In response to a letter from local heritage advocate Robin Collins and former City of Ottawa Councillor Peter Harris of the “Protect the Chateau Laurier Group (PTCL)”, requesting that the federal government bring the landmark Ottawa heritage hotel back into the Crown portfolio through nationalisation, the PMO says that the Prime Minister is deferring the decision to Minister Anand.
“Please be assured that your comments have been carefully reviewed. I note that you have also addressed your email to the Honourable Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement. While the Prime Minister appreciates being made aware of your ongoing concerns, he will leave your comments to be considered by the Minister”, wrote Michael Ibrahim, Executive Correspondence Officer for the Prime Minister’s Office on December 11.
PTCL formed in opposition to the August agreement between Heritage Ottawa and hotel owner Larco Investments, which resulted in a somewhat improved (although still unacceptable to many) design over the hugely unpopular “Radiator” approved by the City of Ottawa Built Heritage Sub-Committee in 2019.
The City provides a brief history in time:
“On January 31, 2018, City Council approved an application to demolish the garage of the Château Laurier as the garage was structurally unsound. The garage has been replaced with a temporary surface parking lot enclosed within the original walls.
City Council approved the application to alter the heritage building on June 27, 2018 and Planning Committee approved the site plan application on June 13, 2019. On July 10 and 11, 2019, City Council reviewed and upheld the heritage permit approval.
Collins’ letter encapsulates the situation, “It’s taken several years so far to shuffle through a series of undesirable proposals from Larco Investments… One option that we strongly favour, is that the federal government purchase the Chateau Laurier property (through expropriation at going rates).”
Collins points out that nationalisation is not an new idea – or a radical one – and has the support of many, “ including former Liberal cabinet member David Collenette, Senator Jim Munson, Thomas Axworthy… and Carleton University professor and historian Randy Boswell.”
The nationalisation option has been widely reported in the Ottawa Citizen, Hill Times, and National Newswatch.
At the heart of the opposition movement is the Parks Canada publication, “Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada” – which requires that additions must be compatible… but “distinguishable from the historic place”. The guidelines inform the Ontario Heritage Act, and therein lies the elephant in the room. Any addition conforming to the Parks Canada guidelines will likely be unacceptable to those who want to maintain its’ Chateauesque architectural style, in that a Chateauesque-style addition would probably not be “distinguishable”.
While there are many examples of successful additions that are homogenous with the original heritage architecture – The Chateau Frontenac, The Royal York, The Lord Elgin, The Chateau Lake Louise, and the venerable Empress in Victoria – and this is the only type of addition that PTCL would accept… it wouldn’t really conform to the Parks Canada guidelines or contemporary architectural thinking.
Peter Coffman, supervisor of Carleton University’s History and Theory of Architecture program has said, “The most successful additions to historic buildings I’ve seen start by understanding the old building and imagining what its present-day architectural descendants might look like.”
Coffman and Collins do agree that the heritage protection legislation needs work. “Our official process ended with city council’s approval of a design so outstandingly bad that public and expert opinion were united in opposition. This is for a building that enjoys the maximum heritage protection that our laws provide. The outcome is evidence of a system that failed…”, Coffman said.
The new proposed design will now require approval by LPAT and the City of Ottawa. The City is currently requesting public and technical comments on the new design proposal by December 23rd.
The revised design is currently being reviewed by UNESCO World Heritage Centre
According to Collins, “Most see expropriation as a ‘last resort’ option and this is appropriate. But we appear to have entered the phase of last resort…”