New look for Ottawa's old train station approved by NCC

The public got their first look at drawings of how the former train station turned government conference centre is being renovated to bring heritage features to the forefront.

Senators will move from Centre Block to government conference centre for September 2018 sitting

The government conference centre in downtown Ottawa, at Colonel By Drive and Wellington Street, will get a striking new east facade on a wall that was attached decades ago to a hotel in the Corry Block. (National Capital Commission)

The architecture of Ottawa's former train station has been hiding from the public behind the doors of a government conference centre for decades.

But the building that housed the city's central train station at Rideau Street and Colonel By Drive until the 1960s is undergoing multi-million dollar renovations and restoration work.

And, when it reopens in two years, it will once again welcome residents and visitors.

Space is being created in the government conference centre in downtown Ottawa to house the Canadian Senate while renovations take place at Parliament Hill's Centre Block. (Public Services and Procurement Canada)
"You'll finally be able to appreciate the building in all its glory," said Thierry Montpetit, project manager with Public Services and Procurement Canada.

"We're going to remove, what I'm going to say (were) unfortunate alterations to the building that were done in the late seventies."

On Tuesday, the National Capital Commission's board saw renderings of what the former train station will look like, both inside and out, and gave its final approval on the design.

The renovation of the building is happening in preparation for the arrival of the Senate. The Senate must vacate its chamber in Parliament Hill's Centre Block, which will itself be going through restoration inside and out for a decade starting in 2018.

The original concourse of the former Ottawa train station, across from the Chateau Laurier hotel. (Cliff Buckman/Library and Archives Canada, 1966)
So, by September of that year, the senators and their red seats will move to what was once Union Station's concourse.

The renovation and Senate move is estimated to cost $269 milllion, and Public Services and Procurement Canada said Tuesday it's on budget.

Heritage features to be uncovered

The foyer to the temporary home of Canada's Senate has a rehabilitated heritage plaster ceiling from the building's days as the city's train station. (Public Services and Procurement Canada)
Montpetit said the goal is to fix accessibility problems and meet building code, while bringing to the fore the building's heritage features.

The great waiting room, for instance, is a smaller-scaled replica of the Pennsylvania Station in New York City that was demolished in the 1960s, he said.

The plan is for the Library of Parliament to host tours of the building, starting at the main entrance across from the Château Laurier hotel.

"We're all aware that this is a very, very special building for the people in Ottawa," said Montpetit. "A lot of people have seen loved ones arrive by train."

The general waiting room in the former train station will have committee rooms in the Senate's interim home. (National Capital Commission, Public Services and Procurement Canada)

From bare wall to prominent east façade

Some additions to the building are entirely functional. The building will get new freight and passenger elevators, a loading dock, and rooftop areas for mechanical systems.

Thought has also been given to how the building can return to being a conference centre after the Senate's decade-long tenancy.

But the impact of the project lies on the east side of the building that faces the Rideau Centre, said Montpetit.

A cross-section view of the former train station in downtown Ottawa shows how the public will enter the building for tours from Wellington Street while senators will enter on Colonel By Drive. (National Capital Commission)
That bare eastern wall was where the train station once attached to a hotel in the former Corry Block. 

With the renovations, a lot of thought was given to how that east façade could turn the building into a gateway to Parliament, to join "the town and the Crown," said Montpetit.

"I think that will be our biggest gift, to really give prominence to that intersection," he said, "And, giving some stature back to that building, which was very prominent historically and has been a bit forgotten and lost since the 1960s and '70s."

Much thought was put into how to increase the prominence of the eastern exterior wall of Ottawa's former Union Station so that it serves as a gateway to Parliament. (National Capital Commission)