The colonial past of a Parliament-style building includes a surprising ‘punch’

The old stone building at 330 Sussex Drive, nestled between the National Gallery of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint overlooking the Ottawa River, has served many purposes.

Built in the same Tudor Revival style as the Parliament Buildings, it housed the Dominion Archives from 1906 to 1967 and the Canadian War Museum from 1967 to 2005.

Today it is the international headquarters of the Global Center for Pluralism, a charity working to promote diverse societies.

As the center worked out its land acknowledgments – usually said at the start of an event to let people know it was happening on lands originally inhabited and/or unceded by First Nations – the center went realized that he didn’t know enough about the lands he was on. .

The building was created from 1904 to 1906, and the large addition to the left was built in 1925. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

For an organization whose mandate is to fight marginalization and get people to open up about it, it was important to understand this, Meredith Preston McGhie, the center’s general secretary, said in an interview with CBC Radio. Ottawa morning earlier this week.

“We were really deeply aware that it’s a very colonial space, and we’re trying to bring people together to talk about issues of exclusion and marginalization, to talk about really difficult issues,” McGhie said.

“We had to kind of flip the narrative of the building.”

So the center commissioned the Indigenous-led research and advisory firm Archipelago to research and write a report on the legacies of the site and the building itself.

She revealed, among other things, that the remains of the Algonquin people could be found in the mortar used to hold the stone of the building together.

An old stone building.
A close-up of stones and mortar on the facade of the Global Center for Pluralism on October 6, 2022. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

“It is well known in Algonquin communities that the mortar used for the Parliament Buildings and many buildings along Sussex Drive is actually made from sand quarried from one of the four Algonquin cemeteries, traditional burial grounds, just outside of Nepean,” said Saber Pictou Lee, CEO of Archipelago.

“And so it is possible that there are true Algonquins [human] remains in the mortar of buildings here on Sussex Drive. »

McGhie described the revelation as a “punch” that the center is still processing – transforming the building from an expression of colonial violence to a possible “actual physical act of violence”.

This is an important and tangible element of the report’s conclusions.

“You can put your hand on the wall of this building and feel what it means,” McGhie said, adding that when she first joined the center she was told by other staff that the building was haunted.

“It’s a very good example of something that is currently hidden in the walls of buildings and needs to be commemorated more publicly in the city,” she said.

A glass addition to an old stone building.
Part of the back wall of the building has been replaced with glass overlooking the Ottawa River. (Kristy Nease/CBC)

Earlier this year, the center asked Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg elder Verna McGregor to perform a smudging ceremony as events resumed being held in person at 330 Sussex.

“It reminded me that the building itself also needs cleaning…and it makes me feel deeply responsible that we need to move on,” McGhie said.

You can listen to the full interview with Lee and McGhie below.

Ottawa morning7:29Unboxing the story of 330 Sussex

Now home to the Global Center for Pluralism, the building at 330 Sussex has a history rooted in colonialism. A report commissioned by the Center explores his past.