Clive Doucet is a distinguished Canadian writer and city politician. He was elected for four consecutive terms to city council in Ottawa from 1997 to 2010 when he retired to run for Mayor.
As a city politician he was awarded the Gallon Prize as the 2005 Canadian eco-councillor of the year. He was defeated twice by Jim Watson in 2010 and 2018 when he ran for the Mayor’s chair. He presently lives in Grand Etang, Inverness Co., Nova Scotia.
Mr. Doucet has agreed to write a series of nine essays about his Ottawa municipal career which
Unpublished Media will begin publishing in January 2023.
For 150 years, Lansdowne Park was a monument to community liveliness and generosity. It was given to the young capital in 1868 just a year after Confederation by three farmers on the edge of the new city. Their idea was to create a grand exhibition park on the picturesque banks of the Rideau Canal for their annual fall fair. A place to bring country and city together. Over the years, the Park became everything that their original dreams envisaged and more.
The canal entrance was decorated with a magnificent gate; an amazing exhibition barn was built. Today, the only one that compares was built in Chicago and the only bigger fall fair in Ontario was the Royal in Toronto. Every major public event that happened in Ottawa happened first at Lansdowne – the Stanley Cup, horse racing, football, circuses, the famous Sunday afternoon promenade, and the serious business of the city mustering for war.
Its importance as a civic public meeting place was such that during World War II farmers were not allowed to create ‘victory’ gardens at Lansdowne because commercial gardens would tie the Park into private use for too long. The terms of the legacy were clear. The land was not given to the city for any single, private use but continuing, rotating public uses of all kinds. For an old Ottawan like me, Lansdowne had an iconic status. Every high school football player got at least one shot at playing on Lansdowne’s football field on ‘Gyro Night’.
Perhaps those forgotten farmers would not have been surprised at the importance, subsequent city councils accorded their handsome legacy. After all this had been their intention, but I am sure that they would be astonished by what it has become today. Public uses have been slowly, relentlessly squeezed out and their magnificent site. It is now a sad, rag tag collection of big box stores and private condos. Football and hockey are clinging on by their fingernails. The squeeze to turn every inch of the park into profit producing development for the promoters has been unrelenting.
The paradox is the harder the city has pushed to give the developers the deal they wanted in the name of ‘saving’ the city money, the more it has cost. The original OSEG private/public partnership cost the city 300 million. The same promoters are asking for another 300 million to clean up the mess that the first deal created, a banal big box mall which has never had a successful moment and a stadium which is no longer safe. Unbelievably, instead of asking for a forensic accounting of the first deal to find out what went so wrong and returning the park to the people who own it, the people of Ottawa, city council has agreed to refinance the tear downs and new construction.
For Lansdowne One, Councillor Peter Hume and I convinced city council to hold an international competition to come up with a brilliant renovation for the old park. This was approved by the Chiarelli council but caste aside when he lost the 2006 election. Public protests went all the way to Toronto’s appellate court.
I write these words with sadness because every city needs a great, public gathering place. Lansdowne was that from its founding and could easily have become so again. It won’t because for Lansdowne Two city planners are going to make sure the Official Plan is amended such that the privatization of the park that began with Lansdowne One can be completed and be impossible to reverse.
I would suggest a small monument be built at the gates of Lansdowne Two in memory of what it once meant to Ottawa. Perhaps, an artistic model of the council table at City Hall with a generic mayor sitting on his raised dais, surrounded by his loyal councillors and one empty chair - in memory of the many Ottawa delegations who came to City Hall to oppose the loss of their park.
Clive Doucet is an author, served on Ottawa City Councillor for four terms and ran for the Mayor’s chair. His latest book is “Grandfather’s House, Returning to Cape Breton”. He presently lives in Cape Breton.