Glebe Community Association – the turbulent early 70s

Marlin Randal
Randal Marlin was president of the Glebe Community Association in 1971 and ’72 when much of the groundwork was laid for shaping the Glebe neighbourhood. Photo: Elaine Marlin

by Randal Marlin

(Note: This is the second in a series of articles by past-presidents of the Glebe Community Association marking the 50th anniversary of its founding in 1967. This article covers the period from 1971 to early 1973. Randal Marlin and later Michael Cooper were GCA presidents during this time.)

The Leaning Plan

The biggest project during my tenure as president of the Glebe Community Association from November 1971 to October 1972 was to make John Leaning’s ideas become a planning reality for the Glebe. This meant convincing politicians and planning staff, but also the Glebe population itself. Everyone liked John’s principles, but when it came to applying them people had objections to particular parts of the plan, especially if they perceived a disadvantage for their particular street.

Some did not like what were called “rumble strips” or today “speed bumps.” Some thought the ground would shake and damage their homes. When it came to road narrowings I had a call from an elderly driver who claimed that they caused difficulty for her “failing eyesight.”

John Leaning proposed what became known as the Leaning Plan to reroute traffic around the Glebe, using traffic-calming techniques to produce a community-friendly environment. The plan was seminal in shaping the future of the Glebe. Photo: Randel Marlin

Citizen participation was a popular idea at the time. Politicians would direct the city to sound out public opinion, and there would be questionnaires. But the questions contained assumptions that the GCA disputed. When regional planner John Wright faced a public meeting it was clear that his assumptions were unacceptable to Glebe residents. “Am I wasting my time?” asked one irritated person. “I don’t know… perhaps you are,” said the planner with shocking insouciance but admirable candour.

As GCA traffic committee co-director Michael Cooper wrote to Regional Planning Director Keith McLean on June 27, 1972, the basic premise of the Leaning Plan, supported by a petition signed by 3,173 Glebe residents, was that “through traffic must be routed around an older in-city residential area like the Glebe.” Having street closures without such rerouting was understandably unacceptable to those living on through  routes, as they would have additional Glebe Trial Plantraffic. During the summer of 1972 numerous public meetings were held, and the working relationship with McLean improved. Finally a plan, “Scheme A” was produced with input from Glebe merchants and presented at a crowded public meeting on December 12, 1972. It was the most acrimonious meeting I can recall in the many years of my involvement in the GCA. The plan was approved, but by such a narrow majority that the executive decided it had to be re-worked.

Having resigned as president in October to seek election (unsuccessfully) to City Council, I rejoined the executive as traffic committee chairman, Cooper having become president. A new working committee was formed at a meeting on February 26, 1973, attended by Alderman Don Lockhart and Mayor Pierre Benoit. This resulted in a very elaborate plan with well-drawn diagrams showing the rerouting of through traffic by channelization. It was presented at a large meeting on May 1, 1973, chaired by Mayor Benoit. He made it clear that if rejected, the city would end its support. The trial plan passed with nearly two thirds voting in favour. William Black, GCA planning committee chairman, had earlier suggested de-regionalizing and renaming the Glebe part of Carling Avenue, and this also came about in time with support of a vocal group dubbed “the Carling Commandos.”

The National Capital Commission had its own input through Roderick Clack who suggested the exit-only feature of most streets adjoining the Queen Elizabeth Driveway. One could only enter the Glebe directly from the Driveway at Fifth or Pretoria avenues. For the NCC this was a plus because it provided for smoother traffic flow along the Driveway.

The trial period turned out to be a success, and the basics are still in existence. From the start the channelization at Fifth Avenue and O’Connor has been awkward, but we couldn’t think of any better solution. Neither, it seems, have succeeding GCA executives. It is still in place.

In Other News

Much else went on during my presidency. Pat Zolf headed a high-rise committee with great effect. All of the area along the Driveway was zoned for high-rise but Zolf sought to prevent a “solid wall” of high-rises by successfully obtaining unprecedented downzoning of the undeveloped lands.  Developer William Teron managed just in time to win over most people who attended a public meeting called by the GCA about his high-rise proposal for First Avenue and the Driveway.

The GCA approved the sale of St. James United Church to the city and it became the venue for the historic May 1 traffic meeting described above. Elaine Marlin, with help from Georgina Wyman and architectural student Michael Lundholm, headed a GCA committee to work out details of its use as a community centre.  On April 25, 1972, the GCA gave support to the new Glebe Parents Day-Care Cooperative. Marlin worked with Georgina Wyman to find space in the newly available building. This led to a new organization, the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG), which has its own elaborate history. (See the Glebe Report article by Karen Reynolds, September 2004,, for GNAG’s history.)

Lansdowne Park was a major issue. A plan by the architectural and planning firm of Murray and Murray called for acquisition of adjacent land north of Lansdowne all the way to Fifth Avenue. NCC Chair Douglas Fullerton came out strongly against it, and with an economic downturn, the Tivoli Gardens-like development was doomed.

There were objections among GCA executive members to the proposal to build a fire hall and training centre at Fifth and O’Connor, on the grounds that major events at Lansdowne could hamper its functioning, but the city went ahead with it. The Central Canada Exhibition Association operated Lansdowne at the time, and recreation committee chairman Frances Bryce got space concessions for a February carnival and two tennis courts. Sylvia Holden was very active in recreation, looking to improving playgrounds. With Esther Luke, she pioneered paper recycling in the Glebe. Controller Lorry Greenberg was helpful and receptive to many new ideas.

Fullerton did a great service by financing the first clearance of the Canal for ice-skating. Previously there had not been the political will. Hugh Barton on Monkland is credited with showing how it could be done – you first have a crew clear off the snow with light equipment so the ice can freeze enough to sustain heavier snowplows.

The GCA also gave financial support to the Glebe News. When the editor, Bob Sabourin, decided to discontinue his editorship, the GCA helped with its support for an Opportunities for Youth grant allowing, among other things, students to continue the newspaper. When the new editor, Sheila Fallis left to pursue higher education at Princeton, Penny Sanger organized a successor publication, the Glebe Report, which you are reading now. That’s a whole separate story to be told.

Randal Marlin, author, professor and long-time Glebe resident, was president of the Glebe Community Association from November 1971 to October 1972.

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