The following letter was sent by Heritage Ottawa to the Honourable Lisa MacLeod, Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport responsible for the Ontario Heritage Act.
July 27, 2019
The Hon. Lisa MacLeod
Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
Hearst Block, 9th Floor,
900 Bay Street, Toronto, Ontario M7A 2A1
Sent by email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Intervention of the Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport in the issue of the Château Laurier
Dear Minister MacLeod,
On behalf of Heritage Ottawa, Ottawa’s foremost not-for-profit organization dedicated to conserving the built heritage and cultural places of Canada’s capital, I am writing to you to bring your attention to the proposed inappropriate addition to the iconic Château Laurier hotel, right in the heart of the city’s most significant landscape treasured by all Canadians.
Heritage Ottawa respectfully requests that the Minister exercise her authority to intervene in the proposed addition of the Château Laurier, up to and including designation as a Provincial Historic Site, as authorized in the Ontario Heritage Act s. 35.2.
• The Château Laurier is the second most important building in Ottawa after the Parliament Buildings and is beloved and cherished by all Ottawans and all Canadians.
• The owners of the Château Laurier are proposing an inappropriate addition that is not compatible with the historic structure and is an insult to this nationally significant landscape.
• The City of Ottawa has granted a heritage permit to allow this disastrous addition to go forward.
• The Château Laurier fulfills the criteria for provincial designation under Regulation 10/06 of the Ontario Heritage Act.
• Designation under the Ontario Heritage Act as a Provincial Historic Site may be the only avenue left to conserve this historic property and its setting.
In June 2018, Ottawa City Council considered an Application to alter the Château Laurier hotel, a property designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act and the adoption of a new landscape plan. The plans were submitted by the owner, Larco Investments.
The plans recommended for approval were the fifth iteration of the proposed addition that had been submitted; the previous four having not received approval of the Urban Design Review Panel or acceptance from the public who responded in unprecedented numbers against the designs. Previous versions were not supported by the City as they did not respect the cultural heritage value of the Château Laurier hotel. The proposed addition is contemporary in expression and is to be a seven storey box-like structure featuring an interior courtyard north of the current ballroom and an enclosed glass gallery facing Major’s Hill Park.
In an extraordinary move, City Council on June 27, 2018 approved the heritage permit under the Ontario Heritage Act but with three conditions. City staff was instructed to meet with the proponent (Larco) to further enhance the design:
a. by meaningfully increasing the use of Indiana limestone cladding on the building exterior to reduce its contrast and enhance its bond with the existing building;
b. by modifying the addition by sculpting, recessing, and breaking up the unrelieved uniformity of the north façade using elements and forms that are specifically drawn from, and relate to, the existing Chateau Laurier’s rich palette of forms;
c. by altering the architectural expression on the north, west and east facades to introduce fenestration patterns, details and geometric proportions that are specifically drawn from, and relate to, the existing Chateau Laurier’s elements;
The decision on whether these conditions had been met was delegated to the General Manager, Planning, Infrastructure & Economic Development. Council further directed that a revised site plan should not return to Council for approval but that Planning Committee would make the final decision.
In June, 2019, City staff prepared a report stating that the fifth iteration of the design met the three conditions on which the heritage permit had been approved and recommended that Planning Committee should therefore approve the application for Site Plan Control.
The Built Heritage Sub-Committee (BHSC), the City’s heritage advisory committee established under the Ontario Heritage Act, reviewed the fifth iteration of the design when it was presented as part of the Site Plan Control application on June 3. BHSC passed a motion recommending that Planning Committee refuse the application and request that the conditional heritage permit be revoked on the basis that the conditions of the permit had not been met and the design remained fundamentally incompatible with the historic hotel. The four citizen subject-matter experts on BHSC, along with three of the four councillors on the committee, voted in favour of the motion.
Despite this, Planning Committee subsequently approved the staff recommendation by a vote of eight in favour and three against.
The opposition to the Larco design has been unprecedented. During the initial public review of the design in 2017, over 2,300 public submissions were received by the City, almost all of which expressed concern with the inappropriate “box-like” design. Over the past year, City Councillors have been inundated with public protestations urging them to reject the proposed design.
Heritage Ottawa has consistently opposed the basic concept, not because it is a modern addition but rather that it does not relate to the romantic architecture of the existing building and picturesque setting adjacent to the Parliamentary Precinct. Nor does the design conform to nationally-accepted standards and guidelines established for additions to heritage properties in Canada (Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada) adopted by the City of Ottawa. It also ignores the Château Laurier Design Guidance prepared for the National Capital Commission in 2008 to guide alterations and additions to this National Historic Site. All five of the iterations of the proposed addition are essentially modifications of the same inappropriate design.
Opponents of the current proposal have stressed the need for any design to be compatible with the existing structure. This compatibility can be achieved not by merely mimicking the existing “Chiateau Style”, but by having it harmonize with the existing building’s architectural language, in a modern form.
As Peter Coffman of Carleton University’s history and theory of architecture program has so aptly said:
“The owners of the Château Laurier and their architect ruled out the use of the hotel’s historical style out of hand. Unfortunately, they also ignored the ethos of that style. In place of romance and wonder, we have angularity and mathematical precision. The Château is fire, the addition is water. There is simply no common ground.”
A massive wave of public opinion and a broad consensus of Canadian expert opinion is against the proposed design. For examples of the public reaction and that of the numerous heritage conservation specialists see: https://heritageottawa.org/chateau-laurier-addition
After contentious debate at City Council on July 10, a motion by Councillor Mathieu Fleury, in whose ward the Château Laurier is situated, to overturn the previous Council’s decision and revoke the heritage permit was voted down 13 to 9. The resulting public outcry has been deafening.
The process will now continue to its next stage of obtaining minor variances before the issuance of a building permit for the current design.
Provincial options to assist in protecting the integrity of the Château Laurier
There are two options within Minister MacLeod’s jurisdiction as Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport (MTSC) that Heritage Ottawa has identified.
1. Provincial Heritage Designation
The first specified mechanism is for the Minister to proceed to a Provincial designation (independent of municipal designation which the Château Laurier already has) under s. 34.5 of the Ontario Heritage Act.
2. Stop Work Order
Alternatively, the Minister can intervene under s. 35.2 via a Stop Work Order, on condition that the Minister thinks not that it is provincially significant, but rather that it “may be” property “of cultural heritage value or interest of provincial significance.”
There are also possible actions that the Minister may want to consider in concert with the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs. Given the limited time at our disposal, we have chosen to focus our attention on the heritage aspects only at this time. This, and the fact that Minister MacLeod, you are the “Ottawa Minister” and the Minister responsible for the Ontario Heritage Act, we are reaching out to you at this time. However, we recognize that the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing has considerable authority in such matters, and over the coming weeks, we will definitely be in touch with his office.
The Government of Canada
• The Château Laurier is a National Historic Site of Canada (designated in 1980), but designation as a national historic site does not confer protection.
• Parks Canada is responsible for impacts to the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site and has not imposed its own guidelines for the protection of the cultural landscapes adjacent to the Canal. Heritage Ottawa has written to UNESCO to protest their lack of action.
• The National Capital Commission (NCC) is mandated to ensure that Ottawa is planned and developed in accordance with the vision of a national capital. In 2008, the NCC developed the Château Laurier Design Guidance for an addition to the Château Laurier but these design guidelines were not followed.
Madam Minister, your leadership here is sorely needed. We look to you, as the Minister of Tourism, Sport and Culture to demonstrate your leadership in the protection of our heritage, by exercising your authority under the Ontario Heritage Act.
We welcome an opportunity to discuss this with you further. Please refer to the contact information in the footer of this letter.
President, Heritage Ottawa