Lisgar Street homes receive heritage designation

Old, quaint homes – like those at 66 and 78 Lisgar St. – can sometimes be taken for granted in a downtown that is inundated with history; however, it is these sporadic sources of heritage that can make the city scape of Centretown so charming.

Lucky for these two, the city has taken note of their value. 

At a Nov. 26 meeting, Ottawa’s city council unanimously carried a motion to grant a heritage designation to the two 19th-century homes. 

The houses have been there since the 1890s and have spent 30 years on the city’s heritage reference list. 

Thomas McVeigh, president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, says when a “cluster” of heritage appears such as the one on Lisgar Street, it’s very important to preserve it, as it gives the community a good feel for what the streetscape looked like in a different time. 

“This is a good step, but there are a lot of heritage buildings in the core that don’t have designation that probably should,” says McVeigh. He referenced Frank Street as having historic value that has gone largely unnoticed. 

He also says that there is a current lack of funding for the preservation of heritage sites, such as the ones on Lisgar Street. 

“It would be nice if the city and the province came forward and covered some of the costs, so that we as a community, when we say we want to preserve some of the heritage, we can say it with money as well as with words.” 

The property owners will be responsible for all costs associated with the upkeep of a heritage site and are limited in what changes they can make to the buildings once designated. 

The current owners of 66 and 78 Lisgar St. – 66 being recently purchased and 78 owned by the HMCS Bytown Officers’ Mess – supported the designation. 

A plaque will also be placed outside of each building describing it’s extensive history. 

The buildings are described in the official report as excellent, well-maintained examples of the Queen Anne Revival style of architecture. The “fish-scale slate roofing, irregular rooflines . . . and elaborate wooden detailing” are said to be typical features of the upper-class homes found in Centretown in the late 1800s. 

Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney says she’s happy to see the designation of these two buildings finally going through. 

“We need to work to protect the built form of our downtown,” says McKenney. “We should strive to protect our heritage buildings in any way we can.” 

While speaking to the eclectic mix of old and new in Centretown, she says it’s important to ensure that the neighbourhoods blend easily from old to new, while maintaining the “heritage character of our streets.” 

The city will soon release a notice to the public of the municipality’s intention to grant a heritage designation to the properties. If no objections arise, the motion will return to council, and the final decision will be made. 

The homes, known as the Snowdon house and the Magee house, were both commissioned in the 1890s by prominent Ottawa businessman Charles Magee. The first house, 66 Lisgar St., he had built for his daughter and her new husband – the popular Rev. J.M. Snowdon – in 1891. Five years later, Magee moved in beside them.

The houses stayed in the families until the 1940s, when they were sold to the HMCS Bytown Officers’ Mess to be used during the Second World War. The home at 66 Lisgar St. has changed hands many times since then, but the house at 78 is still where you’ll find the Officers’ Mess.