“Reconciliation is not an aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one. Virtually all aspects of Canadian society may need to be reconsidered.” (Excerpt from the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada)
12,000 years after glacial retreat carved out the rocky promontory at Nepean Point, more than 8,000 years after the Algonquin First Nations first inhabited the Ottawa Valley and its rivers, and 150 years after Canada’s Confederation, we find our country in unsettled times. The findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission have profoundly shaken our understanding of the foundations of Canadian society. This is a time for deep national reflection. As we collectively confront a longer and more intricate history of Canada, we are also delicately navigating the future of this newly understood nation. We urgently need new public settings for national dialogue, and inclusive venues where the process of rebuilding relationships can unfold over time. Spaces where we can come back together to work through our new national realities.
Nepean Point can become that place. Here is a transformational opportunity to re-conceptualize the Point as a park for all Canadians. A Capital landscape that is able to express the fullness of our nation’s history and also reflect the contemporary panorama of Canada – home to Indigenous peoples, settlers, and new citizens, arriving at a rate of nearly 250,000 each year. To imagine a park on this unparalleled site overlooking the Ottawa River, amidst such powerful national symbols and institutions, at a time like this, requires a purposefully different approach and perspective.
We have directed our design efforts toward the creation of a contemporary meeting place. A new common ground in the form of a park that “captures the soul of the nation”1 and becomes a dynamic place where new narratives can be expressed in the public realm of our National Capital.
We asked ourselves a big question: What are the foundations of a 21st century park for all Canadians?
We believe it must begin with a fresh start. Anchored on solid ground, it must evolve and take shape slowly, over time. Ultimately, it must be a process-place where our collective, on-going reflection and change can be made manifest and a place where every citizen can engage as an active participant in the process as it unfolds. At a time when many Canadians find the idea of the nation elusive, Nepean Point Park will be a tangible work-in-progress space capable of gradually becoming the grounds for the Capital’s most quintessentially Canadian park. We can’t really know what it will be. But we know how it could begin.
Our proposal can be summarized by five key actions:
1. Transform the Arrival: The essential first encounter with the Point starts from the river
Today, the most memorable and meaningful gateway to the Point is not accessible. By opening a new approach originating at the locks of the Rideau Canal, moving along the river and up to the Point, the project expands Ottawa’s historical narrative and provides vital contact with the water. The unforgettable experience of ascending to the Point is enabled by a pedestrian bridge that lightly climbs the contours of the limestone cliff. Nepean Point now becomes a new branch and highlight of the Ottawa River Pathway and the nexus of a number of cultural, historic, and recreational systems that weave together, reinforcing the Point as the Capital’s ideal meeting place.
2. Return to Bedrock: A clean start and a new terrain for all Canadians to inscribe the future evolution of the park.
Scraping back the shallow contaminated soils to reveal the underlying raw limestone bedrock marks a literal and figurative ‘clean start’ for the Point and initiates the cultivation of a process-based landscape. By working with the fabric of bedrock as a foundation to inscribe a contemporary park, we introduce a park of a different nature. This evocative surface reminds us that today we stand on exposed ancient ground, upon which an open-ended park-making process will unfold over time. This unique terrain will be the grounds for a completely different philosophy of engagement and active participation in the park-making process.
3. Re-Form the Point: A sculpted green arc supports park programming and performance.
In a coordinated gesture, the scraping back of soils on the western half of the park re-forms the topography as a sculpted landform on the eastern half. The fusion of these two complementary parts of the park makes this work-in-progress landscape come to life. The green arc— a terraced lawn featuring a formal amphitheatre as well as a flexible sweeping lawn— integrates the necessary infrastructure to support an array of programming and performance that will animate the park experience. The new landform re-centers Nepean Point to expose visitors to a wider perspective of the river and cultural landscape from the prospect of this vegetated embankment, taking into account the sites most iconic views. The amphitheatre and lawn play a critical role in the life of the park by offering a gathering space and performance venue that is ready to host the nation.
4. Sustain a Process Place: Integrated equipment for site-specific engagement
An important layer of flexible event/programming infrastructure and equipment for engagement allows the park to support dynamic individual and collective participation at a number of scales. With two distinct park areas encircled by a looped promenade offering a sequence of breathtaking perspectives of the landscape, the public is invited to engage within the park interior as active custodians of its growth. How can each visitor put their mark on this park? A fleet of small-scale equipment and supplies (carving and cultivation tools, water, soil, seeds, stools, hammocks) is supplied at the gate to encourage everyone who enters the core of the park to slow down, discover, and add to this space. Anchor points are embedded within the bedrock to facilitate the quick set-up of tents for shelter and workshops; 7 masts are equipped with light, power, sound, and rigging that are able to support a deployable pavilion cover at the heart of the Point for large gatherings and performances. A co-management strategy with leadership from the Algonquin community as well as partnerships with the National Gallery of Canada, the Global Centre for Pluralism and other local organizations offers the potential to extend opportunities to youth, education, environment, and arts/culture programming. This process is cultivated through active dialogue and mutual respect for the other.
5. Give the Point Back to Time: Like the country itself, it will never be truly finished
In a process-based park, we resist defining its finished state. Instead we invite all Canadians to shape it over time. By releasing control, we allow space for the unexpected. The park will be transformed by natural systems of growth and decay, and also by the diverse Canadians for whom this space will serve. At some point in the future, the stark line at the heart of the park will evolve and transform into an unexpected new form of park and collective experience. Like the country itself, Nepean Point Park will continue to flourish.
Learn more about the project.