Light dimmers, security updates, a gas leak: behind the scenes of the Trudeaus’ move to Rideau Cottage

Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau’s decision to leave the crumbling 24 Sussex empty, and instead move into Rideau Cottage, prompted a flurry of repairs and remodels – some cosmetic at the family’s request and others more necessary – including new electrical cable that cost so much ($15,000) it had one public servant wondering whether it was “made out of gold.”

Reams of documents obtained through Access to Information offer a glimpse behind the curtain, revealing the torrent of activity and emails the Trudeaus’ move touched off. One email, in fact, described the process as an “enormous undertaking” that was at times “hectic” and wrought with “difficult timeframes.”

WATCH: Take a look inside 24 Sussex in 1983, while Pierre Trudeau was living there with his sons

Before the newly minted prime minister announced he and his family would be moving to the 10,000 square foot, 22-room cottage, the Governor General’s secretary was living there. But still, there were some changes the family of five wanted before moving into the 150-year-old residence which was last renovated in 2013.

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Some of the more cosmetic changes the family “needed” included installing dimmers “everywhere” (with labour costs estimated at close to $2,000), finding “nice looking baskets or ‘door bags’” for laundry, window screens in the bathrooms, bedrooms, basement, kitchen and upstairs living room, and “nice looking Kleenex boxes in every room,” according to the  emails.

READ MORE: Repairs to 24 Sussex could reach $38M, according to a report

Among the documents were pages-long threads about the floral arrangements to be placed around the house in addition to the “welcome vase” from the National Capital Commission “made with red roses and accessory flowers.”

Two days after the Oct. 26, 2015, announcement of their immediate move to Rideau Cottage, the Trudeaus were hosting friends, requiring even more arrangements, according to one such email.

Rideau Cottage is seen on the grounds of Rideau Hall, Monday October 26, 2015 in Ottawa.
Rideau Cottage is seen on the grounds of Rideau Hall, Monday October 26, 2015 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Gregoire Trudeau was looking for a larger arrangement in the entrance, smaller arrangements for the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as arrangements for each of the two living rooms, one guest bedroom, and the master bedroom, according to one email from Oct. 27.

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READ MORE: Trudeau family to move into Rideau Cottage, not 24 Sussex

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“Looking for freshness … natural looking bouquets … not too dark colourings,” the email read.

But before the family moved in, the National Capital Commission employee managing Ottawa’s official residences was grappling with a list of repairs including a potential gas leak, the emails revealed.

On Oct. 23, employees had to turn off the gas supply to a fireplace in “the front living room” because of a strong odour. By Nov. 4, they were still trying to get contractors cleared with security in order to work on the issue. An eventual “basic leak test” came up negative, but the gas supply stayed off until a “specialized contractor” was available.

READ MORE: 24 Sussex Drive in a sorry state — but will it ever get fixed?

At the same time, NCC employees were dealing with the house running out of hot water. With the family of five moving in, this was to be the “first time the domestic hot water [was] taxed to this level,” so it was a new issue for Rideau Cottage.
A view of the front of 24 Sussex Drive. The home is nearly 150 years old. Handout photo/National Capital Commission

On the security side of things, the RCMP asked for some changes to the grounds following the Trudeaus’ announcement that they’d be living across the street from the traditional official residence of the prime minister.

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The RCMP requested “the construction of a temporary access road” wide enough to fit one patrol car. The job required excavating a grassy area, pouring gravel, laying “geotextile” and removing trees believed to be Norway spruce and Norway maples.

WATCH: The official residence of Canada’s prime minister is a crumbling “embarrassment,” says HGTV’s Bryan Baeumler.

The step away from 24 Sussex also meant the usual transition chores in that residence – carpet cleaning, painting, emptying and cleaning the kitchen and pantry, etc. – were thrown into question.

In the end, those managing the transition of Stephen Harper’s family’s move out of the prime minister’s official residence decided to only clean carpets and furniture on the first floor – one of which was so covered in cat urine, it was unsalvageable. (The Harper family included two cats, but wife Laureen also notoriously fostered dozens and dozens of furry felines while living at 24 Sussex.)

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READ MORE: Stephen Harpers’ pets on the move too

A professional carpet cleaner took one such carpet from the residence in “an attempt to restore. But after numerous cleanings, he states that it is beyond salvageable,” an email read.

One public servant was unfortunate enough to find that carpet rolled up in her vestibule with the unenviable task of throwing it out. At least she was warned ahead of time via email.

Despite the confusion the Trudeau family’s eschewing of 24 Sussex created, 40 public servants involved in the Rideau Hall move received a note of gratitude from the director of official residences once all was said and done.

“With very little lead time, the official residences team was tasked with an enormous undertaking and your response was incredible,” Art Marcotte wrote in an Oct. 30 email.

“I know the last week has been extremely hectic, but somehow you were able to not only complete every task within difficult time frames, but it was also delivered to the highest standard of quality.”

Meanwhile, it’s not known how long the prime minister and his family will be living at Rideau Cottage – renovations plans have yet to be announced for 24 Sussex, leaving the project up in the air.

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