In 1838, stonemason Thomas McKay built a home for his family that would become a place for all Canadians for centuries to come. Nestled atop a winding path through 79 acres of forest steeped in rich and powerful history, Rideau Hall has become one of Canada’s most loved buildings.
As the official residence and workplace of every governor general of Canada since 1867, Rideau Hall has hosted kings, queens, heads of state, and it is where exceptional Canadians are honoured for their bravery and achievements. Now home to Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Julie Payette, the 29th Governor General of Canada, Rideau Hall welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year to its grounds and to tour its stately rooms.
Over the years, various changes have been made to the majestic old building to meet the demands of modern times. Last year, the National Capital Commission (NCC) undertook several legacy projects to mark the 150th anniversary of Confederation. The projects included the transformation of the iconic arrival area into a site for celebrations with the renewal of the forecourt and the rehabilitation of The Fountain of Hope.
“These renovations are part of a longer term vision for Rideau Hall,” says Jamie Brown, project manager and landscape architect for the NCC. “They allow Rideau Hall to extend its ceremonial and cultural spaces outdoors with a capacity to accommodate over 1,000 people.” The forecourt is where the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge launched their first Royal Tour together in Canada in 2011, and in 2015 it is where Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet were sworn in.
The original fountain was built in 1982 to mark the International Year of Disabled Persons and named in honour of Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope. But the asphalt structure was beginning to show signs of deterioration, and the preservation of the fountain’s complex systems can present a contradictory challenge for designers as the play of water over sculptured forms can often threaten a fountain’s long-term stability.
“For the design of the new forecourt, we had three goals to consider,” explains Jamie. “We had to make sure to follow the landscape guidelines for the ceremonial grounds of Rideau Hall; we had to respect and incorporate the heritage value of the residence; and we had to ensure we paid homage to the first fountain.”
The result is a stunning array of engineering and beauty that harmoniously blends the dignity of the residence with today’s robust technology and safety regulations.
The cylindrical design mirrors the classic contours of the storied circular drive, while being flush to the ground. With more than 70 programmable water jets, the new fountain also incorporates customizable lighting to showcase the facade of the residence, as well as to illuminate the forecourt. Rather than asphalt, granite was chosen because of its durability and its ability to withstand our Canadian climate.
“At Rideau Hall, we are surrounded by the Canadian story, and the wonder that is the Canadian landscape,” says Christine MacIntyre, an executive director in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. “This new entrance serves as an impressive and welcoming focal point for all seasons.”
From the architecture of the doors of The Queen’s Entrance, to the inspiration taken from the art of the Group of Seven in the etched glass and woodwork of the doorframe, as well as the connection of indoor and outdoor elements in the forecourt, Rideau Hall is a delicate balance of formality and informality.
To celebrate winter in the nation’s capital, Rideau Hall encourages visitors to skate amongst the trees and under the stars, and to walk the snow-covered paths. The Winter Pavilion, built in 1895 to store butter and cheese, now offers a crackling fire and a warm place to lace up skates. Skating has been a long-standing experience at Rideau Hall, since Lord Dufferin built the first rink in 1872. Today, the public rink is made of natural ice with a refrigerated blanket that can last until the milder temperatures in March.
“There is a real sense that history has come alive for all Canadians with these restorations,” says Christine. “Rideau Hall is, after all, a public space that belongs to everyone.”