Traditional home to prime ministers is steeped in history. by Alanna Wilson
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The house at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa is often perceived as merely the residence of the prime minister of Canada. But its history and heritage value extend far beyond its role of housing Canada’s head of government. The evolution of 24 Sussex Drive follows the development of Canada as a nation, reflecting our ever-progressing cultural, political, and social climate.
Joseph Merrill Currier built 24 Sussex Drive as his private residence in 1868. A lumber baron as well as a Member of Parliament, Currier was an influential figure in the nation’s growing capital. Sussex Drive was the hub of Ottawa social life, hosting the rich and famous of this lumber town-cumnational capital.
Currier built 24 Sussex Drive in the English Gothic revival style, which was popular in the new nation for its reflection of English roots and authority, as evidenced by its use at the Parliament Buildings. He also named the new home Gorffwysfa, which means “place of peace” in Welsh.
The next phase of 24 Sussex Drive was ushered in by another lumber baron and MP, William Cameron Edwards, who purchased the house in 1902. Edwards renovated 24 Sussex Drive to reflect the château style, whose picturesque forms were seen to embody Canada’s rugged landscape and to reflect the nation’s French heritage. That style, also used in a series of monumental hotels owned by Canadian Pacific, symbolized to many a distinct, united Canadian identity.
Fearful that someone might commercialize the historic structure, the government of Canada bought 24 Sussex Drive in 1946, making it the official residence of the prime minister in 1950. Following the purchase, the house was renovated in a stripped-down style reflecting the clean, modern, streamlined aesthetics of a progressive postwar Canada.
The home at 24 Sussex Drive — currently vacant while it awaits extensive renovations — is steeped in Canadian history, having housed key figures from our past and having evolved with Canadian society.
Above: The house at 24 Sussex Drive sits atop a promontory, overlooking the Ottawa River.
Right: The living room at 24 Sussex Drive is traditionally used by the prime minister’s family and invited guests..