Launched in 2016, urbform is a collection of posts about architecture and planning in Ottawa. From time to time, sites in Montreal and other favourite places experienced through travels are likely to pop-up.
As an observer and champion of interesting places and quality design, my aim is to share some photos and information about places that inspire or intrigue. At times, I may offer an idea or two on possible enhancements to a place, or explore buildings / ideas lost to time.
Each post examines a building, a site, a theme, or a district. Some are short and some will be lengthy. Briefs looking back at lost buildings or unrealized plans tend to be organized in a timeline of oldest to most recent events, while places that continue to exist / evolve are usually arranged from most recent to oldest activity. If new developments occur or research reveals something of interest, a brief may be updated with the info inserted at the appropriate place in the timeline.
If you have research or photos to contribute, I encourage you to send me a note; if your info fits into the narrative I'm trying to tell, I'll be most thankful and will eagerly credit you as the source of your contribution.
Born in western Canada and raised in eastern Canada, I've lived in Ottawa since 2000. My studies in architectural theory and history led me to a multi-year stint on the Ottawa Built Heritage Advisory Committee. My passions include design and photography, and I do a some small-scale web design as time permits.
Finally, if you enjoy something you find on this site, please consider donating to the Ottawa Food Bank.
Built in 1935 and opened in 1936, the Postal Terminal Building was an impressive seven-storey Art Deco building that served as Ottawa's main post office, connected directly to the railway network that then served as conduit for mail delivery across Canada. It was commissioned by the federal government, with Cecil Burgess as architect and A. W. Robertson Ltd. as general contractor.
Burgess designed the building in the Stripped Classicism variant of Art Deco. While the building no longer stands, a complete series of drawings is preserved in the McLean & MacPhayden Collection (acc. 86703/9) at Library and Archives Canada.
While the building was heralded in 1937 as the latest in innovation, by Canada's centennial is was reportedly over-capacity and had outlived its built purpose. In the mid-1960s, plans were underway to build a new postal terminal along with a new union rail station outside of downtown Ottawa, per the recommendation in the Greber Plan of 1950 to remove rail services from the central area.
The Postal Terminal Building almost won a reprise in some iterations of plans for the Rideau Centre development, but in the end it was lost to the ages in the early 1980s.
This post owes gratitude to Images of Centretown and several posts published on Urbsite. Similarly, thanks is given to Andrex for funding the digitization of material from the collections of Library and Archives Canada.
Some thirty+ years before Burgess was commissioned to design the building, fire insurance maps show the site context along Besserer Street, between Sussex and Mosgrove, and bounded by Currier to the south. Not depicted in the 1901 map, the arrival of Union Station in 1912 meant that the railway infrastructure servicing the immediate area was suitably robust to plug into the national rail system for mail delivery.
The Montreal Gazette announces that the building will be ready in three to four weeks time, with the byline reading that the "structure is graceful - outward appearance pleasing, while interior houses most modern facilities for post office work."
In early 1937, the new Postal Terminal Building is open for business. The following item is an excerpt from a souvenir book "celebrating 100 years of postal progress", issued by the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Postal Employees Association.
The main entrance is shown in this 1938 photo, with large bronze doors and showing the bottom of one of the large custom-designed copper lighting sconces. The sconces were salvaged and are now found on 18 York Street.
This undated photo is taken from the roof of the Cory Building (since demolished). Judging by the cars, it's likely taken sometime in the late 1930s or in the 1940s.
The building is depicted in a number of places throughout Jacque Greber's 1950 Plan for the National Capital. While Greber in 1950 does demand the removal of railway lines from central Ottawa, models for the new Confederation Square retain the Postal Terminal, as evidenced by the third illustration below.
The Ottawa Citizen shares news that the Besserer Street terminal will be demolished once a new processing terminal is built near the Queensway-Alta Vista interchange. The new Ottawa Postal Terminal was subsequeenly built in 1970 at 1424 Sandford Fleming Avenue, adjacent to the new Ottawa Train Station that opened at 200 Tremblay Road in 1966.
Urbsite's excellent 2014 nine-part retelling of the history of the Rideau Centre development (links available via the Rideau Centre brief) adeptly reviews the decade+ of planning behind the Rideau Centre development. We learn that some of the plans/proposals called the preservation of the Postal Terminal Building, but in the end the decision was made to proceed without it.
Sourced from Images of Centretown, the building is captured in the background of a series of colour photos capturing a flotilla on the Rideau Canal. While the railway connections had long been been removed, the building still stands, with steel-frame windows intact as well as a four-storey addition to the south face.
In the early 2000s, a Burgess designed clock salvaged from the Postal Terminal Building is displayed as part of Canadian Postal Museum exhibition, "Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Postal Heritage in Evolution".
As reported on Urbsite, the Postal Terminal's original exterior lamps were salvaged by the NCC and survive today; one pair at 18 Work Street and the other at 3 Clarence Street.