Archive for May, 2009

31
May
09

The Many Faces of the ByWard Market

About a month ago, I noticed that the fire hydrant just down the street from my apartment was looking considerably happier than it had in the past.

 

Looking a little more gap-toothed, too.

Looking a little more gap-toothed, too.

Since then, I’ve noticed at least a dozen similar faces all over the Market, on mailboxes, streetlights, transformers and more. While the faces themselves are varied in expression, they always follow the same basic design; simple colours, generally bright, often subtle or hidden if you’re not looking at the right side of something, and always adding a splash of character to the streetscape.

 

Looking embarassed on Clarence

Looking embarassed on Clarence

One interesting thing about this random street art is that it always shows up on public property. I’ve yet to notice anything like this on, say, newspaper boxes or on private businesses. And perhaps even more remarkably, I’ve seen little evidence of effort to remove these faces, which is fantastic because they really make parts of the sidewalk interesting, adding some life to objects that are normally fairly boring and—pardon the pun—pedestrian. It’s also a joy to come across ones you haven’t seen before. Each one is unique, and though I’m no art critic, it appears that a fair amount of effort has gone into making them look interesting.

 

This streetlamp on Dalhousie looks as though it's come unhinged

This streetlamp on Dalhousie looks as though it's come unhinged

This kind of thing is why I’ve always been against any kind of blanket laws regarding graffiti. I can understand why it’s something that many people attack—after all, tags from gangs and messages on underpasses informing us that Frankie was there aren’t exactly a desirable part of the urban landscape. But at the same time, there are street artists out there who genuinely make the city a more interesting place to live, but unfortunately they often get lumped into the general category of “graffiti”, and their work is removed from the street. I don’t know who is responsible for these faces scattered around the Market, but whoever is has my thanks for making streetlights and trash cans something I occasionally find myself stopping and smiling at rather than simply ignoring. And that’s something I will always fight for having as an important part of any urban area.

 

Being a mailbox can get you down sometimes.

Being a mailbox can get you down sometimes.

For the rest of the faces that I’ve found (11 so far) head on over to my Flickr page.

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20
May
09

That Which Survives: LeBreton Flats

It’s odd to think that a place can be completely obliberated nearly overnight. But in the case of LeBreton Flats, it’s happened twice—first in 1900 when The Great Fire of 1900 hit Ottawa, which leveled a vast swath of Ottawa from Carling Avenue to the other side of the river into Quebec. While disasterous, the Flats were eventually rebuilt, becoming an important industrial area in the first half of the 20th century for Ottawa, as well as a vibrant working class neighborhood. But in 1962, another disaster hit, one from which it would prove nearly impossible to rebuild from: the National Capital Comission. The NCC had been working for years to purchase all the land in the area, and began evicting residents in 1962. By 1965, the neighborhood was demolished in the name of urban renewal.

Two children in the half-abandoned LeBreton Flats in 1963. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Two children in the half-abandoned LeBreton Flats in 1963. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

If you’re interested in reading more about what went on, there is a good—though admittedly very biased—account online here.

The fact of the matter is, the neighborhood was nearly obliterated, and few traces of it remain in the windswept plain that took its place. However, it didn’t entirely disappear, as I discovered thanks to an article in the Ottawa Citizen (which, unfortunately, I can’t find again or I would link to it). So a few days ago, I set out to explore the tiny remnents of one of Ottawa’s lost communities.

What’s left of LeBreton is focused primarily on a tiny street called lower Lorne Avenue, which is a City of Ottawa historic district. Along with a few homes on connecting Primrose Avenue, it’s the most complete remains of the old LeBreton, aside from a few modern townhouses which were built before before the area’s heritage value was recognized.

Looking up lower Lorne Avenue from Primrose Avenue.

Looking up lower Lorne Avenue from Primrose Avenue.

Today, Lorne is a pleasantly middle-class street, no doubt bolstered by the heritage designation. Still, when you walk along the sidewalk, it’s easy to get a feel for what the old neighborhood must have been like. The houses are solidly built, if unremarkable, and are evocative of the similarly working-class heritage rowhouses found throughout neighborhoods like Lowertown.

Typical residences on Lorne Avenue.

Typical residences on Lorne Avenue.

A couple of Lorne’s neighboring streets also survived the demolition, though they are far less intact. Perkins Street, one block over, is rather unique and almost seems like more of a laneway, as many of the houses on Lorne (as well as those along neighboring Empress Avenue) have direct backyard access to parking areas on Perkins. There are also a few remaining older residences along Perkins.

The laneway-esque Perkins Street.

The laneway-esque Perkins Street.

Finally, there’s Empress Avenue. Though one side consists of a (relatively) modern health centre and its parking lot, the western side contains a few more rements of the old LeBreton Flats.

The west side of Empress Avenue.

The west side of Empress Avenue.

Finally, at the very end of Empress, I noticed an impressive bit of infill. Unlike the 1970s-style townhouses which had popped up on Lorne and Primrose, some townhouses had been built which seemed very respectful of the street’s history and character and blended into the streetscape quite well. It’s exactly the sort of development I’d like to see more of in Ottawa’s older neighborhoods.

Newer townhouses on Empress, which appear more sensitive to the neighborhood than some developments.

Newer townhouses on Empress, which appear more sensitive to the neighborhood than some developments.

I hope you’ve enjoyed a quick look at what’s left of the old LeBreton Flats, and I hope it gives you some idea of what must have once filled the area.  It’s borderline tragic that Ottawa lost such a large historic district, but unfortunately what’s done is done. All we can do is try to hold on to what we have left.

Peeking down at lower Lorne Avenue from atop Nanny Goat Hill.

Peeking down at lower Lorne Avenue from atop Nanny Goat Hill.

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Incidentally, if anyone else has any more nominations for Ottawa’s best park, please let me know over on the original post, here.

01
May
09

Ottawa’s Best Park?

Stephen Brathwaites hauntingly beautiful play structure in Strathcona Park.

Stephen Brathwaite's hauntingly beautiful play structure in Strathcona Park.

It’s May 1st today, often regarded as being the unofficial start of summer and warm weather, especially for postsecondary students such as myself, for whom today marks the beginning of the period between the winter and fall semesters.

With that in mind, I thought today would be a great time to launch the search for Ottawa’s best park (or parks). I’m going to leave this post open to nominations for a few weeks, and then I’ll go around to as many of them as I can, take pictures and write about them—if I get a lot of nominees, some will have to be dropped, because I only have so much time!

So please, tell me: what are your favourite parks in Ottawa? It can be a well-known one, like Strathcona, Dundonald or Major’s Hill, or it can be something a little more obscure, like Cathcart Square Park, a beautiful little bit of green space tucked on the northern end of Cumberland Street. Suburban or urban, I want to hear about them all.

I’m going to leave nominations open until May 22nd, so please, comment and let me know what you think.

01
May
09

One more link

I have a guest post up over at Apartment 613 on the new transit tunnel. Incidentally, if you’ve never been checked out Apartment 613 before, I’d recommend it. It’s kind of similar to this blog, only approaching Ottawa from an arts and culture perspective rather than my own urbanist perspective.




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