Description of Historic Place
The Government Conference Center is located on Confederation Square in downtown Ottawa. Built as Ottawa’s Union Railway Station, the monumental building’s Beaux-Arts, classical style was typical of early 20th century railway stations. Two principal facades distinguish the solid and impressive structure. The formal, front entrance façade features a symmetrical, tripartite design with a projecting central bay, giant columns and a prominent entablature. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.
The Government Conference Center is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values:
Originally built as Ottawa’s Union Station, the present-day Government Conference Center is one of the best examples associated with the great railway-building era in pre-war Canada, an activity central to the development of Canada’s early national unity and prosperity. The building continues to shape the country’s political and cultural identity in its role as the Government Conference Center, the locale for major national and international conferences. Originally as a port of entry to the Capital and later as a meeting venue, the building has long been associated with many figures of national and international significance. The building strongly depicts several phases of Ottawa’s development such as its function as a capital city as well as in the development of the city core.
The Government Conference Center is an excellent example of the Beaux-Arts tradition, a design favoured for this building type. The ordering of both the exterior and the interior are related expressions of Beaux-Arts design principles. Exhibiting the full vocabulary of classical forms, the symmetrical composition, large colonnades and arches of the building’s formal entrance and linear facades express the progression of spaces on the interior. As well, the axial symmetry and the progression of the interior spaces, of varying heights and proportions, permit a large, open layout in main spaces. Excellent decorative treatments and materials complement the overall design of the building.
The Government Conference Center reinforces the present character of Confederation Square in the commercial area of Ottawa’s downtown. The building is a familiar landmark to the residents of the city and the region.
Leslie Maitland, Government Conference Center (former Union Station) Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 88-028; Government Conference Center, Ottawa, Ontario. Heritage Character Statement 88-028.
The character-defining elements of the Government Conference Center should be respected.
Its role as an illustration of the great railway-building era in pre-war Canada is reflected in:
- the design which is in the spirit of the grand railway era and on the interior, the main railway hall.
Its Beaux-Arts style, very good functional design and excellent quality materials and craftsmanship as manifested in:
-the large scale, heavy massing and classical composition;
-the north and west facades, specifically the symmetrical, tripartite front façade composed of giant columns, strong corner pilasters, and a substantial cornice and entablature whose 3-dimensional treatment creates a strong play between light and shadow;
-its smooth, rich and white exterior of Indiana limestone;
-its patterns of fenestration and access;
-the axial symmetry and hierarchical progression of space leading to the main hall of the former railway station;
-the use of strong, durable construction materials such as a steel frame and brick and terracotta firewalls;
-the architectural treatment of the interior, specifically the main railway hall and the principal offices, which are decorated with classical elements such as coffered barrel vaults, plaster work and marble fireplaces.
The Government Conference Center reinforces the character of Confederation Square in the commercial area of Ottawa’s downtown and is a familiar landmark as evidenced in:
-its scale, massing and good quality materials which are in keeping with the dignity of other important structures in the Square such as the War Memorial, the Chateau Laurier and the Langevin Block;
-its north and west facades which maintain the prominence of the Square;
-its visible location, along the canal and its proximity to the commercial core of Ottawa make it known and a city landmark.