Royal College Backyard
During the spring and summer months, the Royal College’s backyard is a busy place. Royal College Staff like to get outside to enjoy lunch with colleagues, attend a team meeting or social event. While picnic tables and chairs are the norms now, the grounds previously featured walking paths, flower beds, and an extensive vegetable garden.
Before the Royal College purchased the building in 1991 from the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood, the backyard and surrounding grounds boasted various features to enrich the lives of the nuns who lived there. The nuns lived separately from the public, dedicating their lives to prayer and religious pursuits. The cloistered nature of their lives meant reliance on their immediate surroundings for enjoyment, nourishment, and social interactions.
The nuns enjoyed a network of walking paths featuring colourful flower beds and religious statues. Aside from exercise, the nuns also used the yard for social gatherings (much like Royal College staff and other visitors do today). A prominent feature of the yard was a vegetable garden located on the West side of the building. Tending to their garden, the nuns kept busy and benefitted from enjoying their own home-grown produce.
Central Courtyard & Atrium
A prominent design element of the original building was that of a central courtyard. The courtyard was not a functional space used by the nuns who lived there; instead, it was an area accessed for maintenance purposes. Standing within the courtyard looking up, alternating square and round-topped windows were visible. These, too, were a distinctive feature of similar buildings constructed in the early 1900s.
After the Royal College purchased the building in 1991, the former open-air courtyard was converted into a glass-enclosed atrium. Renovations included the addition of a master staircase, glass ceiling, and doors to access both the Royal College’s Council room and the meeting space known as The Roddick Room and Library. The new enclosed atrium allows for easy access to both sides of the building. Royal College staff and Fellows enjoy the space for social events and small gatherings.
Out of respect to the original architectural design of the building, the square and round-topped windows remained. The addition of arched supports with circular embellishments now pays homage to the original stained glass visible from within the space.
Public Chapel & Council Room
Despite living a cloistered lifestyle which limited the nuns’ interactions with the outside world, the public was permitted to enter and attend religious services and participate in prayer. To allow for the public’s presence, the building boasted a sizeable public chapel and a small private one for the nuns’ use alone.
The on-site public chapel differed little from any other church: furnished with pews, a pulpit, religious symbols, it had a central aisle and vaulted ceiling supported by columns. A unique feature of the public chapel was the presence of a metal screen to maintain physical separation between the public and the nuns who lived on site.
In 1991, at the time of the Royal College’s renovations, most of the religious features and fixtures found within the public chapel were removed, with the exception of the stained-glass windows. The spaces linking the public and private chapels were permanently closed to create two separate rooms. Today the Royal College’s Council room, formerly the public chapel, serves as its largest meeting and event space.
Stained Glass Windows
There’s little doubt that a striking feature of the Royal College building is the original stained-glass windows found in its Council and Roddick rooms. Unlike the building itself, which is 100 years old, the stained-glass windows are only 35 years old. They were installed in the mid-1980s, only a few years before the nuns’ departure.
Construction of the building began in 1914. As a result of the First World War, construction was delayed due to supply shortages and financial issues resulting in frustrated contractors and tradespeople. Construction was eventually completed in 1921 without a single stained-glass window. In their place were plain clear panes.
In the mid-1980s the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood commissioned the services of a French-Canadian company to design and install the stained-glass windows that staff, Fellows, and visitors, enjoy today. In recognition of their significance to the building’s history, the Royal College ensures the lasting preservation of these windows for the enjoyment of many generations to come.
Private Chapel & Roddick Room
The Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood chose a contemplative life. They spent as many as six hours a day in silent prayer in their own private chapel within the building. While the building boasted a large chapel accessible to the public, the private chapel allowed the Sisters to pray without fear of disturbance or distraction.
The private chapel featured a third-floor observation balcony that allowed the elderly or infirm Sisters to participate in daily prayers. The building’s infirmary provided basic medical services and treatment to any nuns requiring extra care.
While renovating the building in 1991, the private chapel was converted into a meeting space called The Roddick Room, named in honour of Sir Thomas Roddick. Between 1991 and 2015, the Roddick Room functioned as a staff and Fellows lounge and reading room. In 2015, the Roddick Room underwent a further renovation to convert it into the building’s second-largest meeting and event space. Today, some of the Royal College’s antique books and artifacts are featured within a secure oversized cabinet visible within the Roddick Room.
Religious Barriers & Gates
The Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood dedicated themselves to their Faith. As an order of cloistered nuns, the Sisters spent their days together in silent contemplation with little or no contact with the world outside their monastery’s walls. When necessary, physical grilles, gates, and barriers were used to maintain separation between the nuns and members of the public.
In fact, two barriers separated the public and private chapels. From 1921 to 1985, a large metal grille existed in the walls between these two rooms.
At the time the stained-glass windows were installed in 1985, the Sisters also renovated both chapels. A large white metal grille was removed and replaced with a more subtle gate-style barrier across the front of the public chapel. In 1991, during the building’s renovations, these gates were placed in storage. Recently, the gates were re-hung on the main dining room walls as a unique design element and a subtle nod to the building’s storied history.
Master Staircase & Coat of Arms
During the 1991 renovations, in addition to enclosing the central courtyard by a glass atrium, a two-winged marble stone master staircase was built connecting the main lobby to the first floor. Guests approaching the staircase are greeted by the sight of the Royal College’s Coat of Arms inlaid into the surrounding marble tiles. The Coat of Arms is the Royal College’s official ceremonial insignia, granted to the organization in 1962 by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second.
Twelve different types of granite and marble from around the world were used to design and construct the 2-winged staircase. The stones are representative of the Royal College’s contribution to the global medical community as many of our Fellows practice medicine outside of Canada.
The Royal College’s Coat of Arms design reflect various aspects of the organization. The purple and red colours on the shield denote physicians and surgeons respectively. The rod of Aesculapius is a traditional symbol of medicine. The crown of maple leaves designates the Royal College as a Canadian organization with a royal designation and charter. Across the bottom, in Latin, appears the Royal College’s original motto, “With a keen mind and skillful hand.”
The Corner Stone
Located on the wall of the lower atrium, just outside the main reception area, is a piece of Royal College history that moved into the current building from the organization’s previous headquarters at 74 Stanley Avenue in Ottawa. The Stanley Ave headquarters, constructed in 1959, marked a significant milestone in the organization’s history. Its opening ceremonies included the laying of a cornerstone.
The event was well attended with special invitations sent to Prime Minister John Diefenbaker and Governor-General of Canada, The Right Honorable Vincent Massey. Prime Minister Diefenbaker graciously delivered the opening address, with his speech broadcast on Ottawa’s CFRA Radio for at-home listeners. Governor-General Massey also participated in the ceremony by laying the building’s cornerstone.
To remember this milestone of Royal College’s history, the cornerstone was moved from the 74 Stanley Avenue location to the lower atrium of the new Royal College headquarters on Echo drive.
One of the best-kept secrets of the Royal College headquarters on Echo drive is the location of — not one, but two — time capsules hidden within its walls. The first-time capsule was created in 1959 to commemorate the construction of the organization’s previous headquarters located at 74 Stanley Avenue. The second time capsule was created in 1993 to mark the purchase and renovation of The Royal College’s current headquarters at 774 Echo Drive.
The 1959 time capsule contains a variety of objects such as a Register of Fellows, various letters, Canadian coins, Canadian Stamps, and a copy of the address given at the opening ceremonies. The capsule is set to be opened on June 14, 2029 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Royal College as an organization. The second time capsule, from 1993, included medical instruments, photographs, short essays from past presidents, and a copy of the Globe and Mail.
In 1993, both time capsules were safely stored in the walls next to the main reception area, directly behind the cornerstone visible from within the lower atrium.
Heritage Property Designation
Since its construction in 1921, the former monastery of the Sister Adorers of the Precious Blood has been a local landmark recognized and appreciated for its architecture and beauty. In 1991, at the time of the building’s purchase, extensive interior renovations converted the building from its original pastoral purpose into a space suitable for the daily operations of the Royal College. Special care and attention were given to protecting and preserving the building’s unique architecture and character.
Shortly after moving into the building in 1993, the Royal College received a special certificate of merit from the City of Ottawa for preserving its natural beauty and architectural heritage throughout the renovations.
Five years later, in 1998, the Royal College’s headquarters and grounds were designated a heritage property by the City of Ottawa. Over its 100-year history, the exterior of the building has remained largely unchanged. It stands as a pristine example of early 20th-century religious buildings. A small heritage plaque was installed on the north-western face of the building, along with a letter of congratulations from Mayor Jim Watson.