Canadian Icon, Bruce Cockburn, sounds the alarm to save a National Historic Site from development

News Release

Ottawa, January 12, 2022 – During his 50-year career, Cockburn has never shied away from calling it as he sees it. Along the way it’s won him universal respect. He’s played for Presidents and Prime Ministers, won numerous awards for his music, humanitarianism and environmentalism. People may not agree with Cockburn, but they know when he comments it comes from a place of love and deep concern for humanity, wildlife, and our environment. Despite the fact that Cockburn was in the middle of a tour, during a pandemic, he responded to Re-Imagine Ottawa’s request to comment on the impending Public-Private Partnership (P3) to develop the New Civic Hospital. Out of love for the Central Experimental Farm where he wandered as a boy, here is his plea to save this Canadian National Historic Site established in 1886.

Video message from Bruce Cockburn  

Like most people in Ottawa, Cockburn was surprised by the hospital development plans for the Farm. There has not been broad media coverage about the hospital plans’ impact. So why is Cockburn concerned? 

In 2016, after an exemplary six-month study, the National Capital Commission recommended Tunney’s Pasture. The hospital board rejected the site which had been consulted throughout the process. Within several days, Mayor Watson, backed by 17 Liberal politicians, announced the new hospital would be built at the Dow’s Lake/Experimental Farm location. When the Mayor was asked about the decision, he responded, ‘We have our reasons.” Neither the City, the National Capital Commission, the Board of the Ottawa Hospital, nor Public Works and Procurement Canada have provided details.

This is the same Mayor that led approval of another P3 deal for Lansdowne Park. That project has lost millions. Nevertheless, the City plans on extending the deal for another 10-year period with taxpayers picking up the tab. It’s the same Mayor that led the P3 procurement and construction of the problem-plagued LRT system. That debacle has led the Government of Ontario to conduct a public inquiry. A hint of why planning issues are coming home to roost happened back in June of 2021, when Jan Harder, Ottawa’s Planning Committee Chair, was forced to step down from her development-related positions. The City’s Integrity Commissioner found Harder in an apparent  conflict of interest by employing a developer as a planning consultant for unpaid, undeclared services to a value of $12,000 over a period of 4 months while his daughter worked on Harder’s staff.

Why is the Farm important to Ottawa? This greenspace is a popular inner-city oasis used for sledding, dog-walking, mediation, wedding photos and more. It’s where Environment Canada measures the City’s air quality. To build the new Civic Hospital, the Farm will lose over 40 acres of land, and over 750 trees. Trudeau just announced an initiative to plant 2 billion trees. Unlike the trees to be planted under Trudeau’s reforestation plan, the world does not have to wait 30 years as the Farm’s trees are mature. The Farm’s trees already are part of critical natural infrastructure, and capture 36,000 pounds of carbon a year, add 195,000 pounds of oxygen into the air, enhance biodiversity and support human health and well-being.

Aside from the loss of greenspace, is the Farm site appropriate for a hospital?

To get to the hospital from the proposed LRT station, visitors will need to go 120-meters through a tunnel that crosses under four lanes of traffic, then hike up a 400-meter slope for a total length that’s five football fields to get to the entrance of a hospital that will be built on the Gloucester fault line. Considering the City’s difficulties with the LRT, it is no surprise that accessibility advocates are concerned about the possibility of a ‘moving pathway’ up the slope that is a recent option being considered. And the concern is understandable. Imagine, the elderly, the disabled or the ill hiking up this distance for care or the visit a friend?

The neighbourhood north of the site is targeted for intensification, with more than 10 high-rise buildings ranging from 15 to 65 stories planned in the vicinity of the hospital. These high-rises total more than 7,500 units plus 460,000 square feet of commercial space. The apartment and condo units alone will bring a traffic increase of 8,000 additional cars into the hospital area. Added to this is the traffic generated by an estimated 1 million visits a year or, 2,740 daily visits to the hospital by staff, patients, and visitors to the facility. Roads may need to be widened to accommodate the traffic, which could mean some loss of the Farm’s ornamental gardens, trees in the Arboretum, and the Fisher Forest to the west.

If a National Historic Site like the Central Experimental Farm can be developed, then no greenspace in Canada is safe. According to Cockburn, we all need to ask ourselves one question: Who benefits from this development plan?

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ReImagine Ottawa is a volunteer group of citizens concerned with developer influence in Canada’s capital.

For more information, and interviews please contact:
Valerie Swinton
ReImagine Ottawa
Cell: 1 (613) 864-6442
Twitter: @reimagineottawa
Facebook: Reimagine Ottawa