The house at 24 Sussex Drive is the official residence of Canada’s prime minister.

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 residence is designated as a “classified” heritage building by the Federal Heritage Buildings Review Office (FHBRO).

This residence is closed to the public.

Past

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

In the early 19th century, Canada was a magnet for young, ambitious immigrants. One of them 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 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.

Expropriation

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.

Official life

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.

Present

Today, 24 Sussex is the official residence of Canada’s prime minister. The NCC has managed it since 1988.

The house is divided into two principal areas: private and state. The private area, which is essentially the family’s quarters, consists of bedrooms, sitting areas and other rooms to accommodate private activities. The state area is used for official business and functions.

The site includes 2.15 hectares (5.3 acres) of grounds, one main building, as well as another small building at 10 Sussex Drive, a pool house and two security guard kiosks.

The main building has 34 rooms, and covers approximately 1,115 square metres (12,000 square feet). The building at 10 Sussex Drive was originally a coach house or caretaker’s house.

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.

Future

Rehabilitation overview

Our work at 24 Sussex Drive is part of a broader long-term program to preserve, maintain and restore all the official residences.

In June 2021, we released the NCC’s Official Residences of Canada: Asset Portfolio Condition Report. This document details the investment needed to restore Canada’s official residences to good condition.

The 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, needing an estimated $36.6 million in deferred maintenance. This amount does not reflect work to meet new building codes and legislative requirements.

The proposed work includes the following:

  • extensive recapitalization
  • abatement of hazardous materials
  • retention of certain heritage components
  • improvements to the building envelope
  • replacement of mechanical and electrical systems
  • construction of universally accessible entrances and washrooms