History of the Glebe Sisters: GCA


The Glebe Community Association – where would we be without it?


Before the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group and before the Glebe Report, there was the Glebe Community Association. The GCA was officially launched late in December of Centennial year. The impetus was the DeLeuw Cather 1967 “alignment study of the downtown distributor” (shudders up many spines across the Glebe!) for the City of Ottawa, which proposed the creation of a crosstown high-traffic road either by extending Carling along Glebe or using Fifth, and bridging the Rideau Canal. It was to be the first of many battles waged to keep our community family-centred and livable.


The association’s first win, in 1972, was in obtaining the downzoning of a strip of land bordering Queen Elizabeth Drive from R7 to R4, thereby preventing a wall of apartment towers. The GCA spearheaded resistance to high-rise offices along Bank Street and worked very hard with other city-wide groups to plan a new, imaginative Lansdowne Park. Indeed, a tour through the finding aid for GCA documents in the City of Ottawa archives shows that neighbourhood planning related to Lansdowne Park has been an issue requiring sustained GCA vigilance. First, there was the June 1972 Murray and Murray proposal to expand Lansdowne Park north to Fifth Avenue.

In that same year, the National Capital Commission (NCC) forwarded a proposal to support a downtown shuttle bus service with a parking garage at its Lansdowne terminus. While the idea of expanding Lansdowne northward died a quiet death, only three years later the Lansdowne Park manager proposed expropriating houses on the north side of Holmwood for a parking garage, meeting halls and offices. More recently, in the 1990s, Canderel advanced proposals for townhouses, and OSEG is currently pursuing its shopping mall scheme. It seems that Lansdowne acreage has long attracted developers, and issues related to Lansdowne Park have been among the thorniest for the GCA, with little promise of relief.

The GCA has often collaborated with other core-area community associations to lobby hard for community needs in official plans of the different levels of government, namely the region, the City of Ottawa and the NCC. Some of these have contained “good ideas” such as those in the NCC’s 1974 Tomorrow’s Capital report.

In the late 1970s, the city was developing neighbourhood plans for core area communities. In January 1980, the city approved a Glebe development plan reflecting findings in community consultations. These included downzoning much of the area east of Bank Street to its current R3Q, implementing a 35-foot height limit and more strictly regulating conversions. The plan included recommendations that large sections of the area bounded by Pretoria, Queen Elizabeth Driveway, Fourth Avenue and Bank Street be designated heritage districts. Yet today, developer proposals for infill and densification continue to bedevil the GCA. We are fighting to retain those parts of the plan that were implemented, and implement those that were approved but not carried out. The GCA continues to advocate for a community plan that permanently protects the livability of the community.


Transportation and traffic have formed another absorbing theme. First suggested in 1970, our venerable Glebe Traffic Plan to restrict through traffic on residential streets was implemented in October 1973 after much discussion facilitated by the GCA, and to the dismay of drivers accustomed to shortcutting through our neighbourhood to get to work. Over the decades, the GCA has of necessity become adept at balancing cars and the community, but the current intensive development at Lansdowne and elsewhere on the fringes of the community will tax those skills!


Where would we be without the GCA? Ideas for a community centre with a co-operative daycare and a community newspaper were both birthed in GCA committees. Because of the GCA’s persistence, provincial legislation was amended specifically to accommodate co-operative daycares. Both First Avenue and Mutchmor schools have had to be saved over the years, and now the French immersion program is of such a size as to require a switch of programs between schools. Without GCS’s efforts, our local library might have been closed. The Aberdeen Pavilion became a national historic site in 1983. Most recently, in 2012, the first phase of the GCA’s long-awaited heritage conservation district around Central Park East came to fruition.

An oasis of calm during the 2013 Great Glebe Garage Sale. PHOTO BY JULIE HOULE CEZER
An oasis of calm during the 2013 Great Glebe Garage Sale. PHOTO BY JULIE HOULE CEZER

There is a long-standing history of interest in environmental issues in the GCA, whether they relate to stormwater collector basins, tree planting or enhancing our built environment. We had paper recycling before any other Ottawa community and still lead the city in compliance. We have Chamberlain Park, the Exploration Garden in Central Park East and soon, a wee new park at Pretoria and the Driveway. The Great Glebe Garage Sale is now 27 years old and periodic EnviroFairs show Glebe residents how to walk on the earth more gently.

The GCA partnered with Bank Street merchants to collect funds to help bury the wires during major reconstruction on Bank Street (an initiative called Underground Sound). The cost proved too high, but funds will be used to beautify the street. Members of the Garden Angels, another GCA offshoot, maintained the gardens in the original Sylvia Holden Park, and plant and care for flower boxes throughout the community. The farmers’ market at Lansdowne came into being with active support from the GCA. In the early 2000s, the GCA jumped in to connect our community through its own website.

The GCA is coming up to the big five-o. It continues to organize community- wide consultations on issues raised by its members and through ongoing work done by its 10 committees. It meets on the fourth Tuesday of each month from September to June at the community centre, and all are welcome. With a paid-up membership of about 4,000 households, the GCA helps to build community consensus on the things that we love in our community, making it a good place for all of us to live.

Carol MacLeod is a long-standing member of the GCA and current chair of its Environment Committee.

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