How the Cattle Castle was saved

Lansdowne Park and the Aberdeen Pavilion at the turn of the 19th century

Memories of the Glebe

By Clive Doucet

(Excerpt from the author’s The Watsonic Years. For the full text, go to

I’m sitting in a meeting inside the Cattle Castle at Lansdowne Park. It’s the biggest meeting I’ve ever attended. My neighbours in the Glebe and Old Ottawa South are exercised because the city has announced it intends to tear down the Cattle Castle (the Aberdeen Pavilion) in order to save money. People weren’t happy. There are no lions in the Glebe, but there are matriarchs, and Diane McIntyre, the organizer of the rally was a heritage matriarch. It is the women of the Glebe, first as young women with babies on their hip, then later as matriarchs who wrestled the community from a decaying neighbourhood where the old houses were sagging and businesses few into a vibrant, highly desired community.

Penny Sanger began the Glebe Report at her kitchen table, and it would become an award-winning community newspaper. Mary Tsai, barely out of school, arrived for her interview for a job at the community centre with a case of beer under her arm, figuring interviews were hard work and people might want a beer.

The community centre where she was applying to work was a defrocked church on the edge of the city’s demolition list. It had no pool, no gym, a closet for a kitchen; the pews and organ had been taken out but that was about it. With imagination, hard work and love, Mary’s team turned it into a busy, cherished community space.

Patty Steenberg’s traffic team took on the difficult job of modernizing John Leaning’s original Glebe traffic plan. Carolyn Mackenzie chaired a business and community make-over plan for Bank Street. There were men at the edges of the matriarchs making ice in the dead of winter and such, but it was the matriarchs who made the difference. And what a difference, they made! They turned a community that in the 1970s was headed for social workers, demolition derby houses and decaying side lots into a city showcase.

Diane McIntyre, the woman who organized the rally that saved the Cattle Castle, lived in a cottage-house that had once been the home of Ottawa’s first female mayor, Charlotte Whitton. The house was small, but large in political karma. Diane was not only the inheritor of Whitton’s domestic life, she was also the cousin of Jack Layton, leader of the federal NDP who boarded there for many years.

Diane like her cousin was a vital force. Within a few days of City Hall announcing the Cattle Castle was to be torn down, she had organized a protest march to walk from the Glebe Community Centre to Lansdowne Park. Eleven hundred people turned up. I was sitting in the crowd, impressed with the passion of the speeches and arguments to keep the old exhibition barn. Young Jim Watson, the community’s city councillor, sat at the head table where he held a simple, handmade sign which had the homey look of a loaf of bread. It said simply: “Save the Aberdeen.” The press took pictures.

The old building needed saving. There was only one other 19th-century exhibition barn like the Aberdeen left in North America, and it wasn’t in Canada, it was in Chicago. The Aberdeen was a city landmark on the outside but was even more impressive on the inside where it had an immense, pillar-free, open space. Light cascading from clerestory windows high above gave the old barn the feeling of a secular cathedral. The barn itself was soaked in Canadian history: Stanley Cups, the mustering of troops for war, the great Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circuses, state funerals and of course the annual fall farm shows where farmers from up and down the valley came to celebrate the fall harvest.

Clive Doucet served as Capital Ward’s City Councillor from 1997 to 2010. He ran for mayor twice, in 2010 and 2018. His last book is Grandfather’s House, Returning to Cape Breton. The Watsonic Years is a political memoir being published in instalments on UnPublished Media.

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