Thursday, September 14, 2023

Creating land: How the City's garbage became the new Ottawa River shoreline

lookng east from Bayview, November 1962
(source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-8684)

While conducting research for my book on Mechanicsville, I began looking at the history of Lazy Bay, and the "Lazy Bay Commons", as a portion of the abutting land is sometimes called. For those of you who don't know the term, Lazy Bay is the little bay that comes in from the River alongside the Parkway, just north of Laroche Park. Lazy Bay Commons is the greenspace south of the Parkway, on which the NCC is proposing the construction of a row of embassies. 

Prior to doing this research, I'd known that when the Parkway was first built, that the City and NCC had built up areas along the shoreline to help ensure a relatively straight line of travel, close to the river, to take advantage of the picturesque views. In order to do this, a large area in the LeBreton Flats, Bayview and Mechanicsville areas (as well as an area closer to McKellar and Woodroffe) were filled in. I also knew that rock was brought in to create the base.  And probably like most people, that's about all I really knew. Yes I'd heard the rumours of old garbage dumps or pits along the route, and probably like most people, assumed it was just old temporary dumps that had existed in LeBreton or the open areas around Bayview. 

However, as I dug deeper in to the research, I discovered that in fact, the story was far more complex. That the story of the Parkway and the created land over which it travels, from Mechanicsville east through LeBreton Flats, has many interconnecting parts to other major NCC and City of Ottawa projects happening at the time. Most notably - the shifting of all city garbage dumps and collection from the west and east ends - to the shoreline of the Ottawa River. Yes, in the early 1960s, the city garbage trucks brought their loads to the shore; ordinary citizens brought their old fridges and televisions and bags of trash; and many of the houses of LeBreton Flats, exprorpriated as part of the "urban renewal" of the neighbourhood, were discarded just a few hundred feet away into Nepean Bay. 

My September column in the Kitchissippi Times introduces this topic, and the history behind the Parkway and how the new land was created. This was not just an Ottawa concept, cities across North America were doing the same thing. And the short-sighted solution to solving problems at the time, are now wreaking havoc 60 years later as plans are made to build on these articifically-created landfill sites, including most notably at Lazy Bay Commons.

Ottawa Citizen - March 8, 1963

This article is part one of a two-part series (part two will run in October), and it really only scratches the surface of the whole story, but I think gives a good overview. Please read the full story at the link below:

Note that in the printed/paper version of the newspaper, an error was printed, giving the date of one of the photos as 1968. That is incorrect, it was from 1962. It is fixed in the online edition.

Also, the perils of writing for a print newspaper meant that I had to cut down a lot of content into about 1,600 words, which my editor further edited down to fit. One quote I really liked that got removed I'm going to re-add here, from near the end of the article, discussing the problems in LeBreton Flats as families left their expropriated houses, and they were left boarded up and vacant:

Though the first houses began to be demolished in October 1963, Ottawa’s Fire Chief urged it wasn’t happening fast enough, and pressured the NCC, calling the houses “time bombs ready to go off”. The Journal wrote of the boarded up homes: “They’ve been taken over by drunks who wine-and-dine and sleep at their leisure, children who play in the ghostly rooms and sheds, and scavenger junkmen at work, systematically stripping them of everything saleable.” 

The NCC quickly began pulling down the houses, and placing them in the Bay. Many of the original LeBreton Flats houses still exist today – buried deep below the Parkway.

I hope you enjoy the article. Remember to watch for part two in October! Also I will be giving a public talk on this subject in January for the Historical Society of Ottawa. Stay tuned for more info on that!


  1. Infilling the bay was not a "short sighted" plan. Cities around the world change shorelines to create developable land. Much of the desirable public waterfront land along the Ottawa River or Dows Lake is ... reclaimed. Cities we regularly praise for their new downtown neighbourhoods (eg Copenhagen, Amsterdam) are on reclaimed land. Much depends on the quality of the infill material and future use of the new land, and the value of the lost amenity (river) but these are valid public policy choices.

    1. And Boston … the tony Back Bay neighbourhood was literally once the back bay of Boston Harbour; and Marseilles (where, lucky me, I happen to have read this post) … the Prado Beach is debris from the 1970’s construction of the metro (swimming was lovely there this afternoon) :-)

  2. Montreal and Toronto also have a huge amount of the shoreline reclaimed to expand decelopment. I remember my parents telling me that part of the flats was a garbage dump at one point but long before the infill project. I think when the light rail and other projects were being developed in that area this came to light as excavations took place. There's a lot of things buried in that are like an old train tunnel and rumours of an actual shunt train engine used for the local brewery. I may have read that here or in the news when they were digging for the LRT.