Canada 150 Legacy

 

How Our City Can Leave a Canada 150 Legacy

Dear Editor, 

 

        Paul Dewar proposes that our city can leave a Canada 150 legacy by taking "a real step in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by fulfilling the vision of the late Algonquin elder William Commanda by building a national Indigenous centre on Victoria Island."

        This is not William Commanda's vision: His vision, which is known and has widespread support, is for freeing the Chaudiere Falls from the Ring Dam, re-naturalizing Chaudiere and Albert Islands as parkland for everyone to share, and constructing an Indigenous healing and peace centre on Victoria Island. Without the first two elements, an Indigenous centre will be just another building. 

         The Chaudiere Falls and Islands have been an important Indigenous sacred and peaceful meeting place for at least 5,000 years, which is just the archaeological record. There are older sites nearby.This pre-dates Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid at Giza. It's human history. Although the area is within Algonquin territory, it was recognized as a neutral place where anybody could meet. People came from huge distances. They would camp on the riverbanks, leave their weapons behind, and canoe to the Islands to gather in peace. It was a place of communications and governance. Enemies met here. It's a place without War, which might be unique in this world. Canada is supposed to be a peacekeeping nation. We should be celebrating this, which Grandfather Commanda's vision does. 

         People met continuously at the Chaudiere Falls and Islands until they were ultimately pushed aside by European settlement and industry. If we truly want to reconcile with Indigenous peoples, we can give the area back. It can then be re-established as the great meeting place. First Nations people will have a place to stand and call home in our nation's Capital, where they will never be invisible again.  After all, the Chaudiere Islands are unceded Algonquin territory, along with the rest of the Ottawa Valley watershed. It's stolen land. (This is a legal fact, acknowledged by the Supreme Court.) Given the great spiritual and historical significance, this one small area should be returned without hesitation.

         Following settlement, the Chaudiere Falls became Ottawa's oldest and most beloved tourist attraction. They were second only to Niagara, and many considered them more interesting in their variety and setting. People came here to see them, and bought postcards and souvenirs. Ottawa has been described as "a city of cascades" with the Chaudiere Falls being "a hundred rivers struggling for a passage." The sacredness of the Falls is not lost on poets. On May 16th, 1876, William Pittman Lett wrote:

Go, Atheist, stand on its brink
And for a moment pause and think
While gazing on this mighty link
In grand old Creation's chain!    

        Sadly, the entire span of the Falls was dammed over in 1908 - 1910. What people are currently calling the Chaudiere Falls is only the overflow from the Ring Dam. It's an industrial site. It's nothing like what it was. They should be freed. We are the only National Capital in the world with a major waterfall at its centre. It can be a major tourist destination again, which will be good for our region's economy. Look what the Rideau Canal brings, and it's just a man-made structure.

         Paul Dewar was once the greatest supporter of Grandfather William Commanda's vision. He has pulled back, and is being disingenuous in saying that the vision was only for the Indigenous centre on Victoria Island. I find it suspicious that Mr. Dewar, as Member of Parliament for Ottawa Centre, had his constituency office in the Windmill Development Group's building at 1306 Wellington Street West.

         Grandfather Commanda was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada and presented with the Key to the City for his peace and environmental initiatives. He was no slouch.

         Jacques Greber's "Plan for the National Capital" was commissioned by the Federal Government as their Master Plan for the long-term growth and development of the Capital Region. (The text is available on-line.) The National Capital Commission was established to implement it. It gives us Confederation Square, the Greenbelt, the Parkway and the Queensway, among others. Greber specifies on page 230 that "the most effective improvement will be the central park at the Chaudiere Falls" once the "heavy and obnoxious industries" are gone. He continues on page 250 that "such proposal aims to give a more dignified environment to the representative buildings of the nation... The restoration of the Chaudiere Islands to their primitive beauty and wildness, is perhaps the theme of greatest importance. from the aesthetic point of view -- the theme that will appeal, not only to local citizens, but to all Canadians who take pride in their country and its institutions." How can we have forgotten this? It's the jewel in the crown!

         Why don't we realize the full visions of William Commanda and Jacques Greber as our Canada 150 legacy? It will be a real step towards reconciling with Indigenous people, beyond what is now largely rhetoric. It will benefit all of us, and generations to come.

                                                                                           Yours sincerely,

                                                                                                 M. Lindsay Lambert.

 

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Let's take a real step in reconciliation with Indigenous peoples by fulfilling the vision of the late Algonquin elder William Commanda. Letter by Lindsay Lambert to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen.

LettersAmanda Masterson