Heritage building could face wrecking ball for hospital project

Heritage advocates in Ottawa say they'll be disappointed if a vacant 1960s cafeteria building is demolished to make way for Ottawa's new hospital.

Former cafeteria all that remains of Sir John Carling Building, demolished in 2014

The West Annex Building served as the cafeteria for the Sir John Carling Building, which was demolished in 2014.

Heritage advocates in Ottawa say they'll be disappointed if a vacant 1960s cafeteria building is demolished to make way for Ottawa's new hospital.

The building in question was an annex to the Sir John Carling Building near Dow's Lake, and is now all that remains of that complex, which was mostly demolished in 2014.

A decade earlier the building had been granted heritage designation, in part because of its unique form, but also because it was designed by renowned architect Hart Massey. The West Annex Building, with its high windows and winged roof, retained its heritage status.

Now, under the terms of a lease signed last week between the federal government and the Ottawa Hospital, the former cafeteria could be demolished. The hospital agreed to attempt to preserve the building, but if it can't be incorporated into the new Civic hospital the annex will come down and the federal government will pick up the demolition bill.

No decision made yet

Michaela Schreiter, a spokesperson for the Ottawa Hospital, said the hospital is looking at options to save the building.

"It is too early to confirm options at this point, but through the next stages of the planning process a plan for the annex building will be confirmed," she wrote in an email to CBC​

"At this time, no decisions have been made on the demolition of the annex," confirmed Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Nicolas Boucher.

The West Annex Building retained its heritage designation, but could stand in the way of the new Civic campus of the Ottawa Hospital (Ryan Tumilty/CBC)

Building scored low

Leslie Maitland, co-chair of Heritage Ottawa, said losing the annex would be a disappointment.

"What we hope to see is that the hospital's architect will make a sincere attempt to find a new use for it," she said.

She acknowledged the building doesn't top the list of the city's most treasured heritage buildings, and actually scored poorly when it was assessed for heritage designation.

"It's as low a score as you can get and still be considered a recognized federal heritage building," Maitland said.

The building also has a lot of existing challenges, including environmental contamination from asbestos and lead.

It was initially spared from demolition to give Agriculture Canada an opportunity to use it, but after exploring several options, including turning it into a visitor centre for the Central Experimental Farm, the department decided to pass.

"The work required to retrofit the building was ultimately deemed to be not cost-effective," said department spokesperson Patrick Girard.

Sir John Carling building demolished

8 years ago
Duration 0:39
The Sir John Carling building was demolished Sunday morning with 800 pounds of explosions

Heritage lost 

Andrew King, a local heritage enthusiast who writes about buildings on his website, said it would be a real disappointment to see the annex go.

"It just has a unique presence to it that is a kind of rare form of architecture," he said.

He said the annex might seem like it's not worth saving now, but if history teaches us anything, it's that we tend to regret demolishing heritage buildings only after they're gone.

"I get that not everything can be saved, but there has to be some kind of recognition now for buildings we will regret having demolished in the future."