Macdonald Gardens to become heritage park

Lowertown's Macdonald Gardens is on course to become an official heritage space after Ottawa's built heritage sub-committee voted Thursday to grant it the special recognition.

Lowertown park designed by celebrated landscape architect built over former cemetery

The 'summer house' at Macdonald Gardens has been a landmark in Ottawa's Lowertown for a century. (City of Ottawa)

Lowertown's Macdonald Gardens is on course to become an official heritage space after Ottawa's built heritage sub-committee voted Thursday to grant it the special recognition. 

The park, bordered by Tormey, Cobourg, Heney and Wurtemburg streets, was designed in 1914 by Frederick G. Todd, known as Canada's first landscape architect, on the site of a former cemetery.

It's a fabulous gift to the community.- Nancy Miller-Chenier, Lowertown Community Association

Architect Barry Padolsky, vice-chair of the sub-committee, said it's time the park was properly recognized. 

"Todd was one of the founders of the landscape architecture movement in Canada. He was involved in the first master plan for the national capital, so he's a very significant character in urban design history," Padolsky said. 

Lowertown Community Association co-chair Nancy Miller-Chenier was pleased with Thursday's decision.

"It's a fabulous gift to the community," she said.

Human remains

The original cemetery was closed in the 1870's and the human remains were moved to the nearby Beechwood and Notre Dame cemeteries. A newspaper story from the 1930's describes how the removal plan was far from thorough though, leading to the occasional shocking find. 

"There is quite a significant newspaper story that describes a man walking by and seeing some children kicking something around and when he approached them he discovered it was a skull," Miller-Chenier says.

"He spoke to them [and] they said, 'Oh yes, mister, there's lots of these!'" 

According to local legend, the part of the park where the summer house is located is called the Hill of Bones. Miller-Chenier said that unless an archeological scan is conducted, she cannot be certain that more human remains aren't still buried there. 

Eroding Lowertown's heritage character

Padolsky said he hoped the designation would remind people about Lowertown's vibrant history. He told the sub-committee Lowertown East could have been a designated heritage district had slum clearances ordered by the city, province and federal governments in the 1970s not destroyed the neighbourhood. 

"As we approve this [park], let's just remind ourselves that we in the public sector have also done our bit to erode the heritage character of Lowertown," Padolsky said. 

​Padolsky is calling on council to now turn its attention to Anglesea Square, the area made famous by the 1984 children's novel Angel Square by Brian K. Doyle.