A Thriving and Connected Capital

A growing urban region presents many opportunities to make Canada’s Capital a cosmopolitan and appealing place to live, work and visit. “Thriving” means that the region is prosperous, lively and enjoyable. For example, the region’s wide range of social, economic and cultural opportunities includes built heritage as an attractive component of the economic and cultural landscape. Another is the ease of moving around and interacting with other people in public places to facilitate social connections.

Since Ottawa became the capital, the presence of the federal government has had a defining impact on the makeup of the region’s economy, through direct and indirect employment and spending, and through contributions to regional governments in the form of payments in lieu of taxes for lands other than parks. The Capital is a major tourist destination: national symbols and major commemorative events (such as Canada Day and Remembrance Day) draw significant numbers of visitors to the Capital Region.

Municipal and federal administrative jurisdictions have changed over time to reflect changes in urbanization and the region’s spatial structure. Nonetheless, more than ever, the region has the potential to function as a single economic and interconnected agglomeration.

A leading objective of this plan is to balance the Capital Region’s role in representing Canada to our nation and the world on the one hand, and to support the local interests of residents on the other. The Capital Region’s success relies on ensuring that the region remains a prosperous, vital and dynamic place.

The Capital and the Regional Economy

Project 12

The federal government is a major employer in the region. Wages earned by the federal public service in the National Capital Region contribute to the stability of the regional economy. The federal government’s activities also support significant indirect employment in sectors that include professional services, construction and technology. The activities of NRC and other federal research bodies have helped attract major research enterprises to the region. Many firms have located in the Capital to meet the federal government’s demand for goods and services.

Over time, the region’s tourism and cultural sectors have also become important sources of employment and economic activity. The federal government’s presence contributes to the continued growth of both of these sectors.

Conceptual rendering of Terrasses de la Chaudière. Source: grc architects
Conceptual rendering of Terrasses de la Chaudière.
Source: grc architects

The federal government’s activity will remain a decisive sector of the region’s economy into the future. However, the relative size of its impact will possibly diminish in importance when compared with the other sectors of the Capital Region’s economy, such as research, technology, health care and the cultural industries. National scientific institutions, as well as several large public and private post-secondary institutions, attract students and researchers from across Canada and around the world, giving the Capital a reputation as a centre of innovation. The presence of a highly educated population in a diverse and liveable region ensures that the government has a large talent pool to draw from.

The region’s appeal, and its competiveness in attracting and retaining talented workers, will affect the efficiency of the federal public service and the delivery of federal programs. In turn, the expectations of these employees and their families will impact the region’s urban development. Their aspirations for well-being, quality of place, inclusiveness and economic stability will help create a thriving Capital Region.

What will Canada’s Capital have become 50 years from now? Far-reaching growth and changes to the Capital since 1967 far exceed what Jacques Gréber thought possible in the 1950s. Today, in the face of rapid technological advances, social and demographic changes are redistributing employment patterns in the Capital as part of an evolving urban economy. The accommodation of the federal workforce is shifting, reflecting changes seen in the private sector, where physical employment accommodations are becoming more collaborative, space-efficient, flexible and universally accessible. Flexible work arrangements and the use of technology are changing layout requirements for federal accommodation sites.

Redevelopment of Albert Island. Source: Windmill Development Group, Ltd
Redevelopment of Albert Island.
Source: Windmill Development
Group, Ltd

The highly skilled workforce of the future will enjoy a mix of casual and formal spaces where people can link to their work through wireless communications. The boundaries between areas in which to live, work and play will likely become porous. Land use planning and the planning of federal accommodations will follow this model, over time. Mixed-use areas where employment and living space are more closely located or integrated will help people to spend less time commuting. Applications associated with the open and smart city concept will facilitate day-to-day living patterns and travel modes. This technology will help monitor energy consumption, and improve overall efficiency in the production and delivery of resources.

In a world where metropolitan regions are likely to compete even more for talent and capital, assets such as quality of life, character of place and healthy environmental conditions will determine their success. Cities will need to become more adept in moving workers, goods and services to deal with the increasing cost of energy and water resources. They will need to improve efficiency in the heating and cooling of buildings, and the production and supply of food.

New infrastructure will be critical. Intelligent information networks can have a considerable impact on day-to-day life, and are essential for planning and managing complex urban and metropolitan entities and systems. Public lands that are distinctively part of the Capital legacy can be assets to support this future dynamism. Their value is beyond economic, as they encompass symbolic, cultural, scientific, aesthetic and ecological values, as well as offer social resilience.

Project 13

This plan fully supports the renewal of the federal employment campuses with the addition of other non-federal residential, retail and office uses, particularly near rapid transit stations. As discussed in Chapter 3, existing federal employment nodes, such as Tunney’s Pasture and Confederation Heights, as well as some core area complexes, such as Place du Portage, will gradually adapt to integrate more effectively with the surrounding communities.


Key policy directions for the next 50 years

  1. The NCC will guide the redevelopment of LeBreton Flats as the nucleus of a revitalized district in the Capital.
  2. The NCC will support PSPC in its role to provide federal accommodation in locations that will contribute to Capital- and city-building, planned in a coherent manner to support municipal growth management priorities.
  3. The divestiture of some surplus federal lands will help to achieve regional objectives of consolidation and intensification within the existing urban boundaries.
  4. Federal land disposals and acquisitions in the National Capital Region will proceed in a clear and transparent manner, based on the principle of fair market value.
  5. Changes to federal accommodations will include locating facilities near readily available transit. Retrofitting or replacing buildings with more energy-efficient and accessible design will contribute to regional sustainability and reduce environmental impacts.
  6. In all aspects of its mandate, the NCC will support the use and development of smart technologies, and the sharing and exchange of information through partnerships with other federal agencies and the municipalities, to achieve high standards of efficiency.
  7. The NCC will support NRC’s goal of making 100 Sussex Drive a centrepiece for a connected, collaborative science, technology and innovation hub that bolsters Canada’s innovation capacity and visibility.

A Living Culture and Heritage

Project 14

In 2067, the Capital Region will have deepened the diversity and richness of its cultural heritage. This heritage offers multiple readings of the history and stories of the Capital and the country. From the Capital’s prominent landmarks — including the Parliament Buildings, the official residences, other buildings of national significance, national historic sites and the Rideau Canal UNESCO World Heritage Site — to its intimate urban enclaves and picturesque rural landscapes, heritage forms a critical part of the Capital’s identity.

As outlined in Chapter 3, a key feature of culture in the Capital is the presence of the national cultural institutions: the National Arts Centre, National Gallery of Canada, Canadian Museum of History, Canadian Museum of Nature, Canada Science and Technology Museum, Canada Agriculture and Food Museum, and Canada Aviation and Space Museum. Along with these partners, another leading institution is Canadian Heritage, which has the responsibility for programming and interpretation in the core of the Capital.

Strutt House (built in 1956), Gatineau Park Source: Strutt Foundation
Strutt House (built in 1956),
Gatineau Park
Source: Strutt Foundation

The Capital’s expanding array of attractions, festivals and events is drawing ever more tourists to the region. In 2014, the Capital Region welcomed 10.4 million visitors, who contributed $1.7 billion to the region’s economy. The federal government’s involvement in the planning and beautification of the Capital Region supports its continued attractiveness to potential visitors from across Canada and abroad. The NCC’s work in preserving major heritage assets of national interest in the ByWard Market, and developing new attractions of regional, national or international significance at LeBreton Flats and on the banks of the Ottawa, Rideau and Gatineau rivers and the Rideau Canal adds to the attractiveness.

Architecture and design are expressions of culture. The NCC will seek high-quality and inspiring design in its projects and in those of its federal partners, and will promote high standards of inclusivity and sustainability for “capital” elements. The Capital is embellished and made more appealing by the development of places of high architectural, landscape and urban design quality that respect their surroundings and create a meaningful and memorable sense of place, beyond what a typical urban environment creates.

Project 15

The multi-faceted cultural heritage of the Capital Region attests to successive layers of exploration and settlement. Portage routes—evidence of navigation of the waterways—and traces of early Indigenous presence along the shorelines are still visible today, with artifacts dating back millennia. The development of the lumber trade and the building of the Rideau Canal—an engineering marvel, which opened in 1832—modified the natural landscapes along the rivers and on the islands during the 19th century. In recognition of its exceptional heritage value, the Canal is protected under the Historic Sites and Monuments Act as a national historic site. In 2007, UNESCO recognized the Rideau Canal as a World Heritage Site.

Wealthy lumber barons built imposing mansions on both sides of the Ottawa River. Bytown, renamed Ottawa in 1855, became the capital by Royal Proclamation in 1857. In the late 19th century, the Monumental Capital movement sought to advance the building of a “great world capital.” It began with the Parliamentary Precinct above the Ottawa River, designed to create a landscaped ensemble. The green character of the Capital also captured the imagination, deeply rooted in the beliefs of the Victorian era’s City Beautiful movement: seeing and connecting to beauty through nature and gardens, as experienced in the works of great landscape architects such as Frederick Law Olmsted, Frederick Todd and Calvert Vaux. In the 120 years that followed, each leading architectural movement left its mark on the Capital in the form of national institutions that have become iconic landmarks. Many of these 20th and 21st century buildings have received architectural and urban design awards.

Project 16

Waves of immigration also shaped the character of the Capital, from the early French-Canadian, Irish and Scottish labourers who worked on the Rideau Canal in the 1820s, to more recent migrations of people from diverse cultures around the world. Cultural diversity in Canada and in the Capital has brought with it new perspectives and values, shaping both physical form and cultural life.

Conservation is a critical part of the NCC’s mandate. Understanding the heritage fabric of the Capital in all its forms—built heritage, archaeology and cultural landscapes, as well as intangible heritage (skills, knowledge and traditions)—is critical to planning for the future. The NCC will be a leader in the stewardship and management of its own heritage assets. Works involving a heritage site or its immediate surroundings must be based on a strong understanding of its heritage value and the conservation of heritage-defining elements.

Archaeological sites in the Capital are rich in artifacts, and offer opportunities to improve the interpretation of the presence of the Indigenous peoples and their contribution to this region. Several industrial archaeological sites, as well as a number of buildings and structures, such as the Thompson Perkins Mill, attest to the lumber industry’s role in the development of the Capital, and contribute to its cultural landscape.

Archaeological resources represent a significant layer of the region’s history that must be protected. Better physical access to these sites and increased online access to artifacts will ensure that their significance is understood and cherished.

Contemporary contributions to this cultural legacy respond to the aspiration of creating a great world capital. It is essential to continue to promote design excellence, creativity and innovation to create liveable spaces that support and enhance the special character of the Capital. It is important to create places where people feel welcome.

Public art contributes to placemaking by drawing on the vocabulary of contemporary art practices, sometimes challenging our conventions regarding public space. It also showcases Canadian or international talent and enables people to learn about history.


Key policy directions for the next 50 years

  1. The NCC will strive to protect heritage buildings and sites, and bring them to life with new uses that respect their character, are compatible with the heritage features to be preserved, and have well-integrated accessibility features. Project-specific development criteria will be applied. The NCC will give special attention to 20th century architecture.
  2. The NCC will promote the quality of design to ensure the creation of responsive, accessible, enduring and responsible places, buildings, structures and landscapes over time.
  3. The NCC will continue to prioritize the use of its lands for national cultural activities and to support artistic creation. Local and regional activities will be permitted where they do not interfere with the national purpose of the NCC’s lands and where no municipal lands are available as an alternative.
  4. The NCC will maintain an inventory of land that is suitable for the development of new national cultural institutions, as resources permit. A specific framework will provide guidance. This may include new facilities for music, portraiture, contemporary art and national honours.
  5. The NCC will work with its federal partners to add to and enhance art of the highest quality in the public realm of the Capital, both as stand-alone installations and as art that is integrated into other development projects.
  6. The NCC will support the diversity of arts in the Capital by allowing the use of its lands, where appropriate, by non-profit organizations and educational institutions for temporary events.
  7. The NCC will encourage the development of an online digital signature for the Capital that promotes inclusiveness, openness and transparency, access to heritage, as well as guiding and stimulating visits to the Capital.
  8. The NCC will work with federal, local and private sector partners to promote a fully bilingual core area, as the recognition of Canada’s official bilingualism is a crucial facet of the national and regional identity.
  9. The NCC will promote a collaborative regional approach to cultural planning, in partnership with municipal governments and community-based organizations.
  10. The NCC will continue to work with Parks Canada to protect and enliven the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, and ensure that the settings respect the Rideau Canal World Heritage Site Management Plan submitted to UNESCO.

Connections and Mobility

Project 17

MapCapital Arrivals, Scenic Entries and ParkwaysHistorically, the role of the NCC and its predecessors in urban transportation derived from its legislated federal planning mandate and its ownership of lands and infrastructure such as bridges, parkways and corridors.

In the years following 1950, the Federal District Commission, and later the NCC, reshaped the region’s transportation networks by reimagining the Capital’s core and relocating the region’s industrial functions and the rail network toward the urban periphery.

In the second half of the 20th century, as in all North American cities, there was a move to give precedence to the use of private automobiles, which underscored the 1950 Gréber Plan. In recent years, there has been a reversal of this trend, with a substantial emphasis on public transportation, ride sharing and segregated cycling facilities. Though it is difficult to predict the course of urban mobility over the next 50 years, advanced information technology is already shaping mobility patterns and transportation systems management. The likely changes may be a continuation of investment in public transit and cycling, more emphasis on the pedestrian experience, substantially enhanced universal accessibility in public realm design, and much more on-demand and automated vehicle services. The NCC will actively encourage transportation policies leading toward environmental sustainability.

Alexandra Bridge at sunset. Source: NCC
Alexandra Bridge at sunset.
Source: NCC

Transportation investments by the NCC over the next decades should support placemaking, in addition to enhancing the experience of the Capital. Federal involvement in regional transportation should then concentrate on investing in assets that serve as a foundation for a distinctive and attractive sustainable mobility network.

Improved interprovincial connectivity remains an important aspect of the federal contribution to regional mobility. The federal workforce in the Capital Region, distributed on both sides of the Ottawa River, depends on these connections. The NCC supports the improvement of urban transportation in Canada’s Capital Region with sustained efforts to ensure effective, cooperative and integrated planning, as well as high standards of design, environmental quality and stewardship. Success will require a collaborative approach across jurisdictions.

Key roadways and bridges accessing the core area, as well as other entry points (air, rail and bus) are important contributors to the symbolic character of the region, and should foster a sense of arrival and welcome for all visitors. Capital arrivals and gateways require a cohesive Capital brand and exceptional design, and the NCC will work with its partners to achieve these aims; well-designed visitor orientation and information is an important factor in making the Capital Region an excellent destination.

The NCC focuses on mobility as fundamental to the Capital experience, providing opportunities to enjoy and explore the diversity of natural and built environments and landscapes in the region. Walking and cycling are two important active mobility modes that often provide the best way to fully appreciate the Capital. The renowned Capital Pathway network, developed in partnership with the municipalities, provides residents and visitors with continuous, safe and enjoyable routes to discover the Capital. The pathways serve the diverse needs of commuter and recreational cyclists and walkers, and are integrated with other on-road and off-road links. They allow access to Capital institutions and attractions, federal accommodations, scenic spaces and parks. The pathways running along the region’s waterways offer users a scenic, leisurely excursion focused on interpretive and experiential elements along the way.

Likewise, the parkway corridors within the urban area of the Capital, located mostly along the banks of the Rideau Canal and the shorelines of the Ottawa River, frame the beauty of the Capital setting and its waterways for public enjoyment. Their signature scenic qualities accentuate the quality of the journey experience, and distinguish them from the local transport network. They contribute to the green and ceremonial Capital, and they form part of the Capital green space network.

Under the Plan for Canada’s Capital, the NCC will preserve the intended character of parkways as low-density, low-volume, slow-speed scenic routes in park-type settings, and will create a set of riverfront parks. In some cases, the connectivity of parkways with local roads renders them de facto commuter routes, though this is not their intended function. The NCC will accordingly continue to discuss ways of limiting this unintended use with the relevant authorities.

Interprovincial links are vital to the region’s economic vitality and growth. The NCC acknowledges that the seamless integration of interprovincial crossings with municipal and provincial transportation networks is essential for a prosperous and sustainable region. In this respect, there is a need to achieve coherent strategies for regional transportation that will improve connectivity across jurisdictional boundaries through the respective transit authorities’ plans.

The NCC proposed a vision, through its Strategic Transport Initiative in 2005, that was multi-modal for both goods and people movement. It recognizes steps that are needed to enhance the resilience of interprovincial transport infrastructure, and advocates a stronger, joined interprovincial transit network through additional capacity and transformational connectivity. The Plan will build on this vision.

The NCC will also accentuate its role as facilitator and coordinator of investments for increased connectivity and services, and will support federal investments toward these goals. The region’s various governments at all levels must focus on strategic investments to promote active mobility and multi-modality. Gaps in the efficient continuity of a unified and integrated network of transport infrastructure need to be addressed through collaborative planning approaches with municipal and provincial authorities, using state-of-the-art information systems.

Cooperation with other levels of government and the freight transport industry is required to support interprovincial truck traffic and goods movement. A successful outcome balances delivery efficiency, meets the requirements to facilitate both local and through-trip patterns, mitigates community and environmental impacts, and better preserves the special character of the Capital’s core area.


Key policy directions for the next 50 years

  1. The NCC will invest in prudent stewardship of the parkway network, with a focus on protecting and enhancing its intrinsic qualities as robust and interconnected federal “green infrastructure.”
  2. The NCC will work with partners to develop appropriate signage and an integrated wayfinding system and other applicable, innovative communication enhancements, in response to the specific needs of visitors and to address increased participation of persons with disabilities.
  3. The NCC will join forces with its municipal partners to adapt the Capital Pathway network in order for it to meet the needs of users, while reducing conflicts between different types of use.
  4. The NCC will work with the City of Ottawa and PSPC to reimagine the streetscape and improve the pedestrian and cyclist realm on Wellington Street.
  5. The NCC will explore extending federal ownership or collaborating in the financing of critical Capital features such as Confederation Boulevard, the Capital’s official ceremonial and discovery route.
  6. The federal government will maintain ownership of the interprovincial bridges, including the two owned by the NCC. These bridges over the Ottawa River serve as unifying and defining elements of the Capital Region.
  7. In the short term, the NCC will continue to work with the municipalities and PSPC to improve interprovincial transportation connections using existing bridges. In the long term, if a consensus emerges between the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and the affected municipalities that a new interprovincial bridge crossing is required, the NCC will collaborate in the planning and delivery of future interprovincial crossings.
  8. The NCC will support efforts toward seamless and continuous inter­provincial transit services, consistent with the principles espoused by the Interprovincial Transit Strategy, including the adaptation of the Prince of Wales rail bridge for transit and active mobility.
  9. The NCC will continue to contribute toward high-quality mobility and access in the region in support of its mandate to develop and enhance the Capital, and ensure that the character of the Capital is worthy of its national significance.
  10. The NCC will continue to work with the municipalities, transit authorities and community groups to find ways to balance the modal split of transport (i.e. the percentage share of the different modes of transport used) in the Capital and to make walking, cycling, transit and car sharing more attractive alternatives to the use of private automobiles.
  11. The NCC will collaborate with PSPC to develop a core area universal accessibility plan for federal assets.
  12. The NCC will collaborate with the municipalities to develop a core area pedestrian plan to improve the quality and safety of the pedestrian experience.
  13. The NCC will monitor the use of its high-usage pathways and, where feasible, it will segregate commuter and recreational users.
  14. The NCC will work with the respective authorities to improve interconnectivity between air, rail and bus systems, as they serve Capital arrival functions. The NCC will continue to support the respective authorities to ensure that air, rail and bus facilities and linkages are state-of-the-art, designed to offer a pleasing and welcoming arrival, and signal entry to the capital of Canada.
  15. The NCC will work with transit authorities to improve access to national institutions, including amenities such as shelters and benches.
  16. The NCC will consider locating transport infrastructure on its lands to support regional transportation needs that meet the objectives of sustainable growth and development, when no other viable alternative exists, and where the new infrastructure is not a detriment to the NCC’s mandate.