Willson Carbide Mill

Recognized Federal Heritage Building

Ottawa, Ontario
General view of the Carbide. (© Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, PA 9048.)
General view
(© Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives Canada, PA 9048.)
Address : 1 Victoria Island, Victoria Island, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1984-02-21
Dates:
  • 1899 to 1900 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Ottawa Carbide Company  (Architect)
Custodian: National Capital Commission
FHBRO Report Reference: 83-63
DFRP Number: 02025 00

Description of Historic Place

The Willson Carbide Mill stands on Victoria Island in the Ottawa River. It is a tall, four-storey, gable-roofed building whose industrial design reflects an underlying classicism. The steel-frame structure is clad in limestone and decorated with cut stone at the corners and around the regular, evenly-spaced window openings. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Willson Carbide Mill is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental value.

Historical Value
The Willson Carbide Mill is directly associated with the Ottawa Carbide Company, which built its plant on the island between 1899 and 1900. The building is also significant for its direct association with Thomas Leopold Willson , who was the inventor of the process to produce calcium carbide and acetylene gas. He was also the founder of the Ottawa Carbide Company and is considered a person of national historic significance by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Architectural Value
The utilitarian Willson Carbide Mill is valued for its aesthetic and functional qualities. Designed by engineers, this building possesses an innovative interior layout, which provided specific and protected space for each process of production. The building’s industrial character is softened by its classical scale, proportions and details. Its well-crafted, two-feet thick, stone walls, decorated with cut-stone, are evidence of its good craftsmanship.

Environmental Value
The Willson Carbide Mill reinforces the picturesque character of its setting on Victoria Island. Highly visible, on both sides of the river, it is a well-known local landmark.

Sources: Marc de Caraffe, Usine de carbure, Ile Victoria, Ottawa, Ontario, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Building Report, 83-063; Willson Carbide Mill, Victoria Island, Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement, 83-063.

Character-Defining Elements

The following character-defining elements of the Willson Carbide Mill should be respected.

Its aesthetic qualities, functional design and quality craftsmanship, for example: its massing, which consists of a four-storey structure with an elongated two-storey section along its side and rear; its gable roof with chimney; its steel-frame construction;. its two-feet (60 centimetres) thick limestone walls, which are decorated with cut stone at the corners and in the window openings; its interior layout, which provided each phase of production with its own specific and protected space.

The manner in which the Willson Carbide Mill reinforces the picturesque character of its setting on Victoria Island, and is a well-known landmark within the area, as evidenced by: its scale, design and materials, which contribute to the architectural integrity of a former, formal industrial area; its recognition within the area as the last remaining building on the site.

Heritage Character Statement

Disclaimer - The heritage character statement was developed by FHBRO to explain the reasons for the designation of a federal heritage building and what it is about the building that makes it significant (the heritage character). It is a key reference document for anyone involved in planning interventions to federal heritage buildings and is used by FHBRO in their review of interventions.

The Ottawa Carbide company built their plant on Victoria Island between 1899 and 1900. It bears the name of Thomas Leopold Willson, inventor of the process to produce calcium carbide and acetylene gas and founder of the Ottawa Carbide Company, who was declared a person of national historic significance by the Historic sites and Monuments Board of Canada. The four storey mill building which now remains was conceived by engineers for utilitarian purposes but was given some architectural features which soften its mainly industrial character. Its steel structure was clad with two feet thick limestone walls which are decorated with cut sone at the corners and in the window openings. The traditional appearance of the mill is typical of industrial buildings of the times. Yet its was innovative in its interiors layout which provided each process with its own specific and protected space. Because it is the last remaining building, it has become a landmark and continues to contribute to the architectural integrity of a former industrial area.