Royal watchers don't mess around. They showed up as many as five hours early – in the morning rain – in order to secure themselves a good spectator spot for when his Royal Highness arrived at the National Arts Centre on Canada Day.
Prince Charles dropped into the NAC at 1 Elgin St. during his royal tour of the nation's capital to help celebrate the successful completion of the first phase of a $110.5-million project to rejuvenate the NAC building. It wasn't much to look at before, that's for sure. The beautiful new space, designed by Canadian architect Donald Schmitt, features a relocated box office, three times more washrooms and a gorgeous glass atrium and entrance in the hexagonal shape of the NAC’s original design.
The prince spent a couple of minutes shaking people's hands and waving to the public before heading toward the red carpet – rolled out in his honour – and into the much-improved building for the ribbon cutting. It's a pity it was moved indoors, and out of the greater public eye, due to the unpredictable afternoon weather conditions.
Gov. Gen. David Johnston and his wife, Sharon, along with Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly and National Arts Centre president and CEO Peter Herrndorf and its board chair, Adrian Burns, were joined by other dignitaries, artists, architects, NAC staff and patrons as well as members of the public. His excellency is keeping up with the times, in ways he never thought he would.
"You know that expression: When hell freezes over?" Johnston quipped as he pulled up one of his pant legs to show off his red-and-white striped socks, worn in honour of Canada Day.
Herrndorf, who’s just been promoted to the highest-ranking Companion to the Order of Canada, has been hailed as one of the visionaries behind the rejuvenation project. The well-respected arts leader did not disappoint on his promise that the construction work would be “on time, on budget, with dazzling results.” His dream has been to showcase a building that could serve as "the living room of the city," with exciting public spaces and a wide-range of activities to get the community engaged.
At $110.5 million, the project represents the federal government's biggest investment in culture infrastructure, timed to mark the sesquicentennial. The first investment into the architectural rejuvenation of the NAC was announced in December 2014 by the government of former prime minister Stephen Harper. In March 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government announced an additional investment of $114.9 million for the upgrade of production equipment – sound, lighting, electrical, projection and acoustics – in all of the NAC’s performance venues.
The entire project will be completed in 2019, to mark the NAC’s 50th anniversary.
This fall, the NAC will open the second floor of the north atrium, including several public rooms for use as scenic performance and event space. Expect to see the cabaret-style Fourth Stage looking better than ever.
By February, the Panorama Room will be back in business, and twice as big, as a 600-seat venue for conferences and larger-sized events. It will also offer enviable views of the Rideau Canal.
Annually, more than 1.2 million people make their way to the NAC, which presents and produces 1,300-plus events and performances in dance, theatre and music. It’s also the home of the National Arts Centre Orchestra.
Following the ceremony, the public was invited to roam the new spaces of the NAC and enjoy a weekend of free activities and concerts.