Reconnecting with the Ottawa River: An Historic Boathouse Revitalization

Organization: Ottawa New Edinburgh Club Inc

Country: Canada

Province: ON

City: Ottawa


Facebook: @OttawaNewEdinburghClub

Twitter: @onec1883

About This Project Idea

If you were a young, fit, person living in Ottawa between the First and Second world wars, you would certainly have been a member of the Ottawa New Edinburgh Canoe Club.  While the senior members launched their canoes from the gleaming new boathouse and took leisurely paddles along a calm stretch of the Ottawa River downstream from Parliament, you may have trained with one of the Club’s championship canoe racing crews.  In the evenings or weekends, you would have attended dances, concerts, teas, dinners, and admired the sunset over the Ottawa River – with the Gatineau hills in the background – from the large second floor deck that ran the entire length of the 119-foot building.

Today, the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club boathouse is a designated Federal and City heritage building.  It is still serving as a clubhouse for adult and youth, rowing and sailing programs.  But sadly, it is no longer able to host community events.  We want to bring that back.

The boathouse can hold hundreds of people, but for the last decade it has been limited to only sixty at a time due to occupancy restrictions.  The Club has been working to remove these restrictions and recently, significant progress has been made. But before large community events can be held, it is imperative that the exterior of the building be rehabilitated and the building envelope sealed, to protect any future development of the interior.

In this regard, our project plans to paint the boathouse exterior and replace deteriorated wooden cove siding, complete the replacement and refurbishment of windows and doors begun in 2015, and repair and re-surface the east and west balcony roofs. Amounts raised through This Place Matters will go towards any or all of these items.

Community Impact

Our goal in revitalizing the ONEC boathouse is to restore it to prominence as a community venue, and to increase the availability of water sports to the public.  The boathouse is a charming venue for weddings, dances, concerts, meetings, and other events.  Because we are located on the Ottawa River pathway, there is potential to provide public services like washrooms and food and beverage sales with an accompanying grand view of the river.  We also want to increase participation in the club by offering a better rowing and sailing experience, more opportunities for youth (beyond our existing summer camp programs) and by adding other human-powered sports like canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, and even open-water swimming (yes, the river is much cleaner these days).

About this place

In historic Ottawa, the Rideau, Gatineau and Ottawa rivers played a huge role in the life of the City.  Beyond their vital role in the lumber industry, the rivers were a principle source of sports and recreation for citizens, offering boating, swimming and diving, picnicking and relaxing.  In 1914, the members of the Club raised $25,000 to build a large new clubhouse to meet the growing demand for recreation on the Ottawa River and for tennis on adjacent land.  The design was for a three-story Queen Anne style structure, raised above the Ottawa River on steel pillars and beams, and accessible by a bridge from shore.  The club completed the steel superstructure in 1914, but World War I delayed the construction of the building itself until 1923.  The boathouse design is unique, and there are only four other similar structures in Canada.  The Vancouver Rowing Club boathouse is one, and it has been fully restored and is available for public events.

In its day, the 6600 ft2 main floor of the boathouse held the club’s collection of canoes, including large ‘war’ canoes that were the focus of competition for both men’s and women’s teams.  The floor remains actively used today by ONEC’s rowing and sailing programs (

The 5300 ft2 second floor contains a large ballroom that runs the length of the building, along with a food preparation area and a lounge with original wood paneling.  The ballroom opens to balconies on the North, West and East sides of the building through eight sets of French doors, which provides sunrise to sunset views of the Ottawa River.  The ballroom was host to many club and community activities over the years, and still operated as a wedding and events venue up until the late 2000s.  However, because of the occupancy restrictions it is now rarely used and only for small club events.

The 4000 ft2 third floor is a soaring, exposed-wood attic space that in the early years housed the club’s lockers, change rooms, and toilets (which emptied directly into the river).  This floor is no longer in use, and requires upgrades before either club or community activities can be re-introduced.

Why Give?

The Ottawa New Edinburgh Club boathouse is a unique and historic venue that is very tired.  While it still houses active rowing and sailing programs, modern safety and sanitation requirements have prevented the boathouse from being used for large or public functions while the deficiencies are being addressed.

The boathouse is now roofed with modern asphalt shingles, but the rest of the structure is entirely in the original wood.  The exterior siding, many of the over 60 pairs of opening windows and doors, and the balcony system all require repair and painting in a manner that respects heritage standards.  The food preparation area and washroom systems need upgrading to modern standards.

Over the years, the members of the Ottawa New Edinburgh Club (which includes rowing, sailing, and tennis on adjacent courts) have through their membership fees and much volunteer labour maintained this grand, historic boathouse.  But without the ability to generate event revenue, the club has fallen behind with the work required to protect the boathouse from the ravages of mother nature.  Your contribution will help the boathouse recover its former elegance and protect it for the future while working to bring back community events.  Reaching our goal will allow us to repair and repaint the siding. Additional amounts will go towards window, door and balcony roof repair and replacement.

With your help, the boathouse can become the venue that offers the most intimate opportunity for Ottawa/Gatineau citizens to reconnect with the Ottawa River.