All posts by Andrea Cordonier

LeBreton Flats: An Acre of Time

LeBreton Flats: An Acre of TimeDear Phil:

It was my pleasure to meet you for coffee and finally put my hands on An Acre of Time, a history of LeBreton Flats. I wasn’t kidding when I said I discovered you in the most random of ways, a mention buried in the comments section of a review of a book of historical maps of New York:

An Acre of Time

Truth is, I know more about the history of New York City than I do about Ottawa, my home for the past 17 years.  The busyness of daily life chisels away the exoticism and mystery of a place until it seems hardly worthy of further notice. But Ottawa is a city no less worthy nor interesting than any other if one is willing to dive deeply into the layers of story.

Understanding history, beyond the party trick of reciting dates and names, is complicated. It requires a tipping point of fundamental knowledge, which is quickly crowded by a multiplicity of interpretations and points-of-view. It demands a persistent curiosity to move beyond the scratched surfaces of people long dead, places drawn and quartered and events interpreted by subjective bystanders. Then there’s the question of where to begin.

You weave a story of an acre of land, lying below Parliament Hill and bounded by the Ottawa River, from when it lay drowned by an ancient sea – and whales swam overhead – to when it dried out, greened up, and peopled out, the first settling over millennia, the rest arriving in a frantic blink of an eye. The acre was chopped down, carved up, built-on and, finally, stripped bare of its community and left to die, a brownfield fifty years thus.

In the beginning you invite readers to  “Leave where you are and come stand beside me” and in that line lies the strength of your story. It is engaging, intimate, contextual and readable narrative non-fiction whose scope and scale is kept in check by the birds-eye view from your first-person roost.  Anyone who’s read Canadian history will recognize the thematics of conflict we’ve grown to know and love: English vs. French, colonials vs. First Nations, Canada vs. America, land vs. money, power vs. ideals, government vs. the people,  locals vs. immigrants, and community vs. urban renewal. Herculean subjects all, but still you propel the story forward.

The first point you make abundantly clear is this: Make no mistake, it is always about the land.

The story [of the acre] comes to us from letters and recorded speeches of men now dead, so we can never ask the first person what the real story was. Besides, there is no such thing as the real story.
Between 1599 and 1633 [French explorer Samuel de] Champlain will cross the Atlantic twenty-nine times, averaging just over two months per crossing - five years of his life spent commuting. If professions have lineages, Champlain's leads down 400 years to the astronauts in the Apollo moon missions. On behalf of an imperial power....he went to the edge of a frontier and extended it...a 'terranaut'
But there was a vital difference between his job description and that of the modern astronauts. The frontier Champlain was contracted to explore was already inhabited.

The frontier Champlain was contracted to explore was already inhabited.

As with any Eden, the acre will be for one last time lush, fecund, and unspoiled. Land that defies the word ‘undiscovered’,  that has supported woodland peoples since the beginning in a “constant and massive presence for over twenty centuries” had been ‘found.’  With one fell swoop, everything changed.

...the acre is be a construction site of organic architecture, bustling with ingenuity and survival, reproduction and extinction. Skylines will grow, forest fires will level those, and new skylines will rise in their place...The settling of the acre by generations of flora will proceed unhindered until, to be precise, 1818, when the lordly trees will feel the first predator: a man with an axe.
Here comes a biped with an ability to adapt that is frightening. It combines a limitless curiosity with the skill of manufacture...a brain that grasps solutions and hands that can grasp anything...a prodigious memory, and it very much enjoys breeding. It is determined, sooner or later, to go everywhere and, once there, to stay.
Progress had arrived, and progress is a train with no reverse gear.

You tell us “the written history of Canada is a book that starts only five centuries ago.” Unfortunately whatever bones lie in whichever ground bear little weight compared to the stroke of the pen. What can be recorded in a ledger – and conversely legally bought and sold – is what matters. But King George III’s proclamation of 1763 – a written proclamation, a promise to protect native land –  didn’t help much, did it? And when the land registry books were inscribed, the Algonquins were left out.  Clearly, pen and paper do not serve everyone equally.

But, as you’ve said, it’s all about the land, land that was arguably never ceded, never traded away for a “…few goods… [that] are soon worn out and gone.”

They came and kept coming and this latter-day inundation overwhelmed: French, English, Loyalists, American entrepreneurs, European migrants and land speculators, looking to make their fortune first on fish and furs then on timber and free land. They aimed to leave their mark.

Place names...let history know who has passed this way...Landlords, as they arrive, mark their territory not by leaving scent on a tree, but by changing the title of the ground the tree stands on.
When they took over management of new land in their rash of colonization, the British exported the doctrine of enclosure. An unwitting recruit, the acre lost much of its spiritual wealth and respect in the process. Its essence no longer lay in its ability to provide food for a native family, but was inherent in its surface area and its proximity to a waterfall. It was primarily this latter virtue that first bestowed on the acre its market value.

When land is transformed into real-estate, the phases shifts from its natural gifts to its commercial potential; from greenery to greenbacks.

Fast forward a hundred and fifty years. LeBreton Flats is very much alive, a mixed-use blue collar neighbourhood, yes, but no slum. Interesting and homely, but not aesthetically pleasing in a Rockcliffe kind of way, it is deemed unworthy to lie below Parliament Hill and so it must be expunged.

Cities have always been cannibalistic. They eat large chunks of their own pasts, chewing up landscapes and buildings and regurgitating them. This municipal mastication implies a kind of hunger, the hunger to replace then with now, to recycle stale visions of a city with fresh ones.
What happened to the acre in the 1960's was the result of a steamrolling civic vision. It is perhaps the premier example in the country of the haste to reach glory, to be world-class, overwhelming a parochial sense of community.
Canada got its own [Washington] District of Columbia. With the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill as the centre pole, the National Capital Region was staked out like a groundsheet, nine hundred square miles on either side of the river. The fiefdoms within it, the cities and villages, kept their mayors and their councils, but chains were rattled. A higher authority, the National Capital Commission, had been turned on, with the ultimate right to expropriate.
"Owning" land is a myth. Ownership of part of the earth's crust is really no more than leasing, with the option to sell to lease. Expropriation is always possible, by an act of government or an act of violence. In the acre's case, Chapter 106 of the Expropriation Act of 1952 gave sanction to the unhousing of the 2,800 people who lived and worked on the Flats.
...as of May 1964, "the Commission has been able to demolish seventy-five buildings, which may contain as many as twenty-five families, out of a total of 215, and the balance are being removed as quickly as possible." He went not to say: "As is characteristic of local residential districts, when about 40% of the properties are vacated, the occupants of the balance of the housing leave voluntarily. This seems to be caused by the break-up of the social community and the remaining homes, due to their proximity to vacated housing which is subject to vandalism and to other annoyances. As a result, most of the occupants of residential properties in the Le Breton Flats have now left."

LeBreton Flats

After expropriation and demolition the acre began its “second childhood.” It reverted back to crown land, a tabula rasa, begging the questions: Who is its rightful owner? And what is its highest and best use?

Fast forward another fifty and we’re on the eve of approvals implementing a Phase 2 development vision for the site. For the record, Phil, I’m partial to your vision of an urban forest and park. I have spent my fair share of time in Stanley Park and Central Park and can’t imagine either city without its timeless green.

I look forward to our acre walkabout and luncheon as soon as the weather shifts from bitter cold to bearable. I hope you still have the giant measuring rod you used to mark out the acre, way back when, because there are pictures to be taken besides having much to discuss.

I look forward to seeing you again soon.

Kindest regards,

Andrea

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Further reading:

Fields of Vision by Phil Jenkins

Riversong by Phil Jenkins

Beneath My Feet by Phil Jenkins

Food Hub: Wendy’s Country Market

Wendy Banks, Rick Trudeau and their daughter Leigha are sixth- and seventh-generation farmers on their family property in Lyndhurst, Ontario. Wendy and her siblings grew up steeped in the value of land and food, her father, Neil, believing that one day there would be a shortage of both. While his hands worked the soil in the present, he and his wife, Gail, amassed a thousand acres and planted trees with an eye to the future.

The market occupies a heritage one-room schoolhouse on that land, repatriated to the family homestead when it was closed in 1956. Most of the other neighbourhood kids worked summers at the local Opinicon resort as waitresses, chambermaids and maintenance staff, but Wendy stayed put.

“I never wanted to leave,” she says, and she didn’t, watching others around her drift off the land to somewhere else.

It was a frozen January morning when I drove down to meet her. I had heard about the hub, and was intrigued by the year-round delivery option, being able to order food online by the week instead of being bound to a fixed subscription of defined offerings with a single CSA. If I needed twenty pounds of potatoes instead of five, or one bottle of milk instead of three, I could order exactly that.

The Evolution of Food Hubs

Food hubs are a fairly recent phenomena, taking a variety of forms but with a two-fold common mission: 1) to distribute locally grown food directly to end users (individuals, restaurants, institutional clients); and 2) to strengthen food security, reducing dependency on imports. Through aggregation, hubs provide the widest product selection and benefit both growers and consumers: Consumers don’t need to drive around the countryside to buy from individual farms and, likewise, growers find their market en masse. It’s about strength in numbers.

As we stood chatting, a few customers came and went, on the surface a ‘slow’ day compared to the crowds of 500 to 800 who show up from late spring through early fall, especially on weekends. But, as Wendy writes, life on the farm is never really ‘slow':

For farmers with animals there is the thawing out of water , trudging through the snow or ice to feed them 365 days of the year (there are no snow days ). Winter is time to repair and do machinery maintenance. Greenhouses must be constantly monitered for snow loads. Anyone with wood fires knows that is a semi-full time job. For those still selling root crops , this is the time of year that the cold and icy water veggie baths are not so refreshing! It is also the time…to plan the year ahead figuring out what worked and what did not. It’s time to get all those seed catalogues out and try to figure out what is going to be the big sellers for this year. This is a gamble in itself.

Her grandmother’s red cedar-strip canoe is suspended from the turquoise ceiling above the chalkboards listing products from the dozen or so fridges and freezers arranged around the room. I open and close the doors and peruse the shelves, slowly assembling my order: two kinds of homemade ice cream (amazing!), wild leek pesto, whole milk in a glass bottle, turkey sausages, raspberry pie, sweet potatoes the size of a small cat, dried chilies, apple cider, brussel sprouts, leeks, artisanal cheese, and an assortment of colourful root vegetables. I’m too early by a week for the first greens of the season.

Lyndhurst is in the heart of cottage country, surrounded by lakes, campgrounds and second homes. During peak season, visitors flock to the market to purchase fruits, vegetables, poultry and meats as well as dairy, baked goods, pre-made entrees, fish and dry goods from more than seventy local producers. Three-quarters of the produce and two-thirds of the meat/poultry/fish is organic and traceability – knowing precisely where one’s food is coming from – is a big part of the attraction. Each week she delivers to about fifty local restaurants and offers location-based catering. And one Sunday a month, from April through October, she hosts thematic fairs featuring chefs, musicians and artisans.

Wendy’s goal is straightforward: to sell more local food to more people. But market development –  matching capacity to market share – can be tricky. There are currently more producers in the area than customers. One of her strategies is to partner with CSA’s (individual farmers) who have an existing customer base and a desire to expand their product offerings. Another is to sell more into her current catchment area – Napanee to Kemptville – leveraging community groups or businesses as single-point drop-offs for new clients. Once again, it’s about strength in numbers.

What you can do to support local food

1. Purchase from the market in person (see map below)

2. Advertise the mobile market to your neighbours; arrange home delivery, organizing group drop-off into your community (mobile market order form here)

3. Encourage your favourite restaurant and company cafeteria to buy local food (commercial information here)

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As the signs by side of rural roads remind us: “If you ate today thank a farmer.” It’s a tough but essential job, requiring strength of character, persistence and a long view of the world. Wendy was born on the land but what keeps her rooted there?

You may ask WHY do it . The answer is FARMERS LOVE WHAT THEY DO!! IT IS IN THE BLOOD! Farmers love the feel and smell of the earth and the outdoors. The joy of seeing seedlings sprout over and over again. The love of living where they work and being their own boss. The joy of little calves sucking on their shirt sleeves, watching hens scratching around the yard and the birth of newborn animals. The pure joy of feeding people healthy food. Seeing customers eating fresh dug carrots and introducing new veggies to children . These are some of things on why farmers are farmers. Next time you talk to a farmer ask them why and watch this big grin start as they explain WHY.

Food Hub: Wendy's Country Market Food Hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market Food hub: Wendy's Country Market

 For more information:

Wendy’s Country Market

Wendy’s Mobile Market

Upcoming Events

Further reading:

The Popularity and Potential of Regional Food Hubs

Local food books from Chelsea Green Publishing

The Ontario Table: The Best Food From Across the Province by Lynn Orgryzlo

William H. Whyte, People-Watcher

William H. Whyte (October 1, 1917 — January 12, 1999) was an American urbanist, organizational analyst, journalist and people-watcher.1

While working with the New York City Planning Commission in 1969, Whyte began to use direct observation to describe behavior in urban settings. Employing still cameras, movie cameras, and notebooks, Whyte described the substance of urban public life in an objective and measurable way.2

He not only proved that the street-level social activity of people could be quantified, but upended the popular wisdom of the time that people-space and street-space were incompatible. He described the street as “the river of life” and people-watching its principle activity. He identified seven elements that seed a space for lively activity:

Sittable spaces – Must be comfortable (right height and width) and offer a variety of fixed and movable options, including walls, stairs, double-sided benches and individual chairs

The street – Spaces have proximity and good connection to, the street

The sun – Can be direct or reflective; it’s about access to ‘light’

Food – Include carts, cafes, or snack bars; people who eat attract more people

Water – Accessibility to rivers, ponds, and interactive water features create welcoming, social spaces

Trees – Create a defined canopy; open to the action but also intimate

Triangulation – Things, actions, or activities that act as magnets to bring people together e.g. art installations, buskers, skating rinks, dance floors; performers provide a connection between strangers and acquaintances; art has “a kind of Venturi affect”, stimulating pedestrian flow and attracting people.

While focussed on urban spaces, his observations are equally applicable to suburbs, small towns and villages. Whyte emphasized the need for appropriate scale and condensed public spaces for these types of low-density areas.

My own village, founded in 1793, has transformed from wilderness to frontier wagon-stop, through sustainable, working village, and eventually into a bedroom community when the railroad passed it by. A few years ago our general store, the last vestige of business and street life, closed. No more Friday night ice cream cones or random conversations between neighbours and strangers who stopped by for milk, smokes or directions. One less reason for the cyclists, snowmobilers, hikers and tourists to stick around and add their energy into the local mix. One more nail in the coffin of vitality. What an element of food and triangulation wouldn’t do for an otherwise lovely place.

In 1979, Whyte released his documentary The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces in cooperation with the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS) and the following year published a book of the same name. Retro style aside, the human behaviour in the film remains relevant and his warm narrative style brings the lessons to life.

Further reading:

Whyte, William H., The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces 

Project for Public Spaces

Parks By (And For) the People


  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Whyte 

  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_H._Whyte 

Walking the Carleton Place Labyrinth

We have not even to risk the adventure alone, for the heroes of all time have gone before us - the labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the centre of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world. 
~ Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949)

Bitterly cold it was when I ventured out to the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum between Christmas and New Year’s. A good day to be inside, I thought, somewhere warm and interesting. The museum, however, was closed. But the light was just so, and a delicate snowfall had brought the edges of everything into stark relief. I made my way around the building peering through the windows as best as I could, looky-loo that I am.

Tucked behind the museum I found the Carleton Place Community Labyrinth, an unexpected treasure bordered by blocks of heritage homes. Hundreds of pavers are set into the lawn, laid in the famous seven-circuit configuration found at Chartres Cathedral in France and contained by a circular walk. Dormant garden beds complete the landscape and a miniature table-top granite labyrinth invites observers to let their fingers do the walking. The space looked ethereal under the first snow, no less enchanting, I imagine, than it might under a full spring bloom.

Unlike mazes (multicursal), which are meant to confuse, labyrinths (unicursal) have one way in and one way out. They are used as a meditation and prayer tool and represent a spiritual journey to our center and back into the world again.1  Labyrinths are a type of  “Mandalas” (sanskrit for “circle that contain the Essence”), symbols of wholeness which are cross-cultural and non-denominational.2   They “… can be seen as a model for the organizational structure of life itself–a cosmic diagram that reminds us of our relation to the infinite, the world that extends both beyond and within our bodies and minds.”3

Although I’ve visited several mazes, this would be my first encounter with a labyrinth.  Beyond the obvious answer of ‘walking’, what would I do exactly? The simple answer is it can be approached in any manner one chooses, but here are a few suggestions:4

  1. As you prepare to walk, allow space between you and the person in front of you.
  2. Pause, as this is a time to let go of tension and stress. Listen to your heart beat, be aware of your breathing and quiet your mind.
  3. Pace yourself.
  4. When walking with a group remember the labyrinth is a two way street. There is the possibility for meetings, greetings and possible confusion.
  5. Don’t worry – there are no mistakes in the labyrinth. Pass one another when it seems comfortable. This may be easiest at the turns. Feel free to step around someone who is moving too slowly for your pace.
  6. When you reach the centre, remain for as long as you wish. Standing in the center is a time of awakening, receiving and opening. This is a place for rest, prayer, reflection and meditation.
  7. Walking out is a time of return. You may feel the opportunity to take what is gained at the center back out into the world with a renewed sense of understanding, strength, peace, or possibility.

Sadly, without my hat, gloves and heaviest coat, my walk would be over almost as soon as it had started. Pausing briefly at the beginning, I briskly followed the curves toward the centre, finding introspection difficult with my outer bits so woefully exposed. The brisk walk changed into a shivery gallop back to the van, the tips of my fingers very nearly frostbitten. Meditation aborted.

I’ll return to the museum for the vintage clothing sale on Saturday, January 31st and look forward to exploring at a more appropriate pace. This time, I will be more suitably attired.

Carleton Place Labyrinth
Let your fingers do the walking
Carleton Place Labyrinth
The labyrinth under a light snowfall

Carleton Place labyrinth

Carleton Place labyrinth

Carleton Place labyrinth
All good advice

The Carleton Place Community Labyrinth is located at 267 Edmund Street, on the property behind the Carleton Place and Beckwith Heritage Museum.

The gardens and labyrinth remain open year round, with a number of planned walks that invite people into community. Upcoming events for 2015 include: weekly walks, an Earth Day Sunrise Walk, a celebration of World Labyrinth Day and the annual Light Up the Labyrinth festival.

Further reading:

Known Unknowns: Margalit Fox’s Riddle of the Labyrinth

Labyrinthos: The Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth – FAQ’s

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking (2000)

 


  1. http://walklabyrinth.blogspot.ca/2012/03/the-purpose-of-labyrinth-walk.html 

  2. http://www.starwheels.com/infopage.php?pagename=sacredlabyrinths 

  3. http://www.starwheels.com/infopage.php?pagename=sacredlabyrinths 

  4. http://carletonplacecommunitylabyrinth.blogspot.ca/p/labyrinth-walking-tips-benefits.html 

The Inconvenient Indian

On the Canadian and American policies of forced removal and relocations – and re-relocations – of First Nations peoples from their own treaty-protected lands:

Moving Indians around the continent was like redecorating a very large house. The Cherokee can no longer stay in the living room. Put them in the second bedroom. The Mi’kmaq are taking up too much space in the kitchen. Move them to the laundry. The Seminoles can go from the master bedroom into the sunroom, and lean the Songhees against the wall in the upstairs hallway. We’ll see if that works. For the time being, the Ojibway, the Seneca, the Metis and the Inuit can be stored in the shed behind the garage. And what the hell are we going to do with the Blackfoot, the Mohawk, the Arapaho, and the Piaute?

Do we have any garbage bags left?

- Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America, pg. 97

The Inconvenient Indian

Further reading/listening:

Thomas King on The Inconvenient Indian – Q on CBC