Archive for the 'history' Category

10
Sep
09

Ottawa, a green destination

The Mother Nature Network—which I had not previously heard of—has named Ottawa as their green travel Destination of the Week. It’s an interesting read, discussing as it does all the reasons why they feel that Ottawa is an interesting, environmentally concious city. A few choice excerpts:

The green is easy to see in Canada’s capital. Aerial photos of summertime Ottawa reveal a tree-covered landscape that would seem suburban if it weren’t for the unmistakably urban architecture poking through the foliage. Not even the legendarily frigid Canadian winters are void of natural charms. Waterways used for boating in warmer weather are converted into skating rinks, and outdoor festivities continue year-round, regardless of the ambient temperature. There are more than 60 annual festivals in the Ottawa metro area each year.

Sure, the subtle quaintness of Ottawa might disappoint those who’ve already been seduced by Toronto’s diversity or Montreal’s Euro-American vibe, but the capital city offers one of the most pleasant and user-friendly travel experiences in northern North America.
Ottawa doesn’t often boast about its green features. The city’s breathable air and alternatives for carless commuters speak for themselves, Its green urban landscapes and multitude of outdoor activities complement the natural charms of Canada’s capital city.
I’m always fascinated to read an outsider’s perspective on our city, mostly because we have a bad habit of getting caught up around infighting and petty bickering over urban issues that it can be tough to see the big picture. We’re not without our problems, but it’s worth remembering that your average tourist comes away with a pretty positive image of our city. Granted, a tourist isn’t here long enough to see or understand the problems we do have, but perhaps that says something in of itself.
Sure we spend a lot of time complaining about OC Transpo and debating over our future LRT line, but at the same time, we still manage to have one of the most extensive and best-used transit systems in North America. We worry about bike infrastructure and bike safety, but what we have, again, is much more developed than many cities in the world. And we’re concerned over sprawl, and how to effectively contain our growing population, but without destroying the greenery and charm of many of our urban neighborhoods with excessive density, but again, we’re doing much better at it than places like the American Southwest.
This is not to say that Ottawa is a perfect place, but it is a very good one. And sometimes, we need an outsiders perspective to see just how well-off we really are.
(Thanks to Transit Ottawa for passing along the link)
20
Nov
08

Diving into the past

Originally, I was planning on writing about the Rideau Centre for this post; where it came from, what it replaced and how it impacts the urban landscape today. However, whenever I set out to do something I almost inevitably get sidetracked by something, and while researching this post I ended up coming across a series of aerial photos showcasing the evolution of a particular area of Ottawa. And, if you know anything about me, you know that I was almost instantly fascinated, and I decided I had to craft a post around it.

It all started with this image, taken in 1920:

aerial1920

Photo courtesy Natural Resources Canada, Earth Sciences Sector

Confused and unsure of what it is you’re looking at? Don’t worry, I won’t hold it against you—I know not everyone is as well-versed in analyzing these sorts of things as I am! Here’s a reference version:

aerial1920referenced

Green: City Hall, Teal: Rideau Centre, Red: Conference Centre, Purple: WellingtonRideau St., Yellow: Elgin St., Blue: Laurier Avenue

Make more sense now? The dark section running up the middle, is the Rideau Canal. I find this image really interesting, because it really shows off Ottawa’s roots as an industrial lumber town. In 1920, Ottawa had been Canada’s capital for less than 60 years and it shows. Where the Rideau Centre is today, a large rail yard sprawls just a few hundred metres away from Parliament Hill. Next to it, a quay juts out from the canal, likely a staging ground for passengers and freight to change between the rails and the water.

On the subject of passengers, Union Station dominates a stretch of land next to the canal, a stark contrast to the carefully manicured pathways that exist there now. To the south, a large military staging ground occupies the land where City Hall sits today. If it weren’t for a scattering of prominent landmarks, it’d be impossible to tell this picture is of Ottawa. A lot has changed in the 88 years since it was taken… follow the jump to see some of them.

Continue reading ‘Diving into the past’

22
Oct
08

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.




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