Description of Historic Place
Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council National Historic Site of Canada, stands within Confederation Square National Historic Site of Canada, located on Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, Ontario. Prominently situated opposite Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada, it is one of the finest federal examples of a Second Empire style office building. Of robust appearance, this four-storey high building, features a limestone exterior, pavilion massing, round arched windows and a copper mansard roof; complimented by a rich decorative vocabulary. The building is well-known due to its current use as the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office. Official recognition refers to the building on its footprint at the time of designation.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1977 because:
- it emphasizes the importance of the Department of Public Works’ architecture;
- constructed to the designs of Thomas Fuller, it provided accommodation for an expanding civil service;
- this impressive structure is a modified version of the Second Empire Style
Constructed between 1883 and 1889, the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council is one of the best surviving examples of the work of Thomas Fuller, Chief Architect of the Department of Public Works from 1881 to 1896. During his tenure as Chief Architect, Fuller supervised the construction of over 140 buildings across Canada and was responsible for designing buildings in smaller urban centres that came to symbolize the federal government. Fuller’s attention to architectural details and his interest in creating a distinguished collection of federal buildings through the use of superior materials and craftsmanship is evident in the design and construction of the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council was the first purpose-built departmental building erected by the federal government outside the boundaries of Parliament Hill. The original Centre Block and two departmental buildings on Parliament Hill were designed to house all of the legislative and civil service functions of the United Province of Canada (present day Ontario and Quebec). After Confederation in 1867, the number of Members of Parliament, Senators and clerical staff increased substantially. In addition, the 1870 transfer of the Northwest Territories to the newly formed Dominion facilitated the rapid growth in the size and responsibility of the Departments of the Interior and of Indian Affairs. By 1880, the lack of office space on Parliament Hill became a major problem for legislators and civil servants. In 1883, the decision was made to construct a new building (the Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council) on purchased land, rather than to expand the West Block on Parliament Hill.
Upon its completion in 1889, the building was named for Sir Hector Langevin, Father of Confederation and Minister of Public Works during the buildings’ construction. The building originally housed the departments of Agriculture, Interior, Indian Affairs and the Post Office. The Department of Indian Affairs continued to occupy it until 1965. Between 1975 and 1977 the building was renovated to house the Prime Minister’s Office and the Privy Council Office.
The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council is a late example of the use of the Second Empire style in government buildings. The building features a mansard roof punctuated by dormers, as well as numerous Romanesque Revival references that steer its design away from French models towards North American ones. The Office of the Prime Minister and Privy Council is one of the few surviving examples of a building constructed in this style by the Department of Public Works.
Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, November 1977; Plaque Text, 1991.
Key elements that contribute to the heritage character of the site include:
- its prominent siting on the corner of Wellington and Elgin streets in downtown Ottawa, Ontario;
- its spatial and historical relationship with Parliament Buildings and Confederation Square National Historic Sites of Canada;
- its rectangular massing and symmetrical façades articulated with slightly projecting centre and end pavilions;
- the end façades, which continue the vocabulary of the front façade, but which are asymmetrical, due in part to the irregularities of the site;
- its Second Empire style, evident in its high mansard roof punctuated by one- and two-storey dormers, which emphasize the three-dimensional quality of the silhouette;
- its Romanesque revival styling, evident in the arcading of the windows on the second and third storeys, the extensive use of round-arched windows, the twinning, tripling and quadrupling of windows, and the polychromatic stonework created by the use of polished granite and ochre-coloured sandstone;
- its fine stonework, including olive-coloured sandstone facing, polished granite for the colonettes, carved stone cornice brackets, bas-reliefs, horizontal banding and cornices, rounded corners and deep-channel ground-floor masonry;
- the high quality of craftsmanship evident in the masonry and metalwork, particularly the decorative stone carving, metal balconies, and elaborate copper-sheathed roof;
- the main entrance, that is deeply recessed and framed with panelled pilasters;
- the fine interior finishes, notably the elaborate staircase, quality windows and door trim, iron railings and polished granite columns;
- its internal axial organization with offices, common rooms and boardrooms located on either side of spacious hallways;
- the viewscapes across Wellington Street to Parliament Buildings National Historic Site of Canada and across Elgin Street to the additional components of Confederation Square National Historic Sites of Canada.