Once-prestigious 24 Sussex full of rodents, carcasses: National Capital Commission

Once-prestigious 24 Sussex full of rodents, carcasses: National Capital Commission
The Canadian prime ministers' residence, 24 Sussex, is seen on the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 26, 2015. The building is a designated federal heritage building, and has been the official residence of Canada's prime minister since 1951, with Stephen Harper being the last leader to live there. Mounting repairs for over 60 years led the National Capital Commission to move out staff last year, citing health and safety concerns.

When a lumber baron first built a home for his wife at 24 Sussex Drive, he described it as a place of peace. Now, it has become a place of rodents.

A rodent infestation in the official residence of Canada’s prime minister is so severe that the walls, attic and basement are filled with carcasses and excrement, the National Capital Commission details in internal documents.

The issues were first reported by the National Post newspaper, which obtained the documents through access-to-information law. The commission has now published them.

The rodent problem is a health hazard, but it cannot be addressed until issues with the building’s exterior walls, foundation, roof and windows are fixed, the agency said.

“In the meantime, we use bait to control the situation, but that leaves us with excrements and carcasses between the walls and in attic and basement spaces,” said a report dated June 23, 2022 regarding actions required to repair 24 Sussex Drive.

“This leads to real concerns with air quality.”

The report also highlighted other areas of critical concern, including water damage, the flaking of walls, rusting pipes that would be “catastrophic” should they collapse and electrical issues that resulted in the property being deemed a fire hazard.

“If last summer’s incident had occurred at night, with no one to report it, devastating and irreparable damage would have ensued,” the report said in reference to an electrical spark incident.

The agency also raised concerns following a garden party last year on the grounds of 24 Sussex, which was attended by 1,500 people and took place during a tornado warning.

“If a meteorological event would have occurred, human nature could have led to hundreds of guests rushing into this uninhabitable building, which is a risk we can’t accept,” the report said.

All these concerns — the build-up of 60 years of mounting repairs — ultimately led to the commission moving the final group of eight staff out of the building last year for health and safety reasons.

The commission is now focusing its work on decommissioning the residence as it waits for the federal government to make a decision on the future of 24 Sussex Drive, which would cost $37 million to repair.

In previous reports, the commission said that “decades of underfunding” and “a lack of timely investment in the maintenance” and preservation of the building led to the high cost of repair. New building codes, legislative requirements and heritage conservation measures have also driven up costs over the years.

The property covers more than two hectares and includes a main building with 34 rooms, a pool house and two RCMP guard houses.

The NCC is legislated to upkeep the grounds, which it views as a “national treasure.” A dozen prime ministers lived there between 1951 to 2015, hosting significant events in Canada’s history. Famous past guests include Sir Winston Churchill, Queen Elizabeth II and John F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Due to the building’s deterioration, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his family took up residence in Rideau Cottage on the nearby Rideau Hall grounds.

The residence was first built in 1867 by lumber manufacturer Joseph Merrill Currier, and it was owned by several others before the federal government took it over in 1947.

By 1943, many of Ottawa’s larger residences were being purchased by foreign governments for embassy use. At that time, 24 Sussex remained the last privately owned property on the north side of Sussex Drive.

The federal government wanted the home in order to control further development and fulfill the vision of a former architect who was involved with the building, the commission said in a report about the history of the grounds.

The idea was that such a boulevard “would become famous over the world for its picturesque beauty and the magnificence and extent of its views,'” the report read.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 4, 2023.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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