It seems last month, not last year, that we launched Spacing Ottawa with a party at the Cube Gallery on Hamilton. I’ll never forget the date; ironically, that’s because I hardly remember what happened. I had come down with a horrible once-in-a-decade virus that same morning; I was croaking instead of talking and breaking out into random sweats and dizzy spells. I was so hopped-up on Robitussin DM that if it wasn’t for this video I don’t think I’d remember one conversation from the entire evening, but I do remember that I met a hundred or so people with elbow bumps instead of handshakes. With streaming nose and eyes, you’d have been crazy to take my hand even if I’d have offered it.
But despite such an inauspicious start to my association with Spacing, I’ve had a fascinating year as editor of this blog. The best part has been getting to work with the many contributors to our pages; contributors whose interests span so many areas of expertise and who brim with enthusiasm for Ottawa’s urban experience.
We went online November 18, 2009 and since then, thanks to those contributors, I’ve discovered a lot I didn’t know about Ottawa. Looking back on our first year, I thought I’d mark the occasion by recalling some of my most memorable “I didn’t know that!” moments How many of these were a surprise to you?
- I had no idea that Ottawa has its very own “Alphabet City”, a little-known and easily-missed neighbourhood close to the train yards behind Ottawa Station. Dwight Williams’ post about the district even included a map of the original street plan.
- The current plans to build a tunnel under the downtown core for Light Rail Transit are actually Ottawa’s fourth attempt at a transit tunnel; far from being a brainchild of our last mayor, such a tunnel has actually been on the drawing board since 1915.
- Speaking of Ottawa Station, its predecessor was actually a half-scale replica of New York City’s late lamented Penn Station, once one of of the most famous Beaux Arts structures ever built and now just a hole in the ground. Dave McLelland shared that nugget with us in a post about how the old Union Station/Government Conference Centre could be put to far better use.
- In a follow-up post, McLelland pointed out that had the oft-maligned Greber plan been fully implemented 60 years ago, instead of the tangled spaghetti of the Queensway/Lees/Nicholas interchange, we’d have a grand boulevard at grade level carrying traffic downtown from the south and east; it would look like this.
- The City’s “One Percent for Art” program means that for capital projects like major street rebuilding, one percent of the project’s total cost must be spent on public art. But what constitutes public art? Well, for the recent street rebuilding in Centretown, Kate Wetherow explained that it includes innovative bike racks like these on Bank Street.
- It’s now called the Eternal Flame but the monument in front of the Peace Tower was only supposed to be lit for one year; Tonya Davidson told us why those plans had to be changed, along with more fascinating insight into how Ottawa’s pubic space was populated with new monuments during what Pierre Berton called “the last good year”
- We’ve all seen them, often locked to railings or parking meters. They’re abandoned bikes –the tires are flat, the carrier is attracting garbage, the chain is rusting – and weeks later, just when you think they bike is finally beyond salvaging, poof!, someone — or something– has finally taken it away. Where did it go? Kathryn Hunt did some investigative journalism and came up with the answers.
- And finally, a pair of bonus “didn’t knows” that make a game of it. Chris Warden ran a contest series called “Where in Ottawa” and two of my favourite clues took us aboard Ottawa’s lost streetcar network and into an abandoned cinema that sits inside a downtown office building.