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Mills: The NCC shouldn’t downgrade Champlain’s statue at Nepean Point

Champlain was a driving force in European exploration of the Ottawa River and much of Eastern Canada. He deserves better.

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What’s in a statue? I pondered this as I took in the recent news that a design had been decided on for the NCC’s Nepean Point renovation.

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This project will move the iconic statue of the intrepid French explorer Samuel de Champlain down from his pedestal and re-position it at a lower level, an internal winding pathway leading to the park’s lookout.

This iconic work of art dates from 1915 and since its inception it has been located behind the National Gallery of Canada where it was installed on a high point overlooking the Ottawa River. This made the statue the centre of attention for the site. Champlain was perfectly positioned there; after all, the statue commemorates the 300th anniversary of his second voyage on the Ottawa River and was erected on the same spot where Champlain made his solar observation during his 1615 expedition.

For those unfamiliar with the explorer, Samuel de Champlain (1567–1635) was a geographer, a mapmaker and the founder Québec City. He was also a driving force in the exploration of the Ottawa River and much of Eastern Canada. It is his importance to local and national history that makes his placement at Nepean Point even more appropriate. Therefore, one can only assume that the “Father of New France” was taken down from his lofty position due to political machinations at the NCC. In his new location, Champlain simply won’t have the exposure he once had. This is a serious downgrade and one that should require a larger public discussion.

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This brings me to a second item: the new pedestrian link between Major’s Hill Park and Nepean Point. On paper, it is a swell idea. In fact, it is a much-needed connection to bridge the gulf between both parks where a railway once ran and acted as a barrier to access. Yet the design of this new bridge is bland and modernist. More than 50 years ago, an elegant steel-truss structure connected both parks and did so in an elegant Victorian style. Would it not be better to respect the history of the original structure? (While we are at it, we could rebuild the charming “Elephant and Python” fountain donated by Lord Strathcona that once existed in the park?)

To summarize, there is still time to rectify this failure of a design, but this is not the only issue facing the city of Ottawa and its heritage. Just nearby, the Canadian Society for Civil Engineering (CSCE) heritage-designated Alexandra bridge is at risk of destruction and so is the view of Château Laurier, the latter due to a much-maligned development.

I beg of you, the reader, please pressure the NCC to restore Champlain to his rightful place so all can see him from afar — and while we are at it, let’s try to save the city’s few remaining architectural gems.

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Desmond Mills is a longtime Vanier resident with experience in the engineering and travel sector, who thinks Ottawa could and should do better in the urban realm.

The NCC’s plan to relocate Samuel de Champlain puts him in a less dominating position in the park.
The NCC’s plan to relocate Samuel de Champlain puts him in a less dominating position in the park. jpg

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