Sandy Hill is home to more than two dozen embassies and ambassadorial residences, and on July 1 it will welcome its latest diplomatic mission: the Estonian Embassy.
Parking his red-plated car across from the future chancery at 168 Daly Ave., Ambassador Toomas Lukk arrived for our conversation with research in hand. It’s the October 2000 edition of the now defunct The Laurier Express newspaper, and on the front page is a black and white rendering of the building we’re here to discuss.
Located near the corner of Daly and King Edward avenues, 168 Daly Ave. is one of the first residences to be constructed in Sandy Hill east of King Edward. The building has CategoryÊ1 classification under the City of Ottawa’s heritage designation, meaning it is one of the best examples of the overall character of the Daly Avenue Heritage Conservation District.
The stone mansion was constructed in 1875 and was originally owned by William Stewart, a merchant, member of the Legislative Assembly, and land agent for Louis Besserer. Stewart was responsible for subdividing Besserer’s property and laying out the streets. (note: Besserer inherited this land from his brother, who was granted it by Colonel John By in 1828. Records say Stewart owned the property since 1840; the structure as it stands today, however, is thought to have been built 35 years later).
Estonia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs purchased the building at 168 Daly Ave. in 2018. Presently, the embassy functions out of a rented space on Dalhousie Street. Renovations and restorations on the Daly location began in 2019 and are now in the final stages.
Gesturing to the architectural rendering, circa 1912, Ambassador Lukk says the goal has always been to maintain the appearance and splendor of the original building. “Renovating something which is valued by the local community and society, you can do it well and you can also fail,” he says. “Judging so far from people passing by and talking to me when I’m here, everyone is pretty happy with the result. I think that’s the best assessment: if your local community accepts what you have done.”
Estonians, Ambassador Lukk notes, are sensitive to maintaining heritage—he points to Estonia’s capital, Tallinn, which was established in 1154. The city’s Old Town is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Interestingly, limestone was a popular construction material in Europe in the Middle Ages, and the limestone structure at 168 Daly pulls that thread through to modern times.
Of the many exterior renovations, one involved reconstructing the upper terrace that was part of the building’s original design. The front entrance was also brought up to today’s accessibility standards, and the base of the building was reinforced with concrete— — the residence had no foundation and was built directly on sand. The Estonian and European Union flags were recently raised on June 4, the country’s National Flag Day.
Once complete, the chancery will be decorated and furnished by Pille Lausmäe-Lõoke, a well-known Estonian interior architect. Ambassador Lukk says the design will be Nordic in style with simple, clean lines and shapes.
For Ambassador Lukk, the opening of this new embassy emphasizes strong Estonia-Canada relations: “Instead of being in a temporary office, we have established ourselves here in Ottawa. It basically means we are here in Ottawa to stay and this means business and co-operation with Canadians.”
As for the Sandy Hill connection, the Estonian Embassy team has initiated a conversation with City staff to have a plaque installed, either on the building or in the yard, so all who pass can learn about this important piece of the neighbourhood’s built heritage.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Lukk and his wife have already spent time walking Sandy Hill’s streets, observing the design of other embassies. “It’s very tranquil,” he notes of the neighbourhood. “We want our house to also be embedded into the environment rather than different from the rest of the ambiance of the area.”