The cost of renovating 24 Sussex Drive is frankly ridiculous, the estimated cost of is expected to be $38 million, nearly four times the original estimate.
The insanity of the cost has caused some to suggest that it would simply be better to demolish the house and build a new one. Mike Holms has suggested just that, and there is something undeniably Canadian about the idea.
Canada is a relatively young country, just on the cusp of its 150th birthday. We don’t have much history, not like Europe, the Middle East, India, and East Asia. Of course, we have our First Nations but we know almost nothing about them before their contact with Europeans, and what they built was mostly wood leaving little for future generations to look upon. Vikings from Greenland established a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland but did not leave much behind. It is not until the French, and later the British began to colonize the country, that lasting history and architecture appear.
With so little history, we have always looked forward. The first French settler slowly built a new culture, adapting to a colder climate and learning from the First Nations. They did not look back to the mother country for direction but moved forward. Canadian culture has grown in much the same way ever since, always moving forward, adapting and incorporating new cultures, new immigrants. There were growing pains of course, and there were shameful dark blotches on our history that most of us would rather forget.
So if we are always moving forward why are we so focused on the past? 24 Sussex Drive is a historic building, nearly as old as the country but does that add anything to our society? Most Canadians do not even know the real name of the home of Canada’s prime minister, Gorffwysfa. So why keep the building? With a little care, the house could be rebuilt to look nearly identical to the original, not that most Canadians even know what the house looks like, to begin with.
If the house were demolished and rebuilt, to look identical it would not be the same as the old one, but after $38 million in upgrades how much of the original house will still be there? It has been designated at a federal heritage building, but if the condition of the house is as bad as the price tag for repairs indicates, there may not be much of the original house left.
There is still the argument that this is an important part of Canadian history, but sadly that narrative is just false. 24 Sussex Drive has only been the official residence of the prime minister since 1951. Before that, the leaders of the county’s government lived a variety of different houses. Sir Wilfrid Laurier for and William Lyon Mackenzie King both lived at Laurier House. Not to mention that unlike the White House, 24 Sussex Drive is used almost exclusively as a residence. Most of the work is done at the Office of the prime minister on Parliament Hill.
Faced with all of this, the best option would be to simply rebuild 24 Sussex Drive, perhaps even incorporating some of the original materials but keeping it would be foolish.