In some ways, not too much has changed in fifteen years—on the eve of a move away from Old Ottawa South, a resident recounts what he’ll miss most about the neighbourhood in this article from the June 2004 OSCAR.
Ten things I love (and will miss) about Old Ottawa South — By Jim Watson
In just a few weeks, I will be moving from one of the greatest neighborhoods in Ottawa, a place I’ve called home for almost two decades—Old Ottawa South (OOS). As I begin packing my belongings, I started to reflect on what makes our community such a great place to live and work in.
Politicians often throw around the phrase “quality of life” more often than they should, but it docs have special meaning to a neighborhood like ours.
Trying to limit my favorite things about OOS was tough. You quickly realize why this is such a desirable neighborhood to live in. Whether it’s a neighbor shoveling another neighbors sidewalk when he isn’t able to; or parents organizing a ball hockey tournament on Bellwood; or a Clam bake at Brighton Beach; or feeding the swans on the banks of the Rideau; or flooding a backyard on Cameron and creating Oak Leaf Garden, the list can be endless.
While I very much am looking forward to my new home in a great community called Woodpark, your first home always has significance. So I bid adieu to a great community with kind neighbours and wonderful memories, and I present you with my top ten reasons why I’ll miss, this place I called home (in no particular order):
1) The Mayfair: We are one of the few communities in Eastern Ontario that still can lay claim to our own community movie theatre. Walking into the Mayfair is like walking back in time. The beautiful architecture and old fashioned candy bar (along with a sticky floor) is from a golden era long forgotten by most.
It’s a great place to catch a film that you happened to miss when it was first released, and they were providing real butter on their popcorn years before the big chains stopped serving that mystery topping that no one could explain its ingredients.
2) The Old Fireball: Despite the fact that it’s too small for the size of our community, I was glad when the community association chose to keep the Fireball as our community center. It’s a building with great character and history. As Mayor, I was thrilled to designate the building as a heritage site, and many of us have great memories of pottery classes, or OSCA meetings, or the media extravaganzas, or hundreds of other activities that turned the center into our version of the Hot Stove League.
One of my highlights as City Councillor was when the Glebe and Old Ottawa South residents marched en masse to a rally at Lansdowne Park to tell the city they were vehemently opposed to shutting down our two community centers to create some kind of a suburban mega complex at Brewer Park. In our community, bigger isn’t necessarily better.
3) The Rideau River: We are blessed with both the Rideau River and Canal surrounding a good portion of our community. While we still can’t swim safety in our portions of the river, a special clean-up fund we established several years ago is helping to ensure the water being discharged into the Rideau is clean and eventually within our lifetime, I can envision us seeing kids swim down by the Brewer Beach house. Whether you walk by the rapids near Carleton University, or stroll by it along the path at Linda Thom Park, the water acts as a calming influence for young and old alike.
4) Antique Stores: Bank Street in Old Ottawa South has now become the undisputed “antique alley” of Ottawa. Strolling through some of the stores along Bank Street is like a living history lesson. Everything from old Coke machines to a life size replica of Betty Boop can be found in the dozen or so shops from Sunnyside to the River.
5) Ottawa Tennis and Lawn Bowling Club: I was only a member of the club one year but often visit to see my nieces play tennis and practice their swimming in one of the last large in-ground pools in the vicinity. The clubhouse is a grand old building and you can just imagine men and women at the turn of the last century coming to the far south of the city for a little relaxation and tennis. The club has had to fend off lots of competition over the years, but it remains a great asset to our community .
6) The Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons: This grand old building, was for years, a convent and in the 1990’s purchased by the Royal College and converted into their national office. Millions were spent to restore the building and the College did a marvelous job at ensuring the building’s integrity was kept in tact. The chapel was meticulously restored and now acts as a library/boardroom and any chance you get to tour their facility, take it. The grounds have also been well preserved and even the tall mature pine trees on Sunnyside in front of the housing were preserved.
7) Windsor Park: We arc blessed with many great parks in Ottawa, but one of the nicest is a hidden gem called Windsor Park. Located along the banks of the Rideau, the community surrounding the park has done an amazing job at protecting and enhancing this wonderful site. We were able to expand the park by getting rid of an old courts, a basketball court and baseball diamond add to the draw for young people and the site of beavers and swans coexisting with people is a true urban wonder.
8) Community Activism: It’s alive and well in Old Ottawa South. As the representative for Capital Ward for many years, I know how active the community is and still remains. Whether its fighting cut through and speeding traffic, or stopping an inappropriate development, or trying to save St. Margaret Mary’s School, or raising money through a Strollerthon, or working with Carleton University students to integrate them into their new community, or fighting to save our library, this community knows how to mobilize and effect positive change.
The Community Association, OSCA, has been blessed with dozens of great community stalwarts and leaders and while at times they might wonder why they are sitting in endless meetings, their involvement has helped make the community we have today. We’ve also been blessed with great local representatives like former Regional Councillor Brian McGarry and current Councillor Clive Doucet and our amazing school trustee and Board Chair, Lynn Graham.
9) Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library: The current City Council and Library Board learned a valuable lesson earlier this year: don’t mess with our library! While its small in size, the library is ideally situated to serve both the Glebe and Ottawa East together with our community. When hundreds gathered to protest its potential closing, it reminded the city that we have certain basic expectations as taxpayers and free and unfettered access to a library is one of them.
Another great aspect of the library is the wonderful garden that John Lebrun cares for and nurtures each year. The variety of flowers is a symphony of colors and are a welcoming touch to the Bank Street entrance.
10) Pansy Avenue: While I’m biased about my street, I think each one of us could insert, their own street here. We’ve been particularly blessed on this street (and on our surrounding streets like Carlyle and Seneca) to have some great neighbours, most of whom are still kids at heart.
I remember one day receiving a call at City Hall from a guy named Joe Silverman asking if he could start a bonfire in the middle of street for the first annual “Pansy Fire and Ice Festival”!
Coupled with the annual Pansy Picnic and the Sunnyside versus Pansy ball hockey tournament, this is a street with no shortage of energy or creativity. I still shiver when I remember some of our neighbors jumping into a kid’s pool for a polar bear dip in February!
As I write this I realize that I’ve just scratched the surface of the things that make Old Ottawa South great. I could go on to talk about one of the best elementary schools in the system, Hopewell; or great community based businesses like Boomerang Kinds; or amazing fries from M & G’s chip wagon; or the water slide at Brewer Park; or ice cream at the DQ after soccer; or admiring the talent and sculptures of the late Brodie Shearer; or walking along Echo Drive and seeing the glowing dome of the Aberdeen Pavilion lit up; or dozens of other great images and memories of our part of the city.
Thanks Old Ottawa South for the great memories.
Jim Watson was City Councillor for six years, Mayor for three and is now MPP for Ottawa West Nepean and Minister of Consumer and Business services.
This article was originally published in the June 2004 OSCAR.