People & Places

From the NORAD base to Qualicum Street — hidden gems of architectural heritage

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Ottawa Magazine.

Being the nation’s capital, Ottawa has always had an extensive amount of history at its roots. But there are a number of other intriguing, lesser-known pieces of Ottawa’s past tucked away — yet to be discovered and enjoyed for their enduring heritage.

We tasked artist and historian Andrew King for his favourite overlooked heritage sites, and commissioned illustrations by Colin White to create sketches of the places we might soon be fighting to save.

Talisman Motor Inn
The Talisman Motor Inn was built in 1963 as Ottawa’s premier business convention centre and hotel. It was designed and built by Bill Teron (who also was responsible for the conception and design of Kanata’s first suburb). Teron designed the Talisman with a Japanese theme, including a very faithful replica of a tranquil Japanese garden at the centrE of the motel. The Talisman was built at a cost of $2 million and boasted convention facilities, a relaxing pool area, and nightly entertainment in the Polynesian-themed Tiki Bar “The Beachcomber Room,” which soon became the number-one hot spot for nightly entertainment in Ottawa. Today, the building is home to Travelodge Ottawa West.

Qualicum neighbourhood
Located in the former City of Nepean, in the west end of Ottawa, most of the residences in this suburban area are examples of stunning mid-century executive homes situated on large lots. Qualicum Street boasts large custom houses built by Bill Teron in unique mid-century-modern styles similar to the legendary Palm Springs style of residences. Built between 1961 and 1967, this distinct neighbourhood is a rare preserved example of our sometimes overlooked mid-century architecture.

Photo Equatorial Building
Constructed in 1914 to shelter astronomical equipment, the Photo Equatorial Building, at the north edge of the Experimental Farm, is an elegant, octagonal building that resembles an eclectic blend of Romanesque Revival and Edwardian Classicism styles. Built with Old-World craftsmanship, the Photo Equatorial Building has a retractable, hemispherical copper dome designed by public works architect David Ewart to house the Dominion Observatory’s stellar camera.


Hydro substation
Opened in 1932 by the Ontario Hydro-Electric Commission, this transformer substation was designed for servicing the rural areas west of Ottawa. In 1932, the closest other buildings would have been the Royal Ottawa Hospital and the Civic Hospital. Now, situated across from the Westgate Shopping Centre, this fine example of institutional architecture stands out as an impressive building constructed not only for a purpose, but to look nice as well.

Norad base
At the height of the Cold War, the threat of nuclear attack by Soviet Russia was taken so seriously that a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) station was constructed on the outskirts of town at Uplands Air Force Base off Hunt Club Road. Under North America’s Air Defence, or NORAD, Ottawa’s QRA station formed part of a network of five other Canadian all-weather jet fighter bases armed with missiles and possible nuclear capabilities to counter surprise attacks by Soviet bombers. Built to house a special jet fighter intercept station and nuclear missiles, these “special weapon” facilities were constructed at the south end of Ottawa’s airport and can still be seen today, behind rusting barbed wire fencing.