Description of Historic Place
St. Brigid's, 314 St. Patrick Street, is a rusticated limestone Romanesque Revival former church. It is prominently located at the southwest corner of St. Patrick and Cumberland Streets in Lowertown, an historic neighbourhood east of downtown Ottawa.
St. Brigid's Church was designated for its cultural heritage value under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act by the City of Ottawa through By-law 129-81, and 189-90.
This rusticated limestone church of Romanesque Revival form is an outstanding example of religious architecture, and stands as a landmark in the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District. It showcases the skill of local craftsmen of early Ottawa.
St. Brigid's was the First English Catholic Church in Lowertown. This Church, built in 1890, has historically served as a parish church for the Irish Catholic working class residents of Lowertown. Though it no longer serves a religious function, it is a significant reminder of their contribution to the growth of Ottawa. The Irish community was one of the founding groups of the city in the early nineteenth century. Many of the early Irish immigrants worked as labourers constructing the Rideau Canal and many lost their lives doing so.
St. Brigid's is also associated with the Irish Famine that brought so many Irish to Canada. During these years, many of the immigrants arrived in Lowertown and were using Notre Dame Basilica, a French Parish, as their church. The French and Irish of early Lowertown are infamous for their brawling, and so it was necessary for the English-speaking Catholics to form their own parish, just down the street from Notre Dame. The Catholic population was able to support the two churches until recently; the last mass was preformed in September 2007.
St. Brigid's has played an important role as a centre of the cultural and social life of the community. During the 1920's and 30's, St. Brigid's Athletic Club dominated the City's athletic activities. The Church is closely associated with the Grey Sisters of the Immaculate Conception who taught at the schools affiliated with St. Brigid's. The Shepherds of Good Hope, one of the most important social aid organizations of the city, began operations in the basement of St. Brigid's and still resides in the parish community. As an Irish cultural centre and community space, St Brigid's continues to serve as a centre for the community.
St. Brigid's was built by the prominent Ottawa architects J. K. Bowes and Son. Together, they contributed to building the nation's capital including the Parliament buildings, public institutions, and civic structures. The contractor was J. J. Lyons, the iron work on the roof was Douglas and Haines, and the stained glass was completed by Castle and Son of Montreal.
St. Brigid's is certainly one of the most architecturally prominent buildings in Lowertown. Its spires, which appealed to the Victorian's delight in asymmetrical composition, are visible from most points in the neighbourhood. St. Brigid's is a massive limestone structure with a pitched roof and a cruciform plan. It is constructed in a basic Gothic Revival form though with extensive Renaissance Baroque Revival detail. Although it became necessary to brace the limestone walls with rather large, solid, concrete buttresses, most of the Gloucester limestone exterior remains intact. The Celtic influences, emblematic of its associations with its Irish roots, are visible in the gabled portals and rounded arches.
St. Brigid's is also valuable for its extravagant interior. The paint, marbleizing, stencil work and figurative murals employed on the walls that were painted over with Vatican II in the 1960s have been restored. The interior also features iron columns, canvas panels, vaulted ceilings, as well as decorative wood carvings, including the wainscoting, pews, confessionals, and altar. There are beautifully crafted representations of the Nativity and Descent from the Cross, painted by Toussaint Xenophon Renaud in 1908 and restored in 1980. St. Brigid's also features a superb "Casavant" Organ.
Source: City of Ottawa Heritage File PD071-OHD4300/STPA00314
Character defining elements of St. Brigid's include its:
- prominent position on the corner of St. Patrick and Cumberland Street
- aluminum sheathed spires standing as one of the tallest structures in the neighbourhood
- Gloucester limestone grey walls
- contrasting ashlar stone stringcourse, voussoirs, quoins, and sills
- paired semi-circular arches on the main facade
- Celtic emblems
- understated buttress
- regular fenestration of rounded lancet windows
- engaged sandstone columns
- decorative finials and crosses
- interior central nave with raised chancel
- painted wood and plaster work
- heavy mouldings and trim in the sanctuary
- fan vaulted ceiling
- canvassed walls in the nave
- winding staircase at the rear of the altar
- ash wainscoting and pews with walnut detailing
- restored murals originally painted by Toussaint-Xénophon Renaud
- Casavant organ
- stained glass windows