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 heritage building “falls far short” when compared to Canada’s allies.
The report prepared by the National Capital Commission (NCC), entitled Preliminary Functional Programming Report, suggests the residence is “ill-suited to receiving official visitors” and that a new facility dedicated to official government affairs, international diplomacy and visits “presents better branding of Canada as a G7 member and world player.”
The report estimates 24 Sussex, which the prime minister has opted not to live in, needs roughly $36.6 million worth of repairs. To tear it down and rebuild, the NCC has estimated, would cost at least $40 million dollars.
While there are no architectural plans, the document does outline what a new, larger facility should look like. It states a new residence should be at least 15,550 square feet – not counting the specialized security areas – with 76 per cent of the space dedicated to official government use and 24 per cent dedicated to the prime minister’s private residence.
The bigger space should be large enough to host indoor events for 125 people, sit down dinners for 30 to 50 people, have commercial and pastry kitchens (along with prep spaces) and have space for staff to prepare for their shifts and take a break. The private side of the building, meanwhile, is recommend to have four children’s rooms, three guest rooms, at least two offices, a yard and BBQ space, and a private suite with a sitting room and a primary bathroom.
“This is the furthest we have come in this process,” said Leslie Maitland, the past president of Heritage Ottawa. “Before the NCC was wetted to the idea of doing something to the building at 24 Sussex to put the prime minister in there. Now they seem to be moving away from that.”
Maitland has been following the developments at 24 Sussex for years. She said the project is about Canadian pride and creating “appropriate places symbolic of your state and nation.”
When it comes to the heritage aspect of the home and preserving the building itself, Maitland said the priority should be protecting and honouring the waterfront site.
“It really is one of the most majestic views in the National Capital Region,’ Maitland said. “It is a highly symbolic landscape.”
Construction on 24 Sussex began in 1867 and for 75 years it was occupied by lumber barons. In 1949, the federal government purchased the property and began what the NCC calls “the most recent work of an extensive nature.” Two years later, in 1951, Louis St-Laurent moved in, becoming the first Canadian prime minister to make 24 Sussex their official residence.
“If you look at it as a symbol of a country is a sad symbol, there’s nothing else in this country that we would treat this way,” said Benjamin L. Shinewald, the president and chief executive officer of BOMA Canada.
The report suggests that like other official residences across the globe, Canada has entered a cycle of under-investment, resulting in the building entering a “state of poor condition requiring an infusion of money to remain functional.” So far, between 2009 and 2019, more than $6.5 million has been spent on renovations, with 95 per cent of the capital investments spent on infrastructure improvements.
“It ain’t working right now. Let’s find a new way and let’s be bold about it,” Shinewald said.
The findings prepared by the National Capital Commission where tabled before its board of directions in 2021, but only recently released to the public through an Access to Information Request.
For now, the information in the report represent possibilities since no decision on what to do with the building have been made.