Rochon’s historic residence becomes home to the arts

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A major renovation of the nearly 200-year-old Rochon Residence on St. Patrick Street in the Ottawa Byward Market was completed this fall. The building’s original piece-to-room timber walls are now covered with fibreboard which provides both insulation and protection. (Alistair Steele / CBC)

Maybe you walked past and never really noticed the long-story squat house on the corner of Sussex Drive and St. Patrick’s Street, on the edge of the Byward Market.

Yet he stood there for nearly two centuries, looking north at Notre Dame Cathedral and now the National Gallery of Canada.

Much like the first forest town of which it is an increasingly rare relic, the small white building is sturdy, discreet and made of wood.

Today, the National Capital Commission (CCN) is giving the Rochon residence from the early 1830s a new lease of life in more ways than one.

The two-bedroom house at 138 rue Saint-Patrick is named after one of its original inhabitants, the woodcarver Flavien Rochon, who made the stalls and sanctuary for the cathedral opposite in 1844. Rochon’s work can also be found in the Library of Parliament.

WATCH | Visit the recently restored Résidence Rochon:

Visit the recently restored Rochon residence

The Rochon Residence in the Lower Town was built in the 1830s and is an example of one of Ottawa’s first wooden houses. Stefan Krauss, the design manager for the restoration project, gave CBC News a tour of the house. 1:54

“There are very few left”

The NCC acquired the Rochon Residence in 1965 as part of a larger plan to preserve the region’s built history. While most of the original log homes that characterized early Bytown have given way to larger structures built of stone and brick, the Rochon Residence has remained stubborn.

“Before, it was the kind of building you saw everywhere in the Lower Town [and] the Byward Market, but very little of it remains – certainly very little that you can still recognize as easily as that one-and-a-half-story log cabin, so it’s a very special little building, “said Heather Thomson, the NCC Heritage Program Manager.

The house last underwent repairs in 1980, but 40 years later it was starting to show its age again. The 2020 federal budget allocated $ 690,000 for a major restoration.

In April, workers removed drywall and siding to assess the situation.

“The timbers themselves, even when well constructed, struggled a bit with moisture over the years… so we had to rehabilitate some of the existing timbers and strengthen them,” explained Stefan Krauss, project design manager.

This included adding additional floor joists for added stability and reinforcing a roof section between the original structure and an addition to the back of the kitchen built a few years later.

An undated historical photo of the Rochon Residence. According to historians, there were once around 350 similar structures in the area, but most have been demolished and replaced with larger stone or brick buildings like the one next door. (National Capital Commission)

“Some parts were just missing… where they weren’t too careful when they built the house,” Krauss said.

Workers discovered a few surprises, including a hidden dormer with original cedar shingles that had been sealed in an earlier addition.

Krauss and his team completed the restoration project about two months ago. Now the house, which still smells of fresh paint, is ready for a new occupant.

A home for the arts

Since the acquisition of the property, the NCC has rented the Rochon residence to private occupants. This time, one of the candidates from the pool will become the new resident thanks to an Artist-in-Residence program aimed at reviving federal heritage buildings in the capital, starting with 138 Saint-Patrick Street.

The hope is that this little house will make a nice artistic impact one way or another.– Jen Halsall, CCN

The NCC designed the pilot project by consulting with local arts and culture groups and then issuing a request for expression of interest earlier this year. The successful candidate will be announced early next year.

“Who knows what artistic work will take place here? We’re very excited about what we’re going to see coming out of this house, ”said Jen Halsall, NCC Director of Home Construction.

“The late evening sun has just poured through the windows and bathed everything in this beautiful orange gold, and you see all the old wood light up in color,” Halsall said.

“You could take this in so many different ways as an artist, whether you’re into mixed media, sculpture, painting, or storytelling – this house in many ways reflects the land of fusion and of mixture that was also the Lower Town. So who can say what the inspiration will be and what form it will take, but the hope is that this little house is going to have a nice artistic impact in one way or another. “

If the pilot project is successful, the NCC could expand it to other properties of historical or architectural significance in and around Ottawa, such as the Modernist Strutt House in Gatineau Park.

“We also have a series of other homes that could benefit from this type of approach, so hopefully if that goes well we can bring it to other locations next year,” said Thomson.

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