'My neighbour saved my life': Architect recounts partial building collapse

A slice of pizza and an insistent neighbour may have saved a local architect on Wellington Street W. from being crushed by his beloved home.

Engineers trying to determine why a wall at 1119 Wellington St. W. collapsed Tuesday evening

Ovidio Sbrissa lived at 1119 Wellington St. W. for 17 years before one of the exterior walls collapsed Tuesday evening. The city thought the building was vacant, and was surprised to learn Tuesday that Sbrissa had been living there. (Laura Osman/CBC News)

A slice of pizza and an insistent neighbour may have saved a local architect on Wellington Street W. from being crushed by his beloved home when the historic building partially collapsed Tuesday evening.

Ovidio Sbrissa, the owner of the building that partially collapsed, was working upstairs when his neighbour came over to the building he owns and suggested they grab a slice. Sbrissa said no, but the neighbour cajoled him into it.

That was around 6 p.m. By the time they returned, the west wall of the building had completely crumbled.

"Holy smokes, if I had been at my station there, I would have been dead," Sbrissa said Wednesday. "My neighbour saved my life."

Ovidio Sbrissa says if it wasn't for a neighbour inviting him out for pizza Tuesday night, he might have been crushed when the building's wall collapsed. 0:54

Wellington Street W. is closed around the building while city engineers and consultants work to determine what caused the wall to fall, and whether any part of the rest of the building can be salvaged.

The nearly 140-year-old home is a historic landmark in the area.

Sbrissa had lived there for 17 years. The building has a historic designation, but looked a little rough around the edges even before the stone wall collapsed.

Firefighters surround the collapsed building Tuesday evening. (Scott Stilborn/Ottawa Fire Services)

Some locals are concerned about the potential loss of a historical Hintonburg site.

"It's just devastating to me, really. It might sound funny to some people but it's a really hard thing to take," said blogger and historian Dave Allston on CBC Radio's All In A Day Wednesday.

"It's just such a unique building ... it's stacked stone that was built in the 1870s, it literally outdates the name Hintonburg — it was there before the village formed and then the village formed around it."

City thought building was vacant

The building was visually inspected from the outside every two months for the last couple of years because it was on a watch list of vacant heritage buildings, according to heritage manager Court Curry.

But city officials were surprised to learn Tuesday that someone was living inside.

Allston said the fact the city believed it was vacant shows a lack of commitment to heritage buildings.

"If they can list that as vacant for so long, obviously they're not doing enough," he said.

In 2017 the city ordered Sbrissa to make repairs to some of the building's esthetic heritage attributes, but those were only partially completed, Curry said.

Sbrissa said he had plans — released in 2016 — to preserve the building as part of a luxury apartment complex, and was looking for partners to help finance the $4-million project.

Eventually, the plan ended up on the backburner when he turned his attention to other projects, Sbrissa said.

He doesn't know if those plans will be able to go ahead now, as city engineers still haven't determined if the rest of the building needs to be demolished or why the wall collapsed in the first place.

He said he hopes it will remain standing, at least in part.

An initial rendering of the project Ovidio Sbrissa hoped to build at the site, which would have seen the historic building preserved. (ovidio sbrissa & the architect's workshop)