The story of the tallest buildings in Ottawa

by Corben Grant on 22 Feb 2022

When it comes to height, Toronto is decidedly the tallest city in the country, containing a large majority of the country's tallest buildings. However, given the high cost of development in the city, it gets harder every year for new buildings to push the limits. While Toronto and its iconic CN Tower have long been known for height, it is far from the only city that is reaching for the sky (literally). 

In Ottawa, though buildings tend to be shorter, the record for the highest skyscraper has been traded between multiple buildings over the last few decades and some new developments aim to top them all. Let's take a look at the history of Ottawa's tallest buildings and what the future holds for new heights in the city.

Peace tower once Ottawa's tallest building

For a long time in Ottawa, the tallest building was the famous Peace Tower (92m) at the parliament buildings. This height record seems symbolic for our nation's capital, though it was also enforced by law, leading to the surrounding areas of the city being relatively squat compared to other major cities.

Nowadays, this is not as enforced and is largely limited to the areas around parliament, leading to areas further away such as Little Italy seeing significant skyscraper development.

The first building above parliament

The Peace Tower held the height record in the city for about 40 years until the construction of the Delta Ottawa City Centre Hotel (96m) in 1967, the first building to exceed the parliament in height. (Meanwhile, in Toronto, the Toronto-Dominion Tower had just been built in the same year, more than doubling Ottawa's record at 223m.)

Tallest building record held fast for almost 40 years

Almost 10 years later, a building was constructed in Gatineau that would hold the height record in the Ottawa/Gatineau region for more than 40 years. This building was the Terrasses de la Chaudière Tower 1 - a 117m tower used for government offices. Looking at Ottawa proper, the previously built Place de Ville Tower C held the record for height from 1971 and stands at 112m.

New heights with residential towers

Though the former highest buildings were mostly office space, many of the tallest buildings constructed in Ottawa since have been largely residential towers.

The increase in residential towers is logical given the increasing need for high-density living and rising house prices in urban centres. In 2004, however, the Minto Metropole was completed at 108m, becoming the city's largest residential tower for its time and the third tallest overall.

Claridge Icon current tallest building in Ottawa

In 2019, the Claridge Icon topped out during construction and has now become the tallest building in Ottawa, breaking the records set in the 1970s. On a national level, the Icon is still dwarfed by even larger towers in other cities, demonstrating a present-day holdover from the height limits of pre-1970s Ottawa. In Ontario, the Claridge is tied for 38th place for tallest building with Toronto's SP!RE tower. On the national scale, Claridge does not even break the top 100.

Yet again, this is a residential condominium tower. The building tops out at 143m, comprising 45 storeys of residential space. The building was beginning to be planned in the early 2010s, through construction officially began in 2015. Following a troubled construction process, the building officially began welcoming occupants in 2021 and is expected to be fully completed in 2022.

The tower offers a number of different floor plans, starting at around $530k. The building also offers the modern amenities to rival the condo towers of Toronto and Vancouver, featuring a fitness centre, a movie theatre, party rooms, retail space at the ground level, and more.

New towers set to rival Icon for height

The Claridge Icon represents the start of a bold future for Ottawa, with multiple towers already planned to rival the Icon for the top spot. And, continuing the trend seen in recent years, these towers feature a lot of residential condominium space, as well as some office and retail in addition.

The first of note is the building proposed for 829 Carling Ave, just across the street from the location of the Claridge Icon. This tower would reach up to 195m and 60 storeys, besting the Claridge by about 50m and 15 storeys. Like the Claridge, the building will be a primarily residential space, with amenities throughout and a mixed-use ground level.

The tower is as of yet undergoing its approval and planning phases, and will begin construction at some point in the future. Depending on the construction timeline, it may for a brief time be the tallest structure in Ottawa, though other contenders threaten to take the crown before it can obtain the accolade.

Two other towers that are on their way to Ottawa aim to be the tallest the city has ever seen. The Trinity Centre, which is currently undergoing preparations to begin construction, will bring not one, but two record-breaking towers to the Ottawa skyline. The first will top out at 203m or 56 storeys, while the other will stand at a staggering 234m and 65 storeys.

If completed today, the tallest of the two towers would be among the top 20 tallest buildings in the country, and the top 10 in Ontario. The towers will feature residential units, as well as retail and office space, making them a truly mixed-use complex.

Why is Ottawa now growing up?

Clearly, Ottawa is moving towards a future skyline that should resemble that of modern Toronto, with massive towers occupying much of the land in the city centre. However, this is still a long way off.

But the early signs are appearing and not just in the new developments. In terms of market performance, condos have seen increases in sales and price and sales volume in many markets across the country, including in Ottawa. And, as homes become even more expensive, especially in highly developed cities, condos will only become more popular as buyers are priced out of other segments.

The other major use for high-rise buildings in downtown cores has been for office space, which in the past two years has seen a rise in vacancy rates. However, Ottawa has managed to have some of the lower vacancy rates among large Canadian cities and could see a further rebound in the future.

Still, residential developments in downtown Ottawa have far outpaced office developments in recent times, and if the trend of office vacancies continues along with rising housing demand, we could even potentially see some currently office-use buildings being converted or replaced with residential properties.

Despite a slow start, Ottawa has seen a gradual upwards growth over the past century, but signs point to a much more rapid expansion upwards in the coming years thanks to developments that promise to push new heights for the city to contend with the growing demand for high-density urban housing and condominium investments.

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