Somerset House Makes National List of Top Ten Endangered Landmarks

Somerset House as it appeared on July 13, 2016. Photo: Darren Brown / Postmedia

Thursday, June 8, 2017

OTTAWA CITIZEN, By Matthew Pearson

Downtown Ottawa’s most infamous eyesore has made a national list of endangered heritage landmarks.

Somerset House is among 10 spots included on the National Trust for Canada’s annual list of endangered places, which was compiled from formal nominations and media scans conducted by staff.

The charity hopes the list will help shine a spotlight on historic places at risk due to neglect, lack of funding, inappropriate development or weak legislation.

Built in stages beginning in 1896, the three-storey Queen Anne-style building at the corner of Bank and Somerset streets has served as a dry goods store, a hotel and a pub. But since a partial collapse in 2007, the building has been at the centre of a decade-long battle between the owner and the city.

“Residents have every right to be upset about this,” Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney said Thursday.

She reiterated her belief that the city must expropriate the building if it is to be saved. “We have to get serious about whether we want to preserve this piece of heritage.”

Besides expropriation, city council has no other levers to force the owner to redevelop the building, she said.

Last month, council approved the latest renovation concept for Somerset House.

The three-storey expansion, to be situated east of the building along Somerset, is designed in a contemporary style that complements the character of the historic building. Restoration work would involve reconstructing the corner tower, re-installing a north-facing bay window and restoring decorative brick and metal work.

But there’s no indication of when the work would be done. There’s no rule forcing TKS Holdings to reconstruct the building by a specific time. The company owner has said he’s worried about how much the redevelopment would cost.

Council previously had to approve dismantling the three easternmost bays on Somerset Street West because of the wear and tear.

The owner has hired a new architect, Chmiel Architects, to pick up where the last one left off.

“I don’t have faith anymore that we’re going to see any real movement on this building,” McKenney said. “I hope I’m wrong.”

Chris Wiebe, the national trust’s manager of heritage policy and public programs, said Somerset House is a classic example of demolition by both neglect and delay.

He hopes a Conservative private member’s bill that calls for deep income tax credits and other incentives for owners of heritage buildings could be a gamechanger. “That could be a real tool,” he said.

Wiebe called Somerset House, in its current state, a “lost opportunity.”

First compiled in 2005, the endangered places list has previously included the Central Experimental Farm (2015) and Lansdowne Park (2010).


Heritage Ottawa has spent years advocating against "demolition-by-neglect", a major issue in the preservation of heritage properties. The City of Ottawa passed a Property Standards By-Law in 2013 which includes specific protection for heritage properties suffering neglect, such as Somerset House. Heritage Ottawa will continue to advocate for the enforcement of this By-Law.


Related Reading:

Heritage Ottawa Opposes Demolition-by-Neglect of Somerset House / Heritage Ottawa, June 20, 2016