Canada House in London’s Trafalgar Square has had a chequered history. It was originally built between 1824 and 1827 as two separate buildings for the Union Club and the Royal College of Physicians to designs of Sir Robert Smirke, the architect of the British Library and King’s College London. The Canadian government acquired the Union Club in 1923 and carried out a renovation which included moving the main entrance from Trafalgar Square to Cockspur Street and recladding the façade to match Royal College of Physicians.
In 1993, Canada House’s future was uncertain when it was closed by the Canadian government as a cost-cutting measure, a decision reversed by the next government who perhaps saw the value of its location and carried out a refurbishment which was completed in 1998. The building was closed again in 2010 and re-opened in 2012 for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and for use as Canada Olympic House during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Following a complete refurbishment which has created contemporary interiors within the historic building and resolved long-term circulation issues from joining the two buildings, the Canadian High Commission has now returned to Canada House..
The building is a showcase of Canadian design and art. Architects Stantec, working with Purcell as heritage advisers, have made strenuous efforts to source materials, furnishings and artwork from Canada itself. The new entrance leads to a foyer laid with Canadian red oak, decorated with Brent Comber’s cedar-block tables and hung with a light installation by Vancouver lighting company Bocci. Specially-designed wool carpets, cabinets and art have been installed in the meeting rooms, 13 of which are named after Canada’s provinces - the room of Quebec arguably being the best.
In the gallery space, the new exhibition shows work by Ian Wallace, considered to be one of Canada’s most significant contemporary artists and whose work blurs the boundaries between monochrome painting and photography.
The gallery is a great space to show off the best of Canadian art; the interiors beyond show a whole range of design talent which the public will never see. Perhaps the gallery’s remit could be extended to hold exhibitions, not just on art, but also on design.