The Prime Minister’s official residence at 24 Sussex may be one of the most iconic buildings in Canada, but a new study says the aging historic building “falls far behind” compared to Canada’s allies.
The report, prepared by the National Capital Commission (NCC), titled Preliminary Functional Programming Report, suggests that the residence is “unfit to receive official visitors” and that a new facility dedicated to official government affairs, international diplomacy and visits “represents better branding of Canada as a G7 member and global player.”
The report estimates that 24 Sussex, which the Prime Minister has chosen not to live in, needs about $36.6 million in repairs. The NCC estimates that demolition and rebuilding would cost at least $40 million.
Although there are no architectural plans, the document outlines what a new, larger facility should look like. It states that a new residence should be at least 15,550 square feet – not counting the specialized security areas – with 76 percent of the area for official government use and 24 percent for the prime minister’s private residence.
The larger space was to be large enough to host indoor events for 125 people, host dinners for 30 to 50 people, have commercial and patisserie kitchens (along with prep rooms), and have space for employees to focus on their shifts prepare and take a break. The private side of the building, on the other hand, should have four children’s rooms, three guest rooms, at least two offices, a garden and barbecue area, and a private suite with a living room and a master bathroom.
“This is the furthest we have come in this process,” said Leslie Maitland, past President of Heritage Ottawa. “Before the NCC came up with the idea of doing something with the building at 24 Sussex to house the Prime Minister there. Now they seem to be moving away from that.”
Maitland has been following developments at 24 Sussex for years. She said the project is about Canadian pride and about creating “appropriate places that are symbolic of your state and your nation.”
When it comes to the heritage aspect of the home and the preservation of the building itself, Maitland said the priority should be protecting and honoring the waterfront property.
“It truly is one of the most majestic views in the National Capital Region,” Maitland said. “It’s a highly symbolic landscape.”
Construction of 24 Sussex began in 1867 and was occupied by lumber barons for 75 years. In 1949, the federal government acquired the property and began what the NCC calls “the latest work of a large scale.” Two years later, in 1951, Louis St-Laurent moved in and became the first Canadian Prime Minister to make 24 Sussex his official residence.
“If you look at it as a symbol of a country, it’s a sad symbol, there is nothing else in this country that we would treat like that,” said Benjamin L. Shinewald, President and Chief Executive Officer of BOMA Canada.
The report suggests that Canada, like other official residences around the world, has entered a cycle of underinvestment, resulting in the building falling into “a disrepair that requires an infusion of money to remain functional.” . To date, more than $6.5 million has been spent on renovations between 2009 and 2019, with 95 percent of the capital investment being spent on infrastructure improvements.
“It’s not working at the moment. Let’s find a new path and be bold,” Shinewald said.
The results, prepared by the National Capital Commission, were submitted to its Board of Directors in 2021 but were only recently released to the public through an information access request.
The information in the report represents possibilities for the time being, as no decision has yet been made on what to do with the building.