The late, unlamented Champagne Freeway

When Jacques Greber, a French planner was hired to redesign the Capital of Canada in the 30’s and 40’s, he came up with a number of ideas that sort of worked (riverside parkland everywhere, accessed only by scenic “parkways”) , and some that had decidedly unfortunate results (urban renewal, replacing the railway tracks with roads).

(If you look at the Pinecrest Creek parkway, you are looking at the Transitway right of way. Who says the ORP can’t be converted to transit?)

In the fulness of time, a number of these road links did not come to fruition, but were nipped in the bud once partly planted on the ground. Take for example, the north-south freeways/aterials/parkways on each side of the downtown.

The Vanier freeway would have extended east and southwards from the spaghetti interchange behind External Affairs and the McDonald-Cartier bridge (the bridge itself is not shown on the above map, perhaps for reasons of political sensitivity, but the road network leaves no doubt it should have been there) . The interchange was all designed to send traffic over the Rideau, along the area now known as Stanley Park, and up the former rail right of way now occupied by the Vanier Parkway. Imagine: no trucks through King Edward, or Rideau Street, or blighting Sandy Hill around Ottawa U. Of course, the Overbrook and New Edinburgh residents didn’t share the enthusiasm. Only recently was the spaghetti behind External realigned to its permanent KE dump.

On the west side of the downtown, the Airport Parkway (trace the red line on the map coming in from the 5′ o’clock position) ends at the spaghetti interchange at Confederation Heights (the six lane Heron Road bridges and widening were part of this). The ramps have been somewhat modified now to facilitate shooting traffic onto a much-widened Bronson by the Taxation Building (the King Edward of the west) but they originally aimed their traffic over the Rideau River and through Carleton U, supposedly improving traffic access to that somewhat isolated campus. After roughly following the rail right of way (now the OTrain) the freeway scooted along the south edge of Dows Lake, along the arboretum, and crossed Carling  through the soon to be vacated temporary buildings near the lake.

Think about this in terms of Bronson, without the through traffic, might it have remained a local road?

This photo shows the new CP rail line relocation underway in the very early 60’s. The Champagne Freeway would have followed the same route:

Aerial view looking north from Dows Lake. The arterial would follow the rail cut to the Qway, then pass the giant government warehouse on its right, ie plowing through the west side houses

It would then have proceeded along the Otrain cut, probably with northbound lanes on the east side, where the bike path is; with southbound lanes on the west side (instead of condomania there would have been automania). The Queensway was carefully built with generous underpasses to allow the Champagne Freeway to continue north. Much of the Young Street area was expropriated to allow for ramps.

underpass for the Champagne Freeway under the Qway, west side of the OTrain cut. I hope this becomes another MUP-bike path in the future.

As the road moved north, it left the railway track alignment and the new industrial buildings just constructed as part of the Ottawa Railway Relocation project (ie, City Centre intermodal warehouse complex) and would have plowed through the houses at the stub ends of Spruce, Elm, Primrose, and what is now Walnut Streets. From there, it paralleled the Prince of Wales railway bridge or the Lemieux Island bridges (various versions of the scheme exist) , and connected to Hull’s waterfront arterials and the Fairly Lake Parkway up to the Gatineau.

the vertical red line is the future Qway replacing the east-west rail tracks; the horizontal red line is the Champagne Arterial alongside the relocated north-south CP line. The two red lines intersect at the Qway. Further left (north) you can pick out Scott Street coming up from the bottom of the map, the giant traffic circle where the Bayview Station now is would have connected to Albert-Scott and the ORP, and with a slight jog, over to the Fairy Lake Parkway. Note that Nepean Bay has only slightly been filled in in this scheme; later, it was decided to fill it all in to build the ORP along the waterfront, still later, parts of the ORP were moved back towards its original alignment thru the centre of the Flats to allow for the War Museum.

My house was in the alignment of the Champagne Freeway. Thinking that they might have to expropriate the houses standing in the way of progress, our government ( I think it was the City, it may have been the NCC) stuck some sort of restriction on our houses for decades. No improvements or renovations could be made without their express permission, and the value of said improvements could not be compensated for through the expropriation price, ie we could repair, or build additions only at our own risk. If your plaster ceiling fell in, you needed some civil servant’s permission to drywall it back up.

My neighbours garage fell down one winter. To build a new one, he had to get inspectors in to put a value on the old heap of boards, and then come back after the garage was built, to get a new value, and any future house price he got through expropriation wouldn’t include the value of the garage. It is so sweet of our civil servants to watch so carefully over their / our dollars like that. Similary, houses that burned down on Elm couldn’t be rebuilt.

It was only in the late 60’s or 70’s that the “freeze” was lifted, and the freeway route was shifted west, over to the now-past-their-prime industrial lands. And finally, sometime in the early 90’s I appeared on behalf the community association at an OMB hearing that killed the freeway dead.

At the time, I wondered if I was doing the right thing. Would a multi-track rail corridor be any better, noise and barrier wise? Were we condemning Preston to be abused as a through arterial forever, like Bronson has been re-condemned by our Mayor — in a fit of Greberish 1950’s thinking — just last year?

Below,  for additional interest, are the temporary buildings near Dow’s Lake. When demolished, some of space was used for a parking lot for new Dows Lake Pavillion (which replaced the old boathouse used by the RA sailing club); the portion west of the railway cut was sodded. One building of a future Federal office campus was built, the Sir John Carling, * which is now due to be knocked down. Not unexpectedly, some have grown accustomed to the lots being grass and want them parkland forever, but they are still zoned and in the OP as office park.

notice too how small the trees are in Commissioner’s Park in this 1967 photo. The NCC was willing to plant large-growing trees; the City still objects to large trees

* note that the Carling building, like the  Brooke Claxton building at Tunney’s, were the first buildings erected, were architecturally superior, designed to anchor the new office park or campus, and to be surrounded by lower, more prosaic buildings. In both locations, plans changed.

Note 2: I have drawn these pic from a variety of sources, and have recounted the story of the Champagne Freeway or Arterial from memory, without going back to check sources. Each of the illustrations here is from a different report, different era, and therefore are not consistent / coherent. The arterial plans evolved and shifted over the half century it was being actively planned. Sometimes we can be thankful the wheels of government grind us slowly.