Description of Historic Place
The Former Archives Building National Historic Site of Canada is a substantial stone building, designed in the federal Tudor Gothic style. The building is set back from Sussex Drive, a street that is also the home of several other major federal institutions in Ottawa, including its immediate neighbours, the Royal Canadian Mint National Historic Site of Canada and the National Gallery of Canada. The building consists of an original, seven-bay three-storey block with a central entrance built from 1904 to 1906, and a larger three-storey addition at right angles to it between 1924 and 1925. The formal recognition consists of the building and the legal property on which it sat at the time of designation.
The Former Archives Building was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1990 because of:
- its role as the home of the first permanent Canadian Archives.
The Former Archives Building served as the home of Canada’s national archives from 1906 until 1967. The construction of a secure permanent, fire-proof, facility to collect, preserve and study the nation’s records reflected a growing sense of a distinct Canadian identity and an increasing interest among Canadians in the country’s history. Its location on Sussex Drive helped fulfill former Prime Minister Sir Wilfred Laurier’s vision of transforming Ottawa from an industrious lumber town into a prestigious capital city with requisite cultural and civic amenities and institutions. Under Laurier’s direction, David Ewart, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works (1897-1914), supervised the design of four major federal buildings, including the Former Archives Building, which helped create a federal identity in Canada’s capital. These buildings were designed in a Tudor Gothic style that was compatible with the buildings on Parliament Hill, appropriate for a capital associated with the British Empire, and easily adapted to Beaux-Arts planning principles.
Sir Arthur Doughty, Dominion Archivist from 1904 to 1935 and a designated person of national historic significance, is closely associated with both the evolution of the physical structure of the Former Archives Building and the development of the archives as a public institution. Appointed in the same year as construction began on the archives building, he served for over three decades, including the period of expansion of the building between 1924 and 1925.
Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, February 1990.
Key elements that relate to the heritage value of the site include:
Elements that relate to its original function as a place to permanently store and study documents, including:
- the consistent use of fireproof materials such as fire-retardant brick, terra cotta, steel, iron, concrete and plaster;
- the inclusion of large, open spaces, suitable for displays, reading tables and open storage shelves, its large windows, to increase natural light;
- its distinction in plan and detailing between public, administrative and utilitarian spaces;
- its relationship to Sussex Drive on a generous setback.
Elements relating to its Tudor Gothic architectural style as expressed through:
- Beaux-Art devices, evident in its careful symmetry and formal geometry with a projecting central bay with tower,
- the axial arrangement of the interior spaces in the original section on either side of a central staircase,
- its use of contemporary building technologies such as structural steel and concrete clothed in a stone cladding,
- its use of a Tudor Gothic decorative vocabulary including decorative, openwork crenellation in a trefoil pattern punctuated at regular intervals by carved crests,
- the juxtaposition of rough-faced Nepean sandstone with smooth-faced limestone quoins, lintels, stringcourses, facing and caps, the application of false buttresses,
- rolled mouldings and arched entrance and surviving Tudor Gothic detailing of the public spaces and major offices.