Fully Half of Canadians (51%) Like Idea of a National Portrait Gallery Across from Parliament Hill

On Learning What a Gallery Can Bring to the Country, Support Climbs to 65%, Across all Age Groups

Monday, March 20, 2017

Toronto, ON – The former U.S. Embassy, at 100 Wellington Street in Ottawa, has been vacant since 1998. Located across from Parliament Hill in the heart of the nation’s capital, this building is an architectural gem, in a unique location, with a special history.

A new Ipsos survey for Friends of a National Portrait Gallery recently asked Canadians for their thoughts on possible future uses for 100 Wellington. The three options presented were:

  • A Canada House: a venue to bring all of Canada to the nation's capital, giving a taste of the country's diversity and achievements and showcasing the best of the provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast.
  • A Portrait Gallery: a venue that mirrors the history, diversity and achievements of Canada primarily through celebrating the contributions of individual Canadians from the past and present, from all provinces and territories from coast to coast to coast.
  • An Indigenous Cultural Centre: a use to be determined in partnership with Indigenous Peoples to showcase culture, achievements and the prominent role of Indigenous people in the history and future of Canada.

At first glance, two in three Canadians (65%) said they liked the idea of a Canada House, rating their appreciation a 4 or 5 out of 5 (the Canada House received an average score of 3.9/5). Half (51%) said they liked the idea of a Portrait Gallery, earning this option an average score of 3.5 out of 5. Lastly, four in ten (41%) said they liked the possibility of turning 100 Wellington into an Indigenous Cultural Centre, which received an average of 3.2 out of 5 for likeability.

While initial impressions appear to favour using the former embassy as the site for a Canada House, the survey reveals that Canadians – of all ages -- are just as open to a Portrait Gallery once they learn the advantages it can bring. Indeed, the survey found that:

  • Nearly half of Canadians (48%) like the idea of a national portrait gallery more, knowing that the basis for a quality national collection already exists, thanks to the largely unseen collection held by Library and Archives Canada. About four in ten (41%) said they liked the idea about the same knowing this information, while just 11% said they liked it less.
  • More than four ten Canadians (46%) said they liked the portrait gallery idea more, knowing that it would showcase the diversity that makes up our culture and identity. Another four in ten (42%) liked it about the same as before, while 12% said they liked it less as a result.
  • Equally as persuasive was knowing that once the gallery is established, it would hold exhibitions with continuously changing offerings, including those loaned from private or public collections. More than four in ten (46%) liked the national portrait gallery idea more on knowing this. A further four in ten (42%) said their opinion of the idea hadn’t changed on knowing this, while one in ten (12%) liked it less.
  • Attendance was another factor that swung opinion for many: 45% said they like the idea of a portrait gallery more, knowing that portrait galleries in other capitals like London and Washington draw huge attendance, including young people. However, just as many (45%) were unmoved by this argument, and another one in ten (10%) said it make them like the idea less.
  • Four in ten Canadians (41%) liked the idea of using 100 Wellington as a portrait gallery more on thinking about modern portrait galleries as high tech, interactive and innovative, combining art and history in unique and dynamic ways that help us make connections, understand ourselves and celebrate the country we continue to create. More than four in ten (46%) were left indifferent by this consideration, while 14% said it made them like the idea less.

However, on learning that some $11 million has already been spent to convert the Embassy into a portrait gallery, public opinion was more sharply divided: one in three (32%) said this made them like the idea of a portrait gallery more, more than one in three (37%) said their opinion hadn’t changed, while three in ten (31%) said it made them liked it less. The shift towards increased appeal of the national portrait gallery idea was most pronounced among those who already said they liked the idea to begin with, but in many cases those who were initially neutral or even didn’t like it are more supportive of the idea of a portrait gallery once they learn more of the details. In particular, the one argument that seemed equally effective among those who disliked the gallery idea was the potential to draw a huge attendance similar to galleries in other world capitals.

Once the various considerations had been put forward, Canadians’ opinion of using 100 Wellington for a portrait gallery improves significantly: a fourteen-point swing from 51% to 65% who rated their liking of the idea as a 4 or 5 out of 5. Average likeability for the idea also increases, from a score of 3.5/5 to 3.8/5.

Women (69%) tend to like the idea more than men (60%), while appreciation is virtually identical by age group (64% of those aged 18-34, 65% of those 35-54, and 65% of those aged 55+). Canadians who have visited the National Capital Region are the most likely to say they like the idea of a national portrait gallery (74%), though a majority of those who have never visited (57%), or who currently reside in Ottawa, or who lived there at some point (51%) also say they like it. There is majority support for a national portrait gallery; across the country appreciation is strongest in Quebec (72%), followed by the Atlantic provinces (71%), Ontario (63%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (62%), Alberta (61%) and BC (58%).

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between March 6 and March 9, 2017, on behalf of Friends of a National Portrait Gallery. For this survey, a sample of 1,001 Canadians from Ipsos' online panel was interviewed online. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics to ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within +/ - 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadian adults been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

For more information on this news release, please contact:

Sean Simpson
Vice President, Canada
Ipsos Public Affairs
+1 416 324-2002

About Ipsos

Ipsos is an independent market research company controlled and managed by research professionals. Founded in France in 1975, Ipsos has grown into a worldwide research group with a strong presence in all key markets. Ipsos ranks third in the global research industry. With offices in 88 countries, Ipsos delivers insightful expertise across five research specializations: brand, advertising and media, customer loyalty, marketing, public affairs research, and survey management. Ipsos researchers assess market potential and interpret market trends. They develop and build brands. They help clients build long-term relationships with their customers. They test advertising and study audience responses to various media and they measure public opinion around the globe. Ipsos has been listed on the Paris Stock Exchange since 1999 and generated global revenues of €1,669.5 ($2,218.4 million) in 2014.

Fully Half of Canadians (51%) Like Idea of a National Portrait Gallery Across from Parliament Hill


Sean Simpson
Vice President, Canada
Ipsos Public Affairs