Monday, September 3, 2012

Centretown time capsule: August/September 2007

Happy Labour Day everyone!

For today's post, I want to do something a little different. I wanted to give a snapshot of what was happening in Centretown five years ago in August and September 2007. With a high proportion of renters, many Centretown residents—even those active in community affairs—weren't here five years ago (nor was this blog!). For the rest of us, it'll be a trip down memory lane.

The 2007 Labour Day parade, organized by the Ottawa and District Labour Council, ended as usual at McNabb Park for the annual festival with free hotdogs, corn on the cob, and other attractions (if you're reading this post shortly after it goes up, head out there now! They should be there from the end of the parade until 4:30pm). You might recognize this photo of the wading pool as one of the four at the bottom of the CCCA's 'promo cards':

September 2007 marked the official opening of the Corktown Footbridge on the 11th (the bridge opened to traffic the previous September). Municipal politicians and interpreters in 1830's period dress were there to cut the ribbon.

I actually have a lot to thank the Corktown Footbridge for. Photographing the bridge under construction and posting it to my Rideau Canal Pedestrian Bridge blog led to me taking photos of other things under construction around the neighbourhood, which I now post on this blog. I was also on the naming committee for the footbridge, then ostensibly as a representative of the cycling community.

Other civic infrastructure nearing completion at the time included the Chinatown Arch mural (seen here on September 7, 2007), which was installed to raise the profile of the fundraising efforts for the gateway arch itself:

Also in September 2007, the first section of the Bank Street reconstruction was wrapping up between Wellington and Laurier. That section was followed by construction in the next three years of the respective sections between Laurier and Somerset, Somerset and Arlington, and in the Glebe.

Gladstone Avenue, from Booth Street westward through Little Italy into Hintonburg, was still in the middle of its own reconstruction on September 20, 2007.

Even further outside of Centretown—but still neat to construction geeks—was the first Rapid Bridge Replacement Project of the 417 overpasses. This successful pilot project built replacement 417 overpass bridges in a field near the freeway, and replaced them overnight on the sweltering weekend of August 11 and 12, 2007. Many showed up to watch the middle-of-the-night replacement of the four- and five-lane wide bridge segments on giant moving platforms at Island Park Drive. This process has since been repeated for other 417 overpasses. (I went with Richard Guy Briggs, who also took photos)

In the private sector, there was also lots of building construction in this part of 2007. On August 19, the piles were being driven for the Mondrian condominium at Bank and Laurier, with digging to start in September:

The Minto Place Tower 4, at the site of the former Canadian Tire, was further along on August 19. By then it was nearing the bottom of their parking garage excavation. The office building at Kent between Laurier and Slater, was aiming for the title of the first LEED Gold building in Ottawa.

Charlesfort was already at the bottom of the pit for its Hudson Park condo project and was starting to build the lowest level of the parking garage. This photo is looking north from Lisgar to Nepean Street, with Kent Street at the left. The tower crane visible at the top left is for Minto Place's Tower 4, installed after the last photo was taken but before this one was on September 6, 2007.

Over on the East side of Centretown, the Somerset Gardens condominium building was still a few months away from completion, but was nevertheless pretty far along by September 21. (Unfortunately, the affordable housing component of the project has had some difficulties)

When I took this photo on September 20, the Telus building had just been finished. It was aiming for LEED Silver, but according to their blog was awarded LEED Gold in 2010.

While there were many buildings going up, there were some downs too. In August, bricks spontaneously fell off the façade of an apartment building on Metcalfe Street. Luckily nobody was injured, but six apartments were evacuated. The bricks fell off on Sunday the 19th of August, and this photo is from a couple of days later, after remaining unsafe bricks were removed and the road was partially reopened to traffic. The building was eventually repaired.

That partial building collapse was followed two months to the day by the infamous partial collapse of Somerset House at Bank and Somerset, which remains unresolved. But that was in October, outside the scope of this post.

Other destruction came to Centretown in those months in the form of fire. There was a relatively small fire in a rental trailer for Alliance Car Rental on the Stinson & Son/Main Garage in the wee hours of September 5. The rental business reopened with a new trailer, but has since been replaced, along with the garage, by the Centropolis condos now going up at Gladstone and Kent. (That project has its own damage issues but that's a whole other story)

A bigger fire at 357 Gilmour Street damaged the interior of the converted house on September 2, 2007. It's still standing, but remains boarded up to this day. I occasionally see activity in and around the building but as far as I can tell it remains uninhabited five years after.

And a much more devastating fire, in the early morning hours of August 17, 2007, was the one that took out the conglomeration of old buildings at Somerset and Booth in Chinatown, including the businesses on the ground floor and the apartments of the building's 40 residents (all of whom got out safely). Robin Kelsey and Zoom both posted photos of the firefighters soaking the still smouldering building after dawn.

When I got there around 10am, there were many others there to watch the demolition, already well underway. There were four large excavators working to demolish the building as safely as possible, two of which had their buckets against the wall on the Booth Street side to keep the building from falling into the street. Smoke was still coming out of the site, and the "Asia Market" sign on the corner had not yet come down.

Looking from further west along Somerset, a firetruck was stationed on the site with ladder extended and hose at the ready. This truck was actually Ladder 11, before its ladder was emblazoned with its now-familiar Chinatown/Little Italy sign (there are signs on the side of the ladder, but in other photos I can see they are simply the manufacturer's signs; they read "Thibault 30m")

By that evening, all but the northernmost part of the building had been demolished, leaving just Season's Pizza to be taken down.

A cat wandered amid the rubble, possibly looking for a home that was no longer there.

Chinatown is unfortunately no stranger to fire. This fire had come just days after another fire in one of the derelict houses on Cambridge, behind the Yangtze restaurant in Chinatown (the rest of the houses have since been demolished), of which I didn't get photos.

The intersection of Somerset and Booth was closed for a week or so after the fire as the Fire Marshal investigated and the site was cleaned up. By September 2, it was flattened out and looks more or less as it does today. In the intervening time, an 18-unit condo has been proposed for the site, but as of yet has not started.

To finish things off on a happier note, the last photo in the time capsule is of the Car Free Day celebrations at the University of Ottawa. At the time this was a parking lot but it has since been claimed as the staging are for the construction on the new Social Sciences building (you can see the top of the Brutalist building at 120 University it replaced in the photo above of the Corktown Footbridge. The building is at centre-left attached to the Vanier building).

Not only was the Car Free Day event a success in itself, with many HPVOoO vehicles available to test-ride, but it also led to a permanent change. Since no complaints were received about the removal of parking for the one-day event each year, the University was able to conclude that this space would be better used as a pedestrian plaza following the tower construction, instead of being returned to parking.

Car Free Day takes place annually on September 22, so if you were too late to make it to the Labour Day celebrations today, maybe you'll make it to a Car Free Day event this year. Like 2007, the 22nd is on a Saturday, so most of the celebrations will likely be on the 21st. If you can't find a CFD event in your area, the Sierra Club has information to help you organize your own Car Free Day event.


Much has changed in the last five years, and much has stayed the same. It's always interesting to look back and see which is which. I hope you found it interesting too.

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