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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

The Changing Face of Vanier

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The architect’s design slowly emerges as the curved concrete walls of the Wabano Centre are being poured. With the undulating forms of its façade and the massive dome that will top the new expansion, the centre is bound to become an iconic feature on Montreal Road. The building, designed by Douglas Cardinal, Ottawa’s preeminent architect, highlights the curvilinear style also evident in the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau.

A couple blocks south, just off McArthur Avenue and the Vanier Parkway, a much larger pit is visible. Bona Building & Management Co. is constructing a large office tower on one of the few remaining lots that housed a warehouse built in the 1940’s. Further north, also along the parkway, a second Claridge tower is growing tall. In addition to the two 20 storey buildings, this 10-acre site contains 54 townhouses and six three-storey condo buildings. A retirement home along Landry Street will complete the project. Today, few remember the controversy that erupted when the development was first proposed or the fact that this was once a steel fabrication plant.

I have only lived in Vanier for two and a half years, but I think it fair to assume that the neighbourhood, the size of about one square mile, hasn’t seen this many cranes (three in total) since the towers of Place Vanier were constructed between 1968 and 1975.

The face of Vanier is changing, and yet so much of what makes the neighbourhood livable remains intact. Vanier is dotted with city parks, borders the Rideau River and is mere minutes from downtown Ottawa. The street grid is a mess and resembles more a tangled web than the square blocks of modern planning – streets do not properly connect and sidewalks end abruptly.  As a result, car traffic is slowed down and the short blocks, assembled of the tiny lots and pie-shaped squares, create a very walkable neighbourhood.

Slick contemporary homes are quietly popping up between freshly painted working class homes of the pre-war era and 1950’s bungalows, complete with flat roof carports. The Richelieu Park, slightly larger than Major’s Hill Park, boasts a renovated library, a thriving community garden and a recently restored Virgin.

This is not the new Hintonburg or a more affordable version of New Edinburgh – Vanier is simply being itself within all of its foibles and particularities.

Photo Captions

1. House on N. River Road complete with enclosed garden and copper roof

2. Edinburgh Common, a 10-acre site developed by Claridge Homes

3. #39 and #47 Laval Street

4. A new foundation for an old home on Marier Avenue

5. ESSO on Beechwood Avenue: future location for a condo development by Domicile

6. Notre Dame d’Afrique sculpture (after conservation work), Richelieu Park

7. Sign at Vanier Community Garden, Richelieu Park

8. Le Saint Denis condo building, St. Denis Street

9. Expansion of Wabano Centre, Montreal Road

10. New office tower off Vanier Parkway



  1. Since 2001 I’ve lived in this neck of the woods – for five years north of Beechwood in an apartment and then the next five south of beechwood in a post war 1 1/2 story home. Love the area!! I really don’t want to see it become overly gentrified! We are very lucky to have not only beechwood but montreal road as shopping streets. and I love that it’s tucked away – little of the drive-through traffic that the glebe and westboro have. really happy that people are talking about it more but also want it to stay one of the best kept secrets in Ottawa! : ) Great article Mike!

  2. I grew up in Vanier and much of my family still lives there. While it saddens me to see many landmarks get gentrified beyond recognition, I realize that the facelifts are long overdue. Vanier has a lot to offer but I’m afraid it won’t lose much of its reputation until most of Montreal Road gets a major overhaul. A lot of the shop exteriors haven’t been renovated in decades. The signs and facades of pawnshops, porn shops, strip joints, payday loan providers, temporary manual labour agencies and the low-fee hotel make it look extremely seedy and dissuade passers-by (who aren’t from the neighbourhood) from checking out a lot of the unique and diverse shops and restaurants that have established themselves (or have attempted to establish themselves) on what this a strip of (what I assume is) low-rent commercial space. Until those eye-sores have been dealt with, Vanier will not get the respect it deserves or fulfill its true potential. Then again, perhaps those eye-sores are the very reason so many families are able to benefit from this diamond in the rough without attraction too much attention from over-zealous flippers and developers.