By John Dance
The Glebe’s neighbours just got a lot closer as a result of the recent opening of the Flora Footbridge over the Rideau Canal at Fifth Avenue and Clegg Street in Old Ottawa East.
The Flora Footbridge opened in late June four months earlier than scheduled, cost $2 million less than budgeted, generated greater use than forecast and as a bonus provided a glorious new public space overlooking the Rideau Canal.
With a degree of fanfare, politicians and young students from local schools cut the ribbon on June 26 for the new bridge and two days later the bridge was quietly opened to the public. Then, on July 20, the Glebe Community Association and its two sister community associations, which had long lobbied for a bridge, held their own celebration of Flora with about 150 people in attendance.
Many parties deserve credit for getting the bridge approved and built. However, the efforts of community members were fundamental to its conception and progress. The Midtown Footbridge Group formed in 2008 with members from the Glebe, Old Ottawa East and Old Ottawa South and it worked tirelessly to bring politicians and other parties on side. In particular, Glebe residents Allison Dingle and Carol MacLeod played key roles over the last decade by convincing people of the bridge’s merits and ensuring that the bridge would work well.
In the end, nine community associations, five school councils, local businesses and various other parties ranging from the Glebe Little League to the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre endorsed the idea of a new bridge across the canal between the Bank and Pretoria bridges.
The City bought into the concept and included it in the cycling, pedestrian and transportation master plans. Then money was approved for an environmental assessment that was begun in 2011. Three public open houses followed and in 2012 a bridge with an estimated cost of $17.5 million was recommended. But without a source of funding the project was shelved.
Catherine McKenna pledged in the federal election campaign of 2015 to make the bridge a priority. She followed through when elected by securing $10.5 million from the new federal infrastructure program. Yasir Naqvi, Ottawa Centre’s former MPP, was one of the first politicians to endorse the bridge and he secured $6.9 million from the Ontario Commuter Cycling Program that was funded through the now-defunct “cap and trade” program revenues.
Other politicians also worked hard for the bridge. Former Ottawa Centre MP Paul Dewar was a long-time advocate. Councillor Clive Doucet strongly supported the link in the recommendations of his 2001 “Connecting Communities” report. And through his eight years as councillor David Chernushenko made the bridge a priority. Shawn Menard spoke strongly for the bridge as president of the Centretown Citizens Community Association in 2009.
The city’s share of the bridge’s cost was about $3.6 million. Because the bridge expenditures were less than the $21 million that was budgeted, both the federal and provincial governments will receive refunds, reports Luc Marineau, the city’s acting manager of design and construction.
Preliminary unofficial estimates suggest that the new footbridge has had about 3,500 trips per day. This is substantially more than the 2,100 trips per day forecast in the environmental assessment.
Despite the initial euphoria, there remains the sore point of the massive structure on the Old Ottawa East side that has destroyed the canal views of a number of residents along Echo Drive. The Old Ottawa East Community Association strongly objected to the opaque design of the east-side ramp, abutment and stairs but the city refused to use columns to support the structures, even though a key design principle was that the bridge was to be “slender, light and transparent.”
Also, some residents have complained about the brightness of the bridge’s lighting, contrasting it to the Bank Street bridge’s lighting. And pedestrian and cyclist safety issues have been raised, including the sharp turn at the switchback on the Ottawa East side, the bollard in the middle of the Glebe ramp, and the merging of pedestrians and cyclists at the end of the ramps.
These operational issues aside, thousands of pedestrians and cyclists are having their daily routines positively changed by virtue of the new footbridge. For many it’s a wonderful new route to work, school, shopping or socializing.
John Dance is a resident of Old Ottawa East who will now be coming to the Glebe more often.
Rideau Canal brings ever-fresh joy
By Clive Doucet
The Rideau Canal was chosen in 2007 by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal in North America and is operated with the original hand cranked locking system installed in 1832. It receives visitors from all over the world and deserves to be a World Heritage site, but I would choose it for another reason. It is the most beautiful, urban waterway on the planet.
People in Ottawa tend to forget just how extraordinarily beautiful every section of the canal is, from Kingston all the way to Ottawa. Every locking station is a green, tranquil jewel awaiting the arrival of each season’s boaters. I have canoed it many times and each time it was special and quite wonderful, but the part I know and love best is from Dow’s Lake to Pretoria Bridge, the part that flows through Old Ottawa South and the Glebe. I’ve rowed this section for 40 years and it has never failed to charm me. Unlike myself, it grows more handsome, more attractive with each passing year.
I row first thing in the morning about 6 a.m. and am usually off the water by 7 a.m. before the world has woken up. At that time of day, there is rarely anyone on the water. The paddlers are all at the Rideau Canoe Club on Mooney’s Bay, just above the Hog’s Back Falls and the rowers are down at the Ottawa Rowing Club, just below the MacDonald-Cartier Bridge on the Ottawa River. I have the extraordinary luxury of having a World Heritage site to myself from Dow’s Lake to the National Arts Centre and Parliament Hill.
The most beautiful part is from Dow’s Lake to Pretoria Bridge. In this section, you row entirely surrounded by a green arch of trees so dense that you cannot even see the pedestrian path on the east side of the canal. Bird song is your principal accompaniment. An enormous fat carp jumps in the water; this monster is so large if I hit him with my thin scull, I’d probably flip the boat. A blue heron eyes me suspiciously and then lifts off the water with the heavy grace of a creature from the age of dinosaurs.
The pedestrian path on the west side is right up against the canal wall and even at 6 a.m., there are a few walkers and joggers, but they go about the beginning of their day very quietly. Not much later, the west pathway especially will be busy until dusk with all manner of citizens, cyclists, parents with infants in strollers, reservists from HMCS Carleton going for fitness hikes and tourists from all over the world. The joy that the old canal brings the city and the thousands that use it each week is impossible to calculate but gold would not compare.
As I row along the canal, I also see it as someone who was once a city councillor and what impresses me is how much it takes to keep the old waterway beautiful. Old trees must be pruned and some taken down, new trees, flowers and gardens must always be planted. When Colonel By first built it, the canal was not much more than an industrial gash in the landscape. It is beautiful today because the public through their government has invested in it – skating in winter, flowers in spring and summer, trees and water that remain healthy for fish, birds and wildlife that need it for their own lives.
The new pedestrian bridges at Somerset and now at Fifth and Clegg are wonderful additions to the human habitat and connect our central city communities in new, sustainable ways. My latest joy on the canal was my first row under the Flora Footbridge. The bridge is named after Flora MacDonald, Canada’s first female Minister of External Affairs and a life-long resident of the Glebe who loved to long-blade skate on the canal in the winter and walk along its edges in summer. I am sure the new bridge would have brought a catch in her throat and pleasure to her eyes if she had had the chance to see it.
When I first proposed the bridge at Council, I imagined something less imposing, something more like the Pretoria Bridge built from the inside of canal walls, not arching over them, but the design gods after I left chose otherwise. Nonetheless, the bridge’s size doesn’t seem to bother ducks and geese who sail in the shade underneath it so I’ll follow their calm and just be content that it is there.
Clive Doucet is a former Capital Ward city councillor and the author of many books. Among them is Canal Seasons, a book of poems that celebrates seasons along the canal. His latest book is Grandfather’s House published by Nimbus of Halifax.