Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hintonburg's Fairmont Avenue Arena...almost! (and thus how Hintonburg Park, Hintonburg Community Centre and Tom Brown Arena all came to be)

This is a story from nearly 50 years ago that only older long-time Hintonburg residents might remember. But it is such an important story in how the neighbourhood would develop, and specifically how many of Hintonburg's most important locations came to be. It's actually a pretty crazy story, and I am happy to share it now, here in the Kitchissppi Museum. Enjoy!


In the late 1960s, recreation for both youths and adults was an issue in Hintonburg. Residents complained about the lack of options in the neighbourhood to keep kids busy, and to keep active. The area lagged behind most other communities in services, and was largely ignored in 1967, the year of Centennial capital building projects. Hintonburg, and even the surrounding neighbourhoods had very little recreation space at the time. The St. Francis Hall/Rec Centre (where Hintonburg CC now stands) was located in the chapel of the original St. Francois D'Assise Church and featured most notably a bowling alley, but the building was small and outdated (the City leased the hall several nights a week for recreation programs). There were outdoor rinks in the winter, and a few pool halls, bowling alleys and movie theaters in the area, but it was thin beyond that. Residents began to push the city for more facilities, and Hintonburg was promised they would get their due attention soon, and that opportunity came in 1971.

In that February's budget, the Recreation and Parks department received a significant allocation, a total of over $1.5M in funding (well up from the $300k received the year previous). The biggest commitment made at the time was $300,000 marked for the purchase of land in Hintonburg, for the erection of an indoor pool complex as soon as 1972. The top site being considered for this purchase was the former CPR roundhouse site on the east side of Bayview (which of course is now the site of Tom Brown Arena).

However, at Council meeting on Monday October 18th, 1971, approval was given to spend $400,000 to acquire two acres of land from the Capuchin Fathers (St. Francois D'Assise Church) plus three private properties along Duhamel Street, to construct "an indoor arena, playground, community centre and parking lot". The five-year proposed budget did not earmark funds for the construction of the arena itself, but it was felt that funding for that project could be re-prioritized and budgeted for in a future year. Alderman Rolly Wall estimated the full project would cost $1M including the land acquisition.

In order to acquire this land, the City expropriated 1.3 acres from St. Francois Church, and were in the midst of negotiating the purchase of three privately-owned properties (which later turned into a as many as 25 housing units that the City was attempting to acquire, comprising most of Duhamel and the north end of St. Francis Street). These additional properties were to be razed in order to make room for the arena's parking lot. The plan also called for Duhamel and St. Francis Streets to become dead ends.

One potential flaw in the arena plan was that the design called for the construction of 1,500 seats in the rink but only included parking for 90 cars on site.

A few weeks later, some residents in the area opened their mailboxes one morning to find letters from the City of Ottawa indicating that property was to be acquired by the City. "This is to advise you that city council at its meeting of Oct. 18, 1971 approved the acquisition of your property known as 13 St. Francis St. in connection with the recreation and parks sports complex.", stated one letter. Residents were fearful of losing their property which, in some cases had been in their family for multiple generations. Whatever little support the City may have had with the proposed project was quickly slipping with the way they were managing it with the local residents most affected.

Ottawa Journal headline - August 18, 1972


1972 began with Ottawa Mayor Fogarty announcing that the city's top priorities for the year were to begin building a "major sports complex" at St. Luke's Park off Elgin Street, lease land from the NCC for a golf course, establish more day camp programs for the summer, construct at least 10 centrally located tennis courts, and to acquire the land for Hintonburg's Fairmont Avenue Arena.

News on the arena development was slow in 1972. In May, the Ottawa separate school board came out in opposition to the arena, citing that there was not enough space in the area, which was directly behind what was then Sacred Heart School. In fact, the earliest land acquisition talks the City had were with the Separate board in acquiring the Church land for a joint school-city playground area.

By August it was reported that the City had purchased three of the six properties they required specifically for the arena's parking lot. The Journal reported that the other three homeowners did not want to sell. A fourth was acquired by October. Homeowners were told they would have to vacate their properties by January 1973. The remaining were expected to be expropriated (their homes sold to the city without their approval required) soon after, if negotiations were unsuccessful.

But as the proposal began to become more real, local residents started to fight it. A petition was circulated in the neighbourhood that summer citing the problems the arena would cause, chiefly that the quiet neighbourhood would be significantly changed, that many more cars would be parking throughout the neighbourhood, fire protection and snow removal would be compromised, and much needed housing units lost. Residents pushed for the arena to be built in an area where expropriation wouldn't be required, such as Laroche Park or the former roundhouse site at Bayview. Officials countered back that they did not want to build on Laroche Park, and that the Bayview site was not even owned by the City.

Morris Nolan of 26 St. Francis Street pointed out that generally an arena does not serve the area in which it is constructed, or at least in significant part; that teams from all over the city and suburbs would use it from early morning until late at night, and that if the City was focused on providing recreation for the majority of the people in the area, that a park would make the most sense for the space.

Mrs. Battool Escander, a 26-year resident of St. Francis Street was upset. "This is my home. I like it. Now they want to tear it down and move me somewhere else" she told the newspaper. Mrs. Margaret Hart, a resident of the area for 25 years, felt she would have trouble buying another home with the money the city offered her.

The battle became not just a fight against an arena, which almost all local residents were opposed to, but also a stand on the principle that residents should be involved in planning projects, which they felt they had not been. "They'll call us in after the plans are drawn up and ask us what color scheme we want and where we want the doorknobs" said one resident, "And they call that participation in planning."

That summer, a youth group called 'Catalyst' conducted a survey in the area, sponsored by a grant from Opportunities for Youth, to measure attitudes on a variety of topics. One of the questions found that 68 per cent of the 180 families surveyed wanted to see the vacant church land used as a "passive park" (a park with only minor features, such as benches and picnic tables) or a children's playground, while 20% favoured a community centre ,and just 7% wanted the arena.

Certainly the consensus was that residents felt that the park should remain a park for children, and that money should be put into adding a playground to the space. The large apartment building across the street on Wellington was also in the midst of construction, and it was felt that the seniors in that building would benefit from the parkland. The Journal further noted that Statistics Canada figures showed that the ratio of persons over 65 in the area was about 50 per cent higher than the average for the city.

However the local Alderman Walter Ryan argued that the $400,000 price tag paid for the Hintonburg Park property was too expensive to use for just a park, and it was also noted that there was little flexibility in the city budget, and that $1M allocated for a rink could not be simply transferred to a park.


Hintonburg Park had a long history as the gardens for the Capuchin Fathers, and by 1972 still had a large number of trees on it (certainly many more than it does today), including significant numbers of plum and apple trees, and "about 30 other large, mature trees". It was still a popular spot for children to play, and for many years was home to outdoor ice rinks in the winter for local kids to play on.

Hintonburg Park, circa 1972, looking northeast

Hintonburg Park, circa 1972, looking
northwest long fence on Fairmont. An
old storage shed can be seen at left.


The Journal editorial in August 1972 agreed with local residents, and argued that city official reconsider the plan, and that "a new effort should be made to find out what the residents of the area really want today, not what they might have thought they wanted five or more years ago." A month later they were steadfast in their opposition, editorializing "Who wants this rink?"

200 residents came out to a meeting in mid-September to confirm their opposition to the arena plan. Alderman Water Ryan admitted he had changed his mind on the arena as well "I was party to recreation and parks' decision over a year ago to build the arena. But in the past six months, I've realized it was the wrong decision. It would mean tearing down perfectly good houses. The arena would also be a city facility rather than a community one". He said he favoured construction of a community centre similar to the planned St. Luke's centre off Elgin, which would cost considerably less than an arena.

Yet, west-enders did still want an arena, and wondered why Laroche Park could not be used. Walter Ryan noted that "we looked at four other sites and this was the largest lot of open space requiring the least amount of demolition", though he would not name the other sites considered. Alderman Wall stuck to the Fairmont Avenue location, stating "if you want an arena, it has to be there."

The political wheels began to be set in motion that fall, while many passionate residents began to rise up against the proposed arena.

A demonstration was held in mid-September in the Park, which brought out some community members with signs, to help promote the issue within the media. The Journal did take some photos, but there was seemingly no coverage in the papers about it, and the turnout appears to be kind of small. But I like the extra photos of the old park, so I ordered a couple photos at the archives from it:

September 9, 1972 demonstration at Hintonburg Park
(Source: Ottawa Archives, CA-25847)

September 9, 1972 demonstration at
Hintonburg Park
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-25848)

Based on overwhelming public pressure, Alderman Ryan went to Council and advised them to halt the land acquisition for the arena, and to sell any land already acquired on Duhamel and St. Francis, of course first offering them back to their former owners at the same price, less any additional costs the former owners had incurred. The Parks department was also asked to look at alternative uses for the church property acquired from the Church. Ryan felt a community centre and small pool could be built instead. Meanwhile the Laroche Park Community Association circulated a petition demanding the arena be built instead in Laroche Park.

Concurrently, with no official decision yet made by City Council, on October 13th, a group of 22 Hintonburg homeowners applied for a Supreme Court injunction to stop construction of an arena. Their application was based on the case that the proposed 90 parking spaces was far below the minimum requirements set out in the city's zoning bylaw. They stated that the bylaw stipulated one parking space for every 100-square feet of enclosed area, or one for every four permanent seats, whichever requires most, thus a need for as many as 375 parking spaces.

On October 17th, it was announced that the Board of Control would continue to proceed with their expropriation of the land behind the Church, though they cautioned "no definite decision has been reached on building an arena on the site". The Ottawa Journal reported that an "incensed" Controller Garry Guzzo stated "Let's get on with the project. Let's give the arena to somebody that wants it.", while Controller Tom McDougall added "I'm sure the Canterbury district would be pleased to have it."

The Board put the decision in the hands of the recreation committee for a final decision. John Tucker, acting commissioner of the committee, had already looked at Laroche Park and stated it was too small and should not be considered. The Board however was looking at other land on Bayview adjoining Laroche Park on the north side of Scott.


On Halloween 1972, a heated two hour debate resulted in the the Recreation and Parks Committee officially cancelling the Hintonburg arena plan, and instead approving an arena for Canterbury. As an alternative, Hintonburg was approved for capital funding for construction of a community centre in 1974, in the park space behind the Church. The plan would indeed be modelled after St. Luke's in Centretown. It was also noted though, that the old recreation hall (next to the Church on Wellington, to the west) was to be sold within the next year, and that this could be another possible location for the new community centre. Ryan stated a community centre in Hintonburg "is now guaranteed for 1974".

Ottawa Journal, November 1, 1972

Oddly a week later city council left the recreation committee's recommendation off their council agenda, spurring the Hintonburg residents to restart their legal action against the City. But at their next meeting on November 20th, council accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Board of Control to have the Hintonburg arena plan officially cancelled.

The Fairmont Avenue Arena plan was officially dead.


In early 1973, the former St. Francis Parish Hall/recreation centre/bowling alley was indeed put up for sale by the Capuchin Fathers, due to high overhead. An agreement for sale was made with a developer (Marvo Construction Co. Ltd.) who wanted to build a high-rise apartment building for seniors. However, Planning Board rejected the application.

In March of 1973, Planning Board instead passed a motion "strongly" recommending the City to acquire the St. Francis Hall, renovate it, and use it a community centre. This would thus allow the park behind the Church to be left intact in its natural state. Planner Arnold Faintuck and his staff found it was possible to renovate the old centre (at a cost of $100,000), rather than demolish it, which was planned.

The city agreed and entered negotiations, which was rumoured to run as high as $250k (the final price was $235k). The sale was official in September of 1973, and immediately, residents of Mechanicsville and Hintonburg met with Community development commissioner Douglas Wurtele. They proposed pooling the talents of the local residents to do the renovations to the centre, reducing the $100k renovation price tag, and "bring residents closer together in a common project". The commissioner endorsed the "novel approach", and added that any money saved through volunteer labour should be spent on other projects in the community, though noted that ultimately city council would make that final decision.

The new "West Ottawa Community Centre" opened in November of 1974 in the renovated old Parish Hall, and operated until it was demolished in the spring of 1988. The new Hintonburg Community Centre was built in its place, and opened on May 1st, 1989 at a cost of $3.8M.

Meanwhile, going back to 1975, the original city budgets for that year once again included $1M for an arena in Hintonburg. However over the following week, it was discovered that the city's community development committee had mistakenly projected expenditures 30% above 1974, yet were capped at the previous years level. Therefore the Hintonburg arena was the first to go. However, it was placed in a long-range budget for 1979, for an "unspecified location". It was in January of 1979 that the Tom Brown Arena would open, giving Hintonburg it's long-awaited arena, on the site of the former CPR roundhouse.

While each of these important public facilities in Kitchissippi - the Hintonburg Community Centre and Tom Brown Arena - deserve (and will someday get) their own detailed "history of" article here in the Museum, their existence, or at least the fact that they exist where they do today is so significantly tied to the almost-Fairmont Avenue Arena in 1972! So too is the reality that we still can enjoy Hintonburg Park in basically its original natural and undisturbed state today.

Most importantly, all of this is really thanks to the impressive efforts of some passionate, caring Hintonburg residents back in 1972 who gradually won over their councillor, the parks committee, Board of Control and eventually City Council, to fight what would have been a big change in Hintonburg's development going forward, and certainly would have changed the character of the neighbourhood around Fairmont-Duhamel and the St. Francis D'Assise Church... arguably the heart of Hintonburg.

I'd venture to say that we are a lot better of with how things turned out!

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