Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Fire at Earnscliffe

Last night a blaze broke out in Earnscliffe, the official residence of the British High Commissioner. Firefighters rushed to the scene and were able to contain the blaze to the attic – although there was extensive water damage and walls and ceilings were ripped up.

I’ve been working at Earnscliffe for more than 5 years and was supposed to be serving at a dinner there tomorrow night.

The High Commissioner, his wife and new little puppy are staying with friends for now. It will likely be quite some time before the High Commissioner and his wife can move back in. Apparently the house is quite a mess – especially from water and smoke damage - although the firefighters did save the extensive art collection and many other valuables.

The High Commissioner, Andrew Pocock, sounds quite optimistic about it all. “"Standing on the lawn last night watching flames lick through the roof, I was very concerned,” he told the press, “but this morning, in the light of a pretty Ottawa autumn day I can report that Earnscliffe is very solid, very much still here."

He added that the British Government is committed to fully restoring the heritage building.

Earnscliffe, a National Historic Site of Canada, is a beautiful house built in the 1855 by the same man who built Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence. In a style called Pinwheel Gothic, it has a steep metal roof, and ornate woodworking on the exterior and interior. The house looks over the Ottawa River, has beautiful large rooms with high ceilings, chandeliers, fireplaces, etc. I enjoy working receptions there and seeing the awed faces of guests who are visiting for the first time.

Sir John A. Macdonald bought the house in 1883 and lived there during the years he was Prime Minister until his death in 1891. The main guest bedroom is the room he died in. A little morbid, but very historic.

The Canadian government considered buying Earnscliffe in 1930 for the official residence of the prime minister, but the prime minister at the time, R. B. Bennett, decline the offer. So the house was bought by the British government instead, for the official residence of the High Commissioner.

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