Group continues fight against farm hospital site
Ottawa residents, heritage advocates and agricultural and climate change scientists are continuing their fight to save the Central Experimental Farm from further development.
The Coalition to Protect the Central Experimental Farm formed last year in response to the former government’s decision to allow construction of a new hospital branch on 24 hectares of farmland. Now, as the hospital announces that other sites will be considered, the group of about 50 people continues to push for a win-win solution.
“What we’d like to see is all three levels of government sitting down with the hospital and finding a way to move forward so everyone gains,” says Heritage Ottawa’s Leslie Maitland. “It’s not a case of the hospital or the farm. It’s the hospital and the farm. We just have to convince everyone to buy into this.”
The coalition wrote an open letter to federal ministers Catherine McKenna, Mélanie Joly and Lawrence MacAulay last November, urging them to reconsider the location of the proposed hospital.
They argue that the new Civic campus poses a threat to the “historically and scientifically” significant farm, which was founded in 1886 and remains an active agricultural facility.
If the hospital is constructed, two fields dedicated to scientific research and valued for their rich soil types will be destroyed.
“The farm is a unique research station with long-term experiments on the impact of climate change in agriculture,” says Maitland. “We need that kind of information more and more as we see the impact of climate change on our world.”
“It’ also a national historic site,” she says. “As an architectural historian, I can appreciate that these sites, which have been declared as such, are important to all Canadians.”
Maitland met with McKenna in January to discuss these concerns, and Feb. 19, the environment and climate change minister whose riding includes the farm, publicly acknowledged the need for more formal protection of the land.
In November 2014, former Conservative MP John Baird and Ottawa Hospital CEO and President Jack Kitts announced that the plot of land would be transferred to the NCC and then leased to the hospital for the new Civic campus. Baird, who was the minister responsible for the NCC, negotiated the project with Kitts, Agriculture Canada and the commission without public consultation and without engaging in an environmental assessment of the land.
“The process is a concern for us,” says Serge Buy, coalition member and CEO of the Agricultural Institute of Canada. “You don’t have good decisions that come out of a flawed process, and in this case, there was no consultation, no openness and no transparency.”
“We need a real consultation with the scientific community and the people working at the farm,” he says.
Access-to-information requests filed by the coalition reveal that other locations were initially considered for the hospital, but were eventually rejected as authorities settled on the farm itself. Buy is happy that McKenna acknowledged the issue and that the government is reconsidering other possibilities. Kitts confirmed that Tunney’s Pasture and the former location of the Sir John Carling Building behind Dow’s Lake are currently in consideration as sites for the hospital.
“I’m not a scientist or an expert, but I don’t think the current location will remain viable,” says Buy.
Mari Wesche, coalition member and retired University of Ottawa professor, agrees that the farm is not an appropriate location. She compares the farm to Central Park and fears that the new Civic campus will destroy Ottawa’s own “empty space.”
“Developers see a well-located, un-built space and want to fill it,” she says. “New York City has successfully protected its own green haven for wildlife and city dwellers from urban development. Surely, Ottawa can find a way to keep its Central Experimental Farm as an integral, real farm.”
“Otherwise, the sprawl will continue to expand, and that very special place will be lost,” she says.
Maitland says the coalition plans to remain active in discussion with authorities as the issue continues to progress. “The government and hospital know that we exist and they understand our perspective,” she says. “It’s been a very courteous dialogue and we’re hoping to advance it further.”