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Sunday, 11 February 2024 16:14

Dave Allson: Ottawa’s Shoreline - Built from Garbage

A 1962 photo showing the causeway under construction. A 1962 photo showing the causeway under construction. City of Ottawa archives – CA-8684

Dave Allston is a ‘trash talker’. Specifically, on the afternoon of Saturday, January 27, 2024, he talked to the Historical Society of Ottawa at our first in-person presentation of 2024 on how the Ottawa River shoreline was reshaped during the early 1960s using garbage. Dave is the senior asset manager (heritage) at National Defence and also an author, columnist, researcher, and runs the blog, The Kitchissippi Museum. He was making his 3 rd presentation to the Society. The session, which was hosted by the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, received a record turnout of 113 attendees, who were captivated by Dave’s account.

Dave explained to us that in 1959 the City of Ottawa was facing a major problem. The two municipal dumps, one on Riverside Drive and the other on Raven Road, were both reaching capacity and would need to be closed within two years. A solution was urgently needed. Likely inspired by Toronto’s redevelopment of their waterfront and similar work in other cities, in February 1959 the Ottawa Works Commissioner, Frank Ayers, recommended to the Board of Control that Nepean Bay, which lay just to the west of the current site of the Canadian War Museum, could be used as their new landfill site. The Board directed him to approach the National Capital Commission with the idea. Their response was immediate and enthusiastic. The NCC had envisaged creating a giant beach along the Ottawa River along with a large playground and other recreation facilities, but had no clear plan for how to proceed. The City’s proposal was approved in one week. The scheme, part of the NCC’s implementation of the Greber Plan, would eventually also encompass Lazy Bay just north of Laroche Park and Bayview Bay between the Lemieux Island Bridge and the Chief William Commanda Bridge.

The plan was simple. Build a causeway across the mouth of the bay that would both seal it off from the river and provide a roadway for the garbage trucks to dump their loads. They would then pump out the water from behind the causeway; the bay was only 4 or 5 feet deep. Ignore the many feet of water-rotted sawdust that covered the bottom of the bay, a by-product from the lumber industry. Then fill the whole thing with garbage, finally to be covered by rock and a thick layer of soil. Presto, 50 acres of new land created and a temporary end to the garbage crisis. Work commenced on the causeway in the early months of 1962 and the dump was opened during the week of March 4, 1963.

There would be a massive amount of rock required to build the causeway, which would extend west to Lazy Bay. Dave explained that fortunately, there were other major projects underway in Ottawa at that time, which both provided the necessary rock for the causeway and a convenient disposal solution for the other projects. Tunnelling for the Ottawa Interceptor and Outfall Sewer project would create millions of tons of rock. The tunnels ran from Booth Street under Wellington past the Chateau Laurier and east through to the new sewage disposal plant at Green’s Creek. At this time, Ottawa pumped all its raw sewage directly into the Ottawa River. The new treatment plant would partially treat this sewage, the City feeling that it was not worth the additional expense to fully treat the sewage as the communities upstream continued to pump their sewage into the river untreated. A second excavation project to entrench what is now the OC Transpo’s Trillium Line and take it underneath Dow’s Lake, also provided rock for the causeway. Finally, the major excavation project involved in the construction of the National Arts Centre would provide the fill needed to cover all the garbage once the dump was full.

With the closure of the Riverside Drive landfill on March 9, 1963, all city garbage was sent to the new site, which was expected to have a lifespan of two years. The city even placed ads in the newspaper to encourage their citizens to bring their own garbage to the new dump. Dave revealed that there were other factors at play that would dramatically shorten the life of the new landfill. The National Capital Commission had begun an urban renewal project in LeBreton Flats in 1962 and as residents of the area moved away, their former homes and businesses remained empty. It didn’t take long until this proved to be a problem, encouraging squatters, cases of arson and a range of other undesirable activities. As such, the NCC began demolishing the structures as soon as they became vacant, and as the new city dump in Nepean Bay was handy, the remains were carted there. The result was that the dump filled quickly and was closed on February 1, 1964, less than a year after it opened.

By this time the NCC had abandoned their grandiose beach plans in favour of simple parkland, other uses, and a parkway, now known as the Kichi Zībī Mīkan. This meant excavation of thousands of tons of the recently buried garbage and transferring it west to either Bayview Bay or Lazy Bay. Although the parkway provided a scenic drive and a much needed west – east link, it also separated the communities from the river and areas that had traditionally formed part of their neighborhood.

Dave reminded us that this all happened over the span of a few years some 60 years ago and that today few are even aware that this took place. This is true even for some members of the National Capital Commission. As new development is proposed and eventually undertaken in these areas, such as the construction of a number of embassies on Lazy Bay Commons, do the planners know what to expect? Will the solution to our garbage crisis of 1959 come back to haunt us in the years ahead, and, as we face the same problem again, what lessons are to be learned from our response back then?

Earlier on the morning of January 27, 2024, CBO-FM featured an interview between Dave and the host of their program “In Town and Out”, Giacomo Panico. The interview carries additional information on the topic and can be heard at: Ottawa River shoreline made out of garbage | In Town and Out with Giacomo Panico | Live Radio | CBC Listen.