Politics

Ottawa looks like a mess now, but just wait for the Canada 150 celebration

If it's true that rough roads lead to the heights of greatness, next year's Canada 150 celebrations are going to be the best dang shindig Ottawa's ever seen.

City is hoping for 1.75 million extra tourists next year to push numbers over 10 million

The Government Conference Centre is expected to be ready to take in the Senate in 2018, when Parliament Hill's Centre Block will be renovated. Other major projects should be complete in time for Canada's birthday celebrations. (CBC)

If it's true that rough roads lead to the heights of greatness, next year's Canada 150 celebrations are going to be the best dang shindig Ottawa's ever seen.

This summer, however, tourists from across Canada and around the world visiting Ottawa might be wondering if they should have arrived in the capital with hard hats and construction boots.

Many of the roads have been dug up, fenced off or closed. Several key buildings are covered in scaffolding, construction cranes loom over the city like the towers of Mordor and high visibility vests are almost as common on Parliament Hill as business suits.

It's all being done for the big party, but as the time fast approaches to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday next year, many may be wondering, will the construction be completed? Will Ottawa be ready to welcome so many?

"We really are ready because we have been putting a lot of thought into getting a lot of the construction done now," said Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson. "It is a bit of a nuisance for residents and visitors and there's lots of detours … but the city's going to be in top shape for 2017."

Watson said that although government and high-tech are the city's top two industries, tourism comes third, and he's hoping interest in the new shiny Ottawa will help bump up the numbers next year by 1.75 million tourist visits — to bring the annual total to over 10 million.

To be fair, there is a lot going on. The city is in the middle of digging a tunnel through the heart of the city to provide an east-west passage for Ottawa's new light rail transit system.

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      Some of the Parliament Buildings are covered in scaffolding. The West Block and the Confederation Building just west of Parliament Hill, for example, are surrounded by plywood, cranes and construction workers.

      The Bank of Canada across the street from the Confederation Building is also mired in construction fences as the bank's head office undergoes its largest renovation since the two glass towers were added to the original granite structure in 1979.

      A government briefing note obtained by CBC News says significant steps are being taken to minimize construction in and around Parliament Hill next year.

      Work on Centre Block and the Parliamentary lawn will be completed or reduced to minimize any visual disturbance. In cases where work will not be completed in time, the city and the federal government are considering another option — camouflage.

      When the National Gallery of Canada replaced all of the windows in the great hall, the gallery hired Greenlandic artist Inuk Silis Hoegh to come up with a work of art to adorn the pattern for the tarp system that was used to cover the scaffolding around the hall.

      The image of an iceberg proved to be a selfie magnet as people eagerly snapped pictures of themselves outside the building. A similar technique was used when the U.S. Supreme Court Building underwent restoration work and the tarp there was made to simulate the facade.

      Two buildings that will not be finished in time for the party are Postal Station B opposite the Cenotaph and the Canada Four Corners Building at Sparks and Metcalfe streets.

      But no decisions have been made about whether or not tax dollars will be used to cover up the scaffolding with a printed image or just white plastic. Both, however, will be at least partly if not fully covered come celebration time.  

      "We want tourists who come to our nation's capital to see the city in all of its splendour," said Conservative Ottawa area MP Pierre Poilievre. Secondly, "we want our local businesses to be able to serve the influx of customers," something the Carleton MP says is difficult with all the construction going on.  

      Scaffolding surrounds the Confederation Building just west of the Parliament Buildings. (Peter Zimonjic/CBC)

      With files from Katie Simpson

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