Glebe Community Association turns 50!

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by Randal Marlin

The Glebe today would not be the vibrant community we know and love were it not for the dedication of concerned residents to make it that way through the Glebe Community Association. The GCA was founded in 1967, so this year marks its 50th anniversary.

The Glebe Report will publish during the coming year a series of articles to be written by past GCA presidents tracing the development of the GCA from its beginning to the present.

As the earliest living past president, it falls to me to write the first column and cover the GCA from its beginning in 1967 to the beginning of my tenure in 1971. I am sure there will be important omissions and hope others will supplement or correct my account.

The founding meeting of the GCA was on December 14, 1967. It was sparked by the application by the Collegiate Institute Board for a rezoning of residential lots on First Avenue near Lyon Street, which the GCA decided to oppose. Lawyer Ross Cleary’s presentation to Ottawa Planning Board led to withdrawal of the application, the first of many GCA successes.

The first annual meeting took place November 22, 1968, in Glebe United Church Hall. With GCA President Paul Blais in hospital, Vice-President Harold Jones chaired the meeting. The three priorities for the first year of the GCA, as outlined in the annual report were 1. traffic and parking problems; 2. recreation facilities; and 3. rezoning of and an overall plan for the Glebe.

The annual report describes how on April 30, 1968, Glebe resident and architect John Leaning gave an illustrated talk to an open meeting at the Glebe United Church Hall. About 250 people packed the hall to hear him suggest that main traffic arteries go around the Glebe neighbourhood and that “high rise apartments along Bank Street with ample associated parking would be very desirable from a town planning point of view.”

This talk was a crucial event in Glebe history and was what led to a multi-sided, sometimes highly divisive struggle to get unified support for a plan to protect the Glebe as a community from its main enemy – commuter through traffic. The GCA adopted the motto “Improvement through Unity” and the truth of that message was borne out in subsequent years.

The biggest threat to the Glebe was probably the 1950s Deleuw-Cather Report that called for an additional east-west traffic route to supplement the Queensway. One of the proposals was to demolish houses on what is now Glebe Avenue but was Carling Avenue in those days, to make room for a road to cross the Canal and then the Rideau River. Suggestions included replacing Pretoria Bridge with a new road to handle anticipated east-west traffic, or to locate the bridge at Fifth Avenue. Eventually the Pretoria route was scotched through the combined opposition of the Glebe, Centretown and Ottawa East community associations.

John Leaning produced two groundbreaking studies that were to inspire Glebe planning and community support in subsequent years. One was “A Proposal for Roadway Environment in an Existing Community,” for the National Capital Commission, published in 1969. The second, done around the same time, was “The Revitalization of Older Residential Districts,” carried out under Part V of the National Housing Act administered by Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation.

His ideas were revolutionary because at the time the car was king. He was out to reshape a dominant mindset, encouraged by the world of commerce, that the automobile represented freedom. In western democracies, you don’t mess with freedom. What he saw, along with Jane Jacobs, was that the automobile had become the enemy of downtown communities like the Glebe. Untamed, it would continue its nefarious work and turn communities into slums, a process that was already well underway.

The Glebe was fortunate in the arrival, in 1969, of Douglas Fullerton as chair of the National Capital Commission and resident of Clemow Avenue.

This was also the time of the arrival of Pierre Trudeau as prime minister of Canada, along with Gérard Pelletier and Jean Marchand and other progressive believers in citizen participation in government. This took concrete form with the provision of grants to community groups and fledgling alternate media.

The new GCA president in 1969 was Michael Pine who, during his tenure, successfully applied for newly instituted grants under the Opportunities for Youth and Local Initiatives. One of the uses of the money involved hiring students to go door to door explaining the so-called “Leaning Plan” and getting signatures in support of his proposal for a community-friendly roadway environment in the Glebe.

I also had heard Leaning’s ideas at a meeting on Clarey Avenue in the Orthodox Church hall and decided to join the GCA, very quickly becoming a member of the executive.

From idea to reality – this is the subject of my next article where I will describe the formidable obstacles standing in the way of successful adoption of the plan under my tenure as president from 1971 to 1972 and the subsequent presidency of Michael Cooper.

(Note: In writing this I’ve benefitted from the state-of-the-art archival facilities of the City of Ottawa and want to thank in particular Claire Sutton, Archives Assistant, for her help.)

Randal Marlin, author, professor and longtime Glebe resident, was one of the earliest presidents of the fledgling Glebe Community Association.

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