Remarks at Built Heritage Sub-Committee about the Château Laurier

Councillor King as Chair of Built Heritage Sub-Committe (BHSC) makes comments about the application for a heritage permit at 1 Rideau Street, the Château Laurier

When I made my last comments in 2019 at Council about the Chateau Laurier, it was the first time I was able to speak on the topic, having been elected less than two months prior. It was a debate that could only be best characterized as lively.

I acknowledge that since that time the application has substantially changed and I am now the Chair of this Sub-Committee, a role that I cherish in that it gives me a unique opportunity to give active voice to the protection to Ottawa's superb built heritage.

In June 2019, the City’s Planning Committee approved a site plan control application for a seven-storey addition to the rear of the Chateau Laurier. That fall, the Committee of Adjustment ruled on minor zoning variances - a ruling that both Heritage Ottawa and the owner, LARCO Investments, appealed to the LPAT.

To settle that appeal, LARCO consulted with Heritage Ottawa to revise its design, rather than proceeding with the version the Planning Committee and Council had approved.

As the new design is significantly different from the approved version, it requires approval of both a new heritage application and a revised Site Plan Control application.

Despite the long history and the many iterations of designs before us, it’s hard to consider this file outside of the context of its design evolution. Frankly, it also does a disservice to the hundreds of hours spent by staff working on this file, for which I’d like to take the opportunity now to thank them.

The application before us is very much a compromise, one brokered by Heritage Ottawa who also spent many volunteer hours on this file. The proposal significantly increases the use of Indiana limestone along with more complimentary building materials.  Further, the view from Majors Hill Park is improved with the carve out in the middle of the addition that simultaneously maintains the view of the original building and the U shape heritage feature of building.

These are design features I am pleased to see. I’m also cognizant that staff recommends approval of this permit, as the proposed design meets both standard 1 and standard 11 of Parks Canada’s "Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada". I do take staff’s recommendations seriously and can certainly see that the new addition is distinguishable, of its own time and takes better cues and inspiration from the design of the historic building.

Having said that, while I agree that this proposal meets the letter of the guidelines, I remain unconvinced, like my colleague Councillor Brockington that it meets the spirit. The report notes that the previous plans which came to Council and committee, also met the standards and guidelines, yet they elicited such a furor from the general public that at that time, I had voted with colleagues to do the unprecedented and attempt to revoke the heritage permit. As you all know, that failed and we are now back, with this application before us.

In my estimation Ottawa is an intriguing city because of the delicate balance stuck between its built form, both historical and contemporary, its streetscapes, neighbourhoods and landscapes.  This delicate balance has defined Ottawa and its evolution over the last two centuries and embodies a collective memory and meaning that is lacking in most cities today.  Conserving this heritage character, while enhancing vitality and modern utility is key to retaining Ottawa’s unique sense of place.  Ultimately, the expectation of the public, and I believe future generations, is for development throughout the City that compliments neighbourhoods, communities, greenspace and historic sites and landmarks.  I would therefore concur with Member Quinn's belief that the federal government should seek greater protections for national historical sites so that we are not facing this kind of designs that would only illicit a C minus from Member Padolsky!

Wilfred Laurier, the Hotel’s namesake, wrote in 1884 that "Ottawa is not a handsome city, and it does not appear to be destined to become one."  While I disagree wholeheartedly with our former Prime Minister’s prognostication, I fear that approving this addition is a step backwards toward cementing his worst fears. Laurier himself established the Ottawa Improvement Commission, the first iteration of the NCC, with the view to beautify what was a sleepy lumber town. To make this addition to a building which is a National Historic Site, which is a piece of Canadian iconography, I can’t help but think this doesn’t honour Wilfred Laurier’s legacy. This is not the fault of staff, as ultimately, this crown jewel is private property.

I do realize that aesthetics is subjective and I never expected to see a proposal that was the same as the original building. I’m also aware that City staff have spent an astronomical amount of time on this application, and I have spent much time taking their recommendations into consideration. Staff's hard work and dedication has not gone unnoticed. Despite this, I am still disappointed by the proposal and will not be supporting the application.  As a consequence, I will be voting no and will therefore call for yeas and nays.

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