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Meet the Sault's architect with a (re)purpose (7 photos)

David Ellis Architect Inc. is the subject of this week’s What’s Up Wednesday

We all know the important purpose architects serve, but when you look around the new office of Sault architect David Ellis, situated in the refurbished former Blessed Sacrament Church at 267 Cathcart St., you could say David is an architect with a ‘(re)purpose.’

“We moved in about a month ago,” David said, pointing to rooms with bright, modern design features, mixed with subtle reminders of the building’s church past, such as high ceilings and old style church windows. 

David spoke to SooToday from his desk, situated in the former altar area, his architectural drawing room located in the old vestment area.

David is leasing part of the building, one of its new owners getting ready to open offices in the west side of the building, which housed the main part of the former church.

“I call it putting my money where my mouth is. I’ve sat on so many committees and spoken about revitalizing the west end, so when given the opportunity to move here and redesign this building I thought that was a great thing to do,” David said, having had his office in locations on Pim Street and Queen Street in the past.

“It’s a pretty neat space.”

Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, the Sault Collegiate graduate studied architecture at Ottawa’s Carleton University.

“I was rather artistic. I enjoyed art, art history and history in general, and I had a couple of teachers who sparked interest in architecture in me.”

“One of them, Dale Hammar, was an urban geography teacher. He gave me an assignment on how to revitalize the west end and I really enjoyed that project, and look at what I’ve just finished doing,” David chuckled from his new office in the repurposed former church. 

“I remember the day I was accepted by the Carleton University School of Architecture. I was working after school at the old Jupiter store sweeping floors and my Mom called the store and said ‘you got a letter from the university, can I open it?’ She started reading it to me, and I said ‘yay!’”

“She said ‘the school of architecture?’ My parents expected me to be an engineer, so that was a pretty tense moment which lasted a month, but after that they bought into it and were my best supporters.”

Returning to his hometown, David started working with architect D. Perry Short in 1978, taking over the D. Perry Short Architect firm after Short retired in 1990, launching David Ellis Architect Inc.

“I won a large design competition for the World Bank in Malaysia in 1994, so from 1995 to 2000 I made 56 trips back and forth to Malaysia, where we did five buildings. Because I was spending so much time away I added a few more partners to the firm and it eventually became EPOH,” David recounted.

“In 2005 I retired from that firm, but found myself back in business again,” David chuckled.

“We’re growing. We’ve got this new office and quite a few people here now, and a lot of work on the boards. I have two intern architects and some technical staff and we’re doing quite a few interesting projects right now.”

Including David himself, David Ellis Architect Inc. employs seven people.

Local architectural projects David is known for include the Ontario Forest Research Institute, the John Rhodes Community Centre Pool, the master plan for the new International Bridge Plaza, a facelift for Korah Collegiate and the transformation of the former Alexander Henry High School into Boreal French Immersion Public School.

“I’m still doing some work out of town but I’m trying to keep that to a dull roar. I spent about 10 years of my career travelling, away from my family for long, long periods of time, so I’m trying to keep more local right now.”

David is currently working on Algoma University’s master plan (as reported earlier by SooToday).

“We’re trying to get some projects out for tender over the next month or so. The university has a great vision and is moving toward it.”

“For me, being an architect is important because I feel like I’m making a difference,” David said.

“My father was a policeman and I think he made a difference because of that. As an architect I look at our community and see what I can do to make our community better, and a lot of stuff ends up being built, and that’s my job, but I also sit on so many committees that are trying to make the community better, like the Accessibility Committee, the Art Gallery of’s about trying to give back.”

“One of the things I’m happy about is when I started my career, if there was a school to be built they hired a Toronto firm, but we have local talent here, so let’s do it in house, let’s do it in Sault Ste. Marie, and that’s changed. We don’t always bring in the Toronto firms any more, and things are done by local firms. Who better to do it than people who live here?”