The Plan for Canada’s Capital forum is a conversation about the future of our capital and the role all Canadians have to play in shaping it. Our goal is a capital in which all Canadians see a reflection of themselves and feel at home. The forum is held in partnership with The Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS).

First stop: Charlottetown

I am so pleased that, on the 150th anniversary of Canada’s Confederation, our first stop was in Charlottetown: the birthplace of Confederation.

We held the event at Memorial Hall in the Confederation Centre of the Arts—a building that resonates with echoes of the Capital. From its architecture to its artistic mission, it mirrors the National Arts Centre in the heart of the Capital, right across the street from the NCC’s home on Confederation Square. Like Canada’s Capital, this centre belongs to all Canadians.

An iconic waterfront

Charlottetown’s iconic waterfront is one of the main reasons why we decided to make this our first stop. Charlottetown has done much work in developing and animating its shorelines and waterfronts.  

I spent a few days having fascinating conversations with many people about Charlottetown’s waterfront and elements of the Plan for Canada’s Capital. Mayor Lee hosted a round table with community leaders from multiple backgrounds to hear their vision for Canada’s Capital. I also met with Lieutenant-Governor Lewis, Premier MacLauchlan and Minister Mitchell. These conversations are important as we begin our work to make the Capital’s shorelines more inviting and accessible.

I was fortunate to receive a tour of the Flotilla Festival, which serves as an example of how to animate our waterfronts with arts and culture. The festival allows artists from around the world to showcase their art in a series of unique public exhibitions, events and discussions in the city.

Panel observations on the plan

Panelists were invited to speak to one of the three pillars of the plan:

  • Inclusive and meaningful
  • Picturesque and natural
  • Thriving and connected

Inclusive and Meaningful

I was pleased to present Chief Brian Francis of the Abegweit First Nation with the traditional gift of tobacco following his welcome message at the opening of the forum.

Chief Francis described how he felt P.E.I. communities were losing touch with their language and history. He called it “a recipe for losing one’s culture in the long term.” To help them reconnect with their history and identity, Chief Francis and his team created spaces where Indigenous people feel welcome and supported:

  • The Mawi’omi Student Centre at the University of Prince Edward Island is a culturally significant space on campus. It is a place where Aboriginal students can feel at home and share their customs and heritage with students from all cultures.
  • There are plans to construct a new building on the historic Charlottetown waterfront where the off-reserve Indigenous population can gather.

These are meaningful and inclusive spaces created for the Indigenous community by the Indigenous community. Chief Francis concluded by stating that this principle is relevant to Canada’s Capital. Canadians from all walks of life want to see themselves in the region’s sights and attractions, because it makes them feel welcome.  

Picturesque and Natural

The audience heard from local heritage activist, Catherine Hennessey, on the history of Charlottetown and its public spaces. Their story dates back to the 1760s, when Samuel Holland was appointed to survey the island and declare a site for the capital. He picked Charlottetown because it had the best harbour. In 1768, Charles Morris from Halifax laid out the town. Charlottetown has worked hard on the beautification of the city since those days.

“It is no accident that we have these capital cities to love, protect and work with,” said Hennessey. She concluded by asking the audience to continue building their island into a source of pride.

Thriving and Connected

Doug Keefe, interim CEO of Startup Zone, spoke about the importance of organizations like Startup Zone in creating thriving capital cities by helping entrepreneurs compete on a global stage. Startup Zone encourages entrepreneurs to shift their focus from their product to understanding their customer’s needs. This a skill that is transferable to engaging citizens in building a thriving capital.

Alex Forbes from the City of Charlottetown spoke about the history of Charlottetown’s waterfront. Once a thriving area, the waterfront began to decline in the 1970s. Waterfront plans created since the ’70s contain recommendations to reanimate and protect the waterfront and bring locals and tourists back to the area. The cruise ships that have lined the P.E.I. shorelines in recent years are a great example of this. They open up the island to an international audience which brings in economic activity.

Next stop: Québec City

Québec City is where the founders of our country first hammered out the resolutions that would become the foundation of our constitutions, the basis for the peace, order and good government we have enjoyed ever since.   

Québec has been a capital for more than 400 years, and as such there is much heritage to preserve, and much character and culture to champion. The excellent work of their commission is obvious for all to see.Our first stop in Québec City was to attend a round table in a prestigious heritage building located in the heart of the Sillery district, the Domaine Cataraqui. I had the pleasure of meeting Marie Claire Ouellet, the new chair and general director of the Commission de la Capitale nationale du Québec (CCNQ).

I also had the opportunity to meet with key partners from the Ville de Lévis and the municipalities of Sainte-Pétronille and Saint-Jean-de-l’Île-d’Orléans. Also in attendance were representatives from the following:

  • Communauté métropolitaine de Québec
  • Université Laval
  • Grand Théâtre de Québec
  • Vivre en Ville
  • Action Patrimoine

This round table allowed us to share our long-term vision for Canada’s Capital.

Reinforce the nighttime beauty of the Capital

One of the milestone ideas on which the Plan for Canada’s Capital is built is developing a comprehensive illumination strategy to reinforce the nighttime beauty and character of the Capital’s built heritage, while enhancing sustainability and security, and reducing light pollution.

Québec has long-established expertise with these ideas.

Panel observations on the plan

Inclusive and Meaningful

Denis Angers, who has devoted so much to building a great capital in Québec, shared his thoughts on the “inclusive and meaningful” pillar. Angers explained that a capital is both a window and a mirror. 

  • It’s a window onto the world, because we use it as a way to introduce ourselves to others.
  • It’s a mirror in the sense that Canadians who visit their capital are able to see themselves reflected in it.

To make his point, he used the example of an initiative hosted by embassies in Washington which introduce their respective cultures to other embassies and residents. This is very similar to what we want to accomplish with our International Pavilion.  

Picturesque and Natural

Chantal Prud’Homme, a landscaper and architect, shared her thoughts on the “picturesque and natural” pillar. She introduced the Communauté métropolitaine de Québec’s (CMQ) Trame verte et bleue (website in French only) framework. The plan contains 14 projects that will ensure the competitiveness, attractiveness and sustainable development of the metropolitan region. In many ways, this plan is quite similar to the Plan for Canada’s Capital

Thriving and Connected 

Julie Lemieux, from the Ville de Québec, talked about what “thriving and connected” means in Québec. She spoke about some major projects that can be a source of inspiration for the national capital. These projects are great examples of the concept of capital cities as “windows onto the world,” which Denis Angers spoke about. Here are two examples:  

  • Québec decided to create a network to connect and enhance the rivers, and launched an international competition. It received 21 proposals from around the world. 
  • The Commission de la Capital nationale du Québec and the Ville de Québec worked together to improve tourists’ first impression of Québec City. They are doing so by enhancing the area where cruise ship passengers disembark from their ships. Instead of an old parking lot, tourists will be welcomed by a park. This initiative recently received international attention when it was covered by the Los Angeles Times

The plan is done, but the work of realizing its vision has just begun. I invite you to be part of it. Register for one of our upcoming cross-country events.