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Reopening of the National Capital Commission’s Greenhouses

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Reopening of the National Capital Commission’s Greenhouses

Rideau Hall, Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A civilization—a word we do not hear very often these days, one that is usually filled with regret—is measured by the traces on which time sheds light.

As André Malraux, a chaser of civilizations, said in his own unique way, light becomes visible only by that which is illuminated.

And one of the things my husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, and I wanted to illuminate over the past five years is the historical significance and wealth of some of the most beautiful jewels in Canada’s architectural heritage.

We believe this heritage is not only the priceless legacy of those who have come before us—an expression erected at the time as a result of their ingenuity and quest for beauty—it is also a public good inextricably linked to our collective identity and an inexhaustible source of pride, as evidenced by the work undertaken throughout my mandate at the two official residences of the governor general of Canada: here at Rideau Hall and at the Citadelle of Québec.

In 2007, we closely followed and happily highlighted the restoration of Rideau Hall’s façade, which had to both respect the historic character of the building and meet the most up-to-date standards.

Moreover, Lord Weir, whose ancestor, Thomas MacKay—a stonemason by trade—built the first incarnation of this house, said that he was delighted by the concerted efforts being made to preserve this heritage site for Canadians today and for future generations.

In 2008, as part of the celebrations marking the 400th anniversary of the founding of Quebec City, we opened the Cap-aux-Diamants Redoubt, one of the rare remnants of Quebec’s earliest fortifications and one of Canada’s oldest military buildings.

Although it began as a defence works, the Redoubt is now dedicated to highlighting our heritage and cultural expression.

On June 15, 2010, we reopened the Tent Room, which has been restored to its full splendour and has rediscovered the originality it received from its red-and-white striped fabric, which makes it look like a tent.

Apparently, there are only two rooms of this nature in the entire world, the other being in Sweden. Since its construction at the end of the 19th century, ours has served as a tennis court, then a dining and reception room, transformed by Lord and Lady Dufferin, later rebuilt and permanently redecorated by Madame Sauvé, and now a space to share our culture and highlight Canadian talent, a place to welcome Canadians and dignitaries from around the world.

And now this morning, we have the great pleasure of seeing the completed restoration of the greenhouse, where, I am told, at the beginning of the last century, Lady Byng, a passionate horticulturalist, used to take refuge from the harsh winter and make the most of its few short hours of sunlight.

In the early 1960s, Madam Vanier also used to spend a lot of her time and talent in this blossoming and contemplative space.

For her part, in the 1970s, Madam Léger was also enchanted by this space and chose to be represented here in the painting of her done by Joseph F. Plaskett, a portrait now hanging in the spouses’ gallery of this official residence.

It therefore gives us great pleasure to once again enter this space, restored and maintained by the National Capital Commission, a space that is still so inspiring with the variety and lushness of its plants and flowers, which are used decorate all the official residences in Ottawa.

For the people who work here, the completion of this project also marks the end of a thrilling adventure, especially in terms of its main objective: the reopening of the tropical greenhouse, which had been closed and inaccessible to the public since 2000.

It is a joy to be with the people who work here today for this long-awaited reopening, one of the many improvements Jean-Daniel and I wanted to see in this heritage building, a symbol of the pride of this entire country.

And I know Marie-Éden would be upset if I did not mention this; if you look carefully around the tropical greenhouse, among the palm trees—the origins of which date back to prehistory—you may just see some dinosaurs!

Thank you very much to all those who worked so tirelessly on restoring one of the few tropical greenhouses in the country.

Long live this greenhouse, so closely and joyfully associated with the history of this residence, which we will soon leave, more beautiful than it was in 2005.