Canada's Four Corners Building

Recognized Federal Heritage Building

Ottawa, Ontario
Exterior photo (© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada)
Exterior photo
(© Parks Canada | Parcs Canada)
Address : 93 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1986-06-06
Dates:
  • 1870 to 1871 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • King Arnoldi, Architect, Ottawa  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Canada's Four Corners  (Other Name)
  • Montreal Telegraph Building  (Other Name)
Custodian: Public Works and Government Services Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 85-21
DFRP Number: 08895 00

Description of Historic Place

The Canada’s Four Corners Building is located at the intersection of Sparks and Metcalfe Streets. Built of roughly dressed stone and contrasting smooth stone finishes, it is a highly-embellished Second Empire building, that features a commercial premises at street level and offices above. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Canada’s Four Corners Building is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental values.

Historical Value:
The Canada’s Four Corners Building is associated with the commercial development of Sparks Street in the early 20th century. This area has been, since the 1880s, the core of Ottawa’s central business district. The Montreal Telegraph building, as it was then known, was first a rental property. Its first tenant was the Merchants’ Bank of Canada. Both companies were part of the financial empire of the prominent Montreal entrepreneur, Hugh Allen. The construction of the bank’s Ottawa headquarters by the MTC reflects this interrelationship amongst Allen’s companies. Founded in 1852, the MTC operated Canada’s most important telegraphing system. The building was owned by the MTC until 1954, when it was sold to its long-time tenant, the Canadian National Railways. It is now a retail and office complex.

Architectural Value:
The Canada’s Four Corners Building is valued for its good aesthetics. The large building features a sophisticated design with detailing from a variety of different sources including the Renaissance Revival. Good functional design is evidenced in the multi-functional role, combining a traditional bank, manager’s residence, and commercial rental space. Very good craftsmanship and materials are evidenced in the masonry.

Environmental Value:
The Canada’s Four Corners Building maintains an unchanged relationship to its site, reinforces the character of the commercial streetscape setting and is familiar landmark to local residents, people working in the vicinity and pedestrians.

Sources:
Dana Johnson, Canada’s Four Corners Building, 93 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Buildings Review Office Report 85-021; Canada’s Four Corners Building, 93 Sparks Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement 85-021.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Canada’s Four Corners Building should be respected.

Its good aesthetic design, good functional design, and excellent quality materials and craftsmanship, for example: the four-storey corner massing; the exterior walls of sandstone masonry; the eclectic elevation with a different composition at each level; the ground floor consisting of three bays along Sparks Street and two on Metcalfe, all separated by sandstone piers of Renaissance Revival design with raised pedestals, and the keystones with oval-shaped carved coats of arms; the roughly dressed stonewalls, smoothly dressed surrounds and carved heads as keystones and the strong belt course that separates the first floor, from the second; the narrow belt course that leads to the recessive second storey, with its smaller arched windows, smooth stone surrounds without keystones, and heavy dentilled cornice under the fourth storey.

The manner in which Canada’s Four Corners Building maintains an unchanged relationship to its site, reinforces the character of its commercial streetscape setting in downtown Ottawa and is a familiar landmark as evidenced by: its ongoing relationship to its prominent corner site on two busy streets in the core of Ottawa’s business district; its scale, design and materials that maintain a visual and physical relationship with the surrounding buildings and complements the Sparks Street streetscape; its prominent location, sophisticated design and use by several corporations, which make it a familiar landmark to visitors, passing pedestrians, and local residents.

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.

This building (formerly the Montreal Telegraph Building) was built in 1870-71 by John Kelly, contractor, to the designs of King Arnoldi, an Ottawa architect. It was Recognized because it is one of the best examples of the development of the community, because of its very good craftsmanship, its reinforcing influence on the present character of the area and its landmark value.

HISTORICAL ASSOCIATIONS
This building is one of 19 buildings located on the north side of Sparks Street between Elgin and Bank streets, an area which has been, since the 1880s at least, the core of Ottawa's central business district. The Montreal Telegraph Building was completed in 1871 as a rental property. Its first tenant was the Merchants' Bank of Canada. Both companies were part of the financial empire of the prominent Montreal entrepreneur, Hugh Allen. The construction of the bank's Ottawa headquarters by the Montreal Telegraph Company, reflects this interrelationship among Allan's companies. Founded in 1852, the MTC operated Canada's most important telegraphing system. The building was owned by the MTC until 1954, when it was sold to its long-time tenant, the Canadian National Railways.

ARCHITECTURE
As originally constructed, this building had a multitude of functions, for it combined the traditional bank with manager's residence above with commercial rental space - all within a coherent architectural design which is a mélange of architectural detailing of various historical periods reflecting the eclecticism used for the Second Empire Style in Canada. Like many architects of the period, Arnoldi drew from a variety of stylistic sources. He designed an eclectic elevation which was composed differently at each level. The ground storey originally consisted of six bays along Sparks Street and five along Metcalfe, featuring arched windows with radiating voussoirs decorated with keystones in the form of carved heads. The ground floor now consists of three bays along Sparks Street and two on Metcalfe, all separated by sandstone piers of Renaissance Revival design with raised pedestals. The keystones have been replaced by oval-shaped carved coats of arms. The corners are clasped with masonry piers of various motifs. A strong belt course separates this from the first floor, which features roughly dressed stone walls with smoothly dressed surrounds connected by an intermediate and carved heads as keystones. A narrow belt course leads to the recessive second storey, with its smaller arched windows, smooth stone surrounds without keystones, and heavy dentilled cornice. This was originally capped by a mansard roof pierced by eyebrow windows and decorated with iron cresting, but the cornice and mansard have been removed and an incompatible storey covered with aluminum siding was constructed in its place.

ENVIRONMENT
Because of its prominent location, sophisticated design and use by several important corporations, 93 Sparks Street appears to be a building which has been familiar to many people in Ottawa over the years. Its present tenants are a craft shop whose reputation extends beyond the region.