Open Letter: Canada's Great Historians Oppose Château Laurier Addition

Château Laurier 1912. Richard Rummell / Library and Archives Canada

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

HERITAGE OTTAWA

We're pleased to share the following open letter written by four of Canada's leading historians: professors Robert Bothwell, John English, Norman Hillmer and Margaret MacMillan. Along with thousands of others they join the national advocacy effort, led by Heritage Ottawa and the Friends of the Château Laurier, to protect our national heritage and prevent this inappropriate addition.

 

We write as historians about the fate and future of the Château Laurier. The owner’s plan to transform the Château’s architecture and character menaces a storied institution that has been at the centre of Ottawa’s and Canada’s life for more than a century.

The Château sits at the heart of Ottawa. It is the cornerstone of Confederation Square, lightening the neo-Gothic and neo-Roman buildings around the Square, while not contradicting them. It draws on history — the past of the chateaux of the Loire, light and Gallic and elegant, just like Sir Wilfrid Laurier, for whom the hotel is named. From the Quebec side, the Château is a striking counterpoint to Parliament Hill, with the canyon of the canal, itself a magnificent architectural feat, lying in between. Looking back from the Château, the site now so threatened, Major’s Hill Park stretches out, with views of Ottawa River, Nepean Point and the Champlain statue, Notre-Dame Cathedral, and the National Gallery and the Museum of Civilization.

The Château is a principal witness to Canadian history. As the extraordinary photographs on the Château’s walls testify, its magnificent structure compelled attention from the first moment Canadians walked out of the Union train station opposite and saw the majestic Parliamentary presence on the hill above the hotel.  The troops gathered before it during the First World War. Prime Minister R.B. Bennett lived there during the Depression, and Pierre Trudeau as well, as a Member of Parliament before he became prime minister. Critical meetings took place in the Château cafeteria between senior officials during the Second World War. The celebrated photographer Yousuf Karsh and CBC Radio for years made the Château their home. During the constitutional talks that shaped modern Canada, the country’s leaders moved through the tunnel that connected the Château to the Convention Centre across the street. The Château’s Politics and the Pen Dinners are the highlight of Ottawa’s cultural and political social season.

The attack that is being mounted on the Château Laurier is an attack on Canadians and their history. If the massive addition to the Château is allowed to stand, a civic and national treasure will become a civic and national eyesore – or, worse, an object of ridicule.

Robert Bothwell, C.M.
John English, O.C.
Norman Hillmer, C.M.
Margaret MacMillan, C.C.

CONTACT: John English at john.english@utoronto.ca | 519-498-0759