The History of 24 Sussex Drive
Not many in Canada could name the residence of the prime minister of Canada. To be fair, it doesn’t actually have a name, rather it is often identified by its location. The house at 24 Sussex Drive in Ottawa has been the official residence of the prime minister since 1951. It is lesser known than its American counterpart likely because the prime minister does not work from the residence, as is the case in the United States. The home is simply a residence for the leader, and a place for important dinners and receptions. Nevertheless, it has become an important symbol of Canadian political history, as it has housed every prime minister (save for Kim Campbell) from St. Laurent to Harper.
The home is 12,000 square feet, with 34 rooms and four floors. It has all the amenities one would expect the residence of the prime minister to have. There is the appropriate number of studies, libraries and bedrooms. The residence also has a formal dining room, bedrooms, and expansive kitchen. Situated along the Ottawa River, the home is situated near the French embassy, and Rideau Hall, the residence of the Governor General. Rideau Hall is located at 1 Sussex Drive. The residence was built in 1866 by MP Joseph Merril Currier, as a wedding gift to his wife. The federal government purchased the home in 1949, and the first prime minister moved in in 1951.
Perhaps the reason that 24 Sussex does not receive appropriate attention, is because it’s kind of a dump. Well, ok it’s not a dump. But the home is definitely dated, and in dire need of some renovations. The last first family to make changes to the home were the Mulroneys in the 1980s. However, they came under major fire for their decisions, and it seems as though each subsequent prime minister has been too afraid to make changes, for fear that the electorate could turn on them. Once you get into 24 Sussex, you don’t want to rock the boat.
Paul Martin famously complained about the residence when he lived there. He said the residence was incredibly drafty in the winter, and too hot in the summer. The home does not have central air conditioning, rather it relies on window air conditioners in the summer time. It is estimated that renovations to the property could take over one year. Prime Minister Harper has been reluctant to move out to accommodate the renovations, as his children go to school in the area. A new residence would need to be found, while the renovations take place. There are many factors to consider. Security is obviously a big issue, and the home has to be suitable for the prime minister’s image.
Michael Ignatieff famously stated that if (and that is a big if) he is elected prime minister, he and his wife would move into a hotel to make sure the renovations get completed. Perhaps he thought this would win him praise with the electorate, as he is putting the well being of the home above his own personal comfort. I personally just think he doesn’t want to move into an old, drafty house. You can read more here.
One of the funniest stories to come from 24 Sussex (although not funny to the occupants at the time) occurred in 1995, when a man roamed the grounds of the property. He then smashed a window, and wandered around inside the house for over half an hour. HALF an hour! He then went upstairs to the Chretien’s bedroom. He was then spotted by Aline Chretien, outside of the couple’s bedroom. She locked the door, and Jean Chretien guarded it while holding an Inuit statue. It then took 7 minutes for the RCMP stationed outside to apprehend the man, who had intended to kill Chretien. Since then, security has been beefed up significantly!
While sometimes it may seem that things at 24 Sussex might be pretty amateur, especially when in comparison to the White House, or 10 Downing Street in London, it is a national landmark, and a significant part of Canada’s history. I do hope in the near future it gets the attention it deserves, as we can’t have the prime minister living in a house that is outdate and falling apart. That does not give off a good impression when he is entertaining foreign guests and dignitaries.
What are your thoughts? Should we be investing a large chunk of money into the residence to bring it up to date? Or would it be a waste of time and money?