Description of Historic Place
Situated on the National Capital "mile of history," Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica is the head church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa and the oldest church in the city. Begun in 1841, its construction was not completely finished until 1885. Its richly painted and carved neo-Gothic interior is one of the finest in the country. Its sanctuary is mainly the work of noted Canadian sculptor, Philippe Hébert.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica was formally recognized under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act by the City of Ottawa in 1978 (By-law #267-78).
Notre Dame is a significant structure within Ottawa and is firmly associated with the development of the city. Construction of this landmark began in 1841 on the site of the St. Jacques Church, a wooden structure built in 1832. The new stone church, as originally conceived by missionary Jean-François Cannon, was a rectangle with an elliptical apse, modelled on the Neoclassical St. Patrick's Church in Quebec City. Facing many alterations throughout the construction phase, the exterior of the church was finished in 1846, but the towers did not receive their steeples until 1858. In 1847 the church was elevated to a cathedral, and in1879, it was further elevated to the status of a basilica. The cathedral has also held at least one state funeral, that of Georges P. Vanier in 1967.
Notre Dame is the oldest church in the City of Ottawa and the seat of the city's Roman Catholic Archbishop. The cathedral is situated in Lowertown West which is characterized by its large number of Roman Catholic buildings, including the Archbishop's Palace, the Grey Nuns Mother House and St. Brigid's church. Notre Dame remains the centre of the Catholic Church in Ottawa and is an integral part of the Roman Catholic community in the city and beyond.
Because of numerous exterior alterations during construction, Notre Dame is an eclectic mix of various architectural styles. The original design was modeled after the Neoclassical St. Patrick's church in Quebec City. However, in 1844 Adrien Telmon and Damase Dandurand decided to change the style of Notre Dame from Neoclassical to Gothic Revival. The front doorways, which were already finished, retained their Neoclassical round-headed arches. The ashlar of the façade and the quoins on the towers also reveal the church's Neoclassical roots. However, the vaulting and the windows were demolished and rebuilt in the Gothic Revival style.
Following further alterations, the building was completed in an interpretation of the popular Gothic Revival style. The towers, significant for the traditional French-Canadian tin cloches, did not receive their magnificent 55 foot steeples until 1858. The comparatively severe, flat façade of the church belies the ornate, late-Victorian interior that features an unbroken rhythm of pointed arches. The ornate interior includes two detailed, vaulted ceilings, side galleries, extensive woodwork, carved altars and 30 life-sized carved figures, created by noted Canadian sculptor, Philippe Hébert. Overall, the interior of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica comprises some of Ottawa's finest craftwork.
Sources: Statement of reason for designation (city of Ottawa); By-law #267-78 files (city of Ottawa); "Ottawa, a Guide to Heritage Structures", city of Ottawa, 2000.
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica include its:
- rough stone exterior with smooth stone detailing
- plain, flat, symmetrical façade
- two square towers, capped with 54.5 metre high steeples, including tin cloches which house the bells
- Gothic Revival pointed arch windows
- round arched doors which recall the original Neoclassical design of the church
- ornately decorated interior, including vaulted ceilings and extensive woodwork
- interior sculptures, carved by notable Canadian sculptor, Philippe Hebert
- history as the seat of Ottawa's Roman Catholic Archbishop since 1879
- proximity and relationship to other Catholic institutional buildings in Lowertown West