Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site: Impact of new Ottawa Hospital

New Civic Campus seen from Dow's Lake. Rendering: The Ottawa Hospital

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

HERITAGE OTTAWA / Updated October 13, 2021

Heritage Ottawa has been actively involved in a collective effort to protect the integrity of the Farm since the construction of a new hospital on research fields was first proposed in 2014, both as a member of Protect the Central Experimental Farm and as an active participant in the Community Engagement Group, created to provide outside commentary to The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) on its development plans.


Protect the Farm was a coalition that included the Greenspace Alliance for Canada’s Capital and many others. From the beginning, the goal was to find a win-win in which the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) conserved its critically important scientific research capacity, and TOH found a suitable site elsewhere.

The National Capital Commission conducted a needs assessment against a list of eleven federally-owned properties, centrally located in Ottawa, which would be large enough for the 24-hectare site that the hospital wanted, several of which were still on the Farm. The NCC offered to donate a portion of Tunney’s Pasture for the new hospital. That offer was turned down by the hospital board resulting in a “compromise” announced in December 2016 at a press conference in Mayor Watson’s office. The hospital site would return to the Farm, but this time to a 25-hectare parcel of land at the eastern edge of the Farm along Carling Avenue near Dow's Lake that includes the land where the former Sir John Carling Building once stood (see Master Site Plan for full description). The hospital was going to get a portion of the Farm without disturbing agricultural research lands.

The research lands were saved, but the implications for heritage conservation of this unique picturesque landscape in the heart of urban Ottawa are significant and Heritage Ottawa has remained vigilant in its commitment to protect this special place.

Heritage Ottawa along with neighbouring community associations, patient advocacy groups, Greenspace groups, and others, was invited by TOH to form a Community Engagement Group (CEG) to provide outside commentary on its development plans, including re-zoning issues, hospital design, and the fate of the Sir John Carling Annex.

In June 2018 a by-law was enacted to rezone the 25-hectare parcel of land “Institutional,” permitting hospital, office, research and development centres and related ancillary uses. A holding provision was established to ensure completion of a master plan, transportation study, and cultural heritage study for approval by Planning Committee and City Council.

Although the CEG had expected to participate in parking and traffic study workshops, among other things, the group was never contacted again by TOH or Graham Bird & Associates (hired to oversee site planning) after March of 2020. Design plans went directly to the City without the group representing community interests having a chance to comment or provide feedback. Without any useful purpose, the group reluctantly disbanded itself.

Master Site Plan (Link to PDF)

Despite the loss of the community engagement group, several of the stakeholders involved—including Heritage Ottawa—continue to closely follow the progress of the hospital’s planned development.

Heritage Ottawa’s focus is on mitigating risks to the function and heritage features of the Farm. TOH will be located inside a designated nationally significant cultural landscape unique and beloved in Ottawa that is adjacent to several federally classified and recognized heritage buildings, including those associated with the Dominion Observatory Complex. It is also connected to the Queen Elizabeth Drive Cultural Landscape and the Rideau Canal National and World Heritage Site, which involves the NCC and Parks Canada.

Cultural Heritage Impact Statement (Link to PDF)

A Cultural Heritage Impact Statement (CHIS) was a requirement of the Master Site Plan Application, which must be approved by City Council before the holding zone provision on the hospital lands can be lifted.

The CHIS provides an overview of the historical context, the various heritage resources and landscapes both on and adjacent to the site, and identifies a series of impacts and proposes a number of mitigation strategies.  

Heritage Ottawa carefully reviewed the initial CHIS report and its amended version, and submitted recommendations to City planning staff and the Built Heritage Sub-Committee that emphasized the opportunity for the hospital design and landscape to embrace the heritage features of its location and respect its agrarian and picturesque qualities. Even TOH concedes that such an approach would provide the health benefits that a naturalized setting confers on patients, staff and visitors. Here is a summary of the recommendations:

  • If surface parking areas (in addition to the 4-storey parking garage) cannot be eliminated, a substantial buffer (berm and plantings) should be used to create a visual separation between the hard surface parking lots and the grounds of the Farm where the historic Saunders Building, Nutrition Building, Heritage House, and Dominion Observatory Complex are located.
  • Although TOH originally asserted there would be no surface parking, the Master Plan indicates considerable areas of asphalt surfaces, which should be reduced in area and hard surface material replaced with permeable surfacing.
  • The prominent elevation that the 4-storey parking garage presents facing the Rideau Canal National and World Heritage Site should be mitigated with staged screening.
  • The use of Maple Lane for ambulance access to TOH poses a risk to the Dominion Observatory Complex, especially the federally Classified Azymuth Building. Reconsider how TOH is accessed from Carling Avenue to mitigate impacts and cut-through north-south traffic.
  • Provide clarity about who is responsible for the trees, landscape treatment and maintenance of TOH’s greenspace, and demonstrate a firm commitment to protect existing greenspace for the benefit of patients, staff and visitors.

On October 1, 2021, a joint all-day meeting of the Built Heritage Sub-Committee and Planning Committee saw over 50 delegations make presentations. None spoke against the need for a new state-of-the-art hospital. Concerns expressed by many focused on the choice of site and how it came about, the adverse impact on the Farm’s vegetation and pastoral beauty, traffic impacts on adjoining neighbourhoods, the above ground parking garage and LRT connections.

Planning Committee reconvened on October 4 and voted 6-2 in favour of the Master Site Plan. That support hinged on TOH committing to protecting trees, working with neighbouring communities on parking and traffic, and Council’s support for a call for federal legislation limiting future development on the Central Experimental Farm. A number of related motions were unanimously approved by the committee.

Council Approval and Motion for Federal Legislation

On October 13, 2021, City Council voted in favour of the Master Site Plan and the lifting of the Holding Provision, with four nays.

Councillor Riley Brockington addressed the vulnerability of the Farm and the need for legislation to protect it in perpetuity. He brought forward a motion directing the Mayor, on behalf of Council, to write to the Minister of Agriculture and AgriFood Canada, the Minister of Environment and Climate Change and the National Capital Commission requesting that the Government of Canada pass legislation to ensure the long term protection of the remainder of the Central Experimental Farm and to develop a new Master Plan for the Farm, seeking local input and the input of expert scientists. The motion was passed with the full support of Council. 

Heritage Ottawa submitted a letter to City Council in advance of the vote urging that "If this application is approved it is imperative that the mitigation measures as they affect the Farm, the Dominion Observatory complex and the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site...be implemented." And further, that Heritage Ottawa supports the Brockington motion calling for federal legislation. 

Related Reading:

Council green-lights master site plan for new Civic hospital on Central Experimental Farm / Ottawa Citizen, By Taylor Blewett

Committee approves master plan for new Civic hospital campus / CBC News, by Matthew Kupfer

Campus unifié de l'Hôpital d'Ottawa: réunion marathon à l'hôtel de ville / Le Droit, by Julien Paquette

Egan: We 'settled' on the new Civic; no wonder the long faces  / Ottawa Citizen, by Kelly Egan

Planning committee to vote Monday on master plan for new Civic hospital / CTV NEWS Ottawa, by Jeremie Charron

Plan for the Ottawa Hospital's new Civic Campus under scrutiny at marathon city hall meeting / Ottawa Citizen, by Taylor Blewett