Elgin Street revamp a chance to fix Jack Purcell art mix-up, city told

The revitalization of Elgin Street could mean a do-over for one of Ottawa's most memorable public art blunders.

Metal 'trees' were designed as badminton rackets, accidentally honouring the wrong Jack Purcell

The 'metallic trees' in Jack Purcell Park were originally designed as badminton rackets, mistakenly honouring a different Jack Purcell than the man after whom the park was named. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

The revitalization of Elgin Street could mean a do-over for one of Ottawa's most memorable public art blunders.

At least, that's the hope of resident Louise Higham.

The metal "trees" in Jack Purcell Park are being taken down while the city buries hydro wires and refinishes the dead end of Waverley Street nearby.

Those sculptures were originally designed to look like badminton rackets in honour of Jack Purcell. Unfortunately, it was in honour of the wrong Jack Purcell.

The park and recreation centre are named after an Ottawa man who was known for helping children with their hockey sticks, not badminton rackets.

The metallic hoops were a tribute to a different Purcell, from Guelph, who was a renowned badminton champion. 

"It should never have gone up there," Higham said at this week's public consultation on Elgin Street. "We've got these hoops that mean pretty well nothing to the community except a mistake. I think we should perhaps scrap that art." 

Louise Higham wants the city to use the redevelopment of Elgin Street as an opportunity to get rid of public art in Jack Purcell park that was designed with the wrong Jack Purcell in mind. 0:40

The Ottawa Purcell's son, Jon, still lives in the neighbourhood and said it's difficult to explain the sculptures when people ask what they are meant to say about his father.

"It's hard to say they represent my father because they were made to represent another person," Jon said.

"It's giving the wrong opinion of what he meant and what he wanted to do in the community."

Jack Purcell became prominent in Ottawa's Centretown for mending hockey sticks and sharpening skates in the 1950s and 1960s. (provided)

Jon Purcell said he would support the idea of taking the sculptures out of the park and maybe finding another place for them in the city.

The idea also has the support of Diane Holmes, the councillor when the sculpture was installed.

She said she was unhappy with the lack of research that led to the error in the design and asked that staff not string the badminton rackets — so the work could be closer to its original purpose.

"I certainly won't be broken-hearted if they're taken down and perhaps, in time, we can find something that's more appropriate, like some hockey sticks," Holmes said.

"They don't relate to anybody in Ottawa even, much less in Centretown."

A display for Purcell was eventually set up in the recreation centre named after him. There is also a plaque in the park, explaining his contribution to the community.

The section of Waverley Street at the east end of Jack Purcell Park is being redone as part of the Elgin Street reconstruction project. (City of Ottawa)

Higham raised her idea at the public meeting Wednesday with Holmes' successor in Somerset Ward, Coun. Catherine McKenney.

McKenney told CBC News she's looking into the question.

In a statement, the City of Ottawa said the decorative elements in the park will be stored in a secure location during construction and reinstalled once work is completed.

About the Author

Matthew Kupfer

CBC Reporter

Matthew Kupfer has been a reporter and producer at CBC News since 2012. He can be reached at matthew.kupfer@cbc.ca and on Twitter @matthewkupfer