03 Sep 2008
- Last Updated on 13 September 2016
- Written by Mohammad Al-Asad
774 Echo Drive
1914 – 23
This Sisters of the Precious Blood, a contemplative order of nuns founded in St. Hyacinthe, Quebec, came to Ottawa in 1887. In 1898, they purchased the MacKay estate on Echo Drive, which included a large stone house.
The house was demolished and in 1914 work began on a new convent designed by Alphonse Contant. However, construction came to a halt in 1916 due to a steel shortage during the First World War. In 1917, work again stopped when the architect refused to spend any more money on the project and absconded with the funds. The building stood unfinished for four years. After receiving generous donations of materials and labour from the community, the Sisters moved into the monastery in 1923. Because of the financial problems, however, the building was austere and some parts, such as the chapel, were not finished to the Sisters’ satisfaction until the 1960s.
The Monastery of the Precious Blood is a large, four-storey, pale yellow brick structure with a hip roof. A modified mansard roof with dormers forms an attic storey on the north façade. The building was originally laid out with a central courtyard (now a glassed atrium) bounded on three sides by four-storey wings. A two storey wing on the front, north façade features an attractive frontispiece. It is topped by a monumental pediment and a two-storey, round-headed arch that contains double front doors located on each end of the four-storey wings.
Smooth stone string courses separate the stories of the front façade, but they are not continued around the corners to the east and west facades. On the east façade, the former chapel, now a meeting hall, is lit by large two-storey windows partially filled with stained glass. The west façade repeats the simple rectangular windows with stone lintels found elsewhere on the building, while the south façade features an open three-storey gallery overlooking a lawn. There is also a large central belfry.
The former monastery creates a monumental impression, despite its austere exterior. Stylistically, the building is a very simple, classically proportioned structure, similar to convents and monasteries built throughout Canada in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Public mass was regularly celebrated in the chapel, providing a link between the religious community and its neighbours. By the early 1990s, the Ottawa community of this order had dwindled, prompting the Sisters to sell the property and move the remaining members to the mother house in St. Hyacinthe.
The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons purchased this building in 1991 for its national headquarters. The college carried out extensive renovations, to plans by the architectural firm of Murray & Murray, to transform the structure into a modern office building. In 1999, a new building of complementary brick design was built west of the older structure. The original grounds between the building and the rear fence, and the open treed lawn to the north, contribute significantly to the property’s character.
The information provided above is reproduced from: Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee (LACAC), Ottawa: A guide to Heritage Structures (Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 2000), pp. 186 - 187.
Notes pertaining to the structure’s exterior building stone: The wall base, first-floor continuous course, second-floor discontinuous course and window sills, lintels and arches were built using medium grey, poorly-bedded and fossil-rich limestone. The wall base has a bush hammered side and bevelled cut top. The limestone blocks contain jagged, bedding-parallel stylolites (irregular surfaces of dissolution in the limestone) along which cracks have formed on the cut surfaces of the blocks. The limestone contains broken and intact brachiopod shells and bryozoa and broken pieces of white-grey intraclasts (reworked sedimentary fragments). In some limestone blocks the fossil and intraclast pieces are aligned parallel to the crude bedding and stylolites.
Contributed by Geologist Quentin Gall, Ph.D. May 2009
In 1926 a memorial to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry was placed inside the convent chapel.
Interior views of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons - Doors Open June 2010 (Jean-Claude Dubé, 2010).
Read about the history & heritage of the Royal College here.