The house was built in 1868. Its first three owners were prominent figures, successful businessmen and members of Parliament. From early on, it has welcomed the political elite of Canada. Purchased by the federal government, the house was refurbished as an official residence for the prime minister in 1950.
Canada in the early 19th century was a magnet for young, ambitious immigrants. One of these was young Joseph Merrill Currier from Vermont. He came to Ottawa in 1837 at age 17, and stayed to make a fortune in the lumber trade. In 1868, as a wedding gift to his third wife, Hannah, he built a house near the forests and water that had made his fortune. He called the house Gorffwysfa, which means “place of peace” in Welsh.
After the death of Hannah Currier in 1901, the house passed into the hands of William Cameron Edwards, member of another prominent lumbering family. Like the first owner, Edwards was both a successful businessman and a prominent politician. From 1893 on, his company owned all the mills east of the Rideau Falls, and he turned them into an important wood-manufacturing complex. Edwards also served as a member of Parliament from 1891 to 1900, after which he was appointed senator. When Edwards died in 1921, the house eventually passed to a nephew, Gordon Edwards, who became a member of Parliament for Ottawa in 1926.
The battle to bring 24 Sussex into public hands was long and hard-fought. By 1943, the federal government owned almost all the land stretching along the Ottawa River from the French Embassy to Earnscliffe, the former home of Sir John A. Macdonald. There were fears at the time that the shoreline would be “commercialized,” which the government wanted to prevent at all costs. In 1943, an eviction notice was served on Gordon Edwards, who spent the last few years of his life fighting the order. The government won the dispute but, even after the courts settled the matter in 1946, it seemed uncertain what to do with the house.
In 1950, a decision was finally taken to refurbish the property as an official residence for the prime minister. This was the era of rampant “modernism” and, during the renovations, many Victorian features of the house — both inside and out — were removed, including bay windows, wood panelling, several fine fireplaces and elaborate wooden trim.
The last thing Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent wanted in 1950 was an official residence. St. Laurent finally consented to move in, as long as he could continue to pay rent (a practice that continued until 1971). Since then, the house has been occupied by a succession of government leaders, including John Diefenbaker, Lester B. Pearson and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The list of visitors is impressive, including Sir Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II, and John and Jacqueline Kennedy, to name a few.
The house has changed relatively little since 1950, except for the addition of a windowed sunroom at the back, modernization of the kitchen, and the addition of an enclosed pool and sauna. Since 1986, 24 Sussex Drive has been managed by the NCC, which is now planning a long-term rehabilitation project to ensure that this valuable heritage property remains in optimal condition. The work will continue in years to come.
The residence is not open to the public.