1878 – 1964
Noffke has been described as one of Ottawa’s most influential and prolific architects, designing over 200 buildings in and around Ottawa (he built several more further afield). An observer wrote that “one can be born in a Noffke hospital, educated in a Noffke school, work in a Noffke office, be married in a Noffke church, live in a Noffke house and put to rest in a Noffke funeral chapel.”
The Noffke family immigrated to Ottawa when Werner was 5. Of German stock, they settled close to a church with services in German, St Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church (built in 1888 at the corner of Wilbrod St. and King Edward Ave.). Werner went to a German-speaking school affiliated with the church, St Paul Christian Day School at 305 Nelson St. (the school burned down in 1965). Noffke remained a devoted churchgoer throughout his life and designed several churches of different denominations, including renovations to St Paul’s.
There being no architectural school in Ottawa at the time, Noffke learnt his profession by serving as an apprentice to a working architect and set up his own practice in 1901. Ottawa was growing fast at the turn of the century and it was a good time to be an architect.
At age 25, he built a substantial home for himself and his new wife at 209 Wilbrod St., across from his church. The house is still there although Noffke himself converted it to apartments after living there for 10 years and moving to the Glebe where he designed several houses on the Clemow Estate.
Noffke was a Liberal all his life and an admirer and a friend of Sir Wilfrid Laurier. He carried out several renovations to Laurier House when the Lauriers lived there, including building a garage (now demolished). He named his only child Edgar Wilfrid in honour of Laurier.
Several of Noffke’s Sandy Hill buildings still stand. These include houses that have now been converted to embassies (e.g., Polish embassy at 443 Daly Ave., the Congolese embassy at 18 Range Rd.) as well as the former Soviet, now Russian, embassy on Charlotte St. that needed to be re-built after a disastrous fire in 1956 (see write-up for Lois Booth). In his book Spycatcher, former MI5 agent Peter Wright relates how the RCMP asked the help of British intelligence to bug the new building. The elaborate operation included the installation of 8 microphones in aluminum sash windows, each with a separate cable running to a safe house. When the cables were accidentally cut by a contractor installing a fuel tank outside the building, an RCMP team had to return at night to fix the damage. The team was able to re-attach 6 of the cables but the microphones never yielded useful intelligence and the Soviets eventually found them all. Although the embassy’s architect, Noffke had not been involved in this caper.
In addition, Noffke designed the Ranger Residence (395 Daly Ave.), Charlebois House (203 Chapel St.) and apartment buildings on Besserer St. (at Augusta and Friel). Other Noffke buildings of note in Ottawa include the recently-rebuilt Ogilvy Building (now part of the Rideau Centre), the Champagne Bath on King Edward Ave. and the downtown Post Office Building at the corner of Sparks and Elgin Sts.
Noffke’s career spanned over 50 years, two world wars and tremendous social and economic change. His adaptability and versatility allowed him to design a wide range of industrial, commercial, institutional and residential buildings, most of which are still in use today.