Rideau Hall has been the official residence and workplace of every governor general of Canada since 1867.
The governor general lives here, confers with the leader of Canada’s government, hosts foreign dignitaries and performs the functions of Canada’s head of state, as the representative of the Crown in Canada. This heritage site is also a national gathering place, where the governor general presents honours and awards to recognize excellence.
A classified federal heritage building, Rideau Hall is the largest official residence in Canada’s Capital Region and the only one open to visitors. Tours of the residence, art collection and grounds are offered all year long. The grounds are open to the public in all seasons of the year for a range of concerts, ceremonies, celebrations and sporting events.
A Regency Villa
In 1838, Thomas McKay, a wealthy entrepreneur, built his elegant family home on the outskirts of Ottawa. This impressive 11-room structure earned the nickname “McKay’s Castle” among the neighbours.
In 1864, the Government of Canada was looking for a country estate for the governor general in Ottawa, which had been named capital of the Province of Canada in 1857. Rideau Hall was inadequate in many ways, being small and distant from central Ottawa. It was leased anyway, as “temporary” quarters for Lord Monck (the last governor general of British North America, 1861–1867, and first governor general of the Dominion of Canada, 1867–1869).
Lord Monck disliked the house, especially because Parliament Hill was a full 4.8 kilometres away along muddy, rutted tracks. Despite his complaints and those of his successors, Rideau Hall was gradually improved, and eventually accepted as the permanent seat of the governor general.
The grounds of Rideau Hall represent one of the finest historic landscapes in Canada. In 1998, they were designated as a cultural landscape of national historic significance by the Minister of Canadian Heritage. In keeping with British landscape tradition, the grounds are divided between treed lawns, flowerbeds and service areas, with some areas remaining in a semi-wild state.
Discover the remarkable trees in this area.
Despite the British inspiration, however, these grounds have an unmistakable Canadian quality. In the 19th century, they became the centre of a culture of winter, as governors general and their families enjoyed snowshoeing, tobogganing, skating and skiing on these grounds.
Over the years, the house has evolved in size and complexity to serve its various official purposes. Rideau Hall may have been small when the Government of Canada rented it in 1864, but the concept of a viceregal estate was already in place to guide architects as they plunged into the work of transformation. As early as 1868, Rideau Hall began to acquire a changed image.
The traditional home and workplace of the governor general, Rideau Hall has played a prominent historical and constitutional role in Canada since Confederation. For more than 150 years, this heritage site has been the official residence of Canada’s governors general.
The main building contains about 175 rooms, covering about 8,825 square metres (95,000 square feet). The grounds encompass some 32 hectares (79 acres) and 27 historic buildings, as well as rose gardens, rockeries, cricket lawns and stands of trees.
Since 1988, the buildings and grounds of Rideau Hall have been managed by the NCC. In the years that followed, the NCC undertook development plans, supported by asset condition reports, for both the buildings and grounds and, in addition to numerous regular maintenance projects, several essential upgrades have been completed.
Our work at Rideau Hall is part of a broader ongoing program seeking 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 October 2018, provides a detailed, residence-by-residence analysis of the investment required to restore Canada’s official residences to an acceptable condition.
The report deemed the main residence to be a very high priority, requiring both operational and maintenance improvements, as well as major rehabilitation work.
While the main building has recapitalization requirements estimated at more than $200 million, a capital investment of $19.7 million is urgently required for the stabilization of the main residence, and $22.2 million is required for the entire property.
The 2018 asset portfolio condition report also provides a comprehensive list of the rehabilitation initiatives undertaken over the past 10 years, as well as a proposed list of investments needed between 2018 and 2027.
Main residence rehabilitation
Since 2018, work valued at approximately $7.43 million was completed in the Monck Wing, portions of the private quarters and the state offices, including the following:
- removal of the existing heating system
- installation of a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system
- rehabilitation of a washroom to make it fully universally accessible
- installation of new cabinets and window coverings
- replacement of lighting
- updating of furnishings and furniture layouts
- replacement of built-up roofing
With a total investment of $9.95 million completed in 2017, the forecourt rehabilitation project and the reconfiguration of the front entrance arrival area focused on meeting today’s functional and ceremonial requirements.
In 2019, work was initiated in the ballroom to address urgent structural issues, restore the heritage plaster features and complete upgrades to the fire suppression systems.
To ensure the continued health and safety of visitors and staff, the ballroom has been closed since the beginning of the rehabilitation work. This project, expected to conclude in fall 2020, is estimated at $1.75 million.
Other significant rehabilitation projects (recently completed or under way)
- Ambassador Court foundation repairs: $910,000
- Administration building window replacement: $260,000
- Sanitary sewer realignment: $955,000
- Fire pump replacement and sprinkler upgrades: $965,000
- Storm sewer rehabilitation: $200,000
- Design and construction of new NCC service, maintenance and storage building in the operations zone, replacing buildings demolished in 2016: $7 million
- Greenhouse (no. 1) envelope improvements: $150,000
- Minto and hospitality wing HVAC system upgrades: $536,000
Master plan for Rideau Hall
Along with key stakeholders such as the RCMP and the OSGG, the NCC is undertaking the development of a master plan for this uniquely complex property. This plan will draw from the Long-Range Vision for Rideau Hall (2017–2067) and will include a universal accessibility strategy.
More information about the master plan will be shared once available.