Former Orange Art Gallery building receives heritage designation, operations move online

The exterior or Orange Art Gallery. It’s a red brick, one and a half storey building.
The former Orange Art Gallery building at 290 City Centre, Ave, has received heritage designation. Photo by Charlie Senack.

By Charlie Senack

The walls of Hintonburg’s Orange Art Gallery are now bare after the building’s landlord decided not to renew their tenant’s lease. 

The gallery, which was founded in 2010 and has run out of the former CN rail building since 2014, will continue to operate online — at least for now. Ingrid Hollander, co-owner of the gallery, fought for at least a year’s extension, but was told that would not be possible. They held one final show just before Christmas. 

“I wish we had more time, but it’s inevitable,” said Hollander. “It’s unfortunate. The community is losing a spot where you can have weddings, birthday parties and corporate events. There are not many spaces that are unique like this. The community is losing a great place for art classes. The whole vibe of the place was fun. The artists are losing a place to showcase their art.”

After news broke that the gallery would not continue to operate at City Centre, a petition was started to try and sway District Realty into extending its lease. It garnered more than 900 signatures.

Ingrid wears a bright orange sweater as she poses for a photograph next to a painting inside Orange Art Gallery.
Orange Art Gallery co-owner Ingrid Hollander said their operations have moved online for the time being. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Heritage designation supported

An application was also filed for the gallery’s building to be granted heritage designation. 

During a Built Heritage Committee meeting on Jan 16, city staff made their case, saying the former CN Rail building, constructed in 1925, was once owned by Canadian lumber tycoon and railroad baron John Rudolphus (J.R.) Booth. His lumber complex at one time was the biggest in the world and the timberlands under his control occupied an area larger than France. 

The committee heard how the building still has some of its original features, including a J&J fireproof safe built into the rear interior of the building’s first storey. It is one of the only remaining structures in the Wellington West area associated with the industrial rail era, staff noted.

Thr vault can be seen in the main room. A desk is in front of the vault and paintings are on the nearby walls.
The original vault inside the former CN Rail building. Photo by Charlie Senack.

Lawyer Michael Polowin, who was representing the building’s owners, argued the decision should be delayed a month due to reports from environmental, constructional and heritage consultants, which wouldn’t be completed for a few more days.  

Because it’s on the heritage registry, any potential application to demolish the building would require at least 60 days’ notice.   

“This is a very complex property. There is contamination below this building and adjacent to the building that arises out of a dry cleaning outlet that was in place for many years,” he said. 

Somerset ward Coun. Ariel Troster argued that the contamination — which has been known to the owners for years — would not impact its heritage significantly.   

Troster also noted the community support for the building to be saved. 

“There was certainly a lot of community uproar when news came out that the gallery would not be allowed to stay in the space,” she said. “I think there was some hope in the community that a heritage designation could prove to be a disincentive to remove this beloved gallery from this beloved space.”

Councillor Rawlson King, who is chair of the Built Heritage sub-committee, echoed Troster’s statements, and added the process was extended already. The file was supposed to go before the committee in November, but was postponed to December because the building’s landlords were out of the country. That meeting was then also cancelled and moved to this year. 

In his previous statements, Polowin said the owner of the building had to travel to Israel in the fall to look after her elderly mother, and then got stuck there, leading to the delays. 

In the end, the committee was unanimously in favour of having the matter go before council for heritage designation approval.

Paintings on the wall inside Orange art gallery. Many are of animals, including cats.
Orange Art gallery works with 25 local artists from across Ottawa. Photo by Charlie Senack.

While improvements are being made to the site, that won’t help Hollander from Orange Art Gallery who is now left without a home for her 25 local Ottawa artists. She’s open to moving the gallery elsewhere, but hasn’t found a building that meets the needs of the business. In the interim, the gallery’s website will continue to operate with pop-up shows possible in the spring. 

“I’m not shutting any doors. Step one is to move out of here and I’m keeping my eyes open. Maybe I’ll come up with something quite different,” she said. “If I do something, I want to make sure that it’s a step forward and not a step back. In the end, a building is just a building. It’s the people and artists who really give life to a space. If we’ve done it here, we can do it again.”

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