Cities grow in two directions — outward and upward. First Bytown, then Ottawa, moved out from beside the canal, across the fields, sweeping the surrounding villages and towns under its carpet. For much of that development, the spires of the churches were the highest points a pedestrian could look up to. Then, as the 20th century advanced, the buildings went higher and Ottawa gained more and more storeys, even as the suburbs pancaked over the landscape.
Now, in the early years of the 21st century, local residences are reaching new heights: the condos are coming, and thousands of Ottawans are living the high life. There is a whole new generation of us “sky people” — people who live in the condominiums, descend to the ground to get to their places of work, and then ascend into the air again to their offices, thus spending much of their lives in mid-air.
In the process of the condo-ization of downtown, rather like taking old perennials out of a flowerbed and planting new, taller ones, samples of the architecture of the past are disappearing. And so we look both up and back, at five condominium developments that are already up — or soon will be — to discover in words and pictures the buildings that went before them.
There wasn’t much to sightsee in Bytown, the little town where two rivers met, but a Dr. Strachan, on a visit from Toronto in 1828, noted in his journal that while the Presbyterians, the Catholics, and even the Methodists had put up places of worship, the Church of England was homeless. And so Nicholas Sparks agreed to donate the land where Christ Church Cathedral now rises on the limestone promontory at the end of Sparks Street.
The first service was held in July of 1833, not in the building there now, but in basically a wooden box with a tower. It closed that winter, being short a heating stove with no funds to buy one. Over the years, as the congregation grew, the church was enhanced and enlarged. A whole new church was built in the early 1870s, and on Easter Day in 1897, the church was promoted to the status of cathedral. Cathedral Hall, very much in the style of its era, was added at the end the 1950s.
But the maintenance bills of the modern cathedral are a fact of life, and as with many another church, selling some of the real estate has become a necessary act of fundraising. In late spring next year, the ground will break for the Cathedral Hill condo tower, townhouses, and an office tower under the auspices of the Windmill Development Group. Cathedral Hall will be replaced by a mixed-use building. The church elders chose a firm that will build to LEED Platinum standard and, in deference to the neighbours, will include locally mined limestone in the materials palette, although there will be no stained glass.