he Architectural Project

Many questions remain as to the architectural project. It almost seems that each ambassador, during their passage, left their own ideas, and suggestions on the subject.

Arsène Henry, laden with observing his English colleague, was, for example, living in Ottawa in order to determine the height, and layout of the furniture in the future Embassy. Raymond Brugère, his successor, brought about the idea of a smoking room, a raised ground floor, and a garage placed right next to the residence.

Final sketch situating the Embassy, and its park.

Not all their wishes were granted, though. Arsène Henry wanted to keep the old Blackburn house, and make a chancellery out of it. For the residence, he envisioned a modestly-sized property, a place of residence reminiscent of XVIII century “old France,” which would, according to him : “please Canadians more than a very modern construction, which would appear very American.” His successor, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs seemed to agree.

The final result, however, was completely different : the Blackburn house was destroyed, the building erected was monumental, and of a modern style. Why this change? Who was the initiator? The archives don’t offer any exact answer. Many hypotheses can be emitted.

As for the matter of the high construction costs, it seems that, like all projects of this scope, the starting price was underestimated. The architect was accused by the Count of Dampierre of having too big a vision. On the other hand, with bit by bit of construction, and in facing the admiration that this project aroused in the Canadians, it was that the idea that Canadians should certainly not be disappointed. Raymond Brugère wrote in 1935 : “Since my arrival here, I have noticed the high level of moral importance that this project presents. Maybe more than anywhere else, it is important to Canada that France settle here, and in a building that bestows such honour upon us, while flattering the Canadians’ pride, who have conserved, so alive in them, the memory, and the taste of home.”

One of the pre-project of the whole created by Eugène Beaudouin.

As for the modern style of the Embassy, several elements hint at the possibility that Beaudouin inspired himself from sketches drawn by Ernest Cormier, an architect from Montreal.
Ernest Cormier was contacted by Jean Knight, shortly after the land was found, to create, as an indication, a global project of construction. According to the archives, his project greatly resembled the actual Embassy : a building of modern, and sober style, comprising of a big hallway, a round lounge, an immense hall, and a monumental staircase.

Another troubling element : Ernest Cormier is classified under the artistic current known as Art Deco, which happens to be the style of the Embassy, and is known for his sober style, and use of noble materials (notably marble, and bronze), which is the case in the Embassy.

Definitive plans for the Embassy of France

We have not found Ernest Cormier’s sketches, and we don’t know if his project held the attention of the French government. We only know that Ernest Cormier expressed his disappointment at not being chosen for an on-site representative for Eugène Beaudouin. The latter explained to Raymond Brugère : “It seemed impossible for me to suggest to a man of such notoriety, and of his age, already having had a full and brilliant career of creation, the position of inspector, which was formally subordinate to a chief Architect much younger than himself.” He pursued this a little further : “I am absolutely sorry that Mister Cormier has expressed this much regret because I consider him a colleague of great professional value, and I know all his efforts, crowned by previous achievements, to make a triumph of the French cause in Canada. It is certain that he loves France. It seemed to us that the red ribbon would probably be recognition for his sincere services, and would bring appeasement to his rather lively vexation.” Why did Beaudoin suggest that the Legion of Honour be given to Cormier, if not to appease the architect who could claim to be the creator of the project?

Another question remains : Beaudouin never talked about his participation in the construction of the Embassy of France : how do you explain an architect that has hidden such a project all his life? Perhaps it was out of shame for a project that wasn’t entirely his?

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