Residents fight to save massive boulder unearthed during city work

A very big rock is getting a lot of attention on a small street in Old Ottawa South.

Glacier may have deposited huge rock beneath Bellwood Avenue 10,000 years ago

Gauri Sreenivasan stands in front of a massive boulder pulled out from beneath Bellwood Avenue during recent infrastructure work. It's believed the boulder is a glacial erratic, deposited there some 10,000 years ago. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

A small street in Old Ottawa South was recently the site of a big discovery — one that may prove to be a gateway to the city's distant past. 

Since mid-April, crews have been removing the 100-year-old water and sewer pipes on Bellwood Avenue.

But on May 20, they ran into a big problem: a large boulder was blocking their work.

"It's almost the [size] of a smart car," said Gauri Sreenivasan, who has lived on the street for nine years.

Sreenivasan said a mineralogist living nearby has identified the boulder as a glacial erratic — a rock that was deposited in the area by the movement of glaciers long ago.

The estimation, she said, is that the rock is one billion years old, and may have been resting in the same spot for more than 10,000 years. City crews, she added, have estimated it weighs between 11 and 15 tons.

"When we learned that it was called a glacial erratic, then our hearts just melted — because we thought, 'The boulder's erratic, this whole world is erratic, we are erratic,' Sreenivasan said.

"You can't smash it up."

Neighbours on Bellwood Avenue held a 'washing party' for the rock Saturday so that a local mineralogist could get a better look at it. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

'Part of the neighbourhood'

Janet Castle said she watched out her window as workers tried to roll the massive rock up the embankment, but their machine kept tipping due to its weight.

The crews were eventually able to get it out, plopping it on her driveway in order to get back to work, Castle said. 

"It broke the driveway… it went right through the asphalt." she said.

Neighbours soon caught wind that the rock would be broken up to remove it for good — something that didn't sit well with the normally close-knit community, kept apart by the COVID-19 pandemic but reunited once the rock appeared.

"It is part of the neighbourhood, and it's a billion-year-old reminder of what our roots were." said Castle.

The rock has been named the 'Bellwood boulder,' and the city intends to move it — most likely to nearby Windsor Park. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

They set out to have the rock saved, and then late last week Coun. Shawn Menard confirmed the city was willing to move it to one of the local parks, most likely Windsor Park.

He also hopes to have a plaque made to mark its historical significance, much to the pleasure of the neighbourhood.

For Bellwood Avenue residents like Amy Jo Smith, whose family has lived on the street since 1915 in a house built by her grandfather, preserving the boulder means protecting local history.

"I have some nieces and nephews, and I'm looking forward to taking them to the park and showing them that this is part of Bellwood — and has been there longer than we have," she said.


Natalia is a multi-platform journalist in Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I. and Newfoundland and Labrador.

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