Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ottawa's Heritage Buildings No.1: The Burpee House

There are 312 individual buildings or properties in Ottawa that are designated "heritage" under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. This is one of the more recent ones located at 22 Rideau Terrace in the New Edinburgh neighbourhood of Ottawa.

Art journal page

The Burpee House
Art journal sketch: watercolour and graphite
(Low resolution scan)
Originally the home of civil servant Lawrence Johnstone Burpee, first secretary of the International Joint Commission from 1912-1946, ardent supporter of a national library for Canada and an accomplished scholar, historian and author.

More recently the house was the residence (for 17 years) of Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and was threatened with demolition in 2010. A developement group want to tear it down and replace it with a triplex. Understandably, this upset Burpee's granddaughter Sheila Burpee-Duncan.

In 2010 the Ottawa City Council approved the Burpee home as a designated heritage building.

National Library of Canada

"Burpee is best known for his lifelong promotion and support of the creation of a national library in Canada. Burpee spent ten years of his life campaigning ardently for a national library. Burpee became president of the Ontario Library Association in 1910 and in February 1911, he published an article entitled, “A Plea for a National Library” which had originally been delivered as a speech to the Ontario Library Association. The article noted that with the lack of a national library, “Canada enjoys the dubious distinction of ranking with Siam and Abyssinia in at least one respect….” Dolores Donnelly, a faculty member in the Faculty of Library Science at the University of Toronto and the author of a historical analysis of the National Library of Canada, notes that this quote was revived and reused for many years in the campaign for a national library.

Burpee believed that the Library of Parliament was not sufficient to serve the entire country. In “A Plea for a National Library” Burpee argued that, “the Library of Parliament is legislative library, pure and simple; it was created to serve the needs of parliament, not of the public.” He also argued that a national library must be a repository of the work of a nation and could be combined with the national archives. He advocated that the federal government ought to consider a model like the American Library of Congress which combined the legislative library, national archives and national library in one institution. The Library of Congress also provided lending services for some of its materials unlike the strict reference function of the British Museum or the Bibliotheque nationale in Paris. The Librarian of Congress, Dr. Herbert Putnam endorsed Burpee’s concepts in 1911. In 1916, after fire gutted the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings with the exception of the Library of Parliament, Burpee took the opportunity to write to Prime Minister Borden to urge that in re-designing the building, space should be allocated for a new national library. Ultimately, in 1947, a year after Burpee’s death, the federal government commissioned a study that would eventually lead to the establishment and construction of the National Library of Canada on Wellington Street in 1953. Donnelly notes in her history of the National Library that even 40 years later, the general principles of Burpee’s ideas for a national library were incorporated into the final library system. These remain today."

The National Library of Canada on Wellington Street owes its existance to Lawrence Johnstone a genealogist and the family historian, I am forever grateful!

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