Ottawa Rowing Club boathouse could become city's next heritage building

By the end of this week, the home of the Ottawa Rowing Club — an 'artifact' of 19th-century leisure life — may be on track to receiving a heritage designation.

Committee to consider designation for 120-year-old facility this week

The Ottawa Rowing Club historic boathouse is seen here on May 5, 2018. Next week the city's built heritage sub-committee will consider whether the 120-year-old building is worthy of a heritage designation. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

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  • Council approved the heritage designation on June 13, 2018.

By the end of this week, the home of the Ottawa Rowing Club could be on track to becoming the city's latest heritage building.

The City of Ottawa's built heritage sub-committee is set to vote Thursday on whether or not to bestow the 120-year-old boathouse with a heritage designation.

The traditional timber-frame structure was built in 1898, and has played a significant role in Ottawa's logging history, said Peter Thompson, president of the Ottawa Rowing Club.

"This part of the shoreline in the early 1800s would have been full of small boathouses that supported the logging industry on the river," he said.

"This was a significant boathouse along the shoreline that, fortunately, we retained."

The rafters are typical of boathouse architecture at the time it was built in 1898, said Peter Thompson. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

Club dates to 1867

The Ottawa Rowing Club is the oldest of its kind in Canada. It was formed in 1867, the same year as Canada's confederation.

Along with bragging rights, the designation comes with the ability to apply for an annual grant of $5,000 for maintaining the building, said David Jeanes, president of Ottawa Heritage. 

This is the last survivor of a lot of waterfront activity.- David Jeanes, Ottawa Heritage

He said the designation would serve as an important reminder of the history of the Ottawa River, which included boat-building, steamboat landings and regattas held for visiting royalty. 

"That particular stretch of the river from around 24 Sussex Drive up to Parliament Hill used to have a lot of boathouses," he said. "This is the last survivor of a lot of waterfront activity." 

'Artifact' of 19th-century recreation

According to a report submitted to the built heritage sub-committee, the current building was constructed to replace the Ottawa Rowing Club's original floating boathouse near the Rideau Canal.

The report, to be considered by the committee on May 10, said the boathouse "stands as an artifact of late 19th-century middle-class leisure activities, offering a glimpse into how many of the Anglophone middle-class would have spent their free time."

A city report highlights the boathouse's historical significance, calling it 'a rare example of 19th-century recreational architecture in Ottawa.' (Leah Hansen/CBC)
A detailed view of the boathouse's architecture. (Leah Hansen/CBC)

"Clubs of this kind were very popular in the years before widespread car ownership, as they allowed their members to pursue healthy outdoor activities without leaving the city," the report said.

The report also highlights the building's architectural value, lauding the boathouse as "a rare example of 19th-century recreational architecture in Ottawa."

Many of the boathouse's original architectural features are still intact, the report said, including some of its windows and its gabled roof.

'An easy yes'

A building can be classified a "heritage building" under the Ontario Heritage Act if it meets certain conditions, such as demonstrating a theme in the province's history, symbolizing a rare aspect of cultural heritage, or being of aesthetic importance. 

[It] doesn't have to be bought. It just has to be recognized.- Peter Thompson

Though the designation isn't a done deal yet — it still has to be passed by full city council before becoming official — Jeanes said the proposal is likely to be approved. 

"I think there's very little reason why the city would not do this," he said.

For Thompson, there isn't really much to debate.

"This is one of those assets that the city enjoys that doesn't have to be bought. It just has to be recognized," he said.

"I think it's an easy yes."