Hope for 231 Cobourg

231 Cobourg, former home of Lester and Maryon Pearson.
Photo Bill Blackstone

François Bregha

As 2018 draws to a close, there is new hope that parts of 231 Cobourg, the residence of Lester B. Pearson when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957, will be saved.

231 Cobourg (at the corner of Wilbrod) is a two-storey duplex, built in the 1940s in the Federalist style. For some three decades, it has served as the chancellery of the Ugandan High Commission. Four years ago, the High Commission vacated the premises after a steady deterioration in the building’s condition. This summer, in spite of opposition from the City’s Built Heritage Sub-committee, Heritage Ottawa and Action Sandy Hill (ASH), Ottawa’s City Council approved the building’s demolition in favour of a purpose-built three-storey office building that the High Commission plans to occupy.

ASH appealed the decision to the newly formed Local Planning Appeals Tribunal (the successor to the Ontario Municipal Board). This appeal prompted Ms. Joy Acheng, Uganda’s High Commissioner to reach out to ASH to determine whether some parts of the building can be saved. With the support of an engineer and architects, ASH and the High Commission will explore over the next few months the financial and technical feasibility of retaining those parts of the building with the greatest heritage value. Both sides hope they can complete this work quickly.

Real obstacles remain: the building’s condition may preclude salvaging much and the costs may prove too high. However, Ms. Acheng says, “the Ugandan High Commission respects and appreciates the built heritage of Sandy Hill and is committed to working together with ASH to ensure that we retain the heritage features of 231 Cobourg that can be saved.” Ms. Acheng notes that Ugandan president Museveni also received a peace prize (in July of this year from the Global Peace Foundation) and that retaining parts of 231 Cobourg can be a fitting way to celebrate the two countries’ friendship.

The fact that a foreign government and a community association are working together to preserve part of Canada’s political heritage is extremely encouraging for Sandy Hill given the large number of embassies in the neighbourhood. We can only hope that City staff takes note.