589 Rideau – Wallis House: Why one resident is proud to call it home

Andrew MacDonald is an executive with IBM Ottawa, and, since 1999, is the proud owner of unit 501 in Wallis House. Ottawa Condo Network met him….and was impressed by his love for the building. We asked him to share with me the history of his relationship with Wallis House.




Q: How did you end up living in Wallis House?


A: I was looking for my first property, and wanted to do it in style. My parents had just relocated to a smaller house, so I had inherited the family pool table and antique Coca-Cola cooler, and wanted a place to showcase these items. My real estate agent suggested a loft-type condo, and the search began.




Q: What made you choose Wallis House?


A: When I saw unit 501, I was instantly impressed. The heritage status of the building made it unique. It had character. But I didn’t want to buy the first place I saw. My real estate agent patiently showed me every available loft condo in the city of Ottawa. They all had their charms, but nothing had the same impact on me as Wallis House.




Q: What’s your favourite feature of the building?


A: I love its history. Wallis House was built around the same time as the Parliament Buildings–it was one of the first hospitals operating in Ottawa. Through its lifespan, the building went through a number of transitions: it was rumoured to have been used as a school and a nunnery, and was eventually purchased by the military, who used it as an officers’ mess, army barracks, and finally a storage facility. Over time, Wallis House became run down, and was boarded up due to safety concerns. It was threatened with demolition. But people in the neighbourhood came to its defence, and succeeded in having it designated as a heritage building. Various proposals were advanced for its use–perhaps the most unlikely was the submission suggesting the building be converted into a city-run and regulated brothel to resolve the city’s prostitution problem. The future of Wallis House was determine in 1994, when the property was purchased by L.A. “Sandy” Smallwood, a heritage restorer, for $320,000. Smallwood’s vision was to gut the building, leaving only the original brick and support structures. He drew two lines down the centre of each floor to designate hallways, and then invited prospective buyers to purchase an ‘area’ of Wallis House. Depending on the area purchased, the buyer was given a budget, and a designer to work with to lay out the unit. 47 units were identified, and each buyer had a say in how his / her unit was designed. The result was 47 unique units, something that set Wallis House apart from all other loft condos in Ottawa.



Q: Tell me your favourite anecdote about the history of Wallis House.


A. I opened my door to a food delivery person, who proceeded to tell me a story of how when he was in the army, he was posted at Wallis House.  I gave him a tour of my unit and he drew my attention to my dormer window in the living room facing down Charlotte Street. He told me that in his day, this was a station occupied by sharp shooters assigned to defend the embassies located on Charlotte Street.




Q: What do you like best about your unit?


A: The exposed brick and hardwood floors–they bring out the heritage feel of the unit. My living room has a full wall of windows, with a beautiful view of Sandy Hill. I have high ceilings, and several skylights that bring in lots of natural light. The original owner of my unit loved to cook, so I was fortunate to inherit a great kitchen with high end gas appliances and a central island on a raised floor. And last but not least, the living room has the perfect space to house my family pool table. The old antique Coke cooler no longer hold coke, but makes for a great beer fridge!

This interview has been edited and condensed for this article.

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