UNESCO warns that the planned addition to the Château Laurier could damage the “viewscape” and the overall value of the Rideau Canal, which is a World Heritage site.
It wants the project held until it is re-assessed.
The addition, along with a plan to build apartments beside the Cataraqui River in Kingston, “could have a significantly negative impact on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property (i.e. the canal) and should not proceed until their full impacts have been assessed,” UNESCO says.
The warning comes in a letter to the Canadian delegation to UNESCO, from Mechtild Rössler, director of UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre.
UNESCO is basing its request on a technical evaluation by another international body, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).
UNESCO calls the canal “the best preserved example of a slackwater canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slackwater technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great canal-building era of the early 19th-century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact.”
The technical review says Ottawa has concluded the addition would not have any physical impact on the canal, and would not lessen its heritage status as a military route.
But it says the view may be a problem and Ottawa “has not addressed this aspect of the property.”
Specifically, it says Ottawa’s Official Plan calls for measures to ensure that “visual quality of the waterway and view from the waterway, as well as natural and cultural features, are evaluated.”
As well, “the viewscape framed by the Canadian Parliament Buildings and the Château Laurier Hotel overlooks the Ottawa Locks, which is the largest single set of locks” in the entire Rideau system. The views around this area are “quintessential to the Rideau Canal experience.”
The review says it is “essential that utmost care be taken in assessing impacts before any irrevocable decisions are made.”
The review stops short of judging whether there would be too much impact, but asks for a full evaluation — by the federal government, not by the city. (The canal is Parks Canada property.)
UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre asks to be kept informed of developments.
Heritage Ottawa, a volunteer organization that has opposed the Château addition’s design, said it has just received the UNESCO document and needs time to discuss it.
But president David Flemming said the concept of the view around the canal is indeed central. “That’s part of the basis of our challenge,” he said.
“Obviously view planes, compatibility, impact on the canal — those are all things that we feel should have been taken into consideration.”
Flemming said his group asked UNESCO to become involved [at about] the time of the great fire in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. The cathedral is a UNESCO heritage site as well.
“Somebody had asked me: Have we got a reply from UNESCO? And I said no, and the woman I sent it to — I just saw her on TV talking about the cathedral. I said maybe the Château Laurier and the Rideau Canal are not on her mind now.”
Then the reply came. “We’re going to be looking over it in the next few days,” he said.
This newspaper has invited a representative of Larco Investments, which owns the hotel, to discuss its response.