Thomas D'Aquino to Mayor Jim Watson and Ottawa City Councillors: Fate of Historic Château Laurier is in Your Hands

Rendering: Larco Investments

Wednesday, July 24, 2019


The following letter was sent by Thomas d'Aquino, noted entrepreneur and Member of the Order of Ottawa, to Mayor Jim Watson and all Ottawa City Councillors.

July 4, 2019

Subject: The fate of the historic Château Laurier is in your hands

Dear Mayor and City Councillors,

On July 10, you will debate one of the most consequential matters affecting the history and heritage of Ottawa and Canada.  I refer to the proposal of the owners of the Château Laurier property to build an addition to this national and heritage landmark. 

My interest in the vital subject before you is rooted in a deep attachment to this fine city where I have lived with my wife Susan for almost half a century. I have been engaged in business leadership roles nationally and globally for over 30 years while maintaining corporate headquarters in Ottawa, my city of choice.  I have a deep interest in architecture:  my residence in the Heritage Village of Rockcliffe Park, known as the Massey House, was recognized recently as a National Historic Site.  Built in 1959, it is a mid-century modern architectural gem that my wife and I have carefully preserved and restored.  We also once owned an early 18th century house in Old Montreal that we saved from possible destruction and restored. We are veterans in the heritage domain who have always put heritage before the lure of financial gain.  Here in Ottawa, we also own a property at 700 Sussex that looks out at the marvellous Château Laurier. 

You have heard from many of our fellow citizens with powerful and compelling reasons for opposing the various proposals of the Château’s owners, Larco Investments.  Let me quote from Dr. Christina Cameron, a resident of Ottawa and a world renowned heritage expert.  “The addition...does not meet Standard 11 in the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada which requires a new addition to be compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.  While the proposed addition is obviously distinguishable from the original, the design is not compatible with nor subordinate to the historic building and its setting.”  Dr. Cameron’s concerns have been echoed by an impressive collection of heritage experts from Ottawa and across Canada, including the eminent architectural authority, Dr. Phyllis Lambert, Companion of the Order of Canada.  Recently, an Ottawa-based group of publicly-spirited citizens known as “Friends of the Château Laurier” have come together to ensure that any addition to the historic hotel respects sound architectural and heritage principles.  I am privileged to count myself as a member of the “Friends”.

Let me be clear, I am not against change nor evolution in architectural form - far from it.  For example, I strongly endorse the recent additions to the National Arts Centre. There you can see creativity and imagination at its best while respecting the original design.  Here in Ottawa there are other notable examples - to mention just a few: the transformed train station facing the Château that now serves as the temporary headquarters of the Senate;  the Bank of Canada building; and the Lord Elgin Hotel.  Going further afield, I urge you to examine the respectful and tasteful additions to the historic Manoir Richelieu Hotel in La Malbaie or Cathedral Place in Vancouver.

The proposed addition in my view would impose an ugly incursion into the most historically significant landscape in the heart of our great nation’s capital - a landscape that includes Major’s Hill Park, the UNESCO World Heritage designated Rideau Canal;  Parliament, the National War Memorial and the National Gallery of Canada.  These buildings and landscapes are rooted in our national identity and in this respect they belong to all Canadians. Larco Investments and its agents have argued that the Château which sits at the epicentre of this historic landscape is private property and therefor is somehow beyond these considerations.  I profoundly disagree.  In my three decades as Chief Executive of Canada’s most influential business organization - the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (now the Business Council of Canada) -  I championed many leading business causes and worked with over 1500 of our country’s leading chief executives and entrepreneurs.  Central to my credo was and remains that business interests should never trump the public interest.  Time and time again, I witnessed my colleagues making important business decisions respectful of the public interest.  That is what corporate statesmanship is all about.  That is the true mark of responsible leadership.  I appeal in the same spirit to Larco Investments. 

A final point:  my vision of Ottawa, capital of a G7 country and of one of the world’s most successful nations is that we aspire to preserve, create and enable the finest architecture imaginable - architecture that celebrates our rich heritage and that captures the imagination and acclaim of Canadians and visitors from beyond our borders.  To do this, we must demand excellence from our builders and entrepreneurs and the uncompromising oversight and vigilance of our public authorities.  History and experience teaches us that this is a source of greatness in our cities and communities.

Mayor Watson and Councillors, we can do much better for our citizens, for the people of Canada and for Ottawa’s place in the world.  I respectfully urge you to reject the proposed addition and request that Larco Investments return to the drawing table and offer up a new proposal that does justice to the Château Laurier and the precious heritage of this extraordinary city we love.

Yours sincerely,

Thomas d’Aquino CM LLD
Member of the Order of Ottawa

cc Mr. Amin Lalji
    Larco Investments

    The Honourable Catherine McKenna
    Minister of the Environment
    Government of Canada

    The Honourable Pablo Rodriguez
    Minister of Canadian Heritage
    Government of Canada

    The Honourable Lisa MacLeod
     Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport
     Government of Ontario



Contact the Mayor and Ottawa City Councillors before July 10, 2019.

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