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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Mill, revisited

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"Hmmm...what's this? A note? Trouble about the Old Mill story, you say? Damn!"

Several weeks ago I posted on the recently-announced plans to turn the Thompson-Perkins Mill — the site of the late and unlamented Mill Restaurant — into a brewpub.

After going discussing the site’s major shortcoming — basically that the multi-lane roadways that surround it make it far too removed from natural pedestrian traffic patterns, despite its proximity to the downtown core — I concluded that: so many of the riverbank amenities in our city, despite its proximity to us, (The Mill) might as well be miles away for those of us who are on foot. A multi-lane “cordon sanitaire” protects the facility from contamination by pedestrian traffic from either the south or the east. And when we think of where we like to dine in Ottawa, we think of the Market, Elgin Street, Wellington Street West; places where pedestrians are clearly welcome to explore and mingle.

Can a pub cut off from the life of the city around it survive as a drive-to location? Certainly there are successful road-house style bars in the suburbs, but I suspect that when customers get this close to the core they want something more; they are drawn by the idea that they might pop in somewhere else for dessert and coffee, or just stroll the busy sidewalks with hundreds of others, letting their senses absorb the sights and sounds. It is just this sort of variety that makes the urban experience so attractive.

Of course I wish the operators of the new pub at the Thompson-Perkins site all the best luck. But as long as their landlords insist on routing what is essentially an expressway just a few meters from their front door, I suspect that the Mill will continue to occupy the same place in our mental landscape — well off the beaten track.

The week after posting that I received a note from Spacing Ottawa contributor Kalle Hakala reminding me of a CBC report that should have gone some way to informing the post, but clearly hadn’t. I made a mental note to update the post with his comments,  but my mental notes are not what they used to be, and it wasn’t until today that I spotted his note again. So before I have another lapse in cognition, here is Kalle:

You should know that the NCC is planning to put bike lanes on the Portage Bridge, possibly as early as this summer. At the same time, I understand they are proposing pedestrian crossings of the Wellington/Portage intersection (which currently forbids peds from crossing at grade).

…the NCC doesn’t have anything on their website, but here is a CBC story from a few weeks ago that explains it.

So what do Spacing readers think? Will proper ped crossings go a long way to bringing The Mill into the realm of the urban and accessible, or will it still be a riverbank roadhouse retreat best reached by car?



  1. I think you were right in saying that the area will probably need places where people can have dessert and coffee. I think the brew pub will do well since they’re offering a unique experience, but it won’t make the waterfront a serious destination for residents across the city. Some people like the head of the Chamber of Commerce have said that the brew pub would probably attract other businesses, but Lebreton Flats isn’t just any normal development site driven by supply and demand. It’s owned by the NCC which moves very slowly when it comes to development. It’ll be at least another 10 years before Lebreton is some sort of destination, even with cycling and pedestrian infrastructure.

  2. The area is still a planning disaster. A couple of at grade crossings hardly change that.

  3. A lot has changed since the Mill was last open for business.  The massive upscale condos across the street, the War Museum and the festivals that call it home over the summer.  I don’t know what the zoning is around the Mill but there certainly is the space to have a pretty unique mix of restaurants and other businesses.  

    I very often walk the path network past the Mill location and it’s hardly difficult to get to by bike or foot. Ten minutes or less from Sparks Street without the need to cross any busy intersections.  Someone had to be first to get the area going.  Glad it’s someone with a chance and someone that seems to be willing to put their money into it.  I wish them luck and will be one of the first in line at the door. I do enjoy their beer, can’t wait to try their restaurant.

  4. I agree with your original comments. I think that the changes to the crossings and bike lanes will help, but ultimately there is going to be very little walk by traffic, particularly in winter. With the exception of the odd tourist who stumbles upon it, this pub will have to survive as a destination (and I pray that it does. Of course, if/when Lebreton is built out and stronger linkages to the river are created, that location is going to be absolutely prime.

  5. Despite having the rivers and canals, Ottawa has a real lack of water side pubs/restaurants. I wish them the best of luck and if I can bike there I will go there.

  6. Autowa has a real lack of waterside anything, because Autowa has an unhealthy obssession with green space, open space, and parkways.