Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Preserving Ottawa's Metropolitan Nature: How the 1970 Gatineau Park Planning Controversy Transformed the National Capital Commission and Its Conservation Park

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Preserving Ottawa's Metropolitan Nature: How the 1970 Gatineau Park Planning Controversy Transformed the National Capital Commission and Its Conservation Park

Article excerpt

Since 1959, the National Capital Commission (NCC) has been the federal agency responsible for ensuring that Ottawa represents Canada and Canadian values. The NCC wants to make Canada's capital a 'green capital' in order to reflect "the environmental values traditionally held by Canadians" (NCC 1986: 8; see also NCC 1997: 7; 2007: 47). One of the key components of the green capital is the 361[km.sup.2] Gatineau Park, which is administered by the NCC (2005) as the 'Capital's Conservation Park'.

This paper shows that the NCC has not always viewed Gatineau Park in conservation terms. Rather, in the 1960s, planners saw the park as the capital's primary recreation area. A conservation group organized to contest this policy reversal and demand public consultations. In addition to describing the 1970 planning controversy and its historical antecedents, this paper traces the relations between conservationists and the NCC until the first Gatineau Park master plan (NCC 1980). It is argued that the NCC placated conservationists, who were disappointed by the plan's contents and the overall planning process. Nonethelesss, the NCC abandoned blueprint planning for a more participatory approach. While this achievement is significant, conservationists have still to secure legislation for the park so as to protect this 'wilderness' from urbanization pressures.

Introduction

Prior to the 1970 Gatineau Park planning controversy, the National Capital Commission administered the park according to a policy of conservation. Readers of a Gatineau Park (NCC 1965) pamphlet were thus informed that: "Consistent with the idea of conserving the wilderness character of this old Algonquin and Iroquois domain, the N.C.C. has laid down clear rules for maintenance of the park, so that generations to come can see a magnificent unchanged, unspoiled section of Canada, still freely roamed by bear, deer and other animals essential to early Canadian settlers and still a delight to the nature lover." Gatineau Park was intended to provide visitors with an opportunity to experience a 'typical' Canadian wilderness. The park's forests and lakes offered 'metropolitan nature', an alternative space to the city which is shaped by urban ideas of wilderness (Macnaghten and Urry 1998: 115; Green 1990). Whereas the rural concept equates wilderness with unproductive lands, the urban concept, derived from romanticism and the back to nature movement of the nineteenth century, valorizes the absence of humanization in a 'pristine wilderness' (Oelschlaeger 1991: 110; Cronon 1995).

Since the turn of the century, the Gatineau Hills have been cherished by hikers, skiers, and cottagers, but they were also exploited for resource extraction (timber and mining). In 1913, Canadian geologist John Macoun wrote a letter in the Ottawa Citizen calling for the creation of a 100,000-acre national park in the Gatineau Hills adjacent to Canada's capital. The Commissioner of the Dominion Parks Branch, J.B. Harkin, acted on Macoun's proposal, indicating that Gatineau Park would be the first national park east of the Rockies, and the first in a series of near-urban national parks. However, this and subsequent national park proposals for the Gatineau Hills failed to interest the Government of Quebec, which guarded the province's territorial sovereignty from the federal government (Lothian 1987: 132).

The threat of clear-cutting brought on by the Great Depression led to the formation of an Ottawa-based citizen's group, the Federal Woodlands Preservation League; from 1934 to 1938, the League lobbied the federal government to set aside the Gatineau Hills as a protected area, but not as a national park (Apostle 1997; Gagnon et al. 2003). The predecessor to the NCC, the Federal District Commission, began purchasing lands in 1938, and established Gatineau Park's first public facilities at Lac Philippe in 1942. The NCC inherited 57,000 acres and a half-completed 'scenic parkway'. …

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