Canada’s capital is about to rechart its future. This fall, the National Capital Commission
(NCC) — the steward of federal lands and buildings in the National Capital Region, which
includes Ottawa, Gatineau and 11 other municipalities in eastern Ontario and western
Quebec — is consulting Canadians across the country about the future of Canada’s capital.
The Royal Canadian Geographical Society is collaborating with the NCC on this ambitious
public consultation, called Horizon 2067 (in anticipation of Canada’s bicentennial), and all
Canadians are being invited to offer their opinions about how Canada’s capital should look
in years to come. To get this conversation started, we’ve asked four writers who live in the
capital for personal essays offering their own ideas on directions the capital is or could be
taking. We hope they inspire you to join the conversation and let your voice be heard.
Bilingualism has become a bonus for those living and working in Ottawa-Gatineau. Photo: Stieglitz/iStockphoto
Taking a closer look at local artists in the Capital Region By Sarah Brown
How cultural diversity and bilingualism became mainstream By Daniel Poliquin Read more »
Green space and wild places
What the Capital Region needs to shine By Moira Farr Read more »
As the National Capital Commission embarks on a program to chart the future of Canada’s Capital Region, chief executive officer Marie
Lemay sits down for a conversation with Canadian Geographic. Read more »
Share your vision
Be part of the planning for the future of Canada’s capital. The National Capital Commission is collecting ideas on the future of the capital. Share your ideas!
Bilingualism & multiculturalism
How cultural diversity and bilingualism became mainstream By Daniel Poliquin
I was born in Ottawa in 1953,
and I grew up on a steady diet of
dire warnings about the imminent
demise of my country. Those gloomy
predictions usually came from right-wing
radio talk-show hosts or left-wing intellectuals
engaged in a mournful search for
tenure. Last I checked, the country is as
resilient as ever, and the capital city is still
around. Even the brimstone-and-fire
prophets are still in business. Canada
didn’t die; it only changed.
Growing up in Ottawa’s Franco-Ontarian enclave of Sandy Hill, I remember
a community life centred around the
Sacré-Coeur parish. French was the only language heard at
Garneau primary school, the Sacré-Coeur church was
filled to standing room only on Sundays, and most kids
were safely enrolled in various youth organizations under
When I was 10, I served the eight o’clock Mass every
morning with my brother. After school, I delivered the
French newspaper Le Droit in our lower-middle-class neighbourhood,
where cheap rents in worn-down houses were
plentiful, with corner stores on every block selling one-cent
candy by the truckload. It was an uneventful, modest life.
The world of my childhood is no more, and I don’t miss
it one bit, because intolerance was then an accepted social
norm. The province of Ontario did not allow the teaching
of math and science in French. The berating or beating
of openly gay people was never frowned on. And I recall a
family of Dutch immigrants about whom neighbours complained
because of the smell of their laundry! Being in a
minority was not a happy experience then, which explains
why our little ghettos were all the more comfortable.
What’s your vision for the capital’s future?
You can be part of the planning for the future of Canada’s capital. The National Capital Commission, the
federal planning agency for the National Capital Region, is staging a series of conversations across the country as
part of its Horizon 2067 planning initiative to collect ideas on the future of the capital. Share your ideas by
State-engineered transformations, such as bilingualism
and multiculturalism, were at play, intended to usher
in an era of fairness for the francophone linguistic minority
and make our country more hospitable to newcomers.
In 1968, Franco-Ontarian schools were allowed to teach
all subjects in French, including math and science. (It did
not prevent me from failing both, mind you.) That same
year, my class was the only one in the school with two
black students: one from Haiti, the other from Jamaica.
We all got along fine.
But these modernizing policies were greeted with a lot of
anger. The usual forecasters of misery went berserk: bilingualism
was going to create mass unemployment
for les Anglais in the public
service and wreck the Armed Forces and
the RCMP. Once peaceful bicultural
communities would burn in the flames of
discontent. Multiculturalism was going to
be even worse. The country would go
bankrupt subsidizing Ukrainian folk
dancers, while roast beef and Yorkshire
pudding would disappear from restaurant
menus. The end was near, no doubt.
Naysayers were wrong on just about all
counts. Our military and police are as
strong as ever, nobody starved to death
because of chronic monolingualism, and
our twenty-second prime minister is a Toronto-born boy who
learned to speak quite passable French as an adult.
Ottawa’s sedate Franco-Ontarian parishes of yesteryear
have given way to gentrified neighbourhoods and bustling
immigrant communities with an exotic restaurant at every
other corner. Bilingualism is no longer the purview of
educated French Canadians. The young public servant on
the rise today is probably as likely to be the product of a
French-immersion school in Cranbrook, B.C., or the
offspring of francophone immigrants from a Middle
Eastern or Caribbean country. École secondaire publique
De La Salle in Ottawa’s Lowertown neighbourhood, once
the hotbed of young Franco-Ontarian leaders, now has a
student body representing more than 60 nationalities.
The combination of bilingualism and multiculturalism has
given birth to a unique phenomenon: newcomers joining the
linguistic minority instead of folding into the mainstream.
Some modern-day young French-speaking Ottawans may
wear a hijab and have brown skin, but few of these newcomers
see themselves as Franco-Ontarian, except perhaps when
they fill out a scholarship application.
Belonging to the francophone minority used to be a
curse. Today and in the future, in more ways than one, it is
a ticket to a handsome payoff, be it landing a plum job, establishing
social connections or election to political office.
Yesterday’s handicaps have become coveted attributes. And
topping it all, bland food is out and ethnic food is the new
norm — on bilingual menus, s’il vous plaît.
Ottawa-based writer and literary translator Daniel Poliquin is the author of several books, including René Lévesque, part
of Penguin Canada’s Extraordinary Canadians series.
I recommend that the overall Ottawa River from the north end of Lake Temiskaming to Montreal be registered as a National Historic Site. This River is really the original pioneer pathway to the development of Northwestern Quebec and Northeastern Ontario, plus provided access to the Mattawa River to open a route directly to Western Ontario to eventually open ALL of western Canada.Even prior to that period, this River was was initially explored my Lasalle, Groseilliers, Radisson , etc. in the 1600,s , as well as fur traders , loggers , miners , and eventually farmers to the great Clay Belts of temiskaming and Cochrane Districts of today. This lack of National Historic Site designation for the Ottawa River and its head waters of Lake Temiskaming is a sad error by our Country historians, and should be corrected PRIOR to the bi-centennial of 2067 as being planned now by the NCC.
Rather than looking inward towards Ottawa/Gatineau. I think the NCC and Parks Canada should team up to bring a real taste of the best that our capital has to offer directly to Canadians across this great country.
Over the next 15 to 20 years, I would love to see 2-3 federal parks established in each region of the country.
These parks would be located in major urban centres and would feature: - a museum that displays rotating exhibits from Canada's national institutions for the arts, humanities and sciences - a public square where Canadians can gather to collectively watch and celebrate truly national sporting and cultural events (think Canadians vying for Olympic gold or pan-Canadian Canada Day concerts) and, - a green space of at least 10 hectares criss-crossed with cycling, hiking and skiing trails.
These parks would offer fully bilingual experiences and each would be a bit different, showcasing the contributions of each region to the great endeavour that is Canada.
How can the NCC be worried about 2067 when Ottawa continues to annually dump raw sewage into the Ottawa River. Let's get this priority dealt with before fussing about any other physical attribute.