The NCC and its predecessors patiently assembled the land base for this generous public realm over multiple generations. As the pace of urbanization continues, these lands will become even more precious, not just as important civic spaces, but also for their high ecological value. This represents a considerable economic value to the region. Along with the national institutions, these spaces are among the most appreciated and unique features that truly distinguish the Capital from other cities of a comparable size.
The 550 square kilometres of federal lands in the National Capital Region support a wide variety of valued ecosystems and natural habitats, contributing significantly to the region’s biodiversity. There are a total of 28 valued natural ecosystems and habitats: eleven in the urban lands, eight in Gatineau Park, and nine in the Greenbelt. The NCC manages these lands according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protocol. Mer Bleue is the largest peat bog in Canada’s Capital Region, recognized internationally under the Ramsar Convention for the conservation of wetlands.
Gatineau Park, the Greenbelt, green corridors and natural areas in the urban area, as well as the pathway and parkway corridors, provide sinews for a potentially sustainable coexistence of nature, ecological habitats and urban life in the Capital. The parks, waterways and public shorelines are a priceless inheritance from early federal planning efforts, starting with Frederick Todd in 1903 who sought to reserve “in close proximity to the Capital” a place “where nature may still be enjoyed, unmarred by contact with humanity.”
The Capital Green Space Network
MapCapital Green Space NetworkAn important feature of the Capital of today, the green space network comprises the vast expanses of Gatineau Park, the Greenbelt, urban green spaces and shorelines, as well as connections to the broader regional ecosystems. These green spaces will be even more important in the future, as urbanization and growth continue.
MapGreen CapitalOn the one hand, there are opportunities to link this land base to surrounding natural features and systems. On the other hand, these lands are at risk of further fragmentation, with increasing pressures to provide the infrastructure and services needed to support urban growth. There are systemic threats as well, such as climate change and invasive species. The emerald ash borer, for example, has had a major detrimental effect on the region’s tree cover.
The Capital green space network is part of a larger, integrated ecological system that crosses multiple administrative boundaries. These divisions make it difficult to fully monitor the health of the watersheds, wildlife and vegetation in the Capital Region. Available data suggest that, within the NCC’s landholdings, there has been some decline in vegetation cover and a loss of habitat over the past 10 years. Viewed on a regional basis, beyond the NCC lands, the rate of decline is even greater. How to ensure water sustainability in the different watersheds is better understood, but many threats to water quality and the health of aquatic ecosystems remain. The NCC will continue to monitor ecosystem health with appropriate indicators.
Forests near and within increasingly urbanized environments must be actively maintained and managed to ensure their long-term health. The urban tree canopy contributes to the region’s quality of life by improving air quality, managing stormwater and enhancing the aesthetic experience. Examples of larger urban forests include Pine Grove in the Greenbelt and the woods at the former Rockcliffe Airbase, south of the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway.
Building the Capital’s green web, as a model of promoting and protecting ecological health and biodiversity in an urban setting, is a key commitment envisioned by this plan. Protecting our shared natural heritage will be crucial to the vitality, attractiveness and resilience of the Capital Region over the next 50 years. Natural habitats and ecosystems play an important role in the Capital, and influence everyday life in the regional community. These natural areas interact with other areas of regional significance. The NCC’s plans for Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt, for example, highlight the importance of ecological linkages between these federal lands and the lands beyond their boundaries. The achievement of important environmental health and biodiversity objectives depends on ecological connectivity and linkages between habitats and natural lands, thereby enhancing the resilience and biodiversity of the entire natural system.
As we advance toward the bicentennial of Confederation, federal landowners will retain, protect and enhance the natural elements of national interest in collaboration with numerous partners and stewards in the broader community. These elements, described in the following sections, must remain a beautiful distinguishing feature of the Capital.
THE CAPITAL GREEN SPACE NETWORK
Key policy directions for the next 50 years
- In Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt, the NCC will prioritize the acquisition of ecologically sensitive lands to increase the protection of sensitive ecosystems that are essential to the Capital. This may be done through a variety of methods, including land use planning, land acquisition or conservation easements.
- The management of woodlots, forests and the tree canopy on federal property will require the development of an integrated forest management policy and rejuvenation actions. Federal agencies will work in close collaboration with the municipalities affected, some of which have already developed policies in this respect.
- The NCC will participate in discussions with other levels of government on the future land use at the outer limits of the National Capital Region to protect regional biodiversity.
- The NCC will work with its partners to create and secure, over the long term, quiet places and sheltered areas to protect the night sky in all sectors of the Capital green space network.
- In partnership with landowners, municipalities and other agencies, the NCC will work to secure ecological corridors that connect to the Greenbelt and Gatineau Park to protect long-term biodiversity in the Capital Region.
MapGatineau ParkIn 2067, Gatineau Park will be of even greater national value as a substantial natural reserve located within minutes of the Capital’s urban core. Situated at the edge of the Canadian Shield, the Park extends into the heart of the Capital between the Ottawa and Gatineau rivers, and links to wilder areas of the boreal forest. Having a wilderness area so close to a major capital city is not only rare but it also stands as an evocative reminder of our nation’s vast tracts of wilderness.
The NCC manages Gatineau Park as a Category II natural heritage area, according to IUCN standards. The primary purpose of the Park will continue to be a natural reserve, with memorable natural features, unique plants and wildlife, and beautiful heritage sites and landscapes. At the same time, the Park will welcome human activities that promote an appreciation of and interaction with the natural environment, provided that the activities have a low impact on ecological resources. The continuing challenge is to manage the impacts of the increasing number of visitors to a growing Capital Region. In 2013, it was the second-most-visited major federal park in Canada. Indeed, rising visitation has led the NCC to develop and implement innovative management techniques to protect the long-term health of the Park’s ecosystems and preserve this national icon. This approach will be enhanced as part of the NCC’s leadership role in regional environmental management.
Key policy directions for the next 50 years
- The NCC will continue to acquire additional lands as they become available for purchase or when the owner wishes to give the lands to the nation. The NCC will prioritize lands that are vulnerable to development, that are of unique ecological character, or that act as linkages in ecological systems.
- With respect to human habitation within the Park’s boundaries, the NCC will work with residents and local authorities to bring such habitation to an ecologically sustainable state.
- The NCC will protect and enhance cultural heritage through preserving key buildings and landscapes.
- The NCC will work with local stakeholders to conserve and, in some cases, restore valued habitats and ecosystems in Gatineau Park. The NCC will work to maintain ecological connectivity, biodiversity and species at risk.
- Ongoing efforts are required to work with Park users to ensure respectful recreation that meets the growing and diversified interests of users, while ensuring conservation, such as the “leave no trace” philosophy. The NCC will work with user groups to forge sustainable relationships between people and nature.
- The NCC will work with municipalities, conservation agencies and other private partners to develop linkages from Gatineau Park to broader ecological networks and to secure ecological corridors.
- The NCC will continue to work with municipalities and other groups to leverage the conservation of natural assets for regional economic benefit, and complement the Park’s offerings with outdoor activities outside the Park. The NCC will encourage municipalities to plan and develop design standards within Gatineau Park, and to create alternative recreational facilities to help reduce the pressure on the Park.
Waterways and Shorelines
MapMajor WaterwaysCanada’s Capital is a waterfront capital. It is located at the confluence of three rivers: the Ottawa, the Gatineau and the Rideau. This location was critical to the trade route of the First Nations, then much later to the decision to make Ottawa the national capital and the site for Parliament. The Ottawa River—which formed the border between Upper and Lower Canada—is an important unifying element in the region’s history. Its Ontario side was designated as a Canadian Heritage River in 2016.
The Rideau River and Gatineau River flow into the Ottawa, forming one of Canada’s largest river systems—measuring 1,271 kilometres in length, with a watershed of approximately 146,000 square kilometres. The Gatineau River, almost 400 kilometres in length, was an important logging waterway from the north. The Rideau Canal traverses over 200 kilometres of the Rideau and Cataraqui river systems, stretching from Ottawa south to Kingston’s harbour on Lake Ontario. In 2007, UNESCO added the Rideau Canal to its distinguished family of World Heritage Sites.
The Ottawa River continues to form the boundary between Ontario and Quebec, flowing through the centre of the National Capital Region. In earlier times, the river was the main transportation route into the hinterland. The confluence of the Capital’s three rivers is in the heartland of Algonquin Anishinabeg traditional territory. The configuration of the rivers and the portage routes were the geographic base for the region’s first permanent settlers and the starting point for the exploration of the continent by Europeans.
The efforts to beautify the Capital that began soon after its proclamation in 1857 resulted in the gradual conversion to parkland of the industrial sites along these riverbanks. With the decline of the lumber industry in the Capital during the early 20th century, new opportunities arose to reclaim more of the shore for public use. Successive planning visions resulted in the creation of publicly accessible banks along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, as well as the Rideau Canal. The creation of the Canal Driveway (now the Queen Elizabeth Driveway) and its picturesque setting graced the Canal with accessible paths and gardens. Construction of the Rockcliffe Parkway (now the Sir George-Étienne Cartier Parkway) coincided with the creation of Rockcliffe Park, which offers residents and visitors a bucolic setting and recreational space overlooking the river. Gréber’s plan for the national capital called for the relocation of active industry and railways to the periphery, to further embellish and modernize the Capital.
The region’s waterways provide recreational opportunities to local residents and visitors. They offer magnificent natural vistas, and provide a unique opportunity to come into contact with our heritage and the natural world that surrounds us. Treasures to be preserved for future generations, these waterways convey multiple meanings that will be expressed in the various settings along the shorelines.
- They have a spiritual meaning for the Algonquin Anishinabeg people, and they provide striking natural settings such as the Chaudières Falls.
- They are symbolic, as they offer a representation of the natural character of the country, which serves as a unifying feature, both cultural and geographic.
- They serve as primary communication routes, ancient highways leading to vast expanses of nature and wilderness in the hinterland.
- They are historic meeting places: for Indigenous peoples, then for the raftsmen and log drivers who are part of the Capital Region’s lumber industry heritage.
- They are scenic routes, as many parks and green spaces line their shores, and they serve as important entrances to the Capital.
- They serve a recreational function, offering the potential for nautical activities, as well as open space for leisure and meeting places.
- They are environmental lifelines: the efforts to improve their water quality benefit the larger watershed.
The environmental health of watersheds and the protection of water quality are of the utmost importance when considering the long-term conservation of waterways and shorelines. While some areas will be actively used, there are vast areas of shoreline to be protected, restored and naturalized.
In 2067, a reimagined shoreline system will improve public access and enjoyment of the waterfront lands. High-quality views and vistas along waterways will be protected and enhanced. A defining feature of 21st century cities is the fact that they are turning their sights and focus toward public use of waterways and shorelines. Federal lands will play a vital role in restoring the quality of the waterways such that they are liveable, swimmable and ecologically diverse.
The shorelines will harbour lively places for cultural events, nautical activities, and places for people of all ages, abilities and walks of life to feel warmly welcomed in the Capital. Several key rest points will offer the opportunity to reconnect with nature, access the waterway, meander along an interpretation path or picnic in a unique scenic setting. Public ownership of the shorelines enables the rediscovery of historical uses of the region’s waterways, in conjunction with the interpretation of sites for visitors and residents. The promotion of water-based recreational activities such as boating will further contribute to the active use of these waterways. The value of parkways as green infrastructure will increase exponentially with the growth of the region.
Collectively, these improvements will reimagine the water culture that once existed in the region. Providing access to waterways and the addition of amenities along shorelines will be kept in balance with the need to safeguard the health of waterways in the Capital Region.
WATERWAYS AND SHORELINES
Key policy directions for the next 50 years
- Riverfront green spaces will remain primary public green spaces, but will incorporate new structures and partnerships to foster greater public access, activity and amenities, while improving the quality of natural habitats in areas that are not actively used. Along the Ottawa River, in the core area and along the green linear parkway corridors, more places will provide access to and contact with the water for people to enjoy.
- Today’s parkway corridors will be transformed to establish linear green spaces serving a dense urban core as places for people in riverfront parks. These spaces will showcase the Capital’s natural scenic, cultural and recreational qualities through better access, as well as greater active mobility and enjoyment of the waterways.
- A major destination of the Capital, Nepean Point will be renewed and improved as a striking landmark and lookout, and part of a continuous riverfront promenade from the Rideau Canal to the Rideau River.
- The NCC will continue to work in partnerships to allow activities that are compatible with existing waterfront parks and maintain sites available for national programming.
- The NCC will prepare specific plans for riverfronts to outline how land use can promote enhanced public access, while protecting sensitive ecological elements, cultural landscapes, and archaeological and built heritage.
- The NCC and its federal partners will improve waterway lands to reimagine the flourishing water culture that was lost over the past century. The NCC will invest in riverbank modifications to offer mooring and wharves outside ecologically sensitive areas, and new passive open spaces providing better access to the water for the use of watercraft and soft, or low-impact, recreational activity. The NCC will enhance connections to islands in the rivers, although some will remain untouched as natural preserves.
- The transportation systems along the shorelines will provide greater capacity for pedestrians and cyclists. This includes creating new safe crossing points on transportation corridors. The parkways will continue to be part of the Capital’s urban green system, forming a chain of linear park-like spaces and corridors, providing access to the river shores and Capital institutions.
- The NCC will work with its agricultural tenants to improve farming practices and reduce environmental impacts on nearby watercourses.
- The NCC’s continuing development of LeBreton Flats will encourage more activity at the riverfront.
- The protected linear corridors will help preserve floodplains and river shorelines, protect water quality, safeguard cultural landscapes, provide passive recreation, offer scenic opportunities, and connect open space systems of the urban and broader Capital Region.
- As shoreline infrastructure (such as storm outfalls, electrical infrastructure and heating/cooling stacks) comes up for life cycle replacement, federal departments and agencies will seek alternatives that are minimally visually intrusive on picturesque riverbanks, or provide visual screening, particularly in the core area.
- The NCC will cooperate with the municipalities to improve best practices for the management of stormwater, particularly by progressively improving techniques to manage water quality and initiate remedial work. Runoff rates will be managed to avoid the degradation of creek and river corridors. The NCC will implement the policy to frame the use of its lands for new water quality control infrastructure. This applies when the municipality has no alternative but to use federal lands.
MapThe GreenbeltThe Greenbelt is a unique and special place where nature, people, recreation and agriculture come together. The Greenbelt is a people place. With the Greenbelt’s more than 150 kilometres of trails, users can connect to the Trans Canada Trail, the Rideau Trail and the Capital Pathway network.
The Greenbelt has a rich diversity of natural heritage resources, including a rare boreal wetland, numerous species at risk, geological outcrops from the interglacial age, and remnants of an ancient sand dune dating back over 10,000 years. It is a place where amateur scientists, researchers and other citizens can get involved in making the Greenbelt an enriching source of meaningful experiences and lifelong learning.
The Gréber Plan guided the shape and development of the Capital Region for over half a century. It directed the establishment of the Greenbelt as a means to limit the extent of urban growth in the expanding Capital, to protect its scenic countryside with lands dedicated to agriculture, to create a connected system of natural areas and to provide a home for large federal institutions. Gréber’s plan did not foresee the rate of population growth, or the changing patterns of urban land consumption. Consequently, the Greenbelt gradually ceased performing a growth management function many years ago. Now ringed with urban developments, it is accruing value as a major protected urban green space.
In 2067, the Greenbelt will have better integrated its vast network of natural spaces in the midst of an urbanized region. It will remain an integral part of the Capital green space network as a cohesive and robust entity supporting a balanced mix of environmental protection, local agriculture and recreation. It will continue to function as an ecological network connecting high-value natural and cultural landscapes in the midst of growing and intensifying urbanization. The Greenbelt will reinforce the region’s overall resilience and exemplify the Capital’s commitment to protect its picturesque and natural assets. The Greenbelt will be an environmental example, demonstrating the Capital’s leadership in environmental stewardship.
The projected population increase will have an impact on the Greenbelt, as much of the growth within the City of Ottawa could take place in communities adjacent to the Greenbelt. With increasing urban intensification and suburbanization, the Greenbelt could assume even greater importance in coping with climate change, food security, ecological connectivity and the need for a low carbon economy with a low ecological footprint. In time, it will become a green haven in the centre of the city, and it will be as important to this region as the Emerald Necklace is to Boston, U.S.A., the Adelaide Park Lands are to Adelaide, Australia, and the Vienna Woods are to Vienna, Austria.
The Greenbelt will build regional resilience with local food production. An evolution toward modern, diversified, resilient and viable agricultural production will secure greater relevance for the community. The conservation of productive farms and soils on federal property in the Greenbelt, as well as potential future innovations in sustainable agriculture and urban farming, are important in a future of regional population growth and continued urbanization. The Capital will also benefit from the creation of opportunities for enhanced agro-tourism and the active preservation of cultural landscapes.
Key policy directions for the next 50 years
- The NCC will be a careful steward of these lands by maintaining and protecting high-value ecological features such as wetlands and habitats, as well as agricultural lands. It will accommodate carefully located pathways and, where possible, enhance and promote recreational opportunities to users. The Capital will demonstrate the benefits of sustainable agriculture to the country.
- The NCC will continue to update its Greenbelt land use policies on a regular basis to ensure adaptive management of the land base in response to the region’s physical evolution.
- The NCC will allow soft or low-impact recreational uses, provided that they do not affect the Greenbelt’s ecological integrity or result in the fragmentation or loss of productive farm soils over the long term. Furthermore, municipal community gardens serving adjacent neighbourhoods may be permitted on lands that allow agricultural uses.
- The NCC will work with the City of Ottawa, conservation agencies, and other private- or public-sector partners to develop ecological linkages from the Greenbelt to broader ecological networks.
- Where new infrastructure must cross the Greenbelt, when demonstrated that there is no other viable alternative, the NCC will encourage its clustering in corridors to avoid further fragmentation of the land base. Any proposed new transportation infrastructure must be evaluated through the cumulative effects assessment process that the NCC has jointly established with the City of Ottawa.
- The NCC will host world-class urban agriculture. It will follow cutting-edge practices and undertake collaborative research in farmland and soil conservation and food production. Building on the unique position of its protected agricultural lands near the centre of a large urban region, the NCC will be a leading contributor to enhanced food security and resilience by encouraging local production. The NCC will celebrate Canada’s living agricultural legacy by elevating the region’s rich agricultural history and heritage while embracing modern, diversified and sustainable agricultural production.
- The NCC will participate in discussions with other levels of government on future land use at the outer limits of the National Capital Region to protect regional biodiversity.
Capital Urban Green Spaces
MapUrban Green SpacesParks, urban green space and green linear corridors are smaller pockets of land that form a network of open spaces in the urban areas of the Capital, and supplement the larger green spaces found in Gatineau Park and the Greenbelt and on the shorelines. The Capital urban green spaces create a network that contributes to the image of Canada’s Capital as a truly unique green city. Green spaces are the living and breathing part of a bigger whole, which contribute greatly to quality of life in the larger urban region. Likewise, the open space system provides recreational opportunities and builds ecological capacity in the overall Capital Region.
The NCC manages this network of precious green spaces to provide accessible places for people to enjoy and explore, and to ensure the long-term viability of the region’s biodiversity. The large Capital parks will continue to serve as venues for events and activities that serve to animate the Capital.
CAPITAL URBAN GREEN SPACES
Key policy directions for the next 50 years
- The NCC will retain open space lands of national significance that perform Capital functions.
- As part of its regional interest land mass, the NCC may hold land under federal ownership that does not serve a Capital function, but supports an essential regional function, either in perpetuity or until an appropriate local steward is found who can maintain the lands as open space.
- The management of forested and treed areas on federal urban property will require the development of an urban forest management policy and rejuvenation actions. Federal agencies will work in close collaboration with the municipalities affected, some of which have developed policies in this respect.
- The NCC will work with its partners to create and secure, over the long term, quiet places and sheltered areas to protect the night sky in designated sectors of the Capital’s network of urban green spaces.
- The NCC will work with municipalities, conservation agencies and other partners to develop ecological linkages from the urban parks and open space network to broader ecological networks.