• By: Eric Murphy

A Street of Their Own

Laurier House. Photo by Claire MacDonald.

Laurier Avenue East may have a new name when Canada’s 150th birthday rolls around. A grassroots organization hopes to turn part of the street into ‘Prime Minister’s Row,’ an interactive street museum that will explore the stories of Canada’s nation-builders.

The affected section of Laurier Avenue will be between King Edward Avenue and Strathcona Park. The Prime Minister’s Row initiative would surround this stretch of road with new plaques, statues, public art and landscaping.

“I think it has the potential to really transform Laurier Avenue,” says Leanne Moussa, one of the Prime Minister’s Row co-founders.

Moussa has plenty of experience leading projects like the row. In 2012 she organized more than 20 Sandy Hill families to purchase and restore the old carriage house at 43 Blackburn Avenue. The historical space is now largely occupied by a nursery school.

Bolstered by the success of that project, Moussa set her sights on other local and underappreciated heritage buildings.

All Saints Church. Photo by Claire MacDonald.

She started looking at All Saints Church in Sandy Hill. All Saints has an amazing history, including Ottawa’s only royal wedding, which united lumber heiress Lois Booth with Danish prince Erik von Rosenberg in 1924. One of the 1,000 guests was former Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden. When Borden died 14 years later in 1937, his state funeral was held in All Saints.

Now the church is up for sale, and about a year-and-a-half ago Moussa started drawing attention to the church’s history to try and protect its future.

“That attracted a lot of people who were very knowledgeable about Canadian heritage and could see the way All Saints fit into the larger national context,” Moussa says, “and that’s really what drove the project.”

Now Prime Minister’s Row is set to celebrate more than 30 Sandy Hill structures, including a number of former PM’s residences and churches.

“Stadacona Hall is very exciting, having been the site of Sir John A’s residence,” says Moussa.

“John Diefenbaker lived across the street, so did Tommy Douglas…so it’s kind of a left and right political history.”

Naturally, almost all of these buildings are closed to the public, but the row project is more focused on their exteriors and the street itself. This will be Canada’s first ‘street museum,’ focused outdoor monuments and an interactive street app. The app will allow visitors to go up to the houses and instantly find out more about them and dig up multimedia background about the people who lived there.

Stadacona hall. Photo by Claire MacDonald.

Moussa also plans to commission art and monuments celebrating all prime ministers and nation builders, not just the ones who lived near Laurier Avenue. The organization will also plant ceremonial trees, one for each PM, in Strathcona Park.

All of this work could potentially open Laurier East up to more tourists.

“It offers the City of Ottawa another attraction for people to understand Canada,” says Moussa. She adds that “at the same time, locals need to understand the history of their own neighborhood.”

While not everyone living in the traditionally quiet area might be happy about the name change and extra foot-traffic, Moussa says she’s only heard good things from the locals.

The end-goal for Prime Minister’s Row is to have the street revitalized and opened under its new name by the time 2017 celebrations begin. Their next step though, is to announce their non-profit’s board of directors and secure funding from Canada 150. Moussa encourages anyone interested in supporting the project to send her an email or sign up to become a member.

Although the row should be open for 2017, that doesn’t mean work on the area will be done for good. In fact, Moussa argues that the street museum should change as Canada does.

“The idea is that this space not only honours our nation builders, but it also hopes to set the course for the future,” she says.

You can find out more about the Prime Minister’s Row project on the organization’s website.