Additions to Ottawa heritage buildings that actually worked


(EDITOR’S NOTE: We originally published this article on Sept. 19, 2016 after the original design for the Château Laurier expansion was revealed. In light of a revised design, we’ve decided to re-post with a few updates.)

Adding new features to old buildings can be tricky, because there’s no clear “right” way to do it. But in light of the ongoing controversy over the Château Laurier expansion wanted to find expansions made, or being made, to heritage buildings in the city that were well-received.

A developer needs to not only satisfy the fickle public, but also follow standards dictating what’s OK for an expansion to a heritage building.

To quote from page 23 of the “Standards and Guidelines for Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.”:

“Conserve the heritage value and character-defining elements when creating any new additions to an historic place or any related new construction. Make the new work physically and visually compatible with, subordinate to and distinguishable from the historic place.”

TL;DR: Keep it compatible but don’t mimic. This is what the designers working on the Château Laurier have said they’re trying to do — it’s just a matter of getting traction with the public.

Read the design philosophy for yourself

Nonetheless, all iterations of the design have been criticized to some degree for failing to fit in with the existing building

The original design of the Chateau Laurier expansion matched the colour of the walls and roof with the original building.

Original design. (Larco Investments)

Latest design. (Larco Investments)

We emailed our friends at Heritage Ottawa and asked them to suggest a few examples of past successes.

OttawaStart’s top ten additions that worked:

#1 – The Museum of Nature

Tasteful, modern, elegant. Not in-your-face about it.

It’s obvious this glass cube was a new addition to the Museum of Nature, but it keeps the general design of the structure intact.

#2 – The future glass ceiling of the West Block

This was suggested by Heritage Ottawa’s David Jeanes. Technically hasn’t been done yet, but it’s coming!

Artist's rendition of what the West Block commons chamber will look like

Artist’s rendition of what the West Block commons chamber will look like

#3 – Lord Elgin Hotel

Lord Elgin ca. 1970s (Via

Lord Elgin ca. 1970s (Via

Lord Elgin after expansion in 2004 (Photo via

Lord Elgin after expansion in 2004 (Photo via

#4 – Sir John A. Macdonald Building

Formerly the Bank of Montreal building, work began in 2012 to renovate the building and add a 3,100 square-metre annex

It reopened in the summer of 2015 and is currently used for Parliamentary meetings and events.

A description of the work on the Government of Canada’s website:

“The rehabilitation and construction plans respected the building’s heritage character and prominent location. The building’s elaborate windows were repaired. Stonemasons repaired the deteriorated masonry joints that had caused the building’s stone façade to crumble and its steel frame to corrode. The multi-use conference centre, now modernized to 21st century standards, has kept its impressive limestone walls and elegant features.

The atrium provides a transition between the modern and heritage areas, which must be distinct from each other. We carefully chose new materials that allow the building to fit in with the surrounding buildings and the city block.”

(Stonemasons also discovered a stone carving of BMO’s coat of arms, possibly dating to 1872. It was removed and sent to the Canadian Museum of History)

The splendid fusion of historic and new architecture exhibited by the newly renovated Sir John A. MacDonald Building and the Wellington Building will be on display for Doors Open Ottawa on June 4 and 5.


#5 – Bank of Canada

In the mid 1960s, the bank needed more office space. The large glass towers were designed in 1969 and construction took seven years from 1972-1979.

Bank of Canada, west facade, in 1966 (Via Bank of Canada)

Bank of Canada, west facade, in 1966 (Via Bank of Canada)

Bank of Canada today (National Trust Canada)

Bank of Canada today (National Trust Canada)

#6 – Grant House and First Baptist Church

Technically this wasn’t an expansion or addition; rather a new building was build in the same lot as an old one.

More established Ottawans will know, Performance Court (The building Shopify and KPMG work out of) did not always tower over the Grant House and First Baptist Church.

According to a plaque on the building, the Grant House was built in 1875 for Member of Parliament and physician Sir James Grant.

You can’t see from the street, but part of the Grant House actually is inside the lobby of Performance Court. It now houses Beckta, a winery and restaurant.

3D CGI view of inside

3D CGI view of inside

The tower’s website described what designers intended to accomplish:

“The objective is to preserve the Grant House and make it a focal point within the new building and an exciting retail space. Furthermore, the massing of Performance Court was designed in order to respect the scale of the Grant House. The 21 storey office tower steps down in height as it approaches Elgin Street, creating a transition between the tower and historic Grant House.”

Grant House in April 2009 (Google Street View)

Grant House in April 2009 (Google Street View)

Same angle, today. (Google Street View)

Same angle, today. (Google Street View)

#7 – Old Teachers’ College and City Hall

City Hall incorporates almost seamlessly with the old Ottawa Normal School (now called simply the Heritage Building) with use of bridge links.

Google Street View from Lisgar Street

Google Street View from Lisgar Street

#8 – National Capital Commission headquarters

The buildings in the front are obviously heritage, but the tower behind is new.



#9 – Mutchmor Public School

This great late-19th century building has had multiple additions since it was constructed in 1895.

According to, additions were constructed in 1911 and 1920:

“The 1911 and 1920 additions both represent good examples of Edwardian Classicism, with balanced facades, pediments over the doorways, and stone trim. Despite being of a somewhat different style, they were consciously adapted to match the original portion of the school, and extend to the north as to not disrupt the overall character and visual integrity of the original facade.”

In July 2015 an $8 million renewal project was completed, including full renovations, asbestos removal and a new 929 square-metre western wing.

Mutchmor Public School in May 2009

Mutchmor Public School in May 2009 (Google)

Mutchmor Public School today, with new west wing

Mutchmor Public School today, with new west wing. (Google)

And finally…

#10 – Château Laurier (Zoe’s Restaurant)

Well, they can do SOMETHING right!



There you have it – ten examples of additions/expansions of heritage buildings in Ottawa that integrate and complement, rather than block and obscure.

Thanks to Heritage Ottawa for their suggestions and feedback for this post.

Devyn Barrie

Devyn Barrie is the editor of and its sister site He has a journalism diploma from Algonquin College and has lived in Ottawa most of his life. Twitter: @DevynBarrieNews.


1 Response

  1. Judy Deegan says:

    If you want a couple more examples of excellent additions or infill, may I offer the following: the Cordon Bleu Culinary Arts Institute at 453 Laurier Avenue East and the Barry-Padolsky-designed Strathcona on the Parc next door at, 417-421 Laurier Ave East.

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