Glebe Community Association in 1978 – 1979: making the Glebe better

by John McLeod

John McLeod in 1979, age 35, preparing for a GCA meeting. Photo: Ellen McLeod
John McLeod in 1979, age 35, preparing for a GCA meeting. Photo: Ellen McLeod

(Note: This is the third in a series of articles by past-presidents of the Glebe Community Association to mark the 50th anniversary of its 1967 founding.)

Federal politics were hyperactive in 1978 – 1979 with Pierre Trudeau nearing the end of his first period as prime minister (1968 – 1979), loved by some, disliked by others, and soon to be replaced by Joe Clark. Ed Broadbent was NDP leader. We pretty well knew the political preferences of the executive members at the GCA level but that didn’t prevent us from working together; in fact, it seemed to help, as there was a lot of teasing.

A by-election for Ottawa Centre was called for October 16, 1978 featuring Bryce Mackasey, Liberal, Bob de Cotret, PC, and Steven Langdon, NDP. The GCA held an all-candidates meeting at Glebe Collegiate and it was raucous to say the least. The questions were pointed and different partisans booed most of the answers. Bryce Mackasey was accused of being a parachute candidate and he took pleasure in anglicizing de Cotret’s name; de Cotret was the eventual winner, for a short time. The GCA also held an all-candidates meeting at Mutchmor School for the municipal elections of November 1978 but it was more civil.

The GCA put a lot of effort into memberships during the rest of the year. An unsupportive alderman had accused the GCA executive of being a left-wing clique representing only themselves and a small number of members. The GCA took up the challenge and established area representatives and block reps who went door to door increasing the membership every year. In my time, it was Joy Heft who boosted it to 1,790 adult members in 1979.

One of the main issues then was the proposed Fifth Avenue Court development. This was more awkward because the community was divided and angry. The GCA executive felt that we were lucky that the building would only be two storeys, as it was zoned for more. The design would refurbish a rundown part of the business district. However, many in the community were strongly opposed, mainly on the basis of the increased traffic at and around the Bank and Fifth intersection, parking and truck deliveries. The GCA had to be content with helping bring the developer and the community together. In the end, some compromises were made and the building went ahead.

The longest standing issue in the Glebe was the relocation of the Ex. It was discussed at every meeting and I remember reporting at least one agreement in principle for the Ex to lease property from the NCC southeast of Bank and Hunt Club, the site of the International Plowing Match. The problem was that the Ex couldn’t afford to move and not enough organizations wanted to help. Many years later it died a natural death, to the credit of Randal Marlin, Don Ray and others.

A spin-off from the Ex was the issue of front yard parking. Some residents near Lansdowne Park felt the inconveniences of the Ex and football justified their charging for parking spots on their front lawns. Some of their neighbours objected on the basis of aesthetics. Like the Ex, this too died a natural death, as the Ex dwindled and attitudes softened.

Michele MacKinnon, a former president of the GCA, became our alderman (city councillor) in November 1978, succeeding Alderman Joe Cassey who moved to Wellington Ward. She was upset that, in spite of all her community work, some residents suddenly regarded her as the enemy and subjected her to angry phone calls at all hours.

Other valuable outside activists included Sue Pike and then Alfred Holden, editors of the Glebe Report; Rick Sheffer, president of GNAG with whom we organized a pub night and a casino night; Roger Short, Howard Smith, Pat Kealey, Doug McKeen and Bruce Rosove and others who led the Glebe Neighbourhood Study, which was all-consuming that year; Joyce McCaffrey and Sylvia Holden who pulled a lot of strings to get things done; Hazel Mackenzie of the Recycling Depot for recycling glass and tin in oil drums behind the then IGA, now Metro; Sandra Hawkins of the Glebe Non-Profit Housing Co-operative; and John Smart and Dave Hagerman, community and day care leaders.

The car wash at Bank and Glebe posed another challenge. It operated long hours, seven days a week, 363 days a year. Cars would block traffic when lining up and drying, would dump their litter and cigarette butts on the grass, and speed down Glebe Avenue, apparently to fully dry their cars, to the potential detriment of both children and trees. The car wash had a pre-existing (before 1964) non-conforming right to operate commercially and it wasn’t clear if licensing or traffic enforcement would solve the problem. In the end, licensing and good will served to reduce the number of days and the closing time from 10 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Looking back, has the GCA been fighting a losing battle, bearing in mind such things as snarled traffic and a spate of unnecessary demolitions? I think not. The Glebe is a better neighbourhood than it was in the ’70s, partly thanks to the GCA. We have fought brush fires and all the committees have been proactive. Credit is also due to our sister institutions such as GNAG, the Glebe Report, the Glebe Community Centre, St. James Tennis Club, the churches, schools and parks, the Glebe businesses and our councillors over the years.

John McLeod was the GCA president for 1978-1979 and is currently a member of the GCA Heritage Committee.

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