What to Expect When Canada Turns 150 in 2017

By Bruce Firestone | Uncategorized

Dec 31
[A version of this article first
appeared in Ottawa Business Journal]

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.”

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 already.”

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 instead.”

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.

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.”

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.”

Bruce M Firestone, founder, Ottawa Senators; broker, Century 21 Explorer

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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.