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All photos by Heather Rourke

Bringing Back Beechwood: a Jane’s Walk through a historic Ottawa neighbourhood

By Heather Rourke on May 7, 2013

Jane’s Walk Ottawa, an annual festival of free walking tours held in honour of urban theorist Jane Jacobs, took place last weekend. We got our contributors out on a few of the walks and will be posting their photos and stories here on the site just in case you didn’t get the chance to participate.

Beechwood Avenue is the heart and soul of Ottawa’s New Edinburgh neighbourhood, a unique street that links upscale communities like Rockcliffe with grittier working class Vanier. Like many once vibrant mainstreets, Beechwood is struggling to define itself as a modern community hub—especially after a 2011 fire destroyed a block of apartments and businesses on the street. But there is a lot of hope in this community, clearly on display in the crowd of about 75 people who took part in the Bring Back Beechwood Jane’s Walk on Sunday.

The walk celebrated “people power” as the group strolled the bike path along the Ottawa River— beautiful parkland that was once slated to be an extension of the Vanier Parkway before community activists stepped in. The long history of Beechwood Avenue, from early streetcars and industrial manufacturing, through Rocky Horror nights at the Towne Cinema in the 70s, to the new condo developments sprouting up along the street, came to life thanks to local residents who served as walk guides.

The tone was set by Tobi Nussbaum, Chair of the Beechwood Village Alliance, who read and illustrated the principles of urban theorist Jane Jacobs at stops along the walk. The group talked about incentives to invest in the community in a vacant lot long undeveloped thanks to bizarre tax advantages, ironically adjacent to El Meson, a recent investment of young local restauranteur André Cloutier, owner of the popular Arturo’s Market.

Beechwood is about to undergo a lot of redevelopment, with new condos serving as anchors at either end of the avenue, and a large parcel of land at St. Charles Church coming up next. Preserving the heritage of the area, a place where French, English and new Canadian communities are integrated and live side by side, is a big part of the discussion. Taking the successes of other up and coming neighborhoods like Hintonburg, without repeating mistakes, is also on the minds of many people. Judging from the turnout on Sunday, there is plenty of interest in doing what it takes to Bring Back Beechwood.