Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica Preservation & Restoration
Ottawa, Ontario
Archdiocese of Ottawa
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica was built in several phases between 1841 and 1897. Being the oldest surviving church in Ottawa, the Cathedral is a prominent landmark in the city and has great architectural, cultural and religious significance. It is recognized as a National Historic Site.

The project consisted of the complete restoration of Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica according to internationally recognized heritage standards. The project also included an adaptive reuse of the lower parish hall and crypt area into a new multi-purpose room and professional kitchen. Prime heritage character defining areas were designated as part of an investigation reporting phase. The extensive interior and exterior restoration of the Cathedral included metalwork, stained glass, masonry, plaster, and artwork. Mechanical, electrical, and life safety systems were completely updated. The building was upgraded to meet current accessibility and building code standards.

Edward J Cuhaci and Associates Architects Inc. was also subsequently retained to rehabilitate the Sacristy Building by converting dormitory rooms into offices and upgrading the exit requirements. Part of the scope of work included partial demolition of a 1970’s addition and the restoration of the masonry, stain glass and interior plaster and faux finishes.

The Firm carried out comprehensive Master Planning, including the schematic design of a new day chapel. We carried out a comprehensive assessment of the current condition of the building and its interior decoration, and then recommended priorities and budgets for restorative purposes. As part of our mandate, we worked with the Cathedral Committee. With respect to the liturgical renewal, we generated proposals for the rearrangement of the sanctuary.

This comprehensive report consisted of separate sub-reports and analysis prepared by specialized consultants, who worked under our direction. These individual reports include detailed analysis and budgets that cover all aspects of the building fabric, structure, finishes, designated substances, electrical and mechanical systems. The report also included as-found architectural, mechanical, electrical and survey drawings, as well as drawings showing building code deficiencies, proposed alterations, and reflected ceiling plans. In addition, our report included a detailed work methodology that addressed the major activities required in the restoration process, and a room-by-room assessment of the building interior and four exterior facades. To improve the comfort in and the life safety systems of the building, we also recommended alterations.

Objective 1: Users’ Operational Requirements

We established the Project’s priorities and defined the operational requirements by consulting with various user groups, and holding discussions at public meetings.

• New ramps and elevating devices were added to provide handicapped access, without damaging the existing historical character of the public spaces.

• New lighting fixtures, dimmers and audio systems were added in the sanctuary and basement where a multitude of performances and events take place.

• New plumbing facilities with handicapped access were added.

Objective 2: Heritage Restoration and Asset Integrity

The work, which involved many specialist consultants and craftsmen, consisted of a general restoration of the interior and exterior of the building. The scope of work included the following:

• Metalwork: The decorative metalwork at the steeples, and the cornices at the entrances were completely replaced.

• Windows: The wood windows were completely refurbished, including removal of all finishes, wood repairs, and complete re-glazing.

• Masonry: Critical masonry repairs were completed, some buttresses were rebuilt.

• Stained Glass: A variety of repairs was completed to suit the various existing conditions of the stained glass windows.

• Interior: The elaborate interior was completely cleaned and all finishes were repaired. The original ceiling colour and gold leaf star pattern were reinstated. 14,000 stars were installed on the ceiling. Layers of yellowed varnish were removed from the faux painted columns. The complex wood work of the sanctuary was completely cleaned, stabilized, and restored.

• Artwork: Fourteen Stations of the Cross were conserved. Approximately one hundred-fifty wood and plaster sculptures were removed from the sanctuary, restored, and returned to their original locations.

• Plaster: The decorative plaster work and the existing vaulted plaster ceilings were consolidated and repaired.

• Structure: Seismic upgrading was prepared to the structure and stabilization of existing masonry and wood structure was conducted.

• Mechanical: The sprinkler system was updated. A new heating plant (new boilers and chimney liners) was installed.

• Electrical: The electrical system, including a new generator and electrical service, was completely upgraded. The lighting in the Cathedral was restored, and custom fixtures were made to match the existing on the gallery level. Exterior lighting was added to the steeples and front facade to enhance the building at night.

Objective 3: Adaptive Reuse

The Cathedral has a very active parish and donations for the restoration project were to include the adaptive reuse of unutilized spaces:

• Basement: The existing Parish Hall and crypts in the lower level of the Cathedral were renovated and reconfigured to include a new kitchen, servery, multipurpose room and washroom facilities.

• Sacristy: The existing dormitory rooms were reused as offices for the clergy. Exiting and door hardware were upgraded to suit the change in use.

• Sanctuary: The new Catholic liturgy eliminated the need to separate the congregation from the sanctuary; therefore, a reconfiguration of the altars, sculptures, steps, and decorative marble guards was implemented. There still exists religious and historic difference of opinion regarding some of the proposed alterations. For that reason, many of the reuse proposals are listed as future projects and before proceeding will require consensus among the Parish, heritage consultants, and religious leaders.

Objective 4 : Integrated Project Delivery

• “Partnering” was set up at the start and maintained throughout the project. All project team members were brought together to discuss the project goals, to define objectives, and to understand the perspectives of others.

• During construction, tours were given to the Client as well as to the general public to inform them of the progress of the work.

• Presentations were made to the Client throughout the project to develop a consensus regarding the scope of work and to ensure feedback.

• We carried out extensive consultant coordination due to the project’s complexity and the involvement of many specialized trades and restoration specialists. Supervision of qualified tradesmen was a priority.

• The project had fixed constraints in terms of budget and schedule. At the start of the project, cost consultants provided a basis for the budget, which was maintained throughout the project. The cost consultants also identified appropriate contingencies that contributed to the success of the project.

• Due to the non-standard construction and historic nature of the building, extensive research and investigations and quantity surveys were carried out prior to tender. Unknown conditions that did arise during construction were successfully handled by unit pricing and review of labour and material rates.

Objective 5 : Sustainable Building Design

• The main goal of the project was to restore and to conserve rather than to demolish. Innovative methods were implemented to preserve, maintain, and prolong existing materials and the life of the building. One such example, which eliminated demolition and reduced waste, was the preservation of the entire original plaster ceilings.

2000 Award of Excellence in Recognition of Successful Restoration, City of Ottawa

1999 Order of Merit Award, Archdiocese of Ottawa

2000 The 2000 Annual Roofing Canada Award, CRCA

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