On Saturday I had a chance to chat with Aileen Duncan in a community garden at the corner of Somerset and Preston, where she’d staged an “intervention” for 100in1Day to engage passersby on the issue of the future of the Prince of Wales Bridge. Duncan has been campaigning to make the landmark bridge – now closed – a useable space for all to enjoy. But public access to the bridge over the next decade is uncertain. Here’s our conversation.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Apt613: So what’s going on over here?
Aileen Duncan: We’re part of Synapcity’s 100in1day, tabling, doing crafts, and talking to people. We’ve installed a scaled-down model of Prince of Wales bridge that people can walk on and we have some photos, little mementos…
We’re asking people to write down a memory of the Bridge, or a hope for its future. We’ll string all the photos and memories together and hang them up. Kids can come over to the craft table and we’ll show them how to build a bridge with popsicle sticks. Something for everyone, to help bring this campaign forward.
The Ottawa Rail Bridge campaign is advocating for a safe and accessible pathway over the Prince of Wales Bridge – what’s it going to take to make that happen?
One of the biggest things is political will. Right now, the City of Ottawa doesn’t think that [pedestrian or cycling use of the bridge] is something that people care about, so they don’t consider it worth investing in. This is especially because they’re considering use of that corridor for LRT in the long term.
We support that, we agree that inter-provincial transit planning is a good thing, but that’s not to say that we can just let an asset like the Prince of Wales Bridge decay into the river over the next 10 to 15 years. It would be much better, in the meantime, to put the bridge into use. That is what we’re advocating for.
We’re also looking into the possibility of changing existing regulations. It’s an active railway bridge, and there are many partners involved – Transport Canada, the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau – which is why there has been little change to date, but I think it can get done.
You’ve been advocating for the bridge for quite a while – where does the passion and energy to keep the campaign going come from?
I’m a cyclist. I find biking along the Ottawa River incredibly energizing and centring. It was during one of those bike rides that I first came across the Bridge. It’s such a beautiful structure and it makes me sad to think about it not being used effectively.
That’s where I’m coming from, and I guess what keeps the energy and that momentum going is the reactions I get from talking to people about it. They’re like “Oh yeah, that bridge! I love that bridge! Why aren’t we using it better?” People express a lot of agreement that the bridge should be used better in the short term, so that keeps me going – that other people care, too.
You’ve mentioned that your organization, Ottawa Rail Bridge (ORB) isn’t just about the bridge itself – what else is going on in the area?
There are interesting plans proposed for the area. The National Capital Commission would like to create a riverfront parkway all long the river that would end near Lemieux Island, and they’re also leading the LeBreton Flats redevelopment. The City of Ottawa has made investments with the nearby Bayview Yards Innovation Centre…
In both those groups’ planning documents, they talk about wanting to increase connection to the river, or allowing people the space to connect recreationally with the river. There’s a lot of potential to use Lemieux as an authorized space. It’s currently used as a dog park. People love it, it’s already a space people love to use, so the use of the space could be expanded on. If you build on it, people will continue to come!
Let’s imagine you’ve got crystal ball in front of you, and you’re looking into it, and you’re seeing the future of the Prince of Wales bridge – what does it look like?
What I hope to see is a short-term use of the space, and community coming together to make it happen. Whether it’s through political pressure, or multiple organizations and community groups helping to finance this thing, I see a beautiful symbol for Ottawa and something that becomes, even if just over the next 10 or 15 years, a productive use of space that is built from the desire of the community.
Some politicians are not hopeful that this will happen – there are a lot of regulations and stakeholders standing in the way. But I think that this can be overcome if they hear the right voices saying, “Hey – this is what we really want, and this is something that we will really use.” So in the future, we have a bridge connecting two provinces, connecting two communities, built by the community, because the community wanted it.