Cabbagetown can teach Ottawa how to preserve 24 Sussex

With a new Prime Minister in power, the state of 24 Sussex has become a hot topic. The Prime Minister’s residence has prompted national debates over how it should be fixed and if it’s worth fixing at all. Interestingly, the answer to this dilemma might be found in Cabbagetown.

Cabbagetown resident and ERA Architects inc. principal Scott Weir shared his case for renovating 24 Sussex with his neighbours and fellow architecture enthusiasts at the Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA) on Nov. 25.

Cabbagetown residents are familiar with the significance of heritage buildings, but know they can’t be above adaptation if they’re going to be practical.

“We have worked very hard as a community through the CPA to preserve the neighbourhood, but at the same time it has to be a neighbourhood that lives in today’s world,” said Cabbagetown Preservation Association (CPA) co-chair David Pretlove,”Some would argue that we in Cabbagetown have been leading the way in incorporating modern design into the properties and renovating the interiors for today’s uses.”

“When you look at buildings, they’re things that can change to better serve a community. In this case, this thing is serving our national identity as well as being a house,” said Weir, recognizing that 24 Sussex represents an important and complex piece of Canadian history, one that needs to be recognized, even as the building is renovated.

“I think we have a lot of opportunities in the process of overhauling this building that could respond to a number of things in the past and who we think we are as Canadians,” said Weir, “[24 Sussex] has a problematic colonialism weighted in its built form: it’s built in a gothic style to house a lumberyard family who made their fortune from clearing the traditional territory of the Algonquin nation of its trees.”

“While its architecture is rooted in the founding identity of Canada’s national capital, 24 Sussex could be adapted to convey, reinforce and transform Canadian culture through its architecture.”

When seeking inspiration for a historically respectful, practical and meaningful overhaul of 24 Sussex, architects could do worse looking to a known heritage neighbourhood.

“[The possibility of] taking what we’ve done in Cabbagetown into what should be done about a building in Ottawa is why we want to have this conversation,” said Pretlove, “The opportunity is in front of us to have a broader conversation and bring the public in.”