5 years later, Ottawa's federal buildings get extreme makeovers

Two buildings demolished, two completely refurbished. One building has a new tenant, while another finally convinced its tenant to move out. Here's a look at how Ottawa's landscape is changing.

In 5 short years, 2 buildings were demolished while others are complete and occupied

The blue-carpeted lobby of the newly renovated Wellington Building. The building is one of many in the capital to be refurbished in the last five years. (Simon Gardner/CBC)

Ottawa has a reputation for inertia, for sober seventh thought. And though of late the city seems to be under perpetual construction, many of the projects are still years away from completion. There's scaffolding everywhere, but nothing seems different.

So it comes as a mild surprise that, when looking back on an article we wrote in 2011 entitled '7 federal buildings in rough shape (and one in need of some love),' there have been, in just five years, what in Ottawa qualifies as dramatic change.

Two buildings were demolished, two were completely refurbished and another, the West Block, is nearing the end of a massive transformation. One building has a new tenant, another finally convinced its tenant to move out, and a third is close to finding a tenant at long last.

Obviously these aren't the only changes in Ottawa in the last five years. Work continues on the light rail system, and landmark buildings — like the old train station and the National Arts Centre — are in the middle of renovations.

But here's a second look at how the eight federally-owned buildings we profiled have changed, and what work is left to be done.

West Block

In 2011, when work began on the 146-year-old West Block of Parliament, it might have seemed insurmountable: crumbling masonry and mortar joints, asbestos in the walls and outdated mechanical, electrical and emergency systems.

Then there was the addition: a glass-roofed infill structure in the covered courtyard that will served as the House of Commons chamber when work begins to restore the Centre Block.

With the $863-million job now getting closer to completion (it's expected to be done in — surprise — 2017) the federal government provided a preview this fall, which you can see in the photos below.

Wellington building

The Wellington building had been vacant since 2010, as repairs — estimated at $425.2 million — began to remove asbestos, refit the interior and repair the exterior. In 2016 that work was completed, with doors, windows, masonry and the building's copper roof.

Undoubtedly one of the visual highlights of the fix was the restoration of the dramatic ceiling mosaic inside the main entrance.

You can see it and more in the photo gallery below. To see more photos, visit our feature page.

Former U.S. embassy

The former U.S. embassy at 100 Wellington St. has been vacant since 1999, with many false starts along the way, including then prime minister Jean Chrétien's ill-fated plan in 2001 to turn the building into a portrait gallery.

In August, the current government polled the public to ask what they wanted to see it used for, providing a few options, and some 7,137 people responded.

The results favour using the space as a 'Canada House,' a venue to celebrate the diversity present in all parts of the country. There was also support for using it as a gallery space or an Indigenous cultural centre.

The former U.S. Embassy at 100 Wellington Street, which is across the street from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, remains abandoned. (Google Streetview)

Sir John Carling building

The plan in 2011 was to demolish the Sir John Carling building, the former home of 1,200 bureaucrats.

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

Then after that, the plan was to landscape it.

But along the way, local politics became intertwined with federal interests, and in December 2016 the site was pegged as the likely new home of the Ottawa Civic campus.

144 Wellington St.

The former Bank of Montreal building was restored and renamed the Sir John A Macdonald building in 2015. (Google)

Renovations to repair the former Bank of Montreal building began in 2012 and were completed in 2015. Built in the early 1930s, it was refurbished and renamed the Sir John A. Macdonald building.

It reopened in 2015 and now hosts parliamentary meetings and functions.

Plouffe Park warehouse

The demolition of the Plouffe Park complex in 2015 is new enough that Google Maps satellite imagery still shows the old warehouses. (Google)

The vast warehouse space dating back to World War II once stretched from 933 Gladstone Ave. in the south to the offices of 1010 Somerset St. in the north. In 2015, it was demolished and has since been landscaped.

Now the government is planning to sell off the southern portion of the land. Because of its proximity to Ottawa's Little Italy, park space and the O-Train green corridor/multi-use path, community groups have taken an active interest in its eventual fate.

24 Sussex Dr.

In terms of actual fixes to the official residence of the prime minister of Canada, not much has changed.

Five years ago the National Capital Commission said it needed to do $10 million in repairs, but then prime minister Stephen Harper didn't want to move from the home, so nothing was done.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to move his family to the nearby Rideau Cottage after he took office in the fall of 2015 to allow the long-overdue work to finally get done. But the public plan and start day for work has not yet been revealed.

Work was allowed to begin on the official residence of the prime minister of Canada (Tom Hanson/Canadian Press)

Canada and the World pavilion

​Though not falling apart, the building meant to be an exhibition hall for Canada's role on the international stage had been vacant since 2005.

This past October, Canada's Centre for Geography and Exploration announced they would be the first tenant in the small museum space in more than a decade.

Estimated time to move in: 2017, of course.

50 Sussex Dr. has lacked a major tenant since the Canada and the World Pavilion closed in 2005. (CBC News)