The Coliseum at Lansdowne Park
also, A Profile of Architect Cecil Burgess
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
October 6, 2010: (new photos)
Photo Source: Jean-Claude Dubé
It's been a while since I have last written to you.
Lately, I have been very interested in the present Lansdowne Park saga and realized that historical information about
the people and places of the park is limited to "official" municipal documentation.
So I have taken upon myself to do my own research.
One building that seems to be ignored or forgotten is the Coliseum, at 1015 Bank Street. I endeavoured to do research
on this building and institution, as a start, by going to Library and Archives Canada, the Ottawa Archives and the Ottawa Room
at the Ottawa Public Library. The plan is to publish with Heritage Ottawa, of which I am a member.
I discovered that Bytown or Bust has no information on the Coliseum and very little on the history of Lansdowne,
its people,its buildings and events.
I am offering you my most recent research on the Coliseum, written as an article, with the hope that it would inform and
possibly generate unknown personal information that could be very useful for one and all.
I intend to do the same with all the buildings, past and present, and try to tie in the region's history into it.
This may take a very long time.
Would you be willing to publish what I am sending you? Feel free to copy edit as want. It has 1087 words.
Jean-Claude: Thanks very much for this!
The Coliseum, Lansdowne Park, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
The Coliseum, designed by Hazelgrove & Burritt associated with Cecil Burgess in 1926, was part of a number of buildings constructed
in that year to celebrate the centennial of the City of Ottawa. The week-long celebration prior to the Exhibition in August 1926
was heralded with daily well-attended luncheons in the Coliseum's second floor dining room that seated 200 people. Alex L. Garvock
was the general contractor.
It's amazing that the architectural contract itself had just been awarded in February of the same year. This rapid construction was
due to the innovative use, at that point in time, of structural steel and reinforced concrete to create an internal skeleton for
the building upon which a cladding of bricks and glazed windows were fixed.
This technique, inspired by the method used to maximize use of rentable space while rebuilding the City of Chicago after it burnt
down in 1871, was known as Chicago Style. It was used early in the 20th Century for erecting large commercial buildings such as the
former Daly building designed by Moses Edey that used to be east of the Chateau Laurier Hotel.
The 1920's or Roaring Twenties brought this style of building to the pedestrian level. Society had just been through a World War
and the Spanish influenza. People wanted change: social norms changed, attire changed, music changed, and architecture changed.
Instead of the grandiose, robust and British Empire influenced buildings created during the War years reign of King Edward VII,
architects designed flat roof rectangular-shaped structures with minimal use of no longer required support components disguised
What used to be support columns became vertical wall variations intersected with horizontal features that projected a grid pattern.
Elements such as windows and window panes were part of this pattern. This new concept of an affluent society was purposely meant
to be simple, dignified and modern. This style with few decorations and much appeal carries the name of Modern Classicism and
was adopted by many progressive architects such as John Lyle of Toronto during the late 1920s.
Cecil Burgess, one of the architects, who lived at 25 Bellwood in Ottawa South, used this Modern Classicism style (also known as
Stripped Classicism) with elegant dashes of Art Deco in many of his later creations throughout Ottawa. The Duncannon Apartment
on Metcalfe St. and the Windsor Arms on Argyle St. are a few of his achievements.
The Coliseum stands out as one of the few early examples of this architectural style born in the gay period of Rudolph Valentino,
flapper dresses and the Charleston. Because of the easy and inexpensive construction, this design later became the preferred
mode of the Great Depression for urban civic buildings using funds released by the Public Construction Act of 1934. In the
United States, it was sometimes referred to as the Public Works style.
The Coliseum was built perpendicularly to an older exhibition hall built in 1906 (Northwood & Noffke) called Howick Place.
This in turn had been previously attached to a still older 1903 structure (Moses Edey) affectionately called the Fat Stock Building.
The Fat Stock Building was demolished and Howick Hall was renamed Coliseum to go along with the street frontage building to
which it was now attached.
This newly-named exhibition hall has since been modified many times with a south-east entrance added in 1995. The bleachers inside were
removed in 1971 or later for fire safety reasons. Other buildings afterwards attached to the exhibition hall have also been removed
since then. Except for the removal of a marquee and for new front doors, the 1926 Coliseum building has remained the same in and out
for the past 85 years. The second floor, with kitchen, washrooms, stairwell, dining room and an office, has been kept away from the
public eye for unknown reasons. The Coliseum is in much need of maintenance and a fresh coat of paint.
A special feature of the building is its wide array of wide and tall multi-paned windows that let in lots of natural light on all
three of its free sides. This and improved air circulation was innovative at the time. This healthy concept was copied in many of the
new schools built at that time and the following decades.
The Coliseum was essentially the congress centre of Ottawa for nearly 50 years. Federal political parties met at the Coliseum to
elect leaders such as Mackenzie King, St. Laurent, Lester B. Pearson, George Drew, John Diefenbaker and Tommy Douglas. The
inaugural convention for the NDP party was held at the Coliseum in 1961. The Ottawa Winter Fair was held there annually for 85 years.
The 4H Clubs from rural Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec would meet and compete in the Coliseum. The RCMP Musical Ride wintered on
the grounds and trained in the Howick Hall ring before 1926. The automobile industry had huge and popular car shows from the 1920s
onward. The Kiwanis Club started holding weekly luncheons in the dining room in 1926. All kinds of sports, commercial and social
events including New Year's Eve dances were held in the Coliseum. Entrance to these events was on Bank Street while the dining room
staircase entrance was on the south side. Canada's Diamond Jubilee in 1927, the year that Charles Lindbergh came to town, was also
cause for celebration in the dining room of the Coliseum.
The Coliseum Building has always had a landmark presence on Bank Street. To this very day, its Bank Street entrance, which used to
be under a huge chain-held marquee of a kind now only seen at the Conference Centre across from the Château Laurier Hotel, has
been a familiar part of the Bank Street streetscape. The Coliseum has stood on its own as an institution that marked a gateway to
Lansdowne Park. The building at 1015 Bank Street is part of the contextual fabric of the daily events and scene along Bank Street
and the approach to the Bank Street Bridge.
The Ontario Heritage Act empowers municipal governments to protect properties of cultural heritage value for present and future
generations. To be worthy of designation, a property must satisfy at least one of the following three criteria: design,
historical or contextual values.
The Coliseum is worthy of being considered because it meets all three of these criteria. Yet, no reflection was made in this regard
by the administrations of the City of Ottawa before it committed the city to a commercial partnership with three big land
developing families in 2009.
It's a pity!
... Jean-Claude Dubé
Photo Source: Library and Archives Canada, PA 145873
this photo by Malak appears in Our Times, A Pictorial Memoir of Ottawa's Past
November 29, 2010:
This is a follow-up on the Coliseum Bldg at Lansdowne Park that I have written and was published in the
Old Ottawa South's OSCAR for its December issue. I write in the Glebe Report and the OSCAR sporadically
and will send you the articles after they are published and distributed. You are free to use them if you wish.
Also attached are pictures of Cecil Burgess's house on Bellwood Ave. I have not located a picture of the man
(except in the Ottawa Journal) and may have to try out the City archives once they move out to the Centrepointe
area in a few weeks.
Note that this not the same Cecil Burgess, noteworthy professor of architecture in the same time period at the
University of Saskatchewan.
Best wishes for the Holidays Season.
Glebe - Lansdowne Park
A Profile of Architect Cecil Burgess, 1888-1956
by Jean-Claude Dubé
Old Ottawa South has the privilege of having been the neighbourhood of choice of a most prolific architect
of Ottawa during the 20th century. While the designer of the Old Fire Hall No.10 Werner Edgar Noffke (1878-1964)
may be better known, his contemporary Cecil Burgess (1888-1956) left behind a legacy just as bountiful and
diverse as his fellow professional and rival.
English-born and trained, Cecil Burgess arrived in Ottawa in 1908 at the age of 20. He worked as a draughtsman
and assistant for the firm of Weeks and Keefer for some years and resided as a roomer at 418 Gladstone. He married
Violet Hervey from Round Hill, Nova Scotia in 1913 and took residence at 81 Third Avenue. At that time, he had
partnered with his boss, A.Le B. Weeks, under the company name of Weeks and Burgess. When he moved to 404 Riverdale
Avenue, his partner was R.H. Millson.
Cecil Burgess then took up residence with his young family at 25 Bellwood and remained there for thirty-some years.
Those years were the most fruitful period of his sound and imaginative career. Every time we pass by Lansdowne Park and
admire the design of the Coliseum we should be reminded of his great talent for creativity and innovation infused
The Coliseum is possibly the very first Art Deco civic building designed in Canada in the 1920s. Early 20th century
architectural design in urban Canada was not evolving as rapidly as it was in European and American cities. As can be
seen on many buildings and houses completed during that period in Ottawa, and especially in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South,
the designs were of the Edwardian style with large cornices, block-like brackets and braces, oversized keystones,
porticos and pediments, columns, flattened roof lines, and heavy horizontal banding.
The introduction of modern and rapid building construction methods with structural steel and reinforced concrete brought
about the concept of walls no longer being weight-bearing but rather like skins applied to a skeleton with strong components.
Support columns were replaced with thin wall-engaged pilasters that offered much vertical visual features. The architectural
bulkiness of former decades was replaced with a light and frugal distinctiveness of the Roaring Twenties. Society had
been through a Great War, Spanish Influenza, a large national debt, financial turmoil and unemployment. The new decade
brought the radio, phonographs and talking movies. Car manufacturing, paper mills and gold mines created new employment
and financial security. People started touring overland by car and overseas by pleasure ship. Jazz music, novel dances and
upsetting dress styles brought new meaning to the word "modern".
Cecil Burgess was a man of his time, he was modern, and he designed the Bank Street Coliseum in 1926.
The Coliseum at Lansdowne Park was a project paid by three government levels to help celebrate the centennial of Ottawa.
The street façade addition was made perpendicular to the then existing building known as Howick Hall. It was built
in record time. The contract was given in February 1926 and week-long centennial celebrations were held in the
large 200-seat dining room on the second floor in August. This upper floor has huge multi-paned windows that brought
natural light and ventilation to the dining room and the kitchen, bathrooms and an office or reception room in
the north-west corner.
Early in the 20th century, Cecil Burgess was involved with the architectural drawings of Ashbury College, the
Ottawa Hunt Club and the Rivermead Golf Club House, the Rosenthal Building and the Birks Building on Sparks Street,
Fire Hall No.5 on King Edward and the Bank of Montreal at Somerset and Bank (now part of the Hartman's Metro
grocery store). With his partner, R.H. Millson, he designed the Larocque Department Store, Rideau and Dalhousie;
the Plant Bath, Somerset and Preston; the Blackburn Building, Sparks Street; Fire Hall No.11, Parkdale Avenue;
St. John Anglican Church in Kars; Holy Name Catholic Church in Pembroke; St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Perth;
and the Carnegie Library in Renfrew.
After the Coliseum in 1926, which Burgess designed with the partnership of Hazelgrove & Burritt, he worked mostly
alone for the following ten years. This is when he designed St. Matthews Anglican Church on First Avenue, The Windsor Arms
at 150 Argyle, the Duncannon at 216 Metcalfe, the Val Cartier Apartments on Cartier Street and the Trafalgar Apartments
on Metcalfe Street. These buildings are all variations of the Stripped Classicism early version of Art Deco. The Windsor Arms
has a most beautiful entrance that is worth a trip just to see.
The 6-storey Art Deco Postal Terminal Building on Besserer Street, which he designed with his partner E.A. Gardner in 1935,
became redundant when the train station was moved to the outskirts of the city according to the Greber plan. It was
demolished to make way for the Rideau Centre.
Between 1942 and 1944, Cecil Burgess oversaw the construction of eighty building at HMCS Cornwallis Naval Base near
his wife's hometown of Round Hill, N.S. At that time, Cornwallis was the largest naval base in the British Commonwealth.
He had kept his house on Bellwood and after the war he came back to restart his practice. He designed St. Peter's
Lutheran Church on Lyon Street and the Manor Park Public School. Being an active member of Trinity Anglican Church
at Bank and Cameron, he oversaw the reconstruction of the church after it burnt down in 1947. He had served as rector's
warden of the church from 1934 to 1942.
In the 1950's, Cecil Burgess moved to a smaller house at 684 Echo Drive. This was where he passed away in July 1956 at
the age of 68 after a short illness.
A charter member of the Ottawa Kiwanis Club, Cecil Burgess was known for his philanthropy and had been a director of
the Ottawa Boys' Club from 1939 to the time of his death.
A resident of Old Ottawa South for 40 years, Cecil Burgess left his mark in all areas of the city and the Ottawa Valley.
He designed dozens of churches, schools, houses, apartments and civic buildings. However, there is one building that
deserves our special attention: the Bank Street landmark building that we all know as the Coliseum. This building
saw the election of many federal political party leaders including four Prime Ministers: Mackenzie King, St. Laurent,
Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker. And in 1961 the newly-formed NDP party choose Tommy Douglas, the father of
Canada's health care system, as leader at its founding convention held at the Coliseum.
... Jean-Claude Dubé
E-mail Jean-Claude Dubé and Al Lewis
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