Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Basilica National Historic Site of Canada

Ottawa, Ontario
General view of Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Basilica, showing the twin-towered façade with large west window, 1989. (© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, W. Duford, 1989.)
General view
(© Parks Canada Agency / Agence Parcs Canada, W. Duford, 1989.)
Address : 375 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1990-02-23
Dates:
  • 1842 to 1897 (Construction)
  • 1844 to 1858 (Significant)
  • 1862 to 1863 (Significant)
  • 1874 to 1891 (Significant)
  • 1897 to 1897 (Significant)
  • 1933 to 1933 (Significant)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Louis-Philippe Hébert  (Person)
  • Harwood  (Person)
  • Guido Nincheri  (Person)
  • Flavien Rochon  (Person)
  • Philippe Pariseau  (Person)
  • Father Jean-François Cannon  (Architect)
  • Father Félix Martin  (Architect)
  • Father Adrien Telmon  (Architect)
  • Father Damase Dandurand  (Architect)
  • Victor Bourgeau  (Architect)
  • Father Georges Bouillon  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Basilica  (Designation Name)
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral of Bytown  (Other Name)
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral of Ottawa  (Other Name)

Plaque(s)


First planned as a parish church in 1839, Notre-Dame was transformed as it achieved the status of cathedral for the new Catholic Diocese of Bytown in 1847, mother church of the Archdiocese of Ottawa, and basilica in 1879. With bell towers, twin spires, Nincheri’s pointed stained-glass windows, splendid polychromy, and intricately carved sanctuary, its exceptional design by priests, architects, and artisans was inspired by the French Gothic Revival, and integrates elements of classicism and French-Canadian church architecture. Its role as Ottawa’s Catholic spiritual centre is enhanced by the numerous religious buildings that surround it.

Description of Historic Place

Notre Dame Roman Catholic Basilica National Historic Site of Canada is a large Gothic Revival cathedral, built of ashlar limestone, whose twin towers mark the entrance to Lowertown, one of Ottawa’s earliest neighbourhoods. It is prominently located on Sussex Drive, between St. Patrick and Guigues streets, across from the National Gallery of Canada, in Ottawa’s Lowertown area. As the physical and spiritual centre of Ottawa’s Catholic community, the cathedral is flanked on its south side by the Archbishop’s Palace and on its north side by the former College of Bytown and the Mother House of the Grey Nuns. The formal recognition consists of the cathedral on its legal property at the time of designation.

Heritage Value

Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Basilica was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1990 because: it is an exceptional example of the Gothic Revival style in Canadian architecture.

The basilica’s heritage value is carried by its design, materials, and interior decoration and craftsmanship. In its design and construction, Notre-Dame Roman Catholic Basilica integrates classicism, Quebec church architecture and the French Gothic Revival style. It is notable for the continuity of design throughout the entire structure, despite its numerous renovations and additions. It is also notable for its interior finishes, decoration, artwork and embellishments. It is enhanced by its ecclesiastic precinct as well as by its significant role as a landmark in the nation’s capital.

The original neoclassical design of the church was begun in 1842 under parish priest Jean-François Cannon and altered in 1843 to plans prepared by Jesuit priest Félix Martin. In 1844, the partially built structure was transformed to the Gothic Revival style under Oblate priests Adrien Telmon and Damase Dandurand. The steeples were added in 1858 to designs by Dandurand. In 1862-3 an apse was built in the Gothic Revival style to designs by Montréal priest-architect Victor Bourgeau. The interior decoration was substantially completed in the late-19th century and includes work by major artists, including 19th-century contributions by Québec sculptor Philippe Hébert and stained-glass artist Harwood, and a series of stained glass windows executed in the 1960s by Guido Ninchieri. It also houses an organ made by Joseph Casavant.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1990, June 1999.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include: its location, facing Sussex Drive; viewscapes to and from the building across Sussex Drive; those elements illustrating its Gothic Revival style such as its rectangular massing on an east-west axis, its fine stone construction, its vertical emphasis externally and internally, Gothic Revival style detailing such as pointed-arch openings and tall, slender steeples, and buttresses; those elements illustrating the influence of the specifically French Gothic Revival style including the twin-towered façade with large west window, its plan and elevation including a tall nave, clerestory, side aisles, generously scaled sanctuary and curved apse; the surviving evidence of the decorative programs of Dandurand, Bourgeau and Bouillon including the altarpieces and side altars, use of stained glass, the polychrome colour scheme including the brilliant jewel-like polychrome painting and gilding of the interior, and the wood and plaster-carved sculptural figures in the Québec tradition by artists such as Louis-Philippe Hébert, Philippe Pariseau and Flavien Rochon; the series of stained-glass windows executed by Guido Nincheri; the organ in its original placement and remnants of its original fabric; the continuity of design carried through all renovations and additions to the original building; its skilled craftsmanship, evident throughout the exterior and interior of the building; the gilded statue of the Virgin and Child on the peak of the roof.