What to Expect When Canada Turns 150 in 2017

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Jun 06

version of this article first appeared in Ottawa Business Journal]

In 1,350 days or so 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 G8 capital
which means it should spearhead preparations for Canada 150. So what kind of
party is planned for 2017?

Not content to wait for federal or provincial leadership, Mayor
Jim Watson formed a 2017 Task Force led by his honour and councillors Katherine
Hobbs and Rainer Bloess. So far details from the task force are limited to a
video on their site (ottawa2017.ca) which features now-departed Sens Captain
Daniel Alfredsson and a media release announcing that they have come up with a
logo. In addition, the site says, “Ottawa and Gatineau are open for business to
celebrate Canada’s big year in 2017.” Not much to go on so far.

Getting ready for a major anniversary, especially if there are
any plans to add legacy projects, takes years—in September of this year, Tokyo
was awarded the 2020 Summer Olympics by the IOC. So as far as Canada 150 is
concerned, even though there are three years left (after this one) to get
ready, the anniversary might as well start tomorrow. What kind of a legacy can
citizens of Ottawa expect?

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 is an opportunity to
do better.

Talking with former task force member and current president of
the Ottawa Senators Cyril Leeder, he says, “I would have liked to see plans for
Canada 2017 move a little quicker. It looks to me like the task force is mainly
focused on encouraging individuals and businesses in Ottawa to step up and plan
special activities and events for 2017.” There was little discussion and even
less support, Mr Leeder said, for any new facilities to be purpose-built to
celebrate Canada 150. “The first leg of Ottawa’s LRT is not scheduled to open
until 2018 so it won’t be a factor in 2017. Perhaps there will be an
announcement during Canada 150 that Ottawa’s LRT will be expanded, hopefully
one day connecting to the Canadian Tire Centre.”

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

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?
Looks like not much at the present time if Mr Leeder’s experience with the Task
Force is any guide.

Mr Leeder says he expects the Senators will try to chip in to
help celebrate the year 2017, “We would like to host an outdoor NHL game at a
renovated Lansdowne Park. Good dates might be Dec 19th (100th anniversary of
the NHL’s first game) or maybe hockey day in Canada usually held in February.
We’d also like to see more space build around the Canadian Tire Centre
(CTC)—possibly a few hotels (as many as 3 or 4) plus some new bars, shops and
restaurants. The Tangers Mall is bringing another 350,000 square feet of retail
space to the area so you know there is demand for it.”

With the mention of a hotel, the question of a second casino
location for Ottawa comes up. “It’s back to the drawing board as far as a
casino is concerned,” Cyril Leeder says. “While the City of Ottawa would like
to designate Rideau Carleton Raceway and Slots as the only site for this use
and OLG has said there will only be one such location in Ottawa, we feel that
it’s a natural to add a casino to what is already a key entertainment
destination for this area—CTC attracts 1.2 million paid attendees per year

When asked what happened to the proposal put forward by the
author in 2010 for a national boardwalk to link institutions that dot the
shoreline of the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers (the Canadian War Museum, the
Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Casino du Lac-Leamy, the parliamentary
precinct, the National Gallery of Canada and the Royal Canadian Mint as well as
other attractions such as the Byward Market, Rideau Falls, Rideau Canal and the
University of Ottawa), 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 Task Force
who felt that their focus should primarily be to help mobilize events in Ottawa

The current record holder for longest boardwalk opened June 26,
1870 in Atlantic City, New Jersey and currently runs 4 ½ miles. If Ottawa were
to build a national boardwalk for 2017, 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 this 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.”

When asked about other possible initiatives like getting a MLS
soccer team for Ottawa or promoting a major outdoor concert on the scale of say
Woodstock here, Mr Leeder said the former is no longer on the horizon and he
hasn’t heard anything about the latter although he doesn’t rule out the
possibility that either the feds or the province of Ontario or possibly the
Mayor’s task force may yet come up with something. But for now Mr Leeder
concludes, “It’ll be up to entrepreneurs to get Ottawa’s economy and 2017
celebrations off the ground.”

Dr Bruce M Firestone, founder, Ottawa Senators; broker, Century
21 Explorer Realty; executive director, Exploriem.org

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