Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada

Ottawa, Ontario
Aerial view of Ottawa's Research and Development centre (lower left), of Carling Avenue (crossing from right to left) and trial fields (centre) © Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada | Agriculture et Agroalimentaire CanadaGreen soy field © Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada | Agriculture et Agroalimentaire CanadaTractors and rakes in a field after the harvest © Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada | Agriculture et Agroalimentaire Canada
Address : 930 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1997-09-22
  • 1886 to 1980 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Thomas Fuller  (Person)
  • James Fletcher  (Person)
  • William Saunders  (Person)
  • Sir John Carling  (Person)
Other Name(s):
  • Central Experimental Farm  (Designation Name)
Research Report Number: 1997-043
DFRP Number: 08625 00


Existing plaque:  930 Carling Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario

A rare example of a farm within a city, this outstanding cultural landscape brings together two strong 19th century interests: agricultural improvement and picturesque design. Established by the federal government in 1886, the Farm has supported Canadian agriculture by undertaking critical scientific research and by developing and demonstrating good farming methods. Its 426 hectares are organized into three distinct areas: a central core of science and administration buildings, an arboretum and ornamental gardens, and the experimental fields and plots. The Main Dairy Barn, with its attached stables laid out around a barnyard, was at the heart of the model farm. The individual parts of the landscape are orchestrated into an organic whole intended to enhance nature's inherent beauty. Adopting picturesque features of the British country estate, the Farm combines large stretches of lawn and field, winding paths and pleasing water vistas. This site is a symbol of the crucial role agriculture has played in shaping Canada.

Description of Historic Place

The Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada, located in urban Ottawa, Ontario, is comprised of various structures and buildings embedded within a large rural landscape. Flanked by broad expanses of farmland, its central area consists of the administrative core, housed in a variety of eclectic and picturesque structures, and encompasses an arboretum, specimen plantings, and intricate ornamental gardens. Official recognition refers to the cultural landscape with its natural, built, and landscaped components at the time of designation.

Heritage Value

The Central Experimental Farm was designated a national historic site of Canada because: as a cultural landscape, the more than 400-hectare farm in the heart of the Nation's Capital reflects the 19th-century philosophy of agriculture and carefully integrates an administrative core and a range of other buildings with arboretum, ornamental gardens, display beds and experimental fields in a picturesque composition; since its establishment in 1886, the farm has made significant scientific contributions to agriculture in Canada by uniting scientific experimentation with practical verification, as exemplified by the development of the hardy strains of wheat that were so influential in expanding Western Canadian agriculture; a rare example of a farm within a city, the Central Experimental Farm has become a symbol of the central role agriculture has played in shaping the country.

Eager to introduce profitable new agricultural methods and products, the federal government created the Central Experimental Farm in 1886. The Department of Agriculture selected a rectangular parcel of land, over 400 hectares in area, approximately 3 kilometres from Parliament Hill. Located on a desirable site, due to its variety of soil types and access to land, water, and rail transport, the farm would serve both Ontario and Québec. As the city of Ottawa grew, the Farm was gradually absorbed into the urban environment and is now situated well within the city limits.

The plan of the Farm is based on three clearly defined zones: a central core of administrative, scientific, and functional farm buildings and spaces; the experimental fields, plots, and shelterbelts; and the arboretum, ornamental gardens and experimental hedges. The Farm’s Picturesque landscape is the result of a movement promulgated by a 18th-century English aesthetic theorists and practitioners who sought to bring landscape design closer to an idealized nature. One convention of this movement was the adoption of certain standard features of the British country estate, including large stretches of lawn and fields, use of water, masses of trees and shrubbery, and winding pathways. These features, designed to enhance nature’s inherent beauty by emphasizing its irregularity, variety, and intricacy in form, colour, and texture, integrate harmoniously with the administrative, scientific, and functional farm buildings. The Picturesque qualities of the Farm are a significant aspect of the 19th-century philosophy of agriculture.

This philosophy also recommended the use of chemistry and genetics to make farm life more productive and appealing. Its proponents sought to develop better farming methods by applying a new scientific methodology to farming. Since its establishment, the Central Experimental Farm has contributed substantially to the development of Canadian agriculture through scientific research, experimentation, and practical verification. The Farm has addressed issues such as human and animal health, the importation of plants and livestock, the identification and control of imported insect pests, and soil fertility. It also contributed to the expansion of agriculture in western Canada through the development of hardy strains of wheat, and in eastern Canada through research on forages and grasses. The Farm soon became the headquarters of a national system of experimental farms, as its central location and administration served to address a range of national agricultural issues.

Source: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1997.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include: its location in the urban centre of Ottawa, encompassing a variety of soil types, cleared fields, and various buildings; its pastoral appearance, as well as the orderliness and neatness critical to the Farm’s scientific pursuits; its plan, made up of three clearly defined zones: the central core of the functional farm, science and administration buildings; the experimental fields and plots with their bordering shelterbelts; and the arboretum, ornamental gardens and experimental hedges; the buildings, which illustrate the Picturesque character with their compatible scale, varied volumes and silhouettes.

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the central core include: the intimate scale of the interior of the zone, and the campus-like atmosphere; the compatible scale and design of both Prince of Wales Drive and the Driveway, which have evolved from the main north-south and east-west roads in the original 1880s plan and link the Farm to the city; the placement and design of the core administration buildings with their wood-clad exteriors, and their relationships to each other and to their landscape setting, which reveal their original functions and the orderly development of the original 1880s Picturesque plan; the associations of the buildings with key figures in the development of Canadian agriculture, such as William Saunders, Charles Saunders, and Sir John Carling; the buildings’ small, single-storey board and batten style, conveying their continued role as part of a complex of support buildings; the model farm, intended to demonstrate the most efficient and orderly layout of farm buildings.

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the experimental fields, plots, and shelterbelts include: the orderly organization of the fields based on a grid system reinforced by a regular system of roadways and access lanes, and distinctive internal fencing of red “pencil posts” with white tops; the open cultivated fields, with their variable sizes, colours, textures and seasonal variations; the relationship between the open fields and the heavily screened Driveway with its parkway characteristics of curbs and streetlights, which emphasize the integration of a farm within a city; the shelterbelts, made up of hardy trees which protect the fields; the core brick-clad science and administration buildings; the viewscapes including the view from the corner of Baseline and Fisher, the view southwest from Carling Avenue across the fields, the framed view looking east from Fisher along Cow Lane; and the view from any point along the periphery into the open fields.

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of the arboretum and ornamental gardens include: the Picturesque nature of the site, evidenced in the skillful use of topography and water, and the incorporation of the shoreline of the Rideau Canal, Dow’s Lake, and the lagoons into the visual composition; the circulation pattern in the arboretum, laid out in a typically Picturesque design of curving promenades and constantly changing views; the glass and metal frames of the greenhouses; the arboretum itself, including a wide variety of specimen trees and shrubs, planted to test and demonstrate suitable tree species for various hardiness zones of Canada.