Description of Historic Place
Rideau Hall Visitor Centre is an attractive, two-storey, building with a hipped gable roof, shed roofed dormers, and painted clapboard siding. The simple external treatment is in the style of late 19th century vernacular architecture. The building’s complex T-shaped massing presents as a balanced composition with an interesting roofline. Some details including the brackets under the eaves, a small porch, and a verandah are inspired by Picturesque principals. The Visitor Centre forms part of the large and prestigious Rideau Hall estate, the official residence of Canada’s Governor General.
Rideau Hall Visitor Centre is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building due to its historical, architectural and environmental values.
The Rideau Hall Visitor Centre, also known as the former caretaker’s cottage, is a convenient example of early 19th century urban development in Canada. It is associated with the establishment of semi-rural estate properties outside the city core by the emerging middle and upper classes. In its evolution, the building is also associated with the phenomenon of the Picturesque style in Canada, applied by the federal government in its development of the estate as an official residence. From 1867, two prominent gardeners, Alpine Grant and James Sorley, regionally recognized for their horticultural expertise and contributions to the Picturesque landscaping, helped to establish the estate as a National Historic Site. Rideau Hall manager Don MacKinnon later occupied the building. The Rideau Hall Visitor Centre is a convenient example of two distinct phases in Ottawa’s development. Constructed before MacKay’s 1838 establishment of Rideau Hall, the Visitor Centre illustrates the early movement of people out of downtown Ottawa to larger east end properties. It also illustrates when Rideau Hall’s 1860s development as Governor General’s residence attracted the social elite to Rockcliffe Park and New Edinburgh. The cottage’s location may have contributed to the layout of New Edinburgh.
This structure was constructed in the 1830s as a one-storey cottage now hidden beneath many additions and alterations. The attractive two-storey Rideau Hall Visitor Centre reflects its evolution. Its exterior is late 19th century vernacular with Picturesque detailing. An 1867 extension gave its current footprint, while 1893 wood siding unified the building. In 1912, the second storey was added. Its good functional qualities were retained when converted into the Rideau Hall Visitor Centre in 1997. The renovated building now accommodates public functions. Rideau Hall Visitor Centre fulfills a straightforward role and adapted well to changing requirements. It is a wooden construction with modifications in the same material. Recent alterations included window restoration, and replacement of roofing and exterior cladding. Original material was replaced where necessary with compatible, high quality material. Craftsmanship and materials of the current alterations are very good and high caliber, as evidenced in the restored early windows, cedar shingle roof, water boards and corner trim.
The Rideau Hall Visitor Centre stands on a flat landscaped site amongst trees and lawn at the Rideau Hall estate northwest entrance bounded by a fence, informal plantings and a playground. Building changes include the construction and removal of various additions and altered grade, paths and access points, but it still reads as a house. To support its new function, the site relationship changed when the entrance relocated to what was the rear façade, and a hedge dividing the area from the estate was removed. The Visitor Centre is located within the larger Rideau Hall and Landscaped Grounds National Historic Site of Canada. The pavilion-like Visitor Centre anchors the end of the path up to Rideau Hall, reinforces the Picturesque character of its setting, plays a significant functional role to visitors to Rideau Hall and is very well known within the estate. Subordinate to Rideau Hall, it is less visible than the formal entry pavilion or gates, but is a familiar landmark to the neighbouring communities of New Edinburgh and Rockcliffe Park.
The following character-defining elements of the Rideau Hall Visitor Centre must be preserved:
— the location within the perimeter of Rideau Hall, at the corner of Rideau Gate, and Thomas Street;
— the two-storey, T-shaped massing of the overall form set under a gable roof with chimneys;
— the simple design and external treatment finished in the style of late 19th-century vernacular architecture with elements from the Picturesque movement;
— the wood material used in its construction;
— the multi-pane windows with fine muntins, the corner trim set proud of the siding, the water table board, and the contrast between the fieldstone foundation and wood cladding;
Notable elements in common with the vernacular style include:
— the 1:1 slope of the main roofs;
— its horizontal wood shiplap cladding, a comparable replacement of the 1893 clapboard;
— its balance and symmetry, exemplified in the placement of windows and doors;
— its articulated, T-shaped plan.
Features inspired by Picturesque principles include:
— the clipped gables with their bracketed eaves;
— the shed dormers above the east and west façades;
— the small porch at the west entrance with its eccentric, ornamental balustrade;
— the verandah, which runs almost full width of the east façade and, though added later, is compatible in style.