Confederation Square National Historic Site of Canada

Ottawa, Ontario
General view of the National War Memorial, 2005. © Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, Meryl Oliver, 2005.
General view
© Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, Meryl Oliver, 2005.
General view of the National War Memorial, 2005. © Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, Meryl Oliver, 2005.General view of the National Art Centre, 1989. © Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, W. Duford, 1989.General view of Langevin Building, 1987. © Agence Parcs Canada / Parks Canada Agency, Ian Doull, 1987.
Address : Ottawa, Ontario

Recognition Statute: Historic Sites and Monuments Act (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-4)
Designation Date: 1984-06-13
Dates:
  • 1859 to 1969 (Construction)

Event, Person, Organization:
  • Remembrance Day  (Event)
  • William Lyon Mackenzie King  (Person)
  • Frederick G. Todd  (Person)
  • Jacques Gréber  (Person)
  • Ottawa Improvement Commission  (Organization)
  • Federal District Commission  (Organization)
  • Holt Commission  (Organization)
  • John James Brown (Central Chambers)  (Architect)
  • William Hodgson (Bell Block, Scottish-Ontario Chambers)  (Architect)
  • W.E. Noffke (Central Post Office)  (Architect)
  • Thomas Fuller (Langevin Building)  (Architect)
  • Stent and Laver (East Block)  (Architect)
  • George Allan Ross and David H. MacFarlane (Château Laurier, Union Station (Grand Trunk))  (Architect)
  • Moses Chamberlain Edey (Daly Building)  (Architect)
  • Affleck, Desbarats, Dimakopoulos, Lebensold and Sise (National Arts Centre)  (Architect)
Other Name(s):
  • Confederation Square  (Designation Name)
  • Bell Building, Central Chambers, Château Laurier, East Block, Langevin Block, National Arts Centre, Ottawa Postal Station 'B', Scottish - Ontario Chambers, Union Station (Grand Trunk)  (Name of contributing resources)
Research Report Number: 1984-017, 2005-SDC-112
DFRP Number: 56829

Plaque(s)


Existing plaque:  Ottawa, Ontario

Created in stages between 1899 and 1939 from an existing commercial district, Confederation Square is a rare Canadian example of a large-scale downtown development that follows the principles of the City Beautiful movement. As the site of the National War Memorial, it serves as the most important ceremonial centre of the national capital after Parliament Hill. The square is framed by a remarkable group of buildings, varying widely in age, style, scale, and function, reflecting the evolution of architectural tastes from the picturesque mid-Victorian Gothic to the bold modernism of the mid-20th century.

Description of Historic Place

Located in the heart of the nation’s capital, Confederation Square National Historic Site of Canada is best known to Canadians as the site of the National War Memorial with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The square opens at the northern terminus of Elgin Street, immediately southeast of Parliament Hill, and is a planned urban space where commercial, ceremonial, and institutional spheres of the city converge. Developed during the early twentieth century from an existing commercial district, the square is built around a permanent bridge over the Rideau Canal, and is framed by a group of buildings including the Central Chambers, the Scottish-Ontario Chambers, the Central Post Office, the Langevin Block, the East Block of the Parliament Buildings, the Château Laurier, the Union Station (Grand Trunk), and the National Arts Centre. The official recognition refers to the whole site with its component parts including the eight buildings, the remaining façade of a ninth, and the war memorial in their existing spatial relationships.

Heritage Value

Confederation Square was designated a national historic site of Canada in 1984 because: it is the second most important ceremonial centre of the national capital, after Parliament Hill; it is a rare instance in Canada of a large-scale downtown development following the planning tenets of the City Beautiful movement; the Square is framed by a familiar and eclectic group of structures impressive for their variety in age, style, scale and function.

The heritage value of this place resides in its role as a national ceremonial site and in its physical manifestation of a City Beautiful-inspired public space as illustrated by its location in the heart of Ottawa. It also resides in its eclectic grouping of buildings of various ages, functions and styles. This grouping includes a number of individually designated national historic sites of Canada, including the National Arts Centre (1964-1969), the Château Laurier (1909-1912), the Langevin Block (1883-1912), the Central Chambers (1890), and the East Block portion of the Parliament Buildings (1859-1865). Additionally, the square is built over a portion of another national historic site, the Rideau Canal. Since 1939, when the present National War Memorial was unveiled, the square has become a focus of annual Remembrance Day commemorations, as the nation honours its war dead.

Sources: Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, Minutes, June 1984, December 2005.

Character-Defining Elements

Key elements contributing to the heritage value of this site include: its location at the intersection of Wellington Street and the north end of Elgin Street over a portion of the Rideau Canal; its layout as a triangular open space with the National War Memorial at the centre bounded by Wellington Street at its north end and the two sides of Elgin Street on the east and west sides, all framed by the buildings on the far sides of those streets; the existing spatial relationships of the above components, and especially the openness of the space, conducive to the congregation of large groups of people; the War Memorial in its location, footprint, volume, design, and materials; the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in its location, above-ground footprint, design and materials; the collection of buildings framing the square and the existing spatial relationships of the individual buildings, their stylistic eclecticism and general harmony of scale, in particular: the Scottish-Ontario Chambers on its footprint with its Italianate style commercial design and decoration, and surviving original exterior materials; surviving original portions of the façade of the former Bell Building as they illustrate the original Italianate design and decorative treatment; the Central Chambers on its footprint with its Queen Anne Revival style commercial design and decoration, and surviving original exterior materials; the Central Post Office building on its footprint and with its Art Deco-inspired design, Château-esque roofline, surviving original exterior materials and decoration, and surviving design and materials of major interior spaces; the Langevin Block on its footprint and with its Second Empire style design and decoration, its original exterior materials, original design and materials of major interior spaces, and use by the federal government; the East Block on its raised site, existing footprint, Gothic Revival style design and decorative treatment, surviving original materials and major interior spaces, and use by the federal government; the Château Laurier Hotel on its footprint with its Château style design, original exterior materials and decoration, original design and materials of major public spaces, and use as a hotel; the former Union Station with its Beaux-Arts style, surviving original exterior materials and decorative treatment, and original volumes, design and materials of major interior spaces; the National Arts Centre on its footprint with its Brutalist style design, original exterior materials and decorative treatment, original design and materials of major interior spaces, and use as a public arts venue; the viewsheds, especially the oblique view towards Parliament Hill; towards the Rideau Canal; down Elgin Street from the War Memorial and the views up Elgin Street, Sparks Street, Wellington Street and Rideau Street towards the Memorial; the continued ceremonial use of the square; whatever archaeological resources may be discovered at the site in the future.