By Eric Davison
The National Capital Commission has taken another step in their long-promised redevelopment of the Ottawa riverfront with the announcement of three new parks. The new spaces, built in collaboration with Dream Developments’ Zibi community, join several in-progress projects that promise to connect residents to the Ottawa River.
Pangishimo and Mòkaham parks—meaning sunset and sunrise in Anishinàbemiwin—will sit on opposite tips of Chaudière Island, bookending the mixed-use neighbourhood being built on the site. The pair will be joined by Tesasini Park—meaning flat rock—which will sit on the southern edge of Hull, on a section of riverbank green space damaged by mass flooding in 2017. The area was previously used as a pulp mill by the Domtar Paper Company and is undergoing remediation for industrial chemical contamination.
Featuring sweeping views of the Ottawa River and the NCC’s manicured landscaping, the projects are part of a far larger redevelopment of riverside parkland. Sitting just north of the future Pangishimo Park, a viewing platform overlooking the Chaudière Falls was finished in 2017, providing public access to the site for the first time in a century. A series of bike lanes across the island are also set to open early this summer, connecting it to cycling paths in both Ottawa and Gatineau.
Improving residents’ access to the river has been a stated goal of the NCC and its predecessor organizations since the 1950 Gréber Plan laid out a vision for Canada’s capital. Ottawa’s history as a logging town meant that the river was spared much of the industrial port development seen in Montreal or Quebec City. While this means that Ottawa will likely never have a bustling waterfront entertainment district, it gave the city a unique opportunity to create a natural space cutting through the entire region.
Both banks of the Ottawa River are also the subject of two 50-year NCC strategies. The plan would see both sides of the river dotted with lookouts, docks, water features, gardens, and an improved path network. Some of this work is already nearing completion, including a terraced green space next to Portage Bridge and a renovation of Sir John A. Macdonald Park.
This plan is a continuation of decades of debate between those who see the Ottawa River as a place of serenity for local residents, and those who see it as an under-utilized asset in the middle of the nation’s capital. Proposals over the years have raised questions about the extent, intensity, and type of development that should be encouraged on the waterfront. Chaudière Island found itself at the centre of the debate in 2015, when plans to redevelop the abandoned Domtar industrial lands were met with resistance from groups who wanted to see the island entirely re-naturalized.
Just south of Chaudière Island, Victoria Island is in the middle of a seven-year remediation project. A 2015 assessment found that the island’s soil was toxic from over a century of industrial use, prompting its sudden closure so the NCC could clean up the soil and reinforce the island’s deteriorating coastline. Following the remediation project, the NCC hopes to work with Ottawa’s Indigenous communities to transform the site into an Algonquin cultural centre.
Throughout its history, the Ottawa River has been a source of sustenance, a gateway to a new world, a place of spiritual significance, a vital trade route, a symbol of national unity, and an ever-present cornerstone of life in the city. With the river meaning so many things to so many people, redevelopment must be a careful balancing act of history, practicality, and sustainability.