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|Greber's plan and the 'Washington of the North': Finding a Canadian capital in the face of Republican dreams
|Landscape Journal: design, planning, and management of the land, 2001; 20 (1):48-61
|University of Wisconsin Press, Journal Division
|School of Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design
|Nancy D. Pollock-Ellwand
|In 1893, one of Canada’s future Prime Ministers, Wilfrid Laurier, made a speech in which he presented his vision for Canada’s capital: “the Washington of the North.” This phrase reveals an aesthetic that has been dominant in Ottawa’s city planning from the late-1880s to the present day: the use of monumental axes, radiating avenues, and grand public spaces – the City Beautiful Movement. The latest Beaux-Arts designs were presented a late as 1998 with grand plans that would necessitate the removal of several blocks of downtown Ottawa at a cost of billions of dollars. These classical city forms are the trademark of societies which exclude Canada; republican states, such as Imperial Rome, France and the United States that are different in political structure, cultural personality, history, and aesthetic sensibilities. Over the years numerous plans for the National Capital have proposed a classical vocabulary However, the Beaux-Arts dream received its most ambitious rendering in the comprehensive 1950 planning document produced by Jacques Greber, called the Plan for the National Capital. This paper is about Greber’s plan and the French urbaniste who in the 1950s produced a comprehensive document that included the, by then, antiquated ideas of the City Beautiful. More importantly, it is an exploration of why he did not achieve this City Beautiful dream while still contributing much else in the planning of Canada’s capital. This account is a superb example of the essence of a place persisting in spite of considerable efforts to thwart it. Ironcially, it was the first modern plan for Ottawa, by Frederick G. Todd in 1903, that has proved to have the clearest expression of this place. Instead of monumental spaces, a more modest scale was proposed; and in the place of strong symmetry and axial planning, open natural space systems and more organic forms prevailed. As Todd said nearly one hundred years ago, Ottawa reveals itself in the closeness of the rustic Gatineau Hills to downtown, the surrounding agricultural landscape, green parkways and canals, and picturesque architecture. The contemporary planners of Ottawa can take much from this pioneering landscape architect and realize the beauty of what is there, not what can be imported from elsewhere.
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