Part of the house is reserved for the use of the family. The other part is where the prime minister welcomes official guests for public functions. These rooms are decorated and furnished in keeping with their important public function.
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.
Place of peace
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.
Politics and business
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.
Since 1988, 24 Sussex Drive has been managed by the NCC. Like most official residences, it is closed to the public.
The house is divided into two principal areas: private and state. The private area is essentially the family’s quarters and consists of bedrooms, sitting areas and other rooms to accommodate private activities. The state area is used for official business and functions.
The site comprises 2.15 hectares (5.3 acres) of grounds, one main building with 34 rooms that covers approximately 1,115 square metres (12,000 square feet), as well as another small building at 10 Sussex Drive, which was originally a coach house or caretaker’s house, and a pool house and two security guard kiosks.
The main residence is not currently occupied by the Prime Minister of Canada, who now resides on a temporary basis at Rideau Cottage on the Rideau Hall grounds.
Our work at 24 Sussex Drive is part of a broader long-term program to preserve, maintain and restore all the official residences under NCC management.
The NCC’s Official Residences of Canada: Asset Portfolio Condition Report, released in 2018, provides a detailed, residence-by-residence analysis of the investment required to restore Canada’s official residences to good condition.
The asset portfolio condition report deemed both the main residence and the caretaker’s house (10 Sussex Drive) to be in critical condition. The report also identified the main residence as a high priority for rehabilitation work, requiring an estimated $34.53 million in deferred maintenance.
Main house rehabilitation
Since 2018, the NCC has not made any capital investment in support of the rehabilitation of 24 Sussex Drive.
As with all official residence properties, the NCC is keen to move forward with the rehabilitation of 24 Sussex Drive. That, however, will require committed funding from the Government of Canada.
In the interim, the NCC continues to work with its federal partners to develop a plan for the future of the official residences, including 24 Sussex Drive, to ensure the federal government is able to make a prudent and informed decision. Further information will be made available in due course.