Saturday, November 28, 2015

Ottawa 1968 & 2015: A Meditation on Urban Form

Not many entries of late, mostly because of travel on business.

I returned from Washington a few days ago; I might write about that later.  There is a great deal to say.

For now, I will remark on another capital city: my own, Ottawa, Canada.

On the You-Tube site some months ago, I came across a clip entitled “Ottawa 1968 1969”, the entirety of which can be viewed here:

The blurb at YouTube, by "Gwood's Gang", states: "My uncle drove around Ottawa in the early spring, about 1968 and again about a year later. He takes us from Maitland Avenue along the Queensway to downtown, around Parliament, to Champlain point, along the Ottawa River, Dows Lake and many other places in town. How the city has changed!"

Last summer, on a lark, I took the same route as the home-filmmaker, recording the same scenes with my cell-phone camera, in order to edit the two scenes together. 

The uneven result of this can be found at the link directly below.  The chief problem of my own retracing of Gwood's Gang's uncle, is that I was recording the scenes from memory, and thus they are often shot from different angles from the original; as well, it was summertime when I took the cellphone movies, whereas as Gwood's uncle was evidently filming during the early spring, and thus the foliage and sunlight are very different from the earlier film to the new one:

Nevertheless, and contrary to Gwood, it is striking how recognizable the city is in the older footage, when compared to today. 

If, hypothetically, film existed of the same areas in 1921 (i.e. forty-seven years before 1968), the city would have looked very unfamiliar. 

It would have, for example, been impossible to travel from the west-end to downtown by car on the same road, because it was then occupied by a railway. The vast majority of the buildings in the downtown core, as seen in the 1968 film, would not have been constructed in 1921 (whereas many from forty-seven years ago are in existence today). The McGregor Easson elementary school and neighbouring houses on Dynes road from ‘68, were no doubt pastures 47 years before. 

As it happens, there is an an aerial photograph of Ottawa taken, according to notations on the image, in 1922: one can view the various neighbourhoods of the old city, like the Glebe, Ottawa South, and the area I grew up in, Ottawa East:

Ottawa, Ontario, 1922: the waterway extending from the south to east
(i.e. bottom to right) is the Rideau River.  The Glebe quarter is central left,
where the circular playing field is situated.

There was very little of the latter to call it a neighbourhood. It was a vast farmer’s field, with Main street merely a dirt laneway (a bridge over Rideau river would not be constructed for decades). In spite of its status as a capital city, Ottawa was until the Second World War, no more than a large town. 

During and after the war, it underwent qualitative change, becoming a modern city. This is the form in which it remains today. While it is probably twice as large now as in 1968, its physical features have been refined but not drastically altered since then.

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