Archive for October, 2008


A shout-out

I just want to give a shout-out to a blog being written by Nick Taylor-Vaisey, a good friend of mine. Nick is a former news editor at the Fulcrum as well as one of my predecessors as sports editor. I also have to say that he had a pretty big hand in making me as good of a writer and journalist as I am.

Anyway, all that out of the way, here’s the link to his blog. Nick is currently making his way across the continental United States by Greyhound, and is blogging his adventures en route. A lot of Nick’s interests are similar to mine—urban geography, public transportation, etc—and his thoughts from the road are pretty interesting. I recommend checking it out.

That’s all for me, tonight. Everyone out there enjoying the First Snowstorm of the Year ™?


Light rail along Carling

Alternate title: *sigh* Oh god, not this again

I meant to post about this a few days ago, when Public Transit in Ottawa pointed it out, but Councilor Clive Doucet is calling for the City to consider using Carling Avenue as a corridor for our future LRT system. Now, setting aside the fact that this is a debate that should have been concluded six months ago when the transit alternatives were being debated, I can’t help but feel this is an incredibly silly idea.

On the surface, it seems good, I must admit. Doucet is right, Carling is a heavily populated corridor along much of its length—though I think the 300,000 figure he claims is rather optomistic, that being close to the entire pre-amalgamation population of the Ottawa city proper—and is more centrally located than the Ottawa River Parkway, the currently favoured corridor.

Of course, there that has to be followed up with a “but”. And in this case, it’s a big one. For Carling to work as a rapid transit corridor (and we are, I hope, trying to actually build rapid transit), the City would likely need to invest millions of dollars extra to build either a subway or an elevated rail line. Mr. Doucet seems to be calling for something more akin to a streetcar line built in its own right-of-way up the middle of the street, and  using “gates” to block of intersections. I’m not entirely sure what he means, but I’m presuming standard railway crossing gates, much like these in Los Angeles. That doesn’t exactly seem ideal to me, especially given the frequency of trains we’d likely be seeing on such a line.

The bottom line is, I think that running trains along Carling is a great idea if we want to cripple our new system before we even build it. Imagine riding Vancouver’s SkyTrain system, which is generally pretty sleek, fast and modern, and then turning a corner and finding yourself on Toronto’s St. Clair or Harbourfront streetcar. It’d be like you just changed to a completely different (and much slower) transit system, and would make Ottawa’s new transit system a laughingstock in Canada. I sincerely hope that the City is able to see beyond this proposal.



I changed my layout tonight. I’m still not entirely happy with it, but this one is at least better than my old one. At least I think so… any thoughts?


A zombie to complement the ghost

This metaphor is definitely in danger of being stretched too far, but I wrote about ghost signs a little while ago, and now I’d like to talk about something related, but significantly more noticeable: abandoned\former churches.

I live right across the street from the former St. Brigid’s Church, on St. Patrick Street (no, I’ve never quite figured out how that works, either). It was completed in 1890 to act as a new centre for Lowertown’s Irish Catholic population, and cuts an imposing figure on the street. I find it’s arguably a more impressive building than the nearby Notre Dame Catheral, and it tells an interesting story.

In May of 2006, the Archbishop of St. Brigid’s announced that the church would be closing. The parrish was shrinking, and hundreds of thousands of dollars would be needed to fix up the building; a dim-looking future, to be sure. The parrishoners fought to keep it open, holding fundraisers, circulating petitions and even going so far as to take the archbishop to court, but it was all for naught. The church hosted it’s final service in 2007, and in the fall of that year, it was purchased by a group of local Irish-Canadian investors and opened as an Arts and Humanities Centre.

It’s a facinating story, when you think about it. The building was the centre of a community for almost 120 years, and then it was forced to close for financial reasons. I don’t think anything speaks to the changing nature of a community quite so much as that. Churches, at one point, marked the focal point of a community—you only need to travel to nearly any older small town in Ontario or Quebec to figure that out, since somewhere near the middle of town, you’ll probably be able to find a church errected 15 or 20 years after the town was founded. Now, though, we live in a far more secular society, and though I think this is a good thing, it puts these stately old buildings in an awkward position when there are no longer enough church-goers to maintain the church.

St. Brigid’s, of course, got lucky. It lives on in a second life as an centre for the arts and Ottawa’s Irish-Canadian community. Sure, you could argue that means it’s essentially serving the same community as it did in the past, but really it marks a fundamental change in the neighborhood. The church has to appeal to as many members of the community as possible to survive, not just the Irish-Catholics, and increasingly small niche of the population.

Not all of these old churches are so lucky, though, such as this one, on Bronson:

Erskine Pebestrian Church, which I haven’t been able to find a thing about online, is apparently for sale. It’s an odd sight, a church with a giant for sale sign out front, and and even starker reminded than St. Brigid’s that neighborhoods are in a constant state of change. This one may not be as old or ornate, but it’s still a valuable part of the urban fabric. I hope it, too, someday manages to find a second life.


Lansdowne Live!

I’m surprised no one in the Ottawa blogosphere (Ottawagosphere?) has talked about this, but Jeff Hunt and his group of local businesspeople with a conditional CFL bid have released their plans for Lansdowne Park, and I have to say, it sure looks sharp. Here’s what the plan looks like:

In a nutshell, this is what we’re looking at:

  • A refurbished\rebuilt Frank Clair Stadium, with a capacity for 25,000 fans, and suitable for both CFL football and soccer
  • A refurbished Civic Centre, presumably with about the same capacity as it currently has (just south of 10,000).
  • An outdoor amiptheatre for musical and theatrical acts, with a capacity of 2,000.
  • A retail park and central promenade, with restaurants and shops lining the areas along Bank and Holmwood. I think some residential development would be involved as well.
  • Community soccer, baseball and football fields.
  • A walk-through aquarium inside the Aberdeen Pavilion.
  • Significantly reduced surface parking, and overall, a much more pedestrian friendly area.
  • A specially designated space for the Ottawa Farmer’s Market, allowing it to continue on in the Glebe.

With the exception of the aquarium (which just makes me go “huh?”), I think this is a fantastic looking plan. Yes, it does require that we essentially allow this public space to become a private development, but if the plan is any indication, it would be an incredible addition to the City of Ottawa. We would have garaunteed space for the Ottawa Farmer’s Markets, along with retail space and community sports fields, indicating to me that Hunt wants a redeveloped Lansdowne Park to be as well-integrated into the Glebe community as possible, certainly an encouraging sign.

In addition, the a refurbished 25,000 seat stadium located in the heart of Ottawa would do wonders for the city. Not only would we have a venue in which we could host the CFL properly, but we would have a place that could act as a temporary home for any number of world class events, a facility which is sorely lacking in Ottawa right now. I also like the idea of keeping the 67s at Lansdowne Park, as it would ensure that it would become a year-round venue, and not something that closes up shop entirely in the winter.

What will be most interesting, perhaps, is to see how, firstly the City reacts to this, and next how Eugene Melnyk and his group looking for a Major League Soccer franchise react. Melnyk has proposed his own 30,000 seat stadium near Scotiabank Place in Kanata, and Hunt’s plan is clearly in opposition to this, especially given some of the slightly snide remarks on the Lansdowne Live! website indicating their stadium would be suitable for MLS play. What we will probably see in the coming months, as these two local sports magnates duke it out, is a battle between urban and suburban, redevelopment versus sprawl, and, in the face of rising oil costs, perhaps even the future versus the past. I will most definitely be cheering on Hunt’s plan, and I sincerely hope that City Council is able to share his vision, and work with him towards making it a reality.


A Ghost on Bay Street

I went for a rather long and meandering walk on Wednesday (the results of which can be seen here), and while I came across a couple of interesting things, there was a spot on Bay Street, where it intersects with Lisgar, that I found particularly of note.

There, on an otherwise nondescript building, the faint remnants of the words “Scharf Grocer” (or perhaps “Grocery”, it looks as though there may be another letter that faded entirely) were painted on the side of the building. A ghost sign, in other words—those faded reminders that there was once something else here, and that no matter how familiar we are with the urban landscapes we pass through every day, there’s always a past and a history which generally remains hidden to us.

I love ghost signs for precisely this reason. They always stop and make me wonder about them. This one, for instance, makes me wonder if this used to be a hub for the northwest side of Centretown. Perhaps fifty or sixty years ago, this was a thriving corner where locals stopped to buy fruit and vegetables on their way home from work. Or perhaps not. It’s next to impossible to find information about these relics of the past, so all we can ever do is speculate.

Ottawa doesn’t have many of these ghost signs, at least not compared to some cities, but there are a number of them scattered across the city’s older neighborhoods. Next time you see one, stop for a moment, and let yourself be reminded of how much our cities are in a constant state of change. These signs, in the grand scheme of things, are not that old, yet from an urban perspective they are fossils, barely discernable and incomplete messages from the past. And they can’t help but make you wonder what, in sixty years time, the urban fossils of today’s Ottawa will look like.


A return..

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted in this blog. I’m not sure what caused me to stop, but I’m back for now, and hopefully will be posting regularly again.

Of course, the reason I’m back is doubtlessly obvious to everyone reading this: the 2008 Canadian Federal Election. So without further ado, here’s what Canada looks like now:

Conservatives and NDP gain, Bloc Quebecois hold steady, Liberals lose. But for the most part, a rather similar government to the last one, only the Bloc no longer hold the balance of power.

Next, here’s Ottawa, looking, well, the same:

In Gatineau, incidentally, the Bloc won while the Liberals won in Hull-Alymer. Overall, the results for Ottawa pretty much mirror the rest of Ontario. Urban centres are tiny islands of red and orange in a sea of blue suburban and rural ridings.

The real question, of course, is how will this election affect Canadian cities, Ottawa amongst them? Not very well, I fear. Toronto and Ottawa are both still trying to recover from the downloading of provincial fees (such as having to pay for public transit entirely out of municipal budgets) which happened under the Mike Harris Conservative Ontario government, and Stephen Harper hasn’t show that he’s any friendlier towards cities. I will, of course, continue to hold out hope—perhaps the NDP and Liberal’s large share of urban representatives will be able to give cities a voice—but I’m continually astounded by how little we seem to care for our cities in this country. Over 80% of us live in urban areas, yet cities and municipal governments aren’t truly players on the national stage, and unfortunately I don’t see that changing any time soon in Stephen Harper’s Canada.

What is this?

This is a blog dedicated to exploring and discussing Ottawa, Canada.



Email: dmccl033(at)uottawa(dot)ca

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