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Government Conference Centre

2 Rideau Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

Formally Recognized: 1989/01/19

Exterior photo; Monique Trépanier, Architectural History Branch | Direction de l'histoire de l'architecture, 1988
Exterior photo
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Other Name(s)

Government Conference Centre
Former Union Station
Ancienne Gare Union

Links and documents

Construction Date(s)

1909/01/01 to 1912/01/01

Listed on the Canadian Register: 2006/01/19

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place

The Government Conference Centre 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.

Heritage Value

The Government Conference Centre is a Classified Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values:

Historical value:
Originally built as Ottawa’s Union Station, the present-day Government Conference Centre 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 Centre, 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.

Architectural value:
The Government Conference Centre 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.

Environmental value:
The Government Conference Centre 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 Centre (former Union Station) Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 88-028.

Government Conference Centre, Ottawa, Ontario. Heritage Character Statement 88-028.

Character-Defining Elements

The following character-defining elements of the Government Conference Centre 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; and
- 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.




Recognition Authority

Government of Canada

Recognition Statute

Treasury Board Heritage Buildings Policy

Recognition Type

Classified Federal Heritage Building

Recognition Date


Historical Information

Significant Date(s)


Theme - Category and Type

Function - Category and Type



Station or Other Rail Facility

Architect / Designer

Bradford Lee and Ross and MacFarlane



Additional Information

Location of Supporting Documentation

Indigenous Affairs and Cultural Heritage Directorate Documentation Centre 3rd Floor, room 366 30 Victoria Street Gatineau, Québec J8X 0B3

Cross-Reference to Collection

Fed/Prov/Terr Identifier




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