From the discovery of mysterious photos, letters, and even bones to the challenges of sharing a construction site, the restoration of Grant House proved to be a unique project that was full of surprises.
Built in 1875 for doctor and politician Sir James Grant, Grant House is a piece of Ottawa history. It was home to the University of Ontario’s University Club, housed a roast-beef house for 37 years, and has even been rumored to be haunted by the ghost of its namesake.
THE EVIDENCE OF HISTORY
With 140 years of history in mind, stakes were high for the project team when they began work on the historical restoration of Grant House. The building’s history made itself known when bones were discovered during the initial demolition stage. Work came to a halt as the police were notified, and a forensic team was called in to determine just what type of remains had been unearthed. The team felt as if they had stumbled onto a murder mystery as their construction site was placed under police watch. Fortunately, the bones belonged to a pig, chicken and turkey, but the surprises kept coming.
A letter was written in 1875 (the year Grant House was built), an old children’s bible, and a small picture printed on metal were among the objects discovered by the project team throughout the rehabilitation process. Each new piece that was discovered served as a reminder of the role PCL was playing in preserving Ottawa history.
COLLABORATION IN ACTION
The rehabilitation project also had personal historical significance for Stephen Beckta, owner of Beckta Dining & Wine, which now calls Grant House home. Beckta, having grown up on Elgin Street, had a vision for what he wanted his restaurant to embody, and making that vision a reality necessitated close collaboration between Beckta and PCL.
PCL was responsible for the historical restoration and a base-building fit-up—to bring the building up to a certain structural level, leaving the tenant free to design the space.
“We had to work at the exact same time as the owner of the restaurant,” says Brad Doran Veevers, assistant superintendent. “He ran his own trades, so he had his portion of the work, and we had ours. We had to work together in complete conjunction. You don’t see that very often, but in the end it worked out really well. Stephen and I hit it off and we were able to develop a relationship that allowed everyone to work well together.”
Although the overlap between Beckta and PCL was just one of many surprises, both parties left the experience knowing that their collaboration had made the final product better. “I was so pleased and surprised that PCL could be so dynamic on what is such a small-level project for them,” Beckta commented. “To be able to do it as nimbly as they did and with such an entrepreneurial spirit really impressed me.”
Beckta is now running his restaurant from inside Grant House, and the building is fully rehabilitated and ready to take on the next 140 years. A time capsule was even concealed within the building’s walls so that the next time a construction team is assigned to Grant House they too will have some surprises in store for them.