The City of Ottawa is on its own with Larco Investment’s architectural “vandalism,” say two federal ministers whose portfolios give them sway over a proposed, box store-like addition to the iconic Chateau Laurier Hotel that would mar national capital vistas.
“Let’s be honest, I would have done the design differently, and I think people in Ottawa are on the same page,” Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez said in a statement to The Post Millennial.
But Rodriguez declined to intervene, offering a variation of what National Capital Commission CEO Tobi Nussbaum has already stated on the matter: “this is primarily a municipal issue that needs to be managed by the municipality.”
Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky disagrees, so much so he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Canada Day in what describes as a “Hail Mary pass”.
“National Capital Commission has a responsibility…to ensure the conservation and protection and the enhancement of what is called ‘official Ottawa’ – (parliament) hill, parklands, Rideau Canal, the traditional precinct,” Padolsky said of why he wrote the prime minister.
“All of these are areas that the Government of Canada has worked to create the identity of a nationstate. A kind of federal Ottawa. And the Chateau Laurier is in this precinct.”
His letter outlines why the renovation is a blight, with Padolsky imploring, “If you are ( I hope ) now concerned about this imminent act of visual vandalism in the heart of our Capital, please intervene.”
As a heritage panellist on the city’s sub-committee, Padolsky said Larco’s plan barely evolved over five design iterations to assuage the city’s concerns.
“(Larco) was asked to incorporate elements of the Chateau Laurier itself, so the addition appears to belong to it.” Explained Padolsky who noted that he is not against the expansion in principle. “They Basically came back with the same (plan) with the modern details, but did not achieve what many were expecting.”
Council will vote July 10 on councillor Mathieu Fleury’s motion to revoke Larco’s conditional heritage permit it was issued back in 2018.
Meanwhile, Larco has threatened to sue if it loses the permit arguing that because the hotel is private property, it’s ultimately their decision.
This position does not sit well with a new group “Friends of Chateau Laurier” who insist the federal agencies do have a say because Chateau Laurier abuts Major Hill’s Park, which is NCC land, and sits adjacent the Rideau Canal, whose jurisdiction is shared by Parks Canada and the NCC.
They have since written to both Rodriguez and Ottawa Centre MP Catherine McKenna requesting they intervene.
McKenna, whose Environment portfolio also includes Parks Canada that operates the Rideau Canal during the summer months, told TPM that she would “follow this file closely”.
“I have heard concerns from local residents regarding the design of this project (but) the ultimate authority to approve the site plan application rests with the City,” McKenna writes in an email.
“Parks Canada’s role in the development process is limited to providing the City of Ottawa with comments about the impact that the Château addition may have on the Rideau Canal and its status as a National Historic Site.”
Paradoxically, renown Canadian architect Moshe Safdie’s National Gallery of Canada that bookends the hotel at the north end of Major’s Hill Park, was designed to be in harmony with Parliament Hill’s gothic revivalism; the hotel is a French nod to gothic architecture.
Also adding credibility to Larco’s detractors is a 2008 capital commission report that concludes the Chateau Laurier Hotel, “plays a pivotal role in the visual composition of Canada’s Capital.”
Opened in 1912 and named for Wilfred Laurier, Canada’s seventh prime minister, Larco acquired the Fairmont Chateau Laurier property in 2013.