Letter: Saving the Central Experimental Farm and Enabling Hospital Renewal

Photo: Pat McGrath, Ottawa Citizen (2008)

Friday, January 29, 2016


In response to a letter signed by nearly 50 agricultural and climate change scientists and heritage advocates including Heritage Ottawa, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna has told reporters of her "concerns" about the impending transfer of 24 hectares of land from the Central Experimental Farm to The Ottawa Hospital.  

Here is a copy of that letter.

Update / November 2016: See more letters in support of protecting the Central Experimental Farm in the National Capital Commission's Federal Site Review for the New Civic Campus, pages 139-254.


Letter from 'Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm'

23 November 2015


The Honourable Lawrence MacAulay,
Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food,

The Honourable Catherine McKenna,
Minister of Environment and Climate Change,

The Honourable Mélanie Joly,
Minister of Canadian Heritage,

RE: Win-Win: Saving the Central Experimental Farm and enabling Hospital Renewal: We can do it! 


Dear Ministers McKenna, MacAulay, and Joly,

The Coalition warmly congratulates you on your election to the Parliament of Canada, and congratulates you for the appointments to your Ministries. We also warmly support this Government’s renewed commitment to fact-based decision-making, for both science and history are fact-based disciplines with wide-ranging benefits to all Canadians. It is for this reason that we are writing to you, and seeking your leadership on this file.

As you know, the previous government announced the severance of sixty acres of the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) for the Ottawa Hospital in November 2014. We believe this decision, however generously intended, was made without an understanding of the national and international scientific and historic significance of the CEF. It was certainly done in contravention of the CEF’s own Management Plan.

This land is not just any land. The fields proposed for transfer are the historically and scientifically most significant. Field No. 1 (the majority of the lands proposed for transfer) is the original section of the CEF, with records going back to 1886. The scientists conducting long term soil studies here contributed to the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 jointly with former Vice President Al Gore. 

Agriculture and Science. The CEF is a nationally and internationally significant research centre. It is an open-air laboratory focussed on long-term experiments in agriculture. Studies conducted here benefit farmers in adapting to Canada’s demanding growing conditions. One cannot overestimate the importance of food security to Canadians, and the importance of the agricultural sector to the Canadian economy. The CEF has been and remains a centre of innovation and excellence in science research. Research undertaken on Field No. 1 includes the development of Marquis Wheat, which allowed stable wheat production and spurred the settlement of the Canadian prairies. The Fusarium head blight epidemic of 1981 drastically reduced the yield and quality of wheat, barley and corn crops in Eastern Canada. The first winter wheat variety that was resistant to Fusarium was bred at the CEF. As well, research here led to the complete transformation of eastern Canada’s agricultural ambitions by making it possible to grow soybeans for human consumption and as animal feed. Research on soybeans started for both food-security and economic reasons in the early 1970s when the US placed an embargo on the export of soybeans. Canada responded by developing our own varieties.

The Environment and Climate Change. The CEF has been conducting long-range studies on the effect of climate change on agricultural lands. Due to the long term nature of soil studies, which tie in to data from the meteorological station located on the Farm, the research cannot be transplanted elsewhere. As we face increased pressure on agricultural lands in Canada and globally, the data gathered here are of increasing importance. The nearby construction of a large hospital would invalidate this work. Meteorological data have been collected at the CEF for over a century, and this continuity of data is important for understanding climate change.

Canada’s Heritage in the National Capital. Founded in 1886 by the government of Sir John A Macdonald, the CEF’s mission was to help farmers adapt to growing conditions in Canada. The successes were many, and many items that come to our table owe their excellence to the pioneering scientific achievements here. For these reasons, the CEF was designated a national historic site in 1997, as a scientific cultural landscape of national significance. There is no legislative protection for national historic sites and the federal government can only protect those NHS it owns, and then only if there is a will to do so. Because of the proposed severance, the Central Experimental Farm was identified as one of Canada’s Ten Top Endangered Sites by the National Trust for Canada. The CEF is a heritage that belongs to all Canadians and is part of our legacy to generations to come. It should not be the government’s to give away, but rather to steward responsibly.

Impact. Sixty acres is only 5 percent of the total land mass of the CEF but it is nearly 15 percent of the viable research lands, a significant impact on the research capacity of the CEF. Moreover, the impacts would go well beyond these sixty acres. The imposition of a large structure such as a hospital would impact drainage, wind patterns, surface heating, road systems and more. It might also curtail typical farming operations in the nearby vicinity, since one can foresee the Hospital objecting to the spraying of crops, and the spreading of fertilizers, composts and manure.

A Win-Win is possible. No one disputes that the Civic Campus of the Ottawa Hospital needs a new facility. It is reasonable and fair that all interested parties (federal, provincial, municipal governments; the Ottawa Hospital; concerned citizens and organisations) have open consultations to search for a win-win scenario in which the Hospital gets the facilities it needs while the CEF remains an intact and important research institution and national historic site.

2015 has been declared the International Year of Soil by the United Nations, “to increase awareness and understanding of the importance of soil for food security and essential ecosystem functions.” Hospitals can be created in many places; soil cannot.

In 2017, let’s have this special place intact for all Canadians to celebrate our sesquicentennial. We respectfully ask that you, Honourable Ministers, lead us towards a win-win scenario. We would be pleased to meet and discuss this with you.

For more information, or to arrange a meeting/phone call, please contact Leslie Maitland, Heritage Ottawa at info@heritageottawa.org 613-230-8841 or 613-792-4945, or Julie Harris at jharris@contentworks.ca 613-730-4059.



The Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site of Canada 


Natalie Bull, National Trust for Canada

David Jeanes, President, Heritage Ottawa

Erwin A.J. Dreessen, PhD Co-chair, Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital

Professor Peter Smith, FSB, FRSE, Institute of Biological & Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen

G. Clarke Topp, PAg, PhD, Soil Physicist, Environmental Scientist

Con Campbell, CM, SOM, PhD, FAIC, FCSS, FASA, FSSSA, Soil and Environmental Service

Paul Hallett, Professor of Soil Physics, Institute of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Aberdeen paul.hallett@abdn.ac.uk

David W. Hopkins, BSc, PhD Dsc CBio FSB Professor of Soil Science, Dean of Agriculture, Food & Environment, The Royal Agricultural University Cirencester, Gloucestershire

Nikita Lopoukhine, MSc, Canadian Geographic Society Fellow, Emeritus Chair, IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas, Ex Chair of the Society for Ecological Restoration, Board member of Wildlands Network, National Trustee of the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society

Sidney Rosa Vieira, CPD Solos e Recusos Ambientais, Instituto Agronomico, Campinas SP Brazil

Lyette Fortin, Consultant in Architectural Conservation, Carleton University Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism.

Hazel Christy, MBA, MCIP, President The Canadian Institute of Planners hchristy@shaw.ca

Royal Architectural Institute of Canada blorimer@raic.org

Robert Allsopp, Fellow, Canadian Society of Landscape Architects.

Robert Norman, President, Canadian Society of Landscape Architects

Freeman Cook, Environmental Scientist, Brisbane, Australia

Peter Anderson, PhD Candidate, Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario peter.anderson@queensu.ca 

Mike Beare, Msc, PhD, FNZSSS, Science Group Leader, New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, Christchurch, New Zealand Mike.Beare@plantandfood.co.nz

Jennifer Dungait, BSC, MSC, PhD FISoilSCI, Principal Research Scientist and Honorary Associate Professor, Rothamsted Research, North Wyke, UK jennifer.dungait@rothamsted.ac.uk

Chris van Kessel, Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Plant Sciences, University of California, Davis, California cvankessel@ucdavis.edu

Ken Van Rees, RPF, Head, Department of Soil Science, Director, Centre for Northern Agroforestry and Afforestation, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, kcv903@mail.usask.ca

J. David Miller, PhD JAIHA, Carleton University. David.miller@carleton.ca

Myrna J. Simpson, PhD, Professor of Environmental Chemistry, University of Toronto, Scarborough, Ontario myrna.simpson@utoronto.ca

Julie Harris, Mus.St. Contentworks, Heritage Keeper for the Central Experimental Farm, Heritage Ottawa

Dr. Christina Cameron, Université de Montréal, and Canada Research Chair on Built Heritage

Shirley Blumberg, CM, Fellow of RAIC

Dr. Dan Pennock, Professor Emeritus, Department of Soil Science, University of Saskatchewan, and Fellow of the Canadian Society of Soil Science, dan.pennock@usask.ca

Robert Brinker, Carlington Community Association, Ottawa

Serge Buy, CEO, Agricultural Institute of Canada sbuy@aic.ca

Warren A. Dick, Professor, Soil Science, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH dick.5@osu.edu

Mari Wesche, Professor (ret’d), University of Ottawa, National Capital Region Group Leader, Citizen’s Climate Lobby Canada, mwesche@xplornet.com

Graham Saul, Ecology Ottawa

Maja Krzic, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, and President Elect, Canadian Society of Soil Science krzic@mail.ubc.ca maja.krzic@ubc.ca

Cathy Orlando, Citizens‘ Climate Lobby National Manager for Canada

Dr. Les Lavkulich, Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC and Fellow of the Canadian Society of Soil Science, lml@mail.ubc.ca

Barry Padolsky, B.Arch., M.Sc.Urban Design OAA, FRAIC, RCA, CAHP

Deirdre Laframboise, BES, MES, Executive Director of the Canadian Climate Forum dlaframboise@climateforum.ca

Dr. Tom Pedersen, Chair of the Board, Canadian Climate Forum

Sarah Rice, Chair, Ottawa Food Policy Council.



Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science, kirsty.duncan@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Navdee Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, navdeep.bains@parl.gc.ca

The Honourable Eric Hoskins, MD. Minister of Health and Long Term Care, Province of Ontario CSU.MOH@ontario.ca

Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations soils-2015@fao.org

The Nobel Peace Prize, Norwegian Nobel Committee postmaster@nobel.no

Former Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Al Gore, c/o info@carthagegroup.com

Dr. Mark Kristmanson, CEO, National Capital Commission

Dr. Jack Kitts, CEO, Ottawa Hospital

Mayor Jim Watson, City of Ottawa

Councillor Jeff Leiper, Kitchissippi Ward, City of Ottawa

Councillor Riley Brocklington, River Ward, City of Ottawa

The Honourable Yasir Naqvi, Minister of Infrastructure, Province of Ontario

Katie Gibbs, Evidence for Democracy katiegibbs@gmail.com

Friends of the Farm

Julie Dompierre, Executive Secretary, Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, for distribution to the members of the board, please