OTTAWA'S most beautiful thoroughfare—built partly on garbage dumps — leads the motorist lazily through history, flowers and traffic jams
Peter C. NewmanAugust11959
The Streets of Canada: THE DRIVEWAY
OTTAWA'S most beautiful thoroughfare—built partly on garbage dumps — leads the motorist lazily through history, flowers and traffic jams
Peter C. Newman
RELATIVELY FEW of the half million visitors who crowd into Ottawa every year see much of the city beyond the federal buildings. Those who do, however, discover that the most beautiful sight in the national capital is not the spike-spired Gothic pile of governmental architecture but a pleasant twentythree-mile stretch of pavement known as The Driveway.
The Driveway has been built as a Canadian showpiece on top of a series of former municipal garbage dumps, abandoned railbeds and frog ponds by governments dating back to that of Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
It has become a popular Ottawa residential street, but The Driveway's main purpose is frankly decorative.
The oaks, maples and elms that line its path form a cathedral of foliage that embraces the city's downtown area in a semi-circular aisle of green.
As the only city thoroughfare in Canada under the administration of the federal government — through the National Capital Commission — The Driveway is governed by a set of unique and fanatically anticommercial bylaws. The street allows no billboards,
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The streets of Canada: THE DRIVEWAY continued
no telephone poles, no mailboxes, and no business premises. Buses and trucks are banned, although milk and bread delivery wagons and other home service vehicles may briefly slip onto The Driveway between midnight and noon, provided they arrive and leave through the exit streets nearest their destination. Garbage collection trucks may not use The Driveway at any time — residents must carry their refuse into back lanes. No street parking is allowed, but a Driveway resident whose daughter is being married may appeal to the federal government for a special permit which will allow a maximum of six cars to be stopped in front of his house for the duration of the reception.
Anyone planning to call on Driveway residents for charitable donations, even in such worthy causes as the Ottawa Community Chest, must first obtain a special license from the federal treasury board. One regulation forbids users of The Driveway "to shout or use any blasphemous or indecent language.” Section nineteen of the street’s bylaws specifically provides six months in prison for i: y person c. ght carrying a torpedo along The Driveway. It has never been invoked and National Capital Commission law-
yers aren’t quite sure why it’s there. One theory is that it was a safeguard for ships of the Rideau Canal, which for part of its path parallels The Drivew'ay.
Enforcing these and other regulations is a troop of twenty-one RCMP constables, each man the graduate of a special two-week course on how to behave on Driveway patrol. The force hands out about six thousand tickets a year for traffic offenses, mostly to drivers who exceed the street’s thirty-five-mph speed limit. While riding herd on The Driveway’s motorists last year, the RCMP’s eight cars and eQht motorcycles covered 316,802 miles — the equivalent of twelve trips around the w'orld. The street’s heavy traffic is beginning to force down real estate values, although lots still cost about two hundred dollars per foot of frontage, an unusually high price for an Ottawa residential street. Its residents are mostly successful merchants and senior civil servants; most ambassadors and cabinet ministers live in Rockcliffe.
While the Rockcliffe mansions were being built, at the turn of the century, much of The Driveway was still swamp. Sir Wilfrid Laurier ordered construction of the street as the first practical step in his declaration that he would make the capital “a Washington of the north.” The Ottawa Improvement Commission he established completed the first portion of The Driveway in 1904. Later administrations extended the work. City garbage was used as fill to cover the swamps. Mackenzie King, who was one of the project’s most vocal supporters, once declared that The Driveway and its allied ventures were “something that will give expression of all that is highest in the idealism of the nation.” Cost of The Driveway to date has run close to ten million dollars and it’s still growing. Two miles have been added since 1945; its ultimate length has been projected at forty-four miles.
The Driveway is best known outside Ottawa as the site of an annual tulip festival. Two hundred thousand people stream onto the street every May to view the flowering of more than a million tulip bulbs, spread among thirty beds. A quarter of the bulbs were donated by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands, in appreciation of her wartime exile in Ottawa.
The royal gift inspired Edward Wood, the chief landscape architect of the National Capital Commission. to evolve a unique system of flowing mass displays. Instead of flower beds shaped like crescents, circles or stars. Wood has designed plots holding up to a hundred thousand bulbs, continued on page 48
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The Driveway continued from page 20
“Anyone caught touching a Driveway tulip would have to move out of town”
They are technicolor floral carpets, flowing down the banks around the curves of The Driveway, set just at the angle which will appeal most dramatically to the occupants of a moving car. Harmony, contrast. repetition, sequence, balance and dominance in the pattern of the colors give the exhibit the composition of an artist's canvas.
The Driveway's tulips receive the most concentrated public attention, but its beds arc a garden for every flower and bush that can flourish in Ottawa's longitude and latitude, including daffodils, petunias, salvia and portulaca. There is little trouble with vandals. "Driveway residents are so proud of their flowers," says Wood, "that anyone caught touching a National Capital Commission tulip would just have to move out of town." Last spring. Wood nipped four red rebels from a bed of tulips meant to bloom all white, fen minutes after lie arrived home, an RCMP constable was knocking on his door. He was holding up the wilted blooms and demanding an explanation. An alert Driveway resident had noted Wood’s car license and phoned the police.
The Driveway begins in a traffic loop off the Hull-Aylmer highway, on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River. Even some of the imperturbable commuters who use The Driveway daily take time to gaze about them, as their cars swing onto the mile-long arch of the Champlain Bridge.
To the west, the upper Ottawa River reaches, unexplored and inaccessible, toward the North Pole. Up this rivet went Champlain, Nicolet, Radisson. La Veten drye, McTavish, Mackenzie and Selkirk on their missions of discovery and colonization. Down this river came brigades of fur-heavy canoes and later, t ie rafts of square timber which became the greatest single factor in the Canadian economy during the first half of the nineteenth century.
To the east are the Chaudière rapids where in 1613 Samuel de Champlain, who thought he was on his way to the Orient, watched the Algonquins tossing tobacco into the whirlpools as spiritual offerings.
To the north stretch the Chelsea Hills, hiding the sylvan gardens of Kingsmere, where Mackenzie King built grotesque gateways and walls with stones from demolished Ottawa buildings, including some chunks from the Parliament building destroyed by the fire of 1916. This is the Gatineau country, the summer and
winter playground for tired politicians and exasperated civil servants.
lo the southeast is the mainland portion of T he Driveway. This segment, called Island Park Drive, runs on top of the former right of way of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence Railway. There is no sign of the railbed now, but its width has allowed the development of an avenue with houses protected by more than double the usual amount of lawn space.
As T he Driveway curves eastward, past the busy intersection at Carling Avenue, into the grounds of the Central Experimental Farm, fields anil orchards instead of houses line its route. The farm established on twelve hundred acres in 1886, is the research headquarters for the federal department of agriculture. Sir Charles Saunders, who was chief cereal ist here from 1903 to 1922. made one of the most important discoveries in Canadian agri cultural history, when he perfected Marquis wheat. It matures within ninety days of planting, allowing the grain to escape the frost danger faced by other varieties. The use of Marquis vastly increased the prairies' wheat acreage.
Three thousand kinds of trees
I he farm’s thousand scientists and technicians carry out research into everything from the carbohydrate metabolism of tobacco to the propagation of field peas, but the motorists using The Driveway are much more aware of the farm's animal population. Eighty-five cows, a dozen bulls, twenty horses and hundreds of pigs, sheep, chickens and geese feed in the fields rolling away from the road. The most popular tourist stop is the Dominion Arboretum, a circular fork just off T he Driveway. Fhe seventy-acre plot contains three thousand species of trees and shrubs, all labeled. In winter, the slope away from the arboretum's parking lots provides good skiing for beginners.
A far less well-known farm exhibit is an agricultural museum, crammed into the second story of one of its barns. It is unmarked and seldom visited. As well as the primitive farm tools which one would expect to find in such a display there is also, jammed among pioneer farm wagons, the purple carriage used by Edward VII on his Canadian tour as the Prince of Wales, in I860.
As The Driveway swings away from the meadows of the Experimental Farm, the street suddenly assumes a nautical look. It skirts two sides of Dow’s Lake,
named after Abram Dow. who took up land here in 1814. The ninety-four-acre lake wais created out of swamp in 1927. a step that improved the district’s odor, but halted a thriving trade in frogs’ legs. Boys used bamboo rods and hooks baited with pieces of red flannel to stalk the soggy bushes for bull frogs. They peddled the legs to Ottawa housewives, who rolled them in egg and bread crumbs and fried them.
I he area has not been entirely reclaimed from its former wilderness. Just before World War II. a department of agriculture entomologist set out to trap muskrat in the Dow’s Lake section of The Driveway. He caught so many animals that a furrier was able to fashion them into a coat for his wife. A touch of wild life invades The Driveway from the air twice a year. It is one of the few big-city streets in Canada located on a migratory bird flyway. Mallards, blue heron, rails, gulls, nighthawks and woodcocks perch around Dow’s Lake in their flights.
South of Dow’s Lake is Hogs Back Park, where Ottawans who don’t want to leave town can swim and picnic. After it leaves the lake. The Driveway swings parallel to the Rideau Canal. Here, houses line only the west side of the street, giving motorists an unobstructed view of the waterway.
Construction of the Rideau Canal was the last and greatest feat of British military engineering in eastern Canada. It was built at a cost of four million dollars between 1826 and 1832 as an urgent defense measure for a battle that was never fought. I he bitterness created by the War of 1812 still poisoned relations between the U. S. and Canada when the British Government conceived the canal. It was built as part of a supply route that would bypass the international section of the St. Lawrence, where ships bound for Montreal or Kingston, might come under attack from guns on the American shore. During the forty years following its completion. the Rideau Canal was an important commercial artery; now it is used only by pleasure craft.
In its two-mile run alongside the Rideau. I he Driveway's only brush with commercialism is the curve it makes around Lansdowne Park, the home grounds of the Central Canada Exhibition. the Ottawa Rough Riders, and weekly stock-car races. T he CCE is the third-largest annual exhibition in Canada. Thirteen million people have attended its August performances since it was opened
in 1888. From The Driveway observant motorists can glimpse the corner of the CCE Coliseum, where some of the most dramatic battles in Canadian politics have been fought. On August 7. 1919. a noisy third ballot confirmed William Lyon Mackenzie King as the youngest leader of the Liberals. Louis St. Laurent, George Drew. John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson became party leaders in this building.
The Rideau section of The Driveway ends at the traffic circle of Confederation Square, known for good reason to every Ottawa driver as “Confusion Square.” The connecting link with the final section of The Driveway is Sussex Drive, which is the address of some of Canada's most important buildings, including the Royal Canadian Mint, the Public Archives, the National Research Council's headquarters, the residence of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, and Rideau Hall, the home of Canada’s governors-general. The Driveway begins again, just past Rideau Hall, encased in the pleasant elms of Rockclifl'e Park.
I he park is used by skiers in the winter, picnickers in summer. Its calm is seldom disturbed, but it has in the past been the favored battleground for Ottawans with the urge to duel. Dr. Edward Van Courthardt w-as wounded here in 1832 dueling with an opponent, whom he described, in handbills distributed before the fight, as "a miserable poltroon." In 1948. Julio Ricart. the consul general of the Dominican Republic, challenged Dr. Juan Carlos Rodriguez, the Argentine ambassador, to "pistols or swords at daybreak under the elms at Rockclifle." Ricart deemed his country had been insulted at a cocktail party given by Rodriguez, but the Argentinian claimed that Ricart had been "in a complete state of inebriation." The fight was called oil when Rodriguez pointed out that it was not proper protocol for an ambassador to duel with a mere consul general. Both diplomats were recalled shortly after the incident.
The Driveway ends abruptly in the northern corner of Rockclifl'e, at the gates of the RCMP's N Division, one of the force's three main training centres. From a lookout over the Ottawa River, near the policemen s gate, timber can be seen floating down from the Gatineau country to the Eddy paper mills. At night the neon lights of Hull blink across the wide river.
I he Driveway, unlike the majority ot Canadian streets, imparts a sense of beauty even to motorists who use it every day. "I always travel to and from my studios along The Driveway." says Yousuf Karsh, the famous photographer. "There is no season when The Driveway is not an inspiration." jt
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