Dewar: How Ottawa can create a permanent Canada 150 legacy

Let’s live up to the vision of the late elder William Commanda (shown above).
Bruno Schlumberger / Bruno Schlumberger

The uniqueness and importance of Canada 150 was powerfully illustrated on Canada Day, when Indigenous community members lit a sacred fire on Parliament Hill and held ceremonies in the shadow of the Peace Tower as thousands of revellers from across the country celebrated around them.

Ottawa’s Canada 150 celebrations have been at moments inspiring and transfixing, disorganized and chaotic, thought-provoking and pedestrian – a microcosm of our country’s relationship to this milestone birthday.

There can be no doubt that it’s a pivotal moment – and that Ottawa is ground zero for that transformational potential as we consider what comes next. After the restaurant has come down from the sky, after the crumbs have been swept up from the picnic and once the amazement of the dragon and spider strolling our streets has waned, we will be left with important questions: What can we do here in Ottawa to harness the spirit of Canada’s 150th for the long run? What should our community be like, what should we champion, as a legacy for the next 150 years?

For Ottawa, I believe that there are two significant projects that could help answer these questions.

First, as a city, we can take a real step in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by fulfilling the vision of the late Algonquin elder William Commanda by building a national Indigenous centre on Victoria Island.

This would be a genuine, lasting way to centre Indigenous contributions to Canada literally in the heart of our nation’s capital. A beautiful element of this project is that it would realize a vision of a place for all nations to gather – a place for reconciliation and healing, but also for global peacebuilding. Visitors from all over the world could benefit from this sacred meeting place.

The building’s design has already been completed by architect Douglas Cardinal, and the National Capital Commission recommitted to this project in its recent long-term plan. This project is a viable, concrete way for Ottawa to walk the path of reconciliation.

Second, let’s get serious about quality public recreation in Ottawa.

Growing up here, I benefited from many of the legacy projects of pools and arenas that were made available to communities across the country for Canada’s centennial. The spirit ’67 went further in our city, with municipal officials ensuring that tennis and basketball courts and baseball diamonds were built for all to use.

Today, many of these public places to play are dormant or in disrepair. Canada 150 is a great opportunity to work with members of our community, especially youth, to reimagine and reconstitute these spaces.

As we’ve seen this past year with projects as diverse as Synapcity, Ottawa 613 and Refugee 613, when we engage citizens with purpose and commitment, the kind of creative change that improves our community for the long run can happen.

In these final days of Canada 150, committing to an ambitious vision that harnesses the spirit of community we’ve seen this year can build a legacy for us to look back on with pride, knowing that we didn’t miss this pivotal moment.

Paul Dewar is the former NDP MP for Ottawa Centre.

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