24. Central Experimental Farm: Part 2

Construction:  Established in 1886

Architects:  Various

Location:  A rectangular parcel of land over 400 hectares in area bounded by Carling Avenue to the north, Baseline Road to the south, Fisher Avenue to the west, and by the Rideau Canal and Prince of Wales Drive to the east.


The designation of the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) as a National Historic Site in 1998 was a watershed moment in the Farm’s history.  With its scientific importance internationally recognized, its key role in securing Canada’s food security confirmed, and its overall importance to the agricultural sector established, ongoing threats to the Farm were an unexpected development.

In 2002-2003, the Ottawa Botanical Garden Society launched a campaign to develop a large swath of research land to the south of the arboretum as a botanical garden, complete with paved parking and infrastructure to accommodate large tours.  Heritage Ottawa was joined by landscape architects and others in successfully opposing the proposal. 

In 2007-2008, the Ottawa Hospital started planning to replace the elderly Civic Campus.  Built in 1924, the Civic had expanded over the years with ad hoc upgrades and additions.  The Hospital board determined that an entirely new structure was necessary, and that further expansion on site would be too complicated and costly.  Board members focused their attention across Carling Avenue to Research Field #1, and approached Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada (AAFC) about obtaining it.  Then Minister of AAFC, Gerry Ritz, replied with a firm no.

In November, 2014, Heritage Ottawa learned of a renewed threat to the CEF.  The Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, (also responsible for the NCC), unexpectedly announced the gift of 60 acres of prime research land to the Ottawa Hospital for a new campus.  Field #1, crucial to the scientific work on the CEF, was to be paved over.

Heritage Ottawa responded quickly, working to establish the Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm.  Partners and supporters included the Greenspace Alliance for Canada’s Capital, the Agricultural Institute of Canada, the National Trust, the National Farmers’ Union, scientists internationally, and many others.

The goal was to find a solution that would provide the Ottawa Hospital with a suitable site while leaving the research function of the CEF intact.  With Ottawa’s large land base, there was no reason not to have both. While the Hospital listened sympathetically to Heritage Ottawa’s position, its board determined that Field #1 remained the best site.

Heritage Ottawa and the Coalition were relentless.  Letters were written, meetings set up with decision-makers and influencers, a “Protect the Farm” Facebook page launched, and articles and letters published on the Heritage Ottawa website, which before long built up a national and international following. 

Eventually the federal government acknowledged that the issue was too important to be decided by ministerial fiat.  The National Capital Commission (NCC) was tasked with examining federal lands in the central area of Ottawa superfluous to government needs that would be suitable for a hospital site.  Public consultations were well attended and included representatives from the farming community, research biologists, heritage advocates and concerned citizens.  Feelings ran high.

After thorough deliberation, the NCC identified Tunney’s Pasture as the best overall site.  But the Hospital turned it down in favour of the second NCC option, the eastern-most portion of the CEF, the site of the former Sir John Carling Building.

The new hospital to go on the Sir John Carling site may have negative impacts on the surviving areas of the Farm, especially the Arboretum. There is still a proposal to severe some 30-odd acres between Prince of Wales Drive and the Rideau Canal for the proposed botanical garden (the Farm already has a botanical garden).

Heritage Ottawa regrets that any piece of the CEF will be lost to development, leaving large portions of what remains of the Farm vulnerable.

Decisions regarding details of the site’s development are ongoing and Heritage Ottawa continues to work to protect the CEF, a treasured National Historic Site in the heart of the city.

See also: 50 Years | 50 Stories # 23. Central Experimental Farm: Part 1 



Related Reading: Central Experimental Farm's Management Plan Should Be Respected

The Heritage Ottawa website includes approximately 100 articles chronicling efforts to protect the CEF.  To read more, enter "Central Experimental Farm" in the search field at upper right of this page.


Threats to the Farm remain. Follow developments on Heritage Ottawa's website and social media, and at www.facebook.com/protectthefarm.