In 1938, a streetcar ran through Lebreton Flats and the magnificent Charles Ogilvy Building on Rideau was the city’s premier department store. Twelve evocative scenes from the city’s past appear in a 2014 calendar that was created by city planner Alain Miguelez and is on sale at independent bookstores and magazine shops. Miquelez is now writing a book about the cache of photos from which these 12 were chosen.
When Paris-based architect and urban designer Jacques Gréber was recruited in 1937 by Prime Minister Mackenzie King to design an urban plan to make Ottawa a worthy capital city, he asked for a comprehensive set of photographs of the downtown to give him a better sense of the central core. Over the next year, Public Works took more than 600 shots of Ottawa’s streets and intersections (most of them between the ByWard Market and Bronson Avenue).
City planner Alain Miguelez stumbled upon the treasure trove of photographs at Library and Archives Canada and immediately began planning a book. Entitled Ottawa in the Eyes of Gréber, it will look at the city Gréber saw when he was asked to come up with an urban strategy, while also including a modern-day assessment of the Gréber Plan. Developed between 1938 and 1950, the plan shaped much of the city we have today.
Two details jumped out at Miguelez as he sorted through the photos. “I know this city really well, so I was fascinated by how many central street corners were completely unrecognizable — everything has changed so much that there are no points of reference.” His second observation? Many more kids were out playing on the streets in 1938. “Before our streets were turned over to cars, they were used much more as community play spots. In the pictures, the kids are unsupervised.”
A city should not be treated as a museum, but its development should be grounded in history. “Looking at specific buildings that are now gone and areas that were completely razed, I wonder what they might have been used for today if they had stayed.” Miguelez says a lot of good came out of the Gréber Plan, but mistakes were made and opportunities missed. “I hope this book will broaden the conversation about where we’ve been as a city — and where we want to go.”
The large-format (11″x17″) calendar retails for $25.
Order online at oldottawa.ca or at Britton’s (846 Bank St. in the Glebe; 352 Richmond St. in Westboro)