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