A History of Lansdowne Park
by John Leaning
The recent news that the south stadium at Lansdowne Park, built in 1962, is possibly collapsing, gives cause to examine the history and future of the so-called park. It has been many things since 1868, when the canal ordinance land east of Bank Street was offered to the Ottawa Agriculture Society for the purpose of a fairground. Since then, it has been used for exhibitions, spectator sports and participatory sports, and an amusement midway, but never actually as a park.
The canal shoreline and eastern and southern boundary of Lansdowne Park was originally different; the "park" consisted of a peninsula on which sat the home of a Mr. Craig, just opposite Pig Island. The inlet behind extended from the present lily pond north of Fifth Avenue to just in front of the Aberdeen Pavilion built in 1898. The fairground cum exhibition first consisted of a motley collection of wooden buildings which burned down in 1907, fortunately leaving the Aberdeen Pavilion, the largest freespan building of its kind in North America. It was Colonel By who determined the east and south boundaries of the fairground and the Glebe in 1826. The canal was moved there because of the actions of a Captain LeBreton who had acquired the LeBreton Flats lands across which the canal was originally intended to pass.
When the park was first created, it was outside the city. By the 1930s, the Glebe residential area had encompassed it. But even though the Driveway had been built along its eastern side in 1926, traffic access to the park by the 1950s was limited and started to cause problems of congestion and pollution in the surrounding areas. Lansdowne Park was not originally intended as a spectator sports ground as it is now. The Rough Riders football team did not appear until 1896. They lasted 100 years, until their demise due to mismanagement in 1996. The use of the park as a commercially operated midway by Amusements of America did not appear until 1964. It is the primary reason why we now have a vast asphalt parking lot where playing fields used to be - even though the midway only lasts for ten days each year.
In 1970, there was a serious proposal to extend Lansdowne Park northwards to Fifth Avenue and Bank Street, which would have required the removal of 150 homes. Fortunately, that idea was quashed by city council under considerable pressure from the Glebe Community Association. However, the GCA was unable to prevent the expansion of the south stadium in 1975, the portion of the stands now in a state of collapse. Since 1972, there have been about eight different design proposals for the park, including the removal of the midway to outside of Ottawa.
Some very positive moves were made in the 1990s. The Aberdeen Pavilion was restored, a children's playground was created in the northeast corner and much of the canal ordnance lands adjacent to the Driveway were made into attractive parkland. Some ideas being contemplated are the removal of the stadium, removal of the midway and replacement of the vast asphalt parking lot with ornamental gardens and playing fields.
Courtesy of the Glebe Report, October 12, 2007