Brucie’s Big Idea

By Bruce Firestone | Architecture

Mar 28

The NCC is asking citizens to submit their big ideas to make Ottawa a more inspiring G7 capital city.

Here is Prof Bruce’s big idea for a national boardwalk, one that would be the longest in the world (surpassing current record-holder Atlantic City) and link the provinces of Ontario and Quebec as well as major national institutions and attractions along the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers.

Memo to:

From: Bruce M Firestone, PhD, Ottawa Senators founder, Century 21 Explorer Realty broker, real estate investment and business coach

Date: March 28th 2016

Re: The Plan for Canada’s Capital, my big idea to build an inspiring capital—a new National Boardwalk

As Ottawa Senators founder and more recently as Century 21Explorer Realty broker, I have played a role in changing the city of Ottawa from the small parochial town it was when I first came back here in 1983 to the more interesting, diverse and flourishing community it is today, which is not to say more can’t be done. It can.

In another few months it will be time for Canada’s sesquicentennial celebration—the nation turns 150 in 2017. It’s an important year not only because it is this country’s 150th birthday, but also because it’s the 125th anniversary of the first time Lord Stanley’s Cup was awarded, the 100th anniversary of the National Hockey League’s founding, the 50th anniversary of the NHL’s first expansion (in 1967) and the 25th anniversary of the founding of the modern day Ottawa Senators. There are a lot of Ottawa connections in these dates not least of which this city is a G7 capital, which means it should spearhead preparations for Canada 150 and beyond.

Getting ready for a major anniversary, especially if there are any plans to add legacy projects, takes years—in September of 2013, Tokyo was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics by the IOC. Seven years may sound like a long time to get ready for an Olympic games, but frankly it’s not. So what kind
of a legacy can citizens of Ottawa expect from 2017 or this new NCC “big ideas” initiative?

To get some idea, ask another question: what kind of legacy did Expo 67 leave behind or, more recently, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics? Expo 67 like the Vancity Olympics left an indelible mark on Canada and changed not only the way Canadians see themselves, but also Canada’s international brand.

Despite that, Canada’s performance in terms of attracting its share of international tourists is dismal.

In 2002, Canada ranked 7th in the world in terms of international tourist arrivals falling to 15th just eight years later. Canada attracted 20.1 million visits in 2002 but only 15.8 million in 2009 recovering somewhat in 2012 when 16.3 million international visitors arrived in this nation.

By comparison, Mexico attracted 23.4 million that same year while the US had 67 million overseas visitors. Not only are numbers trending down,  Canada’s proportionate share of world tourism is dropping even faster. So while brand matters in terms of attracting attention, tourists and their money, Canada is clearly not keeping up. Canada 150 and the NCC’s big ideas initiative present opportunities to do better.

Expo 67 left behind five main legacies—1. the site itself (Ile-Saint-Helene was expanded using 25 million tons of debris excavated during the construction of Montreal’s metro system and a whole new island (Ile-Notre-Dame) was created); 2. La Ronde (now owned and operated by Six Flags) became Canada’s 2nd largest amusement park, 3. Moshe Safdie-designed Habitat 67 became an ultra-cool place to live and a co-op as well; 4. the French and Quebec pavilions now house the Casino de Montreal (largest in Canada); and 5. the US pavilion, a Buckminster Fuller-designed bucky-ball (an enormous spherical geodesic dome also called a Buckminsterfullerene), is home to Montreal’s Biosphere.

Vancouver was also profoundly changed by its experience with the winter Olympics—there was the Pacific Gateway Program, a $22 billion expansion of highways, bridges and rail connections primarily benefiting Vancouver’s port, amazing venues like the Vancity curling centre, Richmond’s speed skating oval and UBC’s Thunderbird Arena, the SkyTrain which now connects downtown Vancouver to its airport plus it’s a lot safer today to drive the Sea-to-Sky highway on your way to Whistler than it was before the games.

What can Ottawa expect in terms of legacy projects from 2017?

Ottawa Senators president Cyril Leeder says he expects the hockey team will try to chip in to help celebrate the year 2017, “We would like to host an outdoor NHL game. Good dates might be Dec 19th (100th anniversary of the NHL’s first ever game) or maybe hockey day in Canada usually held in February.”

When asked what happened to the proposal put forward by this author in 2010 for a national boardwalk to link institutions that dot the shoreline of the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers, Mr Leeder replied, “Although I personally supported the idea of building the longest boardwalk in the world to go along with the longest skateway, that suggestion didn’t get much traction with the Mayor’s Task Force who felt that their focus should primarily be to help mobilize events in Ottawa instead.”

The current record holder for longest boardwalk opened June 26th 1870 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and currently runs 4 ½ miles. If Ottawa were to build a national boardwalk, the installation would be the new record holder at 10.4 kilometres (about 6.5 miles) long.

“When my wife and I were in Tuscany last summer,” Mr Leeder added, “we visited Lucca, a gem of a city near Pisa. What attracts tourists there is not only its great history, but the opportunity to hike or bike 3-miles on top of the wide walls of the old city so I can see how a long boardwalk in Ottawa with exposure to three great rivers, an historic canal plus fabulous  museums and neighborhoods could have a lasting impact on this city especially if it had places to stop—maybe pavilions built by the provinces, artist studios and tea or coffee shops.”

If you don’t think something like a boardwalk can transform not only a cityscape but also its economy, look at what happened when a one mile section of an abandoned elevated train track (the West Side Line owned by New York Central Railroad) was re-purposed as a linear park along the lower west side of Manhattan.


In 2012, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, more than 4 million people used the park and over $2 billion was spent on development in adjacent neighborhoods.


It even has its own “Friends of High Line Park” website and extensive programming including–star gazing, guided tours, shopping, gardening, dance parties, lawn time (forest bathing), arty hours, teen nights…


A third phase of High Line Park is under development, which will increase its overall length by 50% to 1.5 miles.

Imagine for a moment you are a real estate developer. What kind of a premium could you charge for units (say, residential condos or co-ops) that are close to High Line Park, or better yet, connect directly to it via, say, a pedestrian overpass? Probably quite substantial.

Anglo-Iraqi starchitect Zaha Hadid created a 39-unit apartment building using her trademark curved glass wall style at 520  W 28th street in Chelsea. Outdoor space (balconies) feature prominently as well. Ms Hadid loves the light in New York, which she calls “rare, both cold and sharp.”


According to Bloomberg Businessweek, units range from 1,700 square feet to more than 6,000 square feet. Prices go from $4.95 million to as much as $50 million, which means the smallest and least expensive unit is still $2,912 per square foot, almost triple Ottawa’s most expensive residential real estate.

Billions in value were unlocked when New York Central Railroad re-purposed its rail-line, and the city of New York rezoned the area around the Hudson Yards and the High Line about a decade ago. Ms Hadid tells Bloomberg, “The whole liberation of the High Line has made projects possible.”

National Boardwalk—a proposal

Canada could construct a National Boardwalk to link together the marvelous institutions that dot the shoreline of the Ottawa River such as the Canadian War Museum, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Parliamentary Precinct, National Gallery of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint along with other attractions such as the Byward Market, Rideau Falls, Rideau Canal, University of Ottawa and much more.

Here is a look at what, if constructed, would become the largest boardwalk in the world:


National boardwalk shown in brown above

The current world record holder for the longest boardwalk opened on June 26th 1870 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and currently runs 4 ½ miles in length. The new, longest boardwalk in the world would link the cities of Ottawa and Gatineau as well as the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Points Connected:

CDN War Museum
Lebreton Flats
Chaudierre Island
Victoria Island
Supreme Court of Canada
Library and Archives Canada
Garden of the Provinces and Territories
Ottawa River Bicycle Path
CDN Museum of Civilization
Parliament Hill
Fairmont Chateau Laurier
Ottawa Rowing Club
The Royal CDN Mint
Rideau Falls
Rockcliffe Pavilion
Rideau Canal
University of Ottawa
Major’s Hill Park
Nepean Point
Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica
Aga Khan Foundation
National Gallery of Canada
Royal CDN Mint
Byward Market
National Arts Centre
Green Island
Governor General’s Residence/Rideau Hall
Alexandria Bridge
Casino du Lac Leamy
Hilton Hotel
Plage du Lac Leamy
Gatineau River


LeBreton Flats

New downtown arena

Potential Length:

10 km +/-

Approximate Cost:

$2 million per mile (2007 estimate for Milford CT)

~ $1.65 million per km (2010 estimate)

~ $16.5 million + soft costs (30%)

for a total of $21.45 million for the boardwalk (estimate)

Other Opportunities:

The National Boardwalk would be built at public cost, but proposals from other parties to develop sites along the National Boardwalk might be expected.

Possibilities exist to develop 3-season pavilions. Pavilions could be focused on (for example)—CDN arts, dance, concerts, film, festivals, history, wine and foods, green and other tech, education, provinces, territories, food and beverage, entertainment, etc.

Possible Season:

May Day to Thanksgiving Weekend

Spring—Summer—Fall (Closed in Winter)

Potential Transit:

In addition to pedestrian traffic, OC Transpo could be solicited to operate a small electric trolley system along or next to the boardwalk.

Lasting Legacy:

A National Boardwalk celebrating Canada and its people would be an impressive and lasting legacy meandering along three of the most scenic rivers in North America and connecting points of historic and national importance. The National Boardwalk could last (as in the case of Atlantic City and subject to regular maintenance) 150 years—until the 300th Anniversary of this nation.

LeBreton Flats:

Despite its heritage designation, the aqueduct on LeBreton Flats has been so sadly neglected that few Ottawa residents even know it exists. That would change under RendezVous LeBreton’s IllumiNATIONproposal.

It would transform the linear water channel into the centrepiece of an iconic new public space, lining it on either side with boardwalks, shops and cafes and using it in winter for skating and programming.


Aqueduct boardwalk with commercial areas at right (RENDEZVOUS LEBRETON GROUP / OTTAWA CITIZEN)




What makes a city truly sustainable? Its economy because nothing is sustainable unless it’s also economically sustainable.

Canada and Ottawa face enormous challenges—how to cope with an aging population, how to compete with dynamic emerging economies and a huge superpower to the south, the United States of America, how to keep its most precious resource—it’s kids—at home or how to convince them to return.

You do that by making sure there is opportunity for them to find jobs, start businesses, participate in lifetime learning and raise a family in a safe/secure environment.

How do you communicate that to young people today? Via branding, that’s how.

This is the most brand-conscious generation maybe ever and we have to do a better job letting them know that Canada and Ottawa are terrific places to live, play, work, learn, shop, meet and greet friends and grow a diverse, interesting, tolerant, flourishing, peaceful community.

Canada’s national motto: PEACE, ORDER AND GOOD GOVERNMENT is just what the world needs more of now. A national boardwalk will not only be a place folks will want to return to over and over again; it will be a source of national pride, international branding and economic growth plus it’ll support a learning and diverse culture.



PDF copy of Brucie’s Big Idea,

Image source: Ocean City, Maryland boardwalk, Notyourbroom – Own work, CC BY 3.0,

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About the Author

Bruce is an entrepreneur/real estate broker/developer/coach/urban guru/keynote speaker/Sens founder/novelist/columnist/peerless husband/dad.