A CITY IS DEFINED BY ITS PERSONALITY
Right to memory and sustainable public vision on the future of listed buildings E.B. Eddy
As the fourth largest city in Quebec since 2002, Gatineau believed it was sheltering its wealth by hammering home for more than a decade the importance of the E.B. Eddy site having a true cultural vocation to increase the sense of belonging and identification of the people of Gatineau; but this wealth is about to escape us collectively because of our difficulty in reinventing ourselves and the economic imperatives of the promoter. The decontamination of these brownfields could cost $240 million over a 10-year horizon (Le Droit and Radio-Canada, June 2018); Ottawa and Gatineau will share half of this bill through public programs.
The E.B. Eddy industrial complex enjoys the highest level of heritage protection from the Quebec government. Its importance stems from its obvious visibility, and above all its evocative capacity, its power to remind us of the social, aesthetic and technical history of our city. This industrial vestige, which has been empty for too long, is also the site of Canada’s first timber slide that was used to bypass the Chaudière Falls – one of the most important historical and heritage sites in North America, which bears witness to great historical achievements.
A newsworthy topic on the Gatineau side
Having “a regional museum, is urgent” (Le Droit, 23 August 2019), but it’s not so simple on the ground. Local museums owe their survival to the support and solidarity of their communities.
The central library project in Gatineau has been struggling for more than 10 years, so does the city have the will to commit itself “to the construction of a real regional museum infrastructure capable of storing and managing collections of artefacts” (LeDroit, August 24, 2019)? This museum could better play its role in building the feeling of belonging to Gatineau by being located in the existing E.B. Eddy buildings, a key axis for the cultural activity of the Montcalm area, while avoiding increasing the public debt of Gatineau residents with another new municipal building. However, this solution requires working jointly on two dossiers: the long-term feasibility of this regional museum resulting from a public commission, and the medium-term plans of the National Fluvial Museum (https://bit.ly/365ZHLg) which has been supported for four years by more than five hundred citizens and patrons of the cultural organization A.B.C. Strategies.
The Réseau du patrimoine de Gatineau et de l’Outaouais is facing difficult choices and has watched helplessly as its members have suffered successive setbacks in 2019, including the Musée des Sports, relocated to Montreal, and the Centre d’interprétation de Maniwaki, closed with the loss of four jobs. Unfortunately, following the revision of the award criteria for the Operating Assistance Program for Museum Institutions (PAFIM), the Ministry of Culture and Communications has made cuts in the Outaouais despite the increase of approximately $1 million in the Quebec budget for the program. No plans for local interpretation centres or museums have been projected for region 07, although they too play an essential social role as collective landmarks and cultural repositories for future generations.
It should be noted that the future Philemon Wright National Fluvial Museum will extend over two pavilions in the Chaudière Falls area – North Island in Gatineau (E.B. Eddy) and South Island in Ottawa (LeBreton Flats) – in addition to a proposal to create a Center of Research Engaged in Excellence (CREE) already linked to a group of eight universities. The island museums will have the mission to highlight the spectacular era of the Raftsmen of Canada and the history of the Wood Rush of America which started on the Ottawa River. There is no need to wait, we are already negotiating a 99-year lease in the E.B. Eddy industrial complex for and on behalf of the future National museum. We estimate that a minimum area of 110,000 sq. ft. (10,000 m2) should be allocated for museum purposes in the zoning plan of the E.B. Eddy site, which by 2030 will host the fifth national museum in Quebec. Note that Quebec’s national museums have an average operating area of 323,000 sq. ft. (30,000 m2) and that the last Quebec museum opened in 1988, 31 years ago.
We therefore propose that the future regional museum takes advantage of the “national” train and boards the leading wagon, without losing its distinction. This proposal for collaboration is viable for the regional museum, which will be able to benefit from a whole range of specialized services and above all, indirect traffic from the large nearby federal museums. This makes the arrival of the regional museum possible in the E.B. Eddy space, without time pressure on elected officials regarding delivery. From our point of view, the national museum will be able to sublet space to the regional museum in due course. As an indication, the Musée régional de la Côte-Nord in Sept-Îles occupies 11,517 sq. ft. (1,070 m2) with 44% of the area reserved for exhibitions.
Why a Quebec national museum in Gatineau? This new investment will develop the economy through culture (“purple economy”), correct fifty years of systemic underfunding by la Belle Province in the museum sector in the Outaouais, but above all, reveal e00 years of the history of the Ottawa valley which deeply influenced the foundation of the social, economic and cultural organization of Quebec. While having a positive effect on regional planning and stimulating tourism, this will be a profitable investment given the impact this future museum will have on education, knowledge development, heritage protection and social cohesion. The vitality of the Quebec museum network stems from great museums (The Quebec City museums of Civilization, of Contemporary Art, and Art), which produce popular exhibitions of international interest supported by major sponsors. Well thought out, the hybrid governance model of the Philemon Wright National Fluvial Museum makes funding adaptable: the Quebec pavilion, the Canadian pavilion and the Centre for Research and Engagement in Excellence (CREE) are intrinsically complementary. The National Capital Region is the showcase of the country, it is the keystone of the river museum!
Creating an interprovincial museum with common energy
Spending great amounts of money, you can still create a city without soul, without personality; certainly, fun and possibly Walt Disney-style. However, giving an identity to the capital, and moreover to the National Capital Region which includes Gatineau, has a value beyond dollars. The National Capital Region must finish the work for which it was chosen, and must do it in a sparkling manner. This call to action is particularly relevant to the exploits of the Raftsmen, these exceptional sailors of the 19th century, who left their mark on the Ottawa Valley. As the North American birthplace of the Wood Rush, which was the origin of the industrial revolution, our valley was Canada’s leading economic force during most of the 19th century. The Ottawa River was the seat of unusual shipbuilding for Canadian-British trade that influenced the destiny of global forces of the day. The Raftsmen developed immense rafts, 500 m by 60 m, 8000 tons, remarkable works of engineering. Each of these floating islands – just as fantastic as that of Life of Pi (Yann Martel) – was piloted by its crew under the trained eye of Jos Montferrand and other raft masters, to the harbour of Quebec City where a thousand sailing ships were waiting, ready to cross the ocean.
Cities compete to attract conventions, major events and residents that will allow them to shine when compared to other cities. This is also true when we talk about a cross-border city like Ottawa-Gatineau. Away from the major tourist corridor between Niagara Falls and the whales of the St. Lawrence estuary, the National Capital Region has an interest in developing a strong personality to stand out on the national and international tourism stage. With a comparable population, Seattle in the U.S., linked to the Gold Rush, attracts 40 million visitors per year. For the whole of Canada the figure is 21 million. Amsterdam, the capital of the Netherlands, overheats with 17 million visitors for a population of 1.1 million, while here we are still thinking about the tourism issue … however crucial!
The symbolism of this rich rafting heritage restores the sense, at least, of the vast space the territory once had, while revealing THE authentic, attractive cachet so much sought after to stand out. To facilitate the recovery of our identity that’s at the heart of a national story yet to be commemorated, establishing a major museum will serve to perpetuate this source of pride on both sides of the river and allow the region to acquire a unifying interprovincial landmark that enshrines our collective memory.
The complementary unifying force and its shared identity
The Columbo 1806 team from A.B.C. Strategies meets regularly with the staff of the National Capital Commission (NCC) in order to identify the land that will host the prestigious southern pavilion (federally chartered) and the Centre for Research and Engagement in Excellence (CREE) of the Philemon Wright National Fluvial Museum. This collaboration promises to be very dynamic, to anchor the new architectural gem on the south shore of Chaudière Falls and re-enchant our capital internationally by demonstrating that its history is worthy of the greatest capitals in the world. We are also pursuing our objectives of co-creating components of this large museum with the First Nations and especially the Algonquin Anishinàbeg Nation.
We see rapid development on the ground, although uneven on the north bank of the Great River. The search for common goals with all of our collaborators and partners across Canada promotes productive collective synergy. A separate communication, in the first quarter of 2020, is planned to give more details of this great Ottawa and Canadian chapter.
Signed this December 2, 2019,
Museum Project Manager and Cultural Developer
A.B.C. Strategies (not for profit organization)