I was introduced recently to two Old Ottawa South residents who have given a quarter of a century to a neighbourhood project. It’s about the dog community at Windsor Park.
Brian Tansey moved here in ‘91 with his Black Labrador, and created a small informal group of dog owners, many of them known to each other only by the names of their dogs. Brian’s an organizer, animator kind of person, a retired international aid and development manager whose role in Africa and Asia was to get the people involved, giving them the sense that they did it all by themselves and could handle the next project too. The measure of success was about how much the people believed they didn’t need him anymore. Could this measure be applied to the dog park?
Brian started by making lists of the park dog’s names and of their “owner-operators” (as he likes to call them), listed alphabetically by the dogs’ names, and organizing community events around the off-leash park.
Peter Wells arrived soon after in ‘94 with his Golden Retriever and they soon paired up (Brian and Peter that is…) to turn this list into a community. Pete was a high tech kind of guy working at Nortel’s Corporate Design Group developing the technology of the future. They were working 20 years ago, on the stuff that sits on your desk today.
With a shared interest in community, social, and tech skills, they became fast friends and started the project which was to continue for the next quarter century. Over time they managed the annual spring clean-up, shoreline, play structures and field house maintenance, as well as barbecue/pool parties for the neighbourhood’s bipeds and quadrupeds. Coming out of this work was a detailed shoreline management plan, an active Facebook page, and a beautiful park enjoyed by an active and engaged community.
In the early years the cleanup harvested a lot of trash, including drug paraphernalia, but over time the trash volume has decreased thanks to dog walkers, who are now picking up whatever they find in the day-to-day. Each spring various members of the community come out to help during the cleanup…. i.e. not just dog owners.
Brian and Pete have not worked alone; many aspects of the ongoing work have been embraced by community members who have managed specific aspects of the event.
Here’s the thing that benefits the whole community, even cat people: because the park is kept clean by dog walkers, other people tend not to toss their litter in this large but tidy park. Even more importantly, it’s well known that a park at night can be a dangerous place. But if people and their dogs are present, safety is increased. The Jane Jacobs dictum about “eyes on the street” applies equally to our parks.
Now, Brian and Peter have announced that this year’s spring cleanup will be their last; after a quarter century they are going to test Brian’s way of measuring success. They are both keen to hear their friends and neighbours say: “Right, we can do this. Thank you but we don’t need you anymore.”
Bruce Grant, Layabout and occasional Writer, is a resident of Old Ottawa South. A retired Civil Engineer, he is very much enjoying his time off-leash.
Originally published in the March 2019 OSCAR.