This paper provides a re-interpretation of the crustal architecture of the Ottawan hinterland of the Grenville Province in light of published empirical and numerical models of orogenic collapse. It is now seen as a series of high-grade, mid-crustal core complexes from tens to hundreds of kilometres across that are juxtaposed against segments of the lower grade upper and uppermost crust including the orogenic lid. Juxtaposition of such contrasting crustal levels, which exhibit decoupled tectonic styles corresponding to the orogenic infrastructure and suprastructure, respectively, is interpreted as a signature of the foundering of an orogenic plateau into a mid-crustal channel. Ottawan metamorphism progressed from granulite-facies in the mid crust at ∼1090–1050 Ma, through amphibolite-facies in the upper crust at ∼1050–1020 Ma, to heating to ≤500 °C in the uppermost crust at ∼1020–980 Ma. This temporal progression is interpreted to reflect conductive heat transfer during collapse, as hot mid-crustal core complexes were exhumed against successively higher crustal levels. Exhumation was facilitated by substantial thinning and lengthening of the mid crust by simple- and pure-shear mechanisms. This was accompanied by wholesale boudinage of the brittle uppermost crust. Moreover, it may have resulted in excision of part of the ductile upper crust, which appears under-represented. Collapse was accompanied by diverse magmatic and hydrothermal products, their range of structural states implying that high-strain Ottawan deformation in the mid crust took place beneath an orogenic lid that was not penetratively deformed. Preliminary analysis indicates the Grenvillian inliers exhibit a comparable range of crustal levels to the Grenville Province, suggesting the orogenic plateau may have extended ∼5000 km along strike from Labrador to Texas.