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.
Ottawa’s combination of urban and green spaces make it special. Photo: DenisTangneyJr/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!
Green and blue assets
What the Capital Region needs to shine By Moira Farr
Canada’s capital is a wild place, and I am not referring to question period in the House of Commons or the packed pubs of the ByWard
Market on St. Patrick’s Day.
The postcard vision of Ottawa-Gatineau — the Peace
Tower flanked by immaculate parliamentary lawns, scarletclad
Mounties, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, a
very long skating rink — is what most tourists come to see.
Tulips! Swans! BeaverTails! Yes, Ottawa’s got ’em. But
visitors who experience only the official postcard are
missing so much of what makes we who live here so value
the place: its wild spaces.
Ottawa has been my home for the past 13 years. As a
hybrid kind of human, an urbanite and someone who appreciates
— no, needs — what nature has to offer, I like how
little time it takes to get out of the cityscape. In an hour’s
walk from my front door, I can buy a pound of fair-trade
coffee, rent a DVD, wander into a gallery showcasing local
artists and carry on to Mud Lake, in a conservation area
beside the Ottawa River, which is much more beautiful
than its name suggests. Here, I’ve witnessed a screech owl on
a nest, a black-backed woodpecker demolishing a decaying
trunk, a cluster of painted turtles basking on a log and a
gorgeous wood duck drake preening.
A little farther west is a park where it’s possible to see, at
dusk in the fall, one of the great ancient migrations of the
continent — the sight and sound of endless skeins of Canada
geese, soaring in for a landing on the river, on flights from
the Low Arctic that can cover 1,000 kilometres in a day.
It’s a shiver-down-the-back thrill.
At the edges of this city, in every direction, are more
wilderness gems. To the east is the Mer Bleue Conservation
Area, an internationally renowned northern wetland
managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC).
With 3,500 hectares of bog to explore, Mer Bleue is home
to many rare species, such as the rose pogonia, a hardy
orchid. Stony Swamp, in the western section of the National
Capital Greenbelt (a 200-square-kilometre crescent of agricultural
and wild space surrounding the region on the
Ontario side), has many trails and a wild-bird care centre that has rescued, nursed and released thousands of avians back
into their habitats. To the south are hectares of farmland,
where you might spot snowy owls on fence posts, or sandhill
cranes foraging in the fields. Across the Ottawa River in
Quebec is the incomparable 361-square-kilometre Gatineau
Park, another NCC responsibility. Yes, you can actually
swim in Meech Lake; those with a strong constitution, right
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
When Casino du Lac-Leamy in Gatineau proposed
fireworks as part of its year-round agenda, the NCC
dispatched a naturalist to patrol the neighbouring woods and report on how disruptive loud explosions would be to
breeding birds. Yes, we are capable of simple due diligence,
knowing that what makes the region so special is that it is
home to many beings other than ourselves which deserve
our consideration; our reward is their continued presence
around us. (Fireworks displays do take place at the casino,
but for just five days each August.)
I’ve never needed anyone to tell me that spending time in
nature brings serious benefits for the body, mind and spirit;
it doesn’t surprise me to learn that some doctors are now
prescribing “nature therapy” to stress-battered patients.
Fortunately for anyone living in or visiting Ottawa, this
simple remedy is abundant.
A Canadian city might get an inferiority complex for not
being “world class” enough and tighten its greenbelt in an
effort to become more urbane. There’s nothing wrong with
urbanity, at its best, or striving to foster it. But trying to be
something a city is not (Paris, New York, London or even, dare
I say, Montréal or the big-leagues-striving Toronto) can also
be unbecoming and, sadly, may give short shrift to the very
things that make a city special. What makes Ottawa special,
and what is worth celebrating and preserving in the future, is
its unique hybridity. Watch a blue heron fly over the Ottawa
River through a window at the stunning National Gallery of
Canada, having just savoured a fine collection of modernist
art, and you will get what I mean. Sometimes, the best reason
for just leaving a green space green is because it’s there.
Avid birdwatcher Moira Farr is a writer, an editor and an
instructor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism.
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.