The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Ottawa

A church turned cathedral


A Jewel of Canadian Religious Art

This magnificent building was declared a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada in 1990.


A Gothic Style

Admire this architectural work in a Gothic style made of ashlar, its two imposing spires, and its bell towers. It is a heritage jewel typical of French Canada.


The Convent Chapel on Rideau Street

Photo source: Rideau Street Convent Chapel. 1910 Postcard by Valentine & Sons Publishing Co. Ltd. / Ken Elder Collection

Near the Cathedral Basilica is the chapel of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, known colloquially as the Rideau Street Convent, a bilingual school for girls.

A Double Name

The chapel was built in 1888, more than a decade after the convent's inauguration in 1869, but it was in a different location, on Rideau Street between Waller and Cumberland Streets! It is the work of Canon architect Georges Bouillon who integrated a large two-and-a-half-story annex to the convent. Its architecture follows the neo-gothic style that was very popular at the time if you look at other religious buildings such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica. Enter and see the magnificent fan-vaulted ceiling, made of wood, and supported by marbled wrought iron columns.

Unfortunately, the period of secularization of education in Ontario in the 1960s was a blow to the Convent and the chapel. With the opening of the new De-La-Salle High School, the students of the Rideau Street Convent were transferred there in 1969, leading to the sale of the Convent in 1970 by the Sisters of Charity.

An alert was sent to the Heritage Committee of the Canadian Capital, but nothing came of it. The Convent and its chapel were sold to a new owner in 1971. Fortunately, the company's plans were abandoned, but this led to the request for a demolition permit, which was granted in April of the same year. The fear of losing the chapel followed again…

Activities are taking place to denounce the situation. The interior of the chapel, considered to be of national importance because of its architecture, must be protected!

An agreement was eventually reached, but still led to the dismantling of the chapel from its historic site in 1972, which was rebuilt inside the National Gallery of Canada for you to admire. A reconstruction of the interior and exterior of the convent was made possible by Carleton Immersive Media Studio's 3D modelling and photogrammetry!

To See On Site

Take time to visit the various exhibits such as Janet Cardiff's where you can listen to Thomas Tallis's Spem in alium to hear the sound of a single voice from the forty-part choir!


The Archbishop's Palace

Photo source: Ontario Heritage Trust

At the corner of Guigues and Sussex, you will see another important historic religious landmark, the Archbishop's Palace. The palace, which once housed Monsignor Guigues, still serves as the official residence of the Catholic Archbishop of Ottawa, Most Reverend Marcel Damphousse.

Built in just one year

Its construction began on May 1, 1849, under Father Damase Dandurand, with the title of Episcopal only. Unlike other buildings of this period such as the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica, the Episcopal Palace took only one year to build. The first occupant was Bishop Guigues.

This two-and-a-half-story stone palace with eight bays of symmetrical windows is in the Georgian style. It has a mansard roof and is one of the first of its kind in Ottawa.

Are you observant?

Can you find the secret passage that connects the palace to Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica?

1886

It wasn't until 1886 that it became the archiepiscopal palace or archbishop's palace because of its second occupant, Archbishop Thomas Duhamel of Ottawa. Modifications were then made in a more Second Empire style, incorporating two symmetrical gables overhanging the main façade.

The construction of Bytown College, just behind it, in 1852, integrated the Palais as an annex in this first bilingual school in Ottawa. The Académie De-La-Salle, a French school, was then housed there from 1888 to 1971.

As with any building, over time, it is necessary to repair the damage. Demolish it? Restore it? Modernize it? All options were evaluated and finally, Heritage Ottawa, the National Capital Commission, and Archbishop Aurèle Plourde decided to rehabilitate it. And the citizens had a lot to do with it! Indeed, the desire to protect an emblematic site of the French Empire style present on the American continent was very strong.

The palace now houses the Canada School of Public Service and is also now an important part of the “Historic Mile” on Sussex Drive.

Text version of the audio

The Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica is the oldest and largest church in the City of Ottawa. Declared a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada in 1990, it is a true jewel of Canadian religious art, rich in history.

Raise your head and admire this huge architectural work in a Gothic style, the two imposing spires, the bell towers, and the ashlars. You are looking at a heritage jewel of Ottawa's French community.

It was not until 1828 that the itinerant missionaries began to take steps to build a chapel. Before that, the inhabitants had no place to gather. Finally, the project of a small wooden chapel was quickly transformed into a larger stone church thanks to the parish priest Jean-François Cannon in 1839, for which the construction started in 1841.

After being moved across the street, the existing wooden chapel was destroyed by a fire.

Throughout this large-scale project, one figure stands out, that of Father Damase Dandurand, who became parish priest in 1848. His ambition to offer a quality place of worship for the population transformed the church project into a true architectural cathedral.

In 1858, the façade of the cathedral had two bell towers with lanterns erected, and the first organ made its appearance. Built by Joseph Casavant, from La Maison Casavant, a company that still exists.

In the absence of Mgr. Guigues, the parish priest Dandurand had an apse (the semicircular part behind the choir) built in secret in the Gothic style, offering a magnificent choir and sanctuary for episcopal ceremonies, as well as a crypt below.

Back in 1865, Mgr. Guigues was surprised by the turn of events and put an end to the work. A statue of the Virgin finally replaced it to make people forget about the work accomplished without his permission.

However, a few years later, Father Georges Bouillon took over the work of Father Dandurand with the help of a team of French-Canadian artisans, ornamentalists, cabinetmakers, and French Canadian sculptors (Louis-Philippe Hébert, Flavien Rochon, Philippe Pariseau, etc.).

The cathedral's interior design took shape between 1878 and 1885.

In 1879, the first stained glass windows were installed by a master glass artist, and the cathedral was granted the status of minor basilica by Pope Leo XIII.

In 1892, Joseph Casavant's son completely rebuilt the organ and installed an entirely electro-pneumatic instrument. It was quite an innovation at the time.

Extract of
Self-Guided Tour of the Byward Market History & Ottawa Must-See Places

Self-Guided Tour of the Byward Market History & Ottawa Must-See Places image circuit

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