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Heritage Ottawa asks Minister to intervene to save heritage buildings at Lansdowne Park

19 July 2010

The Honourable Michael Chan,
Minister of Tourism and Culture
Hearst Block, 9th Floor
900 Bay Street
Toronto, ON M7A 2E1

Dear Sir,

I am contacting you with respect to plans for the development of Lansdowne Park in Ottawa, plans which pose a threat to heritage resources at this site, and which have serious implications for heritage conservation in the province as a whole.

The two heritage resources in question are the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticultural Building. Both belong to the City of Ottawa, and both have been designated under Part IV of the Ontario Heritage Act. The Aberdeen Pavilion is protected by a heritage conservation easement held with the Ontario Heritage Trust. This easement cites the protection of view corridors between the Pavilion and the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, and between the Pavilion and Bank Street. The Aberdeen Pavilion is also a National Historic Site of Canada. Parks Canada has a cost-share agreement with the City of Ottawa, which also includes protection of view corridors towards the Canal, towards Bank Street, as well as an additional view corridor to the north. The Horticultural Building is municipally designated, but has been long neglected by the City.

As you may know, the City of Ottawa has entered into an agreement with the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG) to develop Lansdowne Park. There are two components to the development plan. One component is the creation of an urban park on the eastern section of the property, for which an international design competition was held. The results were very promising for heritage, in that the winning design respects the two heritage buildings, their view corridors, and recommends that both buildings remain in situ and in toto.

The other component is the development of the western section of the site for commercial use. The plans for the commercial development call for substantial infringement upon the view corridors between the Aberdeen Pavilion and Bank Street as identified in the heritage conservation easement. Infringement upon these view corridors will significantly impact the heritage significance of this structure.

As part of its development plans, OSEG demands the demolition and removal of the Horticultural Building (demolition and removal are treated equally in the OHA 34 (1)) from its current location and its re-construction elsewhere on the site or back in its original location, all to accommodate a parking garage which surely could be put elsewhere. Apart from the structural improbability of taking apart a brick building that is 80 feet by 200 feet; the fact that there are no cost estimates for such an undertaking; and that the City assumes the cost rather than the developer; the removal of a heritage building is in contravention of the most basic principles of heritage conservation. I cite The Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada, the conservation document adopted by the Province of Ontario, which recommends against the removal of heritage buildings.

As well, the conservation easement for the Aberdeen Pavilion calls for the engagement of the Ontario Heritage Trust, which has a legal authority in this matter, should any intervention to the property be contemplated (including any intervention to the Horticultural Building). But the OHT was not engaged in a timely or appropriate manner. One wonders if the OHT is under pressure to waver on aspects of the heritage conservation easement.

Heritage Ottawa agrees that Lansdowne Park has indeed been neglected for too long. While Heritage Ottawa has reservations about the procedural and financial aspects of this project, it is nevertheless our position that the proposals for the urban park area on the eastern section are sound; and that commercial development on the western section of this property can be achieved without threat to these two heritage structures. There is no need to infringe upon the easement of the Aberdeen Pavilion, and no need to demolish and remove the Horticultural Building. Both structures can be successfully integrated into a commercial development. Examples of such successful integration of heritage buildings with new development are almost too many to mention: the Byward Market here in Ottawa is only one example of many.

The recently revised Ontario Heritage Act has proven to be a successful tool for heritage conservation in the Province, and Heritage Ottawa applauds the Ministry for this landmark document. We also applaud and support the exceptional work of the Ontario Heritage Trust (OHT). The OHT is on record calling for the protection of these two heritage buildings, in situ and in toto.

The Provincial Policy Statement calls for cultural heritage impact statements where nearby development may impinge upon a heritage structure. Heritage Ottawa trusts that the cultural heritage impact statements developed with respect to the Horticultural Building and the Aberdeen Pavilion will be conducted to the highest conservation standards, that they will be objective, and that they will be available for public consultation.

If the heritage conservation easement applicable to this property is infringed upon, a dangerous precedent will have been set. Other such agreements throughout the Province will be under threat, and the protective measures of the Ontario Heritage Act if unenforced will be shown to be hollow indeed.

Heritage Ottawa urges you, Sir, to stand firm on the word and the spirit of the Ontario Heritage Act; to direct the Ontario Heritage Trust to maintain its position with respect to the heritage conservation easement; and to intercede with the City of Ottawa to convince the City to respect basic heritage conservation principles. But if the City and OSEG cannot see reason and do proceed with their plans as they now exist, we will urge you to exercise your ministerial authority as identified in the Ontario Heritage Act, and issue a stop work order.

The credibility of the Ontario Heritage Act is at stake.

Yours respectfully,

Original Signed By:
David B. Flemming

David B. Flemming,
President, Heritage Ottawa
2 Daly Avenue / 2, Avenue Daly,
Ottawa, ON K1N 6E2

Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services
Tom H.B. Symons, Chair, Ontario Heritage Trust c/o
Jim Prentice, Minister, Environment Canada
Paul Dewar, MP, Ottawa Centre
Alan Latourelle, Chief Executive Officer, Parks Canada Agency
Russell Mills, Chair, National Capital Commission
Larry O’Brien, Mayor, City of Ottawa
Yasir Naqvi, MPP, Ottawa Centre
Clive Doucet, Councillor, Capital Ward