Photo Credit: Nik Dimitriou Photography
Initial Research by: Desiree Theriault
Continued Research by: Samantha Miller
Edited by: Nicole Brekelmans
Case study compiled in 2017
Project: Rideau Canal Esplanade
Type of Urban Strategy: Water
Type of Project: Parks / Open Spaces
Location: Ottawa, Ontario
Date Designed/Planned: 2004
Construction Completed: 2012
Designer: Corush Sunderland Wright Limited, and Lashley + Associates Landscape Architecture
“[The Rideau Canal Esplanade] demonstrates how simple, but bold design moves can transform otherwise wasted space into spectacular urban space.” The Rideau Canal Esplanade was first introduced as apart of Ottawa’s Downtown Urban Design Strategy in 2004. The project’s main focus was to create a cohesive composition with the multiple existing elements including City Hall, Parliament Hill, the NAC, the OCC, Confederation Park, and the Government Conference Centre. Along with creating this cohesion, the project also aimed at improving public access to the canal and creating a strong sense of place and identity by emphasising the site’s heritage. The site includes many exhibits and events, paths for walking or biking, and material palettes, each element carefully highlighting the historic and cultural importance of the Rideau Canal.
The plaza is in front of the new Convention Centre, where it begins at the edge of the Colonel By Drive and arrival court to the core of the City. Parliament Hill, City Hall, the NAC, the OCC, Confederation Park and the Government Conference Centre (the old train station) are all now one cohesive composition because of the design of the Esplanade. What once was an area prioritizing vehicular traffic, is now much more pedestrian-oriented due to the slowing of vehicular traffic.
Since the canal is such an important aspect of the heritage of the city, the designers wanted to bring this forward in the design of the Esplanade. They used large limestone blocks which are aligned to the City grid and form sitting and movement spaces to enhance the heritage of the space. Stone walls define pedestrian and vehicular spaces while also using the edges and perches for pedestrian seating. The design uses log blooms that floated down the Ottawa River to create benches, where there are also large elm trees shade the wood benches. The canal is revealed as part of a very successful urban space.
(City of Ottawa, 2016)
Prior to design proposals, it was important to examine the public lands of Central and Lower Reach Basin of Smiths Falls on the UNESCO World Heritage site of Rideau Canal. The reason these spaces were examined was to find the best use in this scenic recreation and tourist town.
The study was prepared by a team of experts with Lashley & Associates serving as the lead landscape architect and park planner. The work plan included: in-depth site inventory and analysis including statistical data collection and analysis, comprehensive trends and economic development analysis, and stakeholder involvement through public meetings and focus sessions.
(Lashley + Associates, n.d.)
PROJECT BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
The Rideau Canal is one of the most visited national historic sites in Canada and one of Eastern Ontario's top attractions, serving over 50,000 boats each year and welcoming over 80,000 cyclists that use its pathways each month during the summer season.
(Parks Canada, 2016)
“The Rideau Canal was recognized as the best-preserved example of a slack water canal in North America demonstrating the use of European slack water technology in North America on a large scale. It is the only canal dating from the great North American canal-building era of the early 19th century that remains operational along its original line with most of its original structures intact. It was also recognized as an extensive, well preserved and significant example of a canal which was used for military purposes linked to a significant stage in human history - that of the fight to control the north of the American continent.”
(Ken Watson, 2019)
GOAL OF THE PROJECT
The goal of the project was to marry the OCC and the Rideau Canal Esplanade with a breakthrough project that would demonstrate thoughtful urban design that can transform and create a strong sense of place especially in such a strong heritage site. Through the use of planning, architecture and landscape architecture, the goal was to reveal the canal and encourage visitors and residents to spend time at a welcoming place. The project was intended to be a central unified greenspace within the Capital, a place to celebrate Ottawa as the Nation’s Capital.
(The Ontario Association of Landscape Architects, 2017)
DESIGN, DEVELOPMENT, AND DECISION MAKING PROCESS
“This is a natural and delicate way to form the edge of the canal along Colonel By Drive. The design treatment creates a sense of movement that is in tune with the Rideau Canal. The landscape scheme wonderfully preserves and frames views of Parliament Hill. Overall, the design includes an excellent choice of materials and finishes including the repurposing of the iconic Canal timbers.”
(City of Ottawa, 2016)
ROLE OF DESIGNERS
As the firm was founded in Ottawa in the seventies, they have done a lot of work in helping to shape the development in Canada’s capital through planning and design. The firm has done plenty of the Capital’s great urban spaces, parks, commercial centres, transportation networks, campuses, hospitals and communities. They were very helpful in this project because they use an integrated approach to design where innovative and dynamic designs are developed based on strong planning principles while emphasising respect for protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
This study examined the use of public lands in the Central and Lower Reach Basin of Smiths Falls on the UNESCO World Heritage Rideau Canal to develop proposals for their best use in this scenic recreation and tourist town. The study was prepared by a team of experts with Lashley & Associates serving as the lead landscape architect and park planner.
The work plan included: in-depth site inventory and analysis including statistical data collection and analysis, comprehensive trends and economic development analysis, and stakeholder involvement through public meetings and focus sessions. Phase 2 involved new detailed fieldwork and concept drawings at each of the six falls as well as concepts on the north shore of the canal. Working with the team and client group, concepts and a demonstration plan were developed. Comprehensive draft and final reports were prepared, which were presented to Town Council
(Lashley + Associates, n.d.)
The Rideau Canal Esplanade is one of the most important historical developments in Ottawa. The Canal is currently a UNESCO World Heritage Site, marking the historical importance of the project and its site.
“Over $57 million in additional funding for infrastructure work is the largest investment of its kind in the 184-year history of the Rideau Canal. The funding will be used to rehabilitate and repair bridges, dams, locks and historic masonry structures in communities along the Canal, more than doubling previously announced federal funding. This will improve the quality and reliability of visitor facilities and continue to allow Canadians to experience and enjoy this cherished UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Parks Canada continues to work with partners and communities to help the Rideau Canal be a premier tourism destination, foster recreation and support economic development along its whole length, from Ottawa to Kingston.
Parks Canada is investing an unprecedented $3 billion dollars over 5 years to support infrastructure work and heritage, visitor, waterway, highway assets located within national historic sites, national parks, and national marine conservation areas across Canada.”
(Parks Canada, 2016)
The Esplanade was challenged with creating a cohesive composition of many different spaces, to a point at which the sum of the whole is much greater than its parts.
GENESIS OF PROJECT
Because the Rideau Canal is one of the city’s most cherished heritage and cultural resources, the City of Ottawa’s Downtown Urban Design Strategy encouraged improved access and more focus on the canal in 2004. Five years after this, the Rideau Canal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site, giving the city an even bigger reason to celebrate the Canal’s importance within the Capital.
The National Capital Commission began taking steps towards improving public access to the Canal, in conjunction with the redevelopment of the Ottawa Congress Centre. The NCC wanted to not only improve public access but to really highlight and showcase the world heritage status. They wanted to merge the unused spaces along the western edges of the Canal with the OCC’s forecourt to create one large urban plaza. They were inspired to do this because the OCC recently went through a dramatic new public face that opens up to the City’s downtown, the Canal, and Parliament Hill.