Description of Historic Place
The austere and imposing former Monastère du Précieux Sang at 774 Echo Drive is a four-storey classically-proportioned structure arranged around a courtyard. It has a hipped roof and belfry and overlooks the Rideau Canal. It is now the national headquarters of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.
The property is recognized by the City of Ottawa for its heritage value in By-law 87-98.
The Soeurs du Précieux Sang, a contemplative order, was founded in 1861, and came to Ottawa from Quebec in 1887. In 1898 they purchased the MacKay estate on the Rideau Canal, an expansive, treed lot, well suited to the needs of the Sisters, who lived a quiet existence devoted to prayer and meditation, with little contact to the outside world.
In 1914, construction began on the structure designed by Alphonse Contant. Construction did not proceed smoothly, but finally donations in kind from the community allowed the sisters to occupy the building, in 1924. Owing to the financial problems, the building was very plain and some parts, such as the chapel, were not finished to the sisters' satisfaction, until the 1960s. A two storey wing on the front (north) façade, completed in 1981, enclosed the courtyard.
Stylistically, the building's restrained classicism and substantial massing is similar to convents and monasteries built throughout Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries. These institutions were generally laid out around a central axis with each wing housing a different function. The treed grounds to the north and south of the building serve as a reminder of its original role as the home of nuns who used the then fenced grounds for meditation and passive recreation.
French-speaking Roman Catholic religious institutions played a critical role in Ottawa's history, as different Orders of nuns provided health care or education to Ottawa's citizens. The Soeurs du Précieux Sang performed a less public function, but one that was highly valued by the community, as contemplative orders were considered to be important to the spiritual life of the City. Public mass was held regularly in the Chapel, providing a link between the religious community and its neighbours. The history of the building, remains an important part of the history of the city.
Its magnificent setting on attractive grounds overlooking the Rideau Canal, and its looming presence in an older residential neighbourhood, make it an important Ottawa landmark.
Sources: City of Ottawa Bylaw 87-98. City of Ottawa Heritage Survey and Evaluation Form, Building File No. PD-43. Ottawa: A Guide to Heritage Structures, 2000.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Monastère du Précieux Sang include its:
- simple, classical proportions of the building's wings, fenestration, and entrances
- stone lintels of the rectangular windows and smooth stone stringcourses separating the storeys of the front facade
- high hipped roof of the east and west wings
- frontispiece topped by a monumental pediment and the two-storey round arch entranceway and modified mansard roof and dormers of the rear portion of the building
- hammered tin clad belfry
- expansive, treed lawn to the north of the building and grounds to the south giving an impression of the former character of the grounds
- large two-storey windows of the former chapel on the east facade partially filled with stained glass
- location overlooking the Rideau Canal
- location among the surrounding older residential neighbourhood