Corner of Dalhousie and York Street
Feature

Union du Canada Demolition Gallery

The following is a gallery focusing on the on-going demolition of the Union of Canada Building which anchored the corner of York Street and Dalhousie Street on the east edge of Ottawa’s Byward Market.  While it was constructed as an office building for the French-Canadian Union du Canada Insurance Company.  THe building was significant due to its links to its namesake and its involvement in the lives of Lowertown and Franco-Ontarian groups in protecting francophone linguistic rights.

Architecturally it is refined, employing a traditional base, capital, shaft arrangement that served as a guide for many tall and short buildings that preceded it.   The two storey ground-related mass formed the base, the shaft occupied by the offices and finally the capital which was the penthouse with its lettering and precast panels.  Its primary visual feature is its articulated reflective glass facade designed by prominent Canadian artist Laure Major clearly illustrates a key tenet of Modernism with allied arts being thoughtfully integrated into the building’s design.  Intended or not, the articulation also serves to break down the scale of the building, along with the reliefs at the intersection between the three major exterior building components.  It was a ten storey building, but it felt well scaled and treated the ground plane well.

The intent of publishing this gallery is first to simply track the demolition of another demolition of a significant and large modern building in Ottawa in the span of a few short years.  Secondly it is to consider the building’s place and its treatment in the arc of Ottawa’s architectural and urbanistic evolution. While its architectural merit will be debated by many, it integrated a range of artistic work, was built and housed a significant company in Ottawa’s history and other buildings have been recognized for less.

Finally, I invite people to consider what will be gained and at what cost, the existing building’s unrealized potential, what we collectively value within our city and how we approach issues of sustainability.  Maybe it needed to go or maybe it didn’t?  This question is somewhat rhetorical since it will be gone soon, but there are plenty other building’s of similar vintage, with similar challenge that remain to be reimagined and given new life.

It is ironic that the new building to occupy that site will be a hotel, while it is exactly this type of unique modern building that certain hotel owners actually seek out including the Standard chain in the US.  Check out this article on Docomomo US for related examples.