Rideau Street Chapel

Ontario, Canada | C.1888

Photo Credit: Iman Korenic

Considered a beloved part of Canadian ecclestiastal history, the Rideau Street Chapel is certainly a place worth preserving. So much so, the Chapel is currently housed in a museum. Originally built in 1888, the Chapel would eventually be completely dismantled and then reassembled in its present location, the National Gallery of Canada.

The Chapel was built as part of the Convent of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, a bilingual school for girls. In 1887, the school sought to expand to meet enrollment demands and commissioned architect and priest Georges Bouillon to design an addition. Bouillon created a two-and-a-half storey wing which included the extravagant and elegant Gothic Revival Chapel on the second floor.

The Convent thrived until the late 1960s when Ontario secularized their education system. Declining enrollment resulted in reduced education programs and by 1970, the Sisters decided to sell the Convent. They quickly found a buyer in Glenview Realty who planned to convert the structure into retail and office space.

When Glenview shifted their focus with the intent to demolish the Convent to build a new high-rise, the historic preservation community sprang to its defense. The Heritage Committee and the National Capital Commission (NCC) lobbied to save the Chapel. Nevertheless, the city approved a demolition permit.

The Historic Sites and Monument Board judged the Chapel to be of national significance, and heritage committees organized public demonstrations to enforce the recommendation. After weeks of failed negotiations, activist Mary-Anne Phillips lit a votive candle in front of the padlocked Chapel, creating a powerful media moment. Five days later an agreement was reached. To this day, the Chapel – including the 1,123 pieces of its original altar – remains in the National Gallery.

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