Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Island Park Drive at Richmond Road traffic circle

Tonight I'm sharing one of the coolest secrets of Kitchissippi's past. It's one of the topics that garners the most attention and curiosity from visitors to my little booth when I set up at Westfest or ArtsPark and share the old photos.

From 1929 until 1957, the intersection of Island Park Drive and Richmond Road, arguably one of the busiest of the west end at the time (and even now), features no traffic lights or stop signs, but instead was controlled via a traffic circle! 

Here are two shots of the traffic circle when it was first installed in the summer of 1929. The top shot is shown looking as if you were standing in the middle of Island Park Drive looking north, with Richmond Road running left to right in front of you. You can see 351 Island Park Drive in the background, and that car at the right edge would have been parked just about in the lot of the old Proshine Car Wash. (click on the photo to have it open in a larger view).

(CA-19227 - City of Ottawa Archives)

Here is a shot from the opposite angle, looking south down Island Park Drive. You can see the roof of the then five-year-old St. George's Church on the left. Very little was built up on Island Park Drive at the time, and the trees are all young.

(CA-19228 - City of Ottawa Archives)

Island Park Drive was opened up in 1923 by the Ottawa Improvement Commission (a forerunner of the Federal District Commission and later the N.C.C.) as the "West End Driveway", but at the time only ran as far as the water's edge at the Ottawa River, by the Remic Rapids. In September of 1927, the Champlain Bridge was opened to continue the Driveway, but it only extended over the three islands, not all the way across to Quebec yet. It took a year of impressive construction work to finish the bridge to the Quebec side. Not surprisingly, it increased traffic in the area substantially, not to mention that real estate was absolutely booming at this time (Wellington Village was probably 60% constructed between 1927 and 1933; Island Park Drive itself began having houses built on it; and Hampton Park, Piccadilly/Mayfair, Champlain Park, etc. were all in the peak period of development). And let's not forget that automobiles were still relatively new, and certainly the ability for the common citizen to afford and use one was still new - infrastructure for vehicular traffic was still in its infancy. If we thought the growth of Kitchissippi at present was bad, you can imagine how crazy it would have been in 1929. So the traffic circle was pitched as a way to control the traffic, as there were increasing numbers of accidents and back-ups at the intersection.

Ottawa Journal - September 5, 1929

At left is an article published in the Ottawa Journal not long after the roundabout was installed, extolling the virtues of traffic circles. The author of this article was certainly a strong proponent of this new strategy in traffic control!

Check out a vintage aerial photo from 1933 showing the traffic circle in use. (Also notable is how empty the Island Park-Richmond intersection is at the time! The Cities Service Oil Co. station is there at the north-east corner, but within a few years two more gas stations would open on the south corners. and an ice cream parlour would open on the north-west corner (but more on all this in a future blog!).

An aerial photo from 1933 showing the traffic circle at Island Park (running top to bottom)
and Richmond Road (left to right). St. George's Church is visible at bottom right, between
Piccadilly and Mayfair streets.

Finally, the traffic circle was removed in 1957, to be replaced by traffic lights. Interestingly, the removal of the circle was a debacle throughout it's final year. On boxing day of 1956, a 24-year-old police constable skidded into the circle and fractured his skull; in March, Sunday drivers taking advantage of the first nice weekend of Spring tied up Island Park Drive for hours, which was blamed on the traffic circle; in April a pedestrian was struck crossing the circle and was taken to hospital; during the first week of July the FDC began removing the earth and vegetation from the middle of the circle prematurely, before City Council had officially approved the removal of the traffic circle, resulting in the FDC having to formally apologize, but also leaving the circle in an ugly, half-demolished state for several months; and in late July Alderman Frank Boyce crashed into the circle and broke his leg while blinded by the lights of an oncoming car. 

The circle was finally completely demolished in late September (at a cost of $8,500, shared between the FDC and City of Ottawa), and was replaced by what some community members complained was an "asphalt jungle", an eyesore in comparison to the attractive centerpiece of flowers and grass which had existed in this spot for the previous 28 years. Unfortunately, little has changed in the 58 years since, it is still a relatively boring intersection. Though the changes made about 10 years ago to remove the mini-islands and turning lanes have added a bit of extra greenery to the intersection, it came at the loss of functionality for cars. With the new Convent condos now being populated and more cars added to the area every day, it is only getting worse. And ironically, the City is not only revisiting the early 20th century transportation methods by re-laying rail track that was pulled up in the latter half of the century, they are even coming full circle (please excuse the pun) when it comes to re-adding roundabouts in various spots in the City (Gatineau certainly loves them too, for those familiar with driving on the Quebec side). Maybe a return to a traffic circle at Island Park Drive and Richmond might be what we need to solve our traffic woes in the area???  :)  


  1. You can see our home in the photo of the roundabout from 1933. We have a similar photo of it from that same period. Our house was built in the 1890's and it was one of the first after the area was originally cut into lots. It was also the post office for the area in the 1920s. At that time it belonged to the Hackett family who owned Hackett's Shoe Repair on Bank Street. Mr. Hackett made shoes for a number of Governor Generals.

  2. What goes around comes around.

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