The historic, red-trimmed boathouse on the Ottawa River has been called by many names. Its newest name, the National Capital Commission River House, reveals the landlord’s hope to bring more people to the water’s edge. Here, a look at what’s next for the landmark building.
The iconic boathouse near Rockcliffe Point, completed in 1925, was designed by architect C.P. Meredith for the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club (ONEC). In 2010, it was recognized as a Federal Heritage Building, in part because it is a rare example of 19th-century boathouse design there are only four such buildings across Canada. Located in a natural harbour, its steel frame is supported by concrete pylons sunk deep into the riverbed below.
As ONEC’s headquarters, it has been an important hub for watersports and tennis in the city for close to 100 years. All decked out in the red, white, and black of Ottawa’s sports teams, it’s a lovely and unique multi-purpose pavilion and an epic venue for a wedding, an anniversary, or even a funeral. There’s a massive ballroom and a two-level deck that offers views of the river. It’s the perfect place for taking in stunning sunsets or watching folks mess about in boats.
Now the National Capital Commission hopes that it will also offer year-round public access to the Ottawa River. But like an old ship, the boathouse has been steadily degrading over the years. In 1994, at the end of the original 1915 lease, the NCC stepped in to take ownership of the building. Three years ago it began a major restoration project new windows, insulation, and drywall, as well as the restoration of the original siding and the installation of an elevator the bill for which is yet unknown.
Finishing touches will include landscaping and a new raised steel footbridge to whisk users from the new parking lot on the opposite side of the Sir GeorgeÉtienne Cartier Parkway. Slated for completion in spring 2022, it is hoped that the NCC River House will offer public docks, swimming, boating, and other watersports.
“It will be really exciting to have more activity around the boathouse,” says Meghan Hanlon, president of ONEC, a non-profit that runs tennis, rowing, sailing, and paddling, as well as day camps. However, the changes mean that operations for the club “will be a little bit different, because ONEC will not be the sole tenant. The space will be about half of what we used to have,” says Hanlon. Boat storage and security are challenges. The renegotiation of the tenancy agreement between ONEC and the NCC had not been finalized at press time.
For now, the NCC will not share many details of its vision, though environmental advocacy group Ottawa Riverkeeper has expressed interest in the boathouse as a future headquarters. A representative from the NCC said they hope to see a café, and that its substantial investment will “provide new opportunities for public access and shoreline animation.”