and the City of Ottawa of inadequately protecting the visual values
and setting of the Rideau Canal. Construction of the Fifth-Avenue Bridge across the Rideau Canal and
high-rise condominiums along its bank at Bank Street irreparably damaged the visual integrity of the
Rideau Canal. While these new constructions were unsympathetic, impairing the integrity of the Ottawa
locks viewscape would be particularly regrettable. We are very concerned that the Government of
Canada and City of Ottawa are on track to approve what would be one of the most shocking Canadian
heritage blunders of our generation. If the addition to the Château Laurier as is currently proposed is
approved, it should be considered by the international community as a betrayal of the Government of
Canada’s commitment to act as stewards of the canal on behalf of the people of Canada and
As a building designated under The Ontario Heritage Act, any addition to the Château Laurier required
approval by Ottawa City Council. A heritage permit was issued by Council last spring on the unorthodox
condition that design modifications be made to make the addition “more visually compatible with the
existing Château Laurier.” Heritage Ottawa’s position - supported by significant public outcry - is that the
modified design remains visually incompatible with the existing Château Laurier, and that the condition
of the heritage permit has therefore not been met.
Time is running out. We implore you to write to both the Government of Canada and the City of Ottawa
to remind them of their responsibility to preserve the Outstanding Universal Value of the Rideau Canal.
The Château Laurier is too important a building, and the Rideau Canal Ottawa Locks too important a
location, to settle for anything less than a solution of architectural excellence that respects the
exceptional qualities that make the Canal a World Heritage Site.
We trust that we can count on your support and the leadership of the World Heritage Centre on this
For more on the proposed addition visit the Château Laurier section of our website.