Houses of the Gatineau Hills

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the June 15, 2005 issue. Reprinted with permission.

NCC shops Meech Lake cottage, strings attached

by Mike Caesar

The National Capital Commission is looking for a private sector tenant for the storied O'Brien House on Meech Lake, a federal heritage building in the midst af a $4 million renovation that has caught the eye of at least one Wakefield entrepreneur.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
WONDER WHAT HIS HOUSE LOOKED LIKE... Railway, lumber and hockey tycoon Ambroie O'Brian's cottoge retreat south of Meech Lake. The NCC is spending $4 million renovating the building and is looking for a new tenant.

Now zoned primaily as a conference, research or training centre, the 4,OOO sq. foot granite and log cattage is seen as a spectacular example of a Canadian rural architecture that emerged in the 1930s. With four batrooms, six fireplaces, eight bedrooms and solid maple and pine hardwood floors, the home is a testament to the wealth of its original occupant, Ambrose O'Brien.

As a railway and lumber tycoon and co-founder of the National Hockey Association (which later became the NHL), O'Brien, along with his father, either owned or co-owned a total of l73 companies in his day. With that kind of wealth, he could easily afford to hire prominent Ottawa architect W.E. Knoffke (who designed the post office on Sparks St., among others) to design his Meech Lake cottage.

In recent years the building sat vacant, having last played host in the 1990s to a failed plan that would have transformed it into an eco-retreat. The NCC has been renovating the cottage for more than 2 years now, with the project expected complete by January 2OO7.

Houses of the Gatineau Hills
Detail af the northWest corner facing Meech Lake. M.C. photos.

But it's not yet known what the future use oF the building will be.

"Ve're making a reguest for proposals from entrepreneurs to work in concert with Gatineau Park's Master Plan directions and municipal zoning," said Peter McCourt, the NCC's head property development planner. The deadline for submissions is July 7, the lease lasts for up to 49 years, and there are some noteworthy restrictions on the property.


Among them, overnight accommodation will not be allowed in the building, ruling out the possibility of an inn or any kind of lodging. Also, the NCC wants to reserve the right to open up at least a portion of the building to the public up to 20 times per year. These "event days" could take the form of environmental or historical presentations or other events suggested by the community.

NCC project architect Jerome Muller said as much as possible "the feeling and aesthetic detailing of the original heritage building will be respected." That includes the original layout of the 90-person capacity cottage, which has large spaces suitable for conference rooms on the ground floor and smaller rooms on the second floor. The third floor is to remain closed on for now.

McCourt said the Wakefield Mill Inn provides an example af a successful partnership between the NCC (which leases the building) and a private tenant. Far his part, the Wakefield Mill's Bob Milling said he is considering submitting a proposal to the NCC on O'Brian House.

"A project like that requires a fair bit of due diligence, but there does seem to be a logical synergy," he said, referring to the Mill's existing track record in hosting conferences and marketing that niche across Canada.

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