A History of Commissions: Threads of an Ottawa Planning History

By Hillis, Ken | Urban History Review, October 1992 | Go to article overview

A History of Commissions: Threads of an Ottawa Planning History


Hillis, Ken, Urban History Review


Abstract

Early planning in Ottawa takes the form of a piece-meal architectural admixture. On paper there remains a series of largely unrealized proposals designed to promote an image symbolic of national identity. Successive federal and municipal agencies worked to various degrees of success to augment Ottawa's appearance and amenity. British planner Thomas Adams' departure from, and the subsequent demise of, the Federal Commission of Conservation in the early 1920's marked a low point in efforts to evolve comprehensive planning strategies. The career of Noulan Cauchon, first head of the Ottawa Town Planning Commission, aimed to keep the notion of planning alive in the city. Certain of his little-acknowledged proposals bear remarkable similarity to the pre-W.W. II planning efforts of MacKenzie King and Jacques Greber. Cauchon's legacy endures in proposals which appear to have been incorporated into federal planning activities during the post-war era.

Resume

Les premiers efforts de planification urbaine a Ottawa ont eu comme resultat un melange architectural heteroclite. On retrouve encore des dossiers portant sur des propositions qui n'ont pour la plupart pas ete realisees et qui avaient pour but de promouvoir une image symbolique de l'identite nationale. L'un apres l'autre, divers organismes federaux et municipaux ont tente, avec des resultats variables, d'ameliorer l'aspect et l'attrait d'Ottawa. Le depart du planificateur anglais Thomas Adams de la Federal Commission of Conservation et la mort subsequente de cet organisme ont represente, vers la fin des annees 20, le creux de la vague sur le plan de la recherche de strategies de planification globale. Tout au long de sa carriere, Noulan Cauchon, premier directeur de la Ottawa Town Planning Commission, a cherche a integrer la notion de planification au developpement de la ville. Certaines de ses propositions, qui n'ont pas obtenu tout le credit qu'elles meritaient, offrent beaucoup de similitude avec les travaux de planification entrepris par MacKenzie King et Jacques Greber avant la Deuxieme guerre mondiale. L'heritage de Cauchon nous est parvenu grace a des projets qui ont ete integres aux travaux de planification federaux d'apres-guerre.

**********

Recent years have witnessed a re-evaluation of the career of MacKenzie King. In part, this has involved investigating his role as shaper of the physical image of Ottawa, the national capital. While true that King was responsible for "forcing the issue" of long-standing debate about planning the national capital region, his actions were not taken in a vacuum. This paper traces aspects of the earlier planning history of Ottawa; of other individuals, agencies and ideas that also contributed in significant measure to the eventual built form of the capital.

In 1884, Wilfrid Laurier had commented: "I would not wish to say anything disparaging of the capital, but it is hard to say anything good of it. Ottawa is not a handsome city and does not appear to be destined to become one either." (1) By 1895, speaking to the Ottawa Reform Association, Laurier's stance had shifted:

  ... it shall be my pleasure ... to make the city of Ottawa the centre
  of the intellectual development of this country and the Washington of
  the North. (2)

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

1896 marked the beginning of the economic upswing following the "Great Depression" of 1873-1896. In this year, flush with electoral success, Laurier repeated his Washington of the North remarks at a rally at Cartier Square. His speech received wide coverage, and Ottawa's civic elite believed that physical improvements befitting a capital were at last at hand. To date, for example, few principal thoroughfares had been paved. A committee was struck by City Council to investigate the relationships of other capitals in the British Empire to their respective governments. It presented its findings in the form of a petition to Laurier in 1897. …

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