Lansdowne Park

Ottawa, Ontario


Photo Credit: Landezine International Landscape Award (LILA)


Research by: Samantha Miller

Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans

Case study compiled in 2019

Project: Lansdowne Park

Type of Urban StrategyWater, Smart Cities

Type of ProjectCivic Plaza / Park

LocationOttawa, Ontario 

Date Designed/Planned: 2010

Construction Completed2015

DesignerPFS Studio


Lansdowne Park is the site of a historical exhibition, sports and entertainment ground which was initially developed as an agricultural fairground in the mid-1800s. The site was continually used for over 100 years, until it was very run-down and no longer celebrated. It was the location of many historical events for Canada, such as the demonstration of the first telephone and the first electric oven. Since then, the redevelopment project included site infrastructure changes and beautification. The redevelopment included constructing a mixed-use area for retail, office, and residential property, a refurbishment Frank Clair Stadium/Civic Centre and Horticulture building, and the creation of a large urban park (City of Ottawa, 2015). The new park was intended to restore the enjoyment of the space, and celebrate the history of the area. The location of the park along the historic UNESCO World Heritage site of the Rideau Canal makes it a water case study. This case is another excellent example of a project that takes advantage of its geographical location and proximity to water, celebrating the history of the Canal and bringing visitors and residents closer to water. Although many things changed about the site during its redevelopment, a few of the original buildings remain and have been refurbished for new uses, which ensures that the project doesn’t lose sight of its history. This project also exemplifies a great adaptation and harmony of the old and the new. The historical redevelopment also makes it a smart cities case study because it embodies the components of smart living and smart economies.


The previous site of an under-utilized parking lot and deteriorating outdoor sports stadium has been re-designed celebrated park along the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal. The park consists of numerous programmed public spaces, that are connected with recreational pathways to create a diverse park that produces a harmonious relationship with the surrounding neighbourhoods. Two significant heritage buildings, the Aberdeen Pavilion and the Horticulture Building, were preserved and adapted to maintain the history and culture of the site. The site is now home to many city events, such as the Ottawa Farmers Market, concerts, sports games, and more. Aside from programmable spaces, the design also boasts many sustainable design practices such as sustainable water management, high-efficiency LED lighting and irrigation, and tree planting. Within the many different spaces in the park, there are interpretive features that tell the story of the Algonquin People, such as art pieces, a teaching circle, ethnobotanical plantings, and signage (LILA, n.d.).


This site is located along the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Rideau Canal, in between Bank Street and Queen Elizabeth Drive. This space used to be the location for the Central Canadian Exhibition, which had since been neglected and run-down. Lansdowne Park has an area of approximately 16 hectares and is owned by the City of Ottawa. The site of the park has always been considered an asset for the city, one that contributes to the identity of Ottawa as the national capital, and the image that comes with it. This image is due to its long history as a public gathering space providing a venue for fairs, exhibitions, major sporting and music events, but also because of its size and location (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 3). The design process began with an extensive site analysis that studied comprehensive transportation, heritage and retail strategy studies (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 4).


In the late 1860s, The Ottaway Agricultural Society purchased the land at this site to be used as a fairground. For many years, after, the OAS hosted agricultural fairs and eventually added more land to the site to host Provincial Exhibitions. The first public demonstration of the telephone was given in September 1877 at the Ottawa Exhibition. As more events and exhibitions occurred over the years, the fields were turned into a permanent park, until the City of Ottawa purchased the site and its included buildings for $25,000. In 1888, the first Central Canada Exhibition took place, and the year following, the first electric light bulb was demonstrated. The Exhibition Grounds were renamed Lansdowne Park in 1890 after the Marquis of Lansdowne, Governor-General. The next year, the first electric streetcar service was inaugurated, and the year following, the electric oven was demonstrated (Deachman, 2014). The Aberdeen Pavilion was built in the late 1890s and remains Canada’s last surviving large-scale exhibition building. In the early 1900s, fairs and exhibitions continued to be held in Lansdowne Park, as well as Royal Family and military artillery visits. The Coliseum was built in 1903 as an agricultural show building, but after many renovations, collapses, and accidents, the building was demolished in 2012, and the Aberdeen Pavilion was turned into a hockey rink to host the Stanley Cup. In 1909, the steel and concrete Grandstand was built to seat 10,000 guests, where visitors watched the first aircraft fly over Ottawa two years later. In 1912, the federal government provided $50,000 in beautifying the site for the Dominion Exhibition. The Machinery Hall and The Horticulture Building was built in the year 1914, the same year that a boiler in the Coliseum exploded, killing three people and injuring twenty. Through the mid-1900s, Lansdowne Park continued to host conventions, exhibitions, fairs and even political party conventions in which party leaders were chosen. In 1920, the first radio broadcast demonstration for Ottawa was held. The Board of Control considered moving the Exhibition to a larger site and considered selling the land for residential construction, but both ideas fell-through (Deachman, 2014). Part of Lansdowne Park was converted to a tourist campground and continued this function until WW2 when this was used for military camping and a recruiting centre. In the beginning of the war in 1939, Lansdowne served as an induction centre, and the Exhibition was thus cancelled for a few years. In 1944, the Machinery building burnt down and was replaced with a smaller General Purpose building, and a few years later, Lansdowne hosted the Roman Catholic Marian Conference: the largest religious conference in North America. For the next few years, the site continued to host political party conventions, and then in 1950, the Livestock Pavilion opened. There were Ice Palaces built, royal visits, and the first stock car racing, and then The McElroy Building was opened for events, and later turned into a food court. The Queen and Prince Phillip were present to open the $9.5 million Civic Centre on Canada Day in 1967, which went on to host many hockey games, concerts, and events. In 1983, the Aberdeen Pavilion was designated as a National Historic Site (Deachman, 2014).


One of the challenges was picking materials that would be resilient to the harsh Canadian climate, that would be able to endure the freeze and thaw. Since the history of the site is so powerful and long, the designers wanted to design using materials that would be long-lasting as well. Since they planted so many trees, they knew that it could be anywhere from 20 to 40 years until there is a full tree canopy. This factor meant that they needed a material palette that would last that long and allow the trees to mature and stay intact (Gagnon, 2014). One of the biggest challenges, according to Jeffrey Staates from PFS Studio, was the complexity of the overall development. For example, there were three main components to the redevelopment plan, so it was challenging to choreograph the fluidity and harmony of the elements and their construction sequence (Gagnon, 2014).


The goal of the project was to transform and restore the historical Central Canadian Exhibition site into a park and open space that would act as the civic heart of Ottawa. It was designed to provide a seamless relationship and integration of the park and the streets and lands adjacent to it (PFS Studio, n.d.). From the outlook for the City of Ottawa, the redevelopment of Lansdowne Park is intended to raise the City’s national profile by providing a venue for entertainment events and large sporting events (City of Ottawa | Annual Report, 2011). Ultimately, the goal of the project was to be a neighbourhood park with a national profile, a landscape of culture, history and commerce, a better park and better development, and a symbol of civic pride (City of Ottawa | Request for Proposals, 2010).


The Aberdeen Pavilion was transformed into a great tent at the centre of the park that is used for indoor programming. The Horticulture Building was also transformed and is now used as a community hall and teaching kitchen. Both buildings provide flexible and multi-use program space, which the designers were hoping would remind visitors of the entertainment/recreation/exhibition history of the site (PFS Studio, n.d.). The LPP began thinking about the redevelopment, and the Council directed them towards the three major components of the plan. The redevelopment should include the refurbishment of the stadium and Civic Centre, the creation of a large urban park, and the construction of a mixed-use area (including shops, offices, and residences). The plan was named the Integrated Site Plan, and the initial report in 2010 approved by the Council, and staff continued to work on the plan. This process began with the formation of the Design Review Panel, who developed guiding principles, and holding an International Urban Park Design Competition in partnership with the National Capital Commission and Parks Canada (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 4). As part of the initial design process, site analyses were performed and the team communicated with many different stakeholder grounds including the Algonquins of Ontario, The Ottawa Farmers’ Market, The Ottawa Art Gallery, and more. The Integrated Site Plan outlined the main features of the development, including building locations, circulation for pedestrians, cyclists, cars and service vehicles, conceptual landscaping, commercial and residential areas, site servicing, grading, drainage, and stormwater management. The second portion of the design process focused on refinement and defining the plan, and eventually was approved and scheduled to begin construction in June 2011 (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 4). Design specifics included: -A more defined entrance - the Bank Street edge of Lansdowne to be a new civic urban promenade to better blend with the Bank Street main street experience. Lansdowne now has more refined views of historic buildings and better access points to the urban park, stadium, retail and restaurants from north and south ends of Bank Street, and the Civic Centre. Transit for this area would accommodate large crowds on major event days, while also creating pedestrian-friendly experiences daily. The area was designed to have coordinated streetscaping and landscaping, great signage, and an interconnected experience for residents and visitors, and events. -The heritage centrepiece of the park - The Aberdeen Pavilion to be redeveloped to reconnect Lansdowne with its historical past with the Aberdeen as the centrepiece of the park. (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 6-8).


PFS Studio were the lead designers for Lansdowne Park, providing landscape architecture, urban design, and planning services (LILA, n.d.). They were hired after an international design competition for the transformation of the site, in which their winning scheme was called “Win, Place, Show” (PFS Studio, n.d.). In an interview, a project landscape architect from PFS Studio, Jeffrey Staates, said “As the landscape architects for the park, we also had a role to deal with continuities with the urban mixed-use [portion of the project], so really tying the whole site together, taking some ideas from the park, and its attitudes to paving and lighting, and taking them all the way out to Bank Street, as well as the future connections out to the Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Rideau Canal” (Gagnon, 2014). John Smit, the Manager of Development Review for the Urban Area, was the City file lead on moving things forward for the Lansdowne revitalization project. Smit was responsible for managing everything from its inception to its final planning approvals (Gagnon, 2014).


In around 2010, The Coliseum and Aberdeen Pavilion were serving as activity and storage space. The site around the buildings was predominantly surface parking, and the only landscaped areas were around the Aberdeen Pavilion, along Holmwood Avenue, and a small park called Sylvia Holden Park. The City of Ottawa wished to turn the park into the unique and dynamic public place that it once was, to capitalize on its potential. The program to revitalize the park was initiated by the City of Ottawa in April of 2009, through a partnership with a local group- the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group (OSEG). The city and the OSEG negotiated a partnership as recommended by the Council, who also set out specific elements that should be included in the revitalization plan. The partnership became the Lansdowne Partnership Plan (LPP), and the staff moved forward with developing a redevelopment plan for approval (City of Ottawa, 2010, pp. 4). “When the whole project started there was a contemplation of really trying to transform Lansdowne into a very dynamic urban place that had various components that would keep the site activated on an on-going basis, 365 days a year, with the objective to ensure that we had the stadium as a part of the revitalization, and as part of the OSEG partnership arrangement in order for them to operate the stadium. Part of the reason why the stadium deteriorated to the extent that it deteriorated was that there was not enough revenue coming in to sustain the ongoing upkeep, so a key element of the partnership was the ability to develop other uses on the property, and they had as a part of their partnership group Trinity Commercial group, and they were very interested in looking at opportunities for introducing some commercial offerings on the property, so that was another key component.” - John Smit (Gagnon, 2014).


Canada, Ontario Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, Ottawa District. (2015). 2014 Annual Report - Property Use(TZ10100106). Nepean, ON: Amec Foster Wheeler. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Canada, City of Ottawa. (2010, May 19). A Vision for Lansdowne: Design Competition for an Urban Park(01310-90672-P01). City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Canada, City of Ottawa. (2013). Annual Report 2013. City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Canada, City of Ottawa. (2011). Annual Report 2011. City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Canada, City of Ottawa. (2014). Annual Report 2014. City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Deachman, B. (2014, August 9). Elephants, pandas and pigs, oh my! An illustrated history of Lansdowne Park. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Final Lansdowne deal passed by council. (2012, October 10). CBC News. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Gagon, K. (2014, August 18). The urban park at Lansdowne Park: An interview with the project’s design leads. Spacing Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Kirkpatrick, K. (2012, February 9). Report to: Finance and Economic Development Committee and Council(ACS2012-COS-PRC-0004) (Canada, City of Ottawa, Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services). City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from - Lansdowne park programming - final.htm Canada, City of Ottawa. (2010, November 19). Lansdowne Park Redevelopment - Integrated Site Plan. City of Ottawa. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from Lansdowne Park « Landezine International Landscape Award LILA. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from PFS Studio | Lansdowne Park. (n.d.). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from
PFS Studio | Lansdowne Park wins RAIC National Urban Design Award. (2016, April 18). Retrieved August 6, 2019, from


“The park features: -A Great Lawn -An urban square for the Ottawa Farmers’ Market -A series of grand allees -Plazas -Intimate greens -Civic gardens -Orchards -A children’s play zone -A water plaza -Two significant publish artworks by Jill Anholt -Multiple buildings and spaces for flexible venues and programs (PFS Studio, n.d.).


In the 2012 report to the Finance and Economic Development Committee and Council, recommendations are made for programming, maintenance, and more. The report recommends that Lansdowne park and its included buildings be managed and programmed by the City’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department. This recommendation was made to provide the park with many opportunities for access to passive and active recreation opportunities. The City staff are asked to work with many partners including the NCC, Parks Canada, volunteer agencies, clubs and private sectors to schedule and program activities and events all year-round. They recommend that the staff team for Lansdowne should include an overall manager, a programming officer, a park rentals and events officer, a customer service clerk, and part-time staff (Kirkpatrick, 2012). In terms of maintenance, the report also explains that the Lansdowne urban park is one that is unique within the City’s park inventory. It is unique because the public spaces are spread out throughout the park, in the public park area and the mixed-use areas. It also includes a wide range of landscaping and urban components, such as an orchard, skating rink, and more. The City and OSEG worked together to establish a daily maintenance plan and its requirements to ensure that all public spaces are always up to the highest standard daily (Kirkpatrick, 2012).


OSEG and the City created a partnership and created a formula to determine each group’s equity stake for the project. The formula measured investment and risk in the project. OSEG original funding equity was set at $30 million but ended up investing $56 million after design changes and delays. The City’s funding dropped $13 million to $2.5 million, and then to zero. Their funding dropped for a few reasons, but partly because the interest rates were lower than expected, so the City’s cost and risk for borrowing money to pay for its share was declined (CBC News, 2012). In 2013, the City set up long-term financing, totalling $204 million on various terms for up to forty years, which were used to fund multiple City capital works including Lansdowne Park (City of Ottawa | Annual Report, 2013).


Lansdowne Park brings people together to gather and enjoy amenities such as green spaces, shops, activities and entertainment, making it a destination in the city. The historical and treasured property along the Rideau Canal has come alive again (City of Ottawa | Annual Report, 2014). PFS Studio received the RAIC National Urban Design Award, Certificate of Merit in the category of Civic Design Projects for their design of Lansdowne Park, in 2015. In 2016, PFS Studio also won the Ottawa Urban Design Award of Excellence for Visions & Master Plans, and the 2016 CSLA Jury’s Award of Excellence and National Award for Lansdowne (PFS Studio, 2016).