History and Pluralism at 330 Sussex
A Historical Report
In light of ongoing efforts to achieve reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians, in 2021, the Global Centre for Pluralism commissioned historical research, from an Indigenous perspective, on the river and lands surrounding our Ottawa headquarters. Given its prominent position in the heart of the nation’s capital, it is important to understand the legacies — however painful — tied to this location.
We commissioned Archipel Research & Consulting, an Indigenous-owned and women-led firm, to carry out the research. While there is limited pre-colonial evidence on our exact location at 330 Sussex Drive, this report documents the many layers of history attached to its surroundings.
For the Algonquin peoples, whose traditional territory encompasses the watershed of the Kichi Sibi (Ottawa River), the stretch of river behind the Global Centre for Pluralism is both sacred and a vital conduit. Marked by the confluence of three waterways — the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau Rivers — it was a major site of trade with other First Nations and, later, European settlers. The forests and waters of the Kichi Sibi, in addition to nourishing the Algonquins, hold great spiritual and cultural significance.
Where we once feasted and played
Where the bones of our dead lay
Your city came to be
Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation
Ottawa’s Poet Laureate
While Sussex Drive today houses the Prime Minister’s residence, along with many embassies and cultural institutions, as this report documents, it is a site marked by dispossession. Canada’s story of nation building, centred in Ottawa since 1867, is also one of industrialization, colonization, and forced assimilation of First Nations. The Algonquin Anishinaabeg are now dispersed to 10 separate communities in Ontario and Quebec, but they continue to assert title over their traditional territories. Ottawa remains an important site for First Nations gatherings, protests, ceremony and cultural revival.
We recognize that some non-Indigenous readers may be challenged by some of the assertions, positions or language expressed in this report. At the Centre, we believe it is important to hear these views and respect how strongly they are held. We welcome discussion on these difficult issues and believe that engaging with what novelist Maaza Mengiste refers to as the “rough edges and complexities of our history” is critical to moving toward a more inclusive and pluralist future.
These findings will inform our own approach to acknowledging the land and help to guide how we engage in reconciliation in Canada and on issues of indigeneity and pluralism around the world. We hope the findings may also serve neighbouring institutions as they examine their own connections to Canada’s Indigenous history. If there is one connecting thread between First Nations and settler narratives of this site, it is the recognition of its power to connect.
We thank Archipel for adding much to our understanding of this site. We also thank Algonquin Elder Albert Dumont for the poetry and wisdom with which he introduces this work. We join him in hoping it inspires us to “work together, to build a city where all its citizens will live in peace and feel safe and feel confident that each citizen is being treated with respect and dignity.”
The views expressed in this report are the authors’ and do not necessarily represent those of the Global Centre for Pluralism or its Board of Directors.