‘Uninhabitable’ 24 Sussex should still be restored, heritage advocates say

In its dilapidated state, 24 Sussex, the official residence of Canada’s prime ministers, faces a plague of issues and increasingly pressing questions about whether it is worth restoring.

For heritage advocates who spoke to the press on Friday, the answer remains a clear “yes.”

Several heritage-minded groups, including Historic Ottawa Development Inc., have called for the federal government to reconsider the idea of outright replacing the property, saying they were interested in the “business case” of fixing up 24 Sussex.

“This is a dilemma of national proportions,” HODI president Marc Denhez said.

The building currently sits unoccupied as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family never moved in after he was elected to his first term as government leader in 2015. They lived instead at nearby Rideau Cottage .

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The decision on what will become of 24 Sussex is in the hands of Public Services and Procurement Minister Jean-Yves Duclos, whose office told Global News on Friday that a decision would come soon but did not specify when.

Click to play video: '24 Sussex Drive: Debate on whether to renovate or demolish traditional home of prime ministers'

24 Sussex Drive: Debate on whether to renovate or demolish traditional home of prime ministers

Restoration, however, is only one possibility, with spokesperson Olivier Pilon saying that “all options” on the table.

“That could be renovating 24 Sussex (or) moving it to somewhere else,” he said.

A 2021 report by the National Capital Commission (NCC) found it would cost at least $36.6 million just to complete the deferred maintenance on the residence, which was built in 1868. But bringing it up to code would likely cost millions more.

From electrical systems that make the building a “fire hazard” and it being “riddled” with designated substances like asbestos, lead and mold to air quality concerns from the rodent “infestation” and carcasses found in the walls, attic and basement of the 34-room mansion, the report noted multiple problems, with the latter causing issues that prompted the full shutdown of the residence last fall.

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“The other major risk is water damage,” said a 2022 NCC report citing “70 year old galvanized pipes that are rusting from the inside out, currently leaving only a very thin pipe.”

“If these are not decommisionned [sic] soon, potentially catastrophic collapse is inevitable,” the NCC noted, calling the building “uninhabitable.”

Click to play video: 'Don’t paint the walls of 24 Sussex until my wife has seen the colours: O’Leary'

Don’t paint the walls of 24 Sussex until my wife has seen the colours: O’Leary


HODI, though, questioned the proposed nearly $37 million cost even for renovation of the property, which the NCC noted does not include security or other infrastructure upgrades.

“I would ask you to close your eyes and try to imagine renovating your 2,500-square-foot home, which is something just less than a quarter of a 11,000 square feet, and spending $9 million renovating your house,” HODI project manager Ken Grafton said.

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But the group says building a new property, which Pilon has said is an option, would potentially cost even more.

“It’s going to be vastly more expensive to build a new residence… than just fix up the existing residence, which was good for the prime ministers prior to Justin Trudeau.”

Trudeau spent his childhood at 24 Sussex while his father was prime minister.

While the government is considering a new residence, potential costs for such a project are unknown at this time, and Grafton did not say how much a new building could be.

HODI president Marc Denhez said that could be because of a comparatively high price tag.

“Otherwise, figures have apparently been a state secret,” Denhez said. “So, our first point is that Canadians have seen no evidence that this new build would cost a nickel less than fix-up.”

Construction work began this spring to fix critical issues, such as reported water damage, flaking walls, rusting pipes and electrical issues — work the NCC said had to be done regardless of what the government plans to do with the property.

This work will take about a year, and later this month work to remove mechanical and electrical systems and clean up substances such as asbestos is also set to take place.

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Click to play video: 'HGTV’s Scott McGillivray on renovating 24 Sussex'

HGTV’s Scott McGillivray on renovating 24 Sussex

Earlier this year, then-procurement minister Helena Jaczek told MPs sitting on a House of Commons committee on government operations that Ottawa would have a plan for the future of 24 Sussex by the fall.

But a government official speaking on background told Global News that Duclos was still being briefed on the matter and said they were “not sure we will respect the deadline that was set by Minister Jaczek.”

A dozen prime ministers lived in the home between 1951 and 2015, including Stephen Harper and Trudeau’s father Pierre Elliott Trudeau. An auditor general report in 2008, while Harper was prime minister, warned the building needed about $10 million worth of repairs, calling it an “urgent matter.”

&copy 2023 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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