One Last Ride

Ottawa loses piece of history as last manual
elevator closes down

By Vicki Newton

It takes only a second for Peter Hamil to remove the bar holding the door to Ottawa’s last manually operated elevator open and swiftly escort his passengers inside.

Hamil steers the closet-sized elevator with a lever. It holds up to five people with nothing but a cage-like door stretched across the frame. The 80-year-old elevator shoots up quickly past the floors.

But the elevator, located in the Bates Building at 111 Sparks St., will be closed next year because of a shortage of parts, the high cost of frequent repairs and minor safety issues.
The second-last manually operated elevator, located in the Saxe Building at 75 Sparks St., closed last month for the same reasons.

For Hamil, 36, it means leaving a job that he has enjoyed for the past 10 years. He was placed in the job by ARC Industries, a support program within the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities.

“The best part of my job is that I get to meet people and you get to know the tenants in the building, who are all really nice,” says Hamil in a shy voice from behind his tiny desk in the lobby.

Hamil, who works from noon until 5 p.m. on weekdays, says he’s disappointed more people don’t recognize the heritage the elevator adds to the city.

“A lot of people don’t care about all the old buildings, they just want to replace everything,” he says while stealing a side glance at the empty elevator.
Both manual elevators are in federal government buildings.

They were inspected by the Technical Standard and Safety Authority, an organization set up by the provincial government to inspect elevators and escalators previously regulated by the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations.

Steve Sanderson, a supervisor at ARC Industries, says the Bates Building elevator is likely to be replaced by a computerized lift next year. He says that while he is also saddened to see the elevators go, he understands that repairs are time-consuming and costly.
Sanderson says some displaced operators have already been transferred to other jobs.
Hamil says he expects to be working at a grocery store after his operator job runs out.
He folds his arms against his checkered sweater and grins when trying to recall his favorite memory while on the job.

“Oh, I know a good one. There was the time the prime minister (Chrétien) was outside at Parliament Hill behind this building. The roads were blocked with RCMP and everybody was coming in here, going up to the fourth floor, to look out this big window.

“So we all stood there talking and banged on the window but the RCMP officers got mad at us,” Hamil laughs as he looks out the window with the postcard-like view.

The Bates Building is home to five offices, including Frank Magazine and the Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards, says he will also be sorry to see the elevator close.

“It adds a human touch and is a great conversation piece.”