When it was announced that Justin Trudeau would not be moving into 24 Sussex in order to facilitate a desperately needed renovation to the home, a lot of discussion about the Prime Minister’s official residence ensued. And it has been fascinating. What should be done – renovate, demolish, sell? What value has the building as a historic site?
What a marvellous opportunity this offers Canadians to discuss our built heritage! While 24 Sussex was built in 1868, it only took on national significance in 1949-50 when it became the Prime Minister’s OFFICIAL residence. Before then the Prime Minister was responsible for his own housing. Since 1950 the address has become synonymous with the job of Prime Minister.
The newspapers, social media and television news outlets have discussed the issue of planned renovations to the house, bringing diverse voices into the conversation from Maureen McTeer (who thinks it should be torn down) to Mike Holmes (who would like to be a part of the renovation). Because of the high price tag, estimated in 2006 at $10 million, there is a lot of talk about the value of such a plan. There is also a lot of talk about the bravery of the new Prime Minister in taking on such a project, when many of his predecessors have shied away from committing such vast sums because of the optics of such expenditure. Of course the longer the renovations are put off the worse it gets.
I think what I find the most fascinating and the most refreshing is the talk about how the renovations could be used to the best interests of Canadians. First off is the idea that the renovations can be used as an example of Canadian talent – renovate it to be green, energy efficient, use it as a demonstration of how good Canadian craftsmanship and technology is. After all this home is a symbol, work it to its best advantage. Of course some are not as keen, stating that some of the technologies suggested might not be workable in a very old building. And that may be true – but I really believe that the idea of using it as an example of the best and most ecologically viable is a great idea.
The most interesting part of the discussions on the renovations have centred on the idea that the home should be a part of a reality/home improvement program for television. I know it sounds kind of kooky, but actually many of those who have suggested it become the subject of some kind of tv-show have some interesting reasons for thinking that this would be welcome. Bryan Baeumler was one of more interesting interviews on the matter – he pointed out that transparency was a good idea – after all to be somehow documented would allow Canadians to see where their money was going and a way to ensure that the money was well spent. He didn’t envision his television show being the one to feature it, after all he said he could not see the Prime Minister being brought in to help tile.
And then there was that issue of investment in the heritage aspect of all of this. If Canadians can see their heritage, understand its importance, and understand the importance of its preservation – wouldn’t that be wonderful. Why shouldn’t we have a television show about our built history? Other countries have specials on their historic homes and buildings; some even have shows dedicated to the renovation of their heritage buildings (Restoration Home for example). Many Canadians will not visit Ottawa to see these important historic places, and even if they did – well usually 24 Sussex has a family living in it, this is a way to be a part of the history of the country. 24 Sussex can be the beginning of a better understanding of Canadians as to what we have here, and to celebrate their built heritage.