Laurier’s “Washington of the North” is a crumbling disgrace

Above: The disgraceful state of Ottawa's ByWard Market.

“The Washington of the North” was how Sir Wilfrid Laurier described his vision for Canada’s capital. The ramshackle lumber town of his time lacked just about everything needed to make for a noble seat of government for a country whose 20th century was Canada’s to embrace. Mud and plank sidewalks and rickety poles and sparse electrical lighting were the design norm for the streetscapes of a city whose capital status was only a few decades old. Toxic industrial sites spread out around the downtown core and along what have since become Ottawa’s scenic waterways.

The transformation began in 1899 with the establishment of Laurier’s Ottawa Improvement Commission, today known as the NCC. Granted, Ottawa is home to what was, until well into the 20th century, an auxiliary national government to Westminster, and not the visionary New Rome of the greatest republic in history, so comparisons to some degree must be tempered by context. We also get clobbered by winter and annual damage to roads and sidewalks, but while much has indeed been improved, there is one glaring exception for which there is no excuse except apathy. And it’s been this way for years.

Venture off of Confederation Boulevard into what is touted as the premiere tourist district of the city and you’ll find an embarrassing disgrace. The above images show what tourists will find only three blocks away from the US Embassy and our National Gallery. Comparison shots of similar locales, in the district surrounding The National Gallery of Art in Washington, have been selected without prejudice. Try Google Street View if you don’t believe me.

Screencaptures of Washington DC streetscapes from Google Maps. 

Ottawa photos captured and edited with a Huawei P40 phone