Observatory House

Recognized Federal Heritage Building

Ottawa, Ontario
Corner view of the Observatory House, 1992. (© Department of Energy, Mines and Resources / Ministère de l'Énergie, des Mines et des Ressources, 1992.)
Corner view
(© Department of Energy, Mines and Resources / Ministère de l'Énergie, des Mines et des Ressources, 1992.)
Address : Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Treasury Board Policy on Management of Real Property
Designation Date: 1993-09-02
Dates:
  • 1909 to 1909 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Department of Public Works, Chief architect’s branch  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Central Experimental Farm (Building No. 2)  (Other Name)
Custodian: Natural Resources Canada
FHBRO Report Reference: 92-036
DFRP Number: 08625 00

Description of Historic Place

The Observatory House is located on landscaped grounds at the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa. The large and dignified two-and-one-half-storey structure is constructed in brick with a stone foundation and wood shingle roof. The house displays elements of both the Queen Anne and Classical Revival styles, including its generous verandah around two elevations, irregular eave line. Classical Revival influences are evident in the balanced arrangement of dormers, classical columns and the building’s central entrance hall. The designation is confined to the footprint of the building.

Heritage Value

The Observatory House is a Recognized Federal Heritage Building because of its historical associations, and its architectural and environmental value.

Historical Value
The Observatory House is associated with the theme of Canadian research in astronomy and geophysics. Built in 1909 shortly after the construction of the Dominion Observatory, the building served as the official residence for Dominion Chief Astronomers, including William King, R.M. Stewart, and C.S. Beale, each of whom made significant contributions to the field. In addition, magnetic survey work and other research works were carried out in the building.

Architectural Value
The Observatory House is valued for its very good aesthetic design. Combining Queen Anne Revival and Classical Revival styles, its picturesque aspects include its irregular eave lines, generous verandah, slightly projecting entrance and the shingled gables. The general restraint of the design reflects classical stylistic influences. In addition to being a residence, its good functional interior accommodated research work in the basement laboratories. The standard of craftsmanship and materials is high, particularly for the interior finishes and trim.

Environmental Value
The Observatory House reinforces the picturesque character of its landscaped setting at the Central Experimental Farm. The building is familiar to visitors and employees of the Farm.

Sources: Jacqueline Hucker, Observatory House, Building #2, Central Experimental Farm, Ottawa, Ontario, Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office, Building Report, 92-036; Observatory House, Building #2, Central Experimental Farm. Ottawa, Ontario, Heritage Character Statement, 92-036.

Character-Defining Elements

The following character-defining elements of the Observatory House should be respected.

Its very good aesthetic design, good functional design and very good materials and craftsmanship, for example: the large, two-and-a-half storey massing and shingled roof; the brick construction set on a stone foundation; the Queen Anne style elements of its design, including its irregular eave line, generous verandah around two elevations, slightly projecting entrance and the shingle finish in the gables; the Classical Revival style elements, including the general restraint of the design, the balanced arrangement of dormers, the classical columns, uniform windows, and centrally located ground floor entrance and hall; the interior detail and finish, including the main and rear stairs, wood- and leaded-glass windows, intact interior millwork and fireplaces.

The manner in which the Observatory House reinforces the picturesque character of its landscaped setting at the Central Experimental Farm and is a familiar building, as evidenced by: the aspects of its design and materials which contribute to its picturesque surroundings; its large scale and picturesque design, which makes it a distinctive feature in this area of the Farm, and familiar to visitors and employees.

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.

HERITAGE CHARACTER STATEMENT

Observatory House was built in 1909 to a design by the Chief Architect's Branch of the Department of Public Works. Erected as a residence for the Dominion Chief Astronomer, it continued to be used for that purpose by a succession of Chief Astronomers until 1963, when it was converted to laboratory and office space. The building is currently occupied by the Geological Survey of Canada. Energy Mines and Resources Canada is custodian of the building. See FHBRO Building Report 92-36.


Reasons for Designation

Observatory House was designated Recognized because of its historical associations, the quality of its architectural design and its importance within its setting.

Observatory House is associated with the theme of Canadian research in astronomy and geophysics. Built in 1909 shortly after the construction of the Dominion Observatory, the building served as the official residence of the Dominion Chief Astronomer for many years, including William King, R.M. Stewart, and C.S. Beale, each of whom made significant contributions to the field. In addition to its residential function, magnetic survey work and other research werr carried out in the building's basement laboratories.

In its design, Observatory House includes elements of the Queen Anne Revival and Classical Revival styles, resulting in a somewhat formal, but picturesque, overall appearance. The standard of craftsmanship and materials is high, particularly for the interior finishes and trim.

The site retains much of its early Edwardian landscape features and character, and the house is a distinctive feature in that area of the farm.


Character Defining Elements

The heritage value of Observatory House resides in its overall design, and in those aspects of its design and fabric which relate to its function as the residence of the Dominion Chief Astronomer. The quality of its extant interior historic finishes, and the character of its site plan and features, are also important heritage elements.

The building is a large and dignified two-and-one-half-storey structure, constructed in brick, with a stone foundation and wood shingle roof. The Queen Anne Revival style of

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Ottawa, Ontario
Observatory House (Building #2) Continued
Central Experimental Farm


the late 19th century is evident in the picturesque aspects of its design, including its
irregular eave lines, generous verandah around two elevations, slightly projecting entrance and the shingle finish in the gables.

Classical Revival style is also evident, largely in the general restraint of the design, the balanced arrangement of dormers, the classical columns, uniform windows, and centrally located ground floor entrance and hall. Despite minor alterations to the chimney, the porch, and the interior, the historic integrity of the building is high. Maintenance work should be carried out with matching materials in all cases to preserve the character of the building.

In the interior much historic detail and finish may be intact, but has been obscured by recent finishes such as floor tile and dropped ceilings. Significant interior finishes and features include the main and rear stairs, wood-and-leaded-glass windows, intact interior millwork and fireplaces. Early finishes and features should be identified and recovered as part of any future renovation.

Despite the construction of an out-of-scale parking lot at the front of the house, much of the character of the building's context survives. Much of the early landscaping scheme and detail elements survive, including garden paths, portions of the northwest fence, lawn, border plants and the willow tree. The present laboratory and office use makes heavy demands on the building. A less demanding use would permit a more appropriate development and appreciation of the building and site.