On April 17, 1962, the federal government announces a major renewal project for the LeBreton Flats, an area described as an “incredible eyesore” by David, J. Walter, Minister of Public Works at the time. Hundreds of neighbourhood residents, mostly French and Irish, are displaced to make room for new buildings deemed more suitable for this part of the city adjoining Parliament Hill to the west.
A plan to establish National Defence Headquarters there, in the “Pentagon of the North”, hits a snag. So do other projects, which lack consensus among the different levels of government. In 1998, the City of Ottawa, the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton and the National Capital Commission, which owns and manages the land, agree on a redevelopment plan for the neighbourhood. It seeks to recreate the previous plot lines and establish a community of medium density. A total of 2,400 housing units will be constructed, 25 % of which will be dedicated to social housing. The project is widely publicised and unveiled with great fanfare. Some praise its boldness, others denounce it for potential negative consequences on vehicle traffic. Concern is also expressed regarding the potential for land and real estate prices to be driven up in the neighbourhood.
This new project awakens painful memories among Francophones. They remember being forced to abandon their neighbourhood for government buildings that were never built, leaving the land vacant for more than 40 years. Nevertheless, there is hope that the injustice inflicted on Francophone families expropriated in the mid-1960s might finally be redressed.
The project would correct the mistakes of the past and offer expropriated Francophone families the opportunity to go back to their neighbourhood. This return would restore Francophone presence in this part of the city, where their institutions have been subjected to the wrath of assimilation. There are virtually none left1.
1 Paul Gaboury, “Repeupler les plaines. À partir de ce quartier Ottawa pourrait s’accroître”, Le Droit, June 16, 1998, p. 18 (translated from the original).