The Arrival of Traffic Lights

5 March 1928

It’s hard to imagine city driving without the ubiquitous traffic lights that govern the ebb and flow of cars, trucks, cyclists and pedestrians on our streets and avenues. For the most part, we take them for granted. But when a power failure temporarily puts out the lights, the resulting gridlock reminds us how much we rely on them to keep our roads safe and traffic flowing. In contrast, back in the days before the arrival of the automobile when life moved at a more leisurely pace, there was little in the way of traffic controls. Even whether one should keep to the left or to the right was uncertain. As well, everybody had the same right to use the streets and highways as long as one took care not to injure others. Intermingled among horse-drawn delivery wagons, hansom cabs and omnibuses were cyclists and pedestrians. Not only was jaywalking an unheard-of offence, people thought nothing of strolling down the centre of the street.

The pace of life began to quicken in the late nineteenth century with the introduction of electric streetcars. But the arrival of the automobile in large numbers early in the twentieth century was the real game changer. With the rules of the road ill-defined, city streets had become increasingly dangerous. Traffic control became a priority in all major cities. To gain an appreciation of the chaotic traffic conditions in a major North American city during the early 1900s, here is a link (San Francisco Street Scene) to a fascinating short film of a drive down Market Street in San Francisco just days before the famous earthquake devastated the city in 1906.

Traffic lights actually predate the automobile. In late 1868, gas-lit signals were installed at the intersection of Bridge, Great George and Parliament Streets close to the Houses of Parliament in London to help control heavy horse-drawn and pedestrian traffic. Adapted from railway signals by engineer John Peake Knight, the three semaphore signal arms stood on a pillar twenty-two feet high. The horizontal signal arms indicated “stop” and “proceed with caution.” At night, gas lights were used with coloured lenses. Similar to today, a red light indicated that traffic should stop and a green light “proceed with caution.” The lights and signals were manually controlled by a police constable who would also blow a whistle to indicate he was about to change them. Although the new invention was effective at controlling traffic, a month after its installation a gas leak led to an explosion that severely injured the attending constable. This effectively scuppered gas-powered traffic signals in London.

Fast forward to the early years of the twentieth century, manually-powered semaphore traffic signals were used in many American cities to help control traffic. Like their British counterpart, the arms indicated whether traffic should stop or go. Instead of gas, kerosene was sometimes used to light lamps at night, with the standard red or green lenses indicating “stop” and “go,” respectively. In 1923, the inventor Garrett Morgan of Cleveland successfully took out a U.S. patent (# 1,475,024) for a hand-cranked semaphore traffic signal that featured three positions: stop, go, and all stop so that traffic could give way to pedestrians. Morgan reportedly sold his invention for $40,000 to the General Electric Company, a considerable sum in those days.

Traffic lights as we know them date from 1912 when one Lester Wire of Salt Lake City, Utah, who was head of the city’s traffic squad, invented a two-colour, red-green system. Wire never patented his device though it was apparently employed in Salt Lake City. In 1913, James Hoge of Cleveland submitted a patent in the United States for an electric “Municipal Traffic Control System” that consisted of “traffic control boxes or signals at street intersections and other suitable points.” Hoge’s objective was to permit policemen to better control traffic in order to give priority to emergency vehicles. Lamps of different colours would be used with one colour (red) to indicate “stop” and another colour (white) to indicate “move.” He received his patent (# 1,251,666) on 1 January 1918.

The modern, three-colour (red, amber, and green), electric traffic light, first appeared on street corners in Detroit in 1920. Its inventor was William L. Potts, a police officer who, like others at that time, was concerned about worsening road safety owing to the increasing popularity of the automobile. Like Lester Wire before him, Potts did not patent his device, apparently because being a government employee he was not eligible to do so. Within a few years, Potts’s three-colour, electric traffic lights were being widely used in American cities.

Electric traffic lights came to Canadian streets in 1925, first in Hamilton, Ontario and shortly afterwards in Toronto as a means of reducing the number of police constables directing traffic at major intersections. Taking note of Toronto’s favourable experience with traffic lights, police magistrate Charles Hopewell wrote in late 1927 to Ottawa’s Mayor John Balharrie and City Council recommending traffic lights of the three-colour variety be installed as an experiment at three major intersections on Sparks Street—at Bank, Metcalfe, and O’Connor Streets. He recommended against installing lights at the intersection of Sparks and Elgin Streets owing to uncertainty over government plans for the area. The Dominion government had recently expropriated land in this area, including the site of the old Russell Hotel, with a view towards beautifying Ottawa, which included widening Sparks and Elgin Streets. At each of the three chosen intersections, four traffic lights would be installed on the existing “Whiteway” lamp poles. Hopewell recommended the “Co-ordinated Progressive System” of traffic lights made by the Canadian General Electric Company over equipment manufactured by the Northern Electric Company, a forerunner of Northern Telecom. He estimated the purchase and installation costs at approximately $2,600 (about $37,000 in today’s money). After consulting the Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission, the annual electricity cost for running the twelve sets of traffic lights, each equipped with three 60 watt bulbs, was estimated at $640.

Although Council supported Hopewell recommendation to install traffic lights on Sparks Street, the Police Commission in December gave the contract to Northern Electric rather than Canadian General Electric. The cost of buying its automatic traffic control system with twelve sets of lights was under $1,800, much lower than Hopewell’s initial estimate. The funds to buy the equipment came out of unused resources in the police department’s 1927 budget. Of the twelve sets of traffic lights, eleven were mounted horizontally on existing light poles. The twelfth was mounted vertically to see which configuration of lights would be more visible.

Although newspapers optimistically reported that the traffic lights would be ready for Christmas, it took longer than expected for the hydro company to connect them. Finally, shortly before 8am on Monday, 5 March 1928, the new, automatic traffic lights on Sparks Street were switched on. The street lights were synchronized to facilitate travel down the street. They were on a 45-second cycle, with a twenty-second green light, followed by a five-second amber caution light, and a twenty-second red light. Twenty seconds were deemed sufficient time to allow streetcars to unload and load their passengers. Initially, the lights were in operation Monday through Saturday. Extra police were on hand that first day to assist the public in observing the rules. Magistrate Hopewell was also there to witness the lights in use for the first time. He returned at noon to check how things were running.

Overall, the introduction of traffic lights went smoothly, though the volume of traffic was unusually light that first day, possibly owing to cold weather. The street cars were running normally, however, allowing police officials to check the timing of the lights. Groups of people stood around the street corners to watch the lights change colour. A number of car drivers and streetcar operators drove through red lights, but police overlooked the infractions owing to people’s unfamiliarity with the new system. Police also stressed that pedestrians should obey the lights as well.

traffic-signal-28-11-28

The pedestal street lights installed on Wellington Street in 1928, The Ottawa Evening Journal, 28 November 1928.

Naturally, there were complaints. Some motorists didn’t like the location of the lights. Magistrate Hopewell said it would take at least a week for the traffic lights to prove their efficiency. In the meantime, the system would be studied and improved, if necessary.

The new lights were judged to be a complete success, and were quickly rolled out to other important road junctures, including the Sparks and Kent and the Bank and Laurier intersections a few months later. The operation of the street lights was also extended to Sundays.

Wellington Street received its traffic lights in late 1928 at intersections with Elgin, Metcalfe, O’Connor, and Bank Streets. Instead of installing the lights on existing poles, new pedestal-type traffic lights were erected—a first in Canada. The lights, with top red, middle amber, and bottom light green, were mounted on pedestals with a two-foot base, standing over nine-feet high. The city had hoped to have the new traffic lights in operation earlier in the year, but delayed their installation pending approval from Prime Minister Mackenzie King who took a personal interest in plans to improve the Capital. The traffic lights were synchronized so that automobiles travelling at twenty miles per hour from the Château Laurier Hotel to Bank Street would not have to stop. The Ottawa Evening Journal proudly noted that Ottawa was the only city in North America, other than Buffalo, New York, to have an entire thoroughfare equipped with these new type of lights.

From then on, there was no looking back. Traffic lights, proven effective at controlling the flow of traffic and improving road safety, were here to stay.

Sources:

About Money, 2016. “Garrett Morgan 1877-1963,” http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/03/the-origin-of-the-green-yellow-and-red-color-scheme-for-traffic-lights/.

Bio, 2016. “Garrett Morgan Biography,” http://www.biography.com/people/garrett-morgan-9414691#cleveland-tunnel-explosion.

Brown, J. E., General Manager, Ottawa Hydro-Electric Commission to Mr. C.E. Pearce, Board of Control, 1927. “Letter,” 24 October.

City of Ottawa, 1927. “Minutes,” Traffic Control System, 6 December.

Globe and Mail, 2015. “First electric traffic signal installed 101 years ago,” 5 August.

History, 2016. “First electric traffic signal installed,” This Day in History, August 5. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-electric-traffic-signal-installed.

Hopewell, Charles, Police Magistrate, to Mayor and Board of Control, 1927. “Letter.” 3 October.

——————————————————-, 1927. “Letter.” 5 December.

Idea Finder, 2007, “Traffic Lights,” http://www.ideafinder.com/history/inventions/trafficlight.htm.

Mark Traffic, 2016. “Traffic Lights Invented by William L. Potts,” http://www.marktraffic.com/traffic-lights-invented-by-william-l-potts.php.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1927. “Traffic Lights Installed For Holiday Rush,” 12 December.

————————————, 1928. “New Automatic Signal System In Operation.” 5 March.

————————————, 1928. “Wellington St. Traffic Lights Now Are Likely,” 27 April.

————————————, 1928. “Traffic Lights To Operate Sundays,” 7 May.

————————————, 1928. “Ottawa To Get Latest Types Signal Lights,” 28 November.

Today I Found Out, 2016. “The Origin of the Green, Yellow and Red Color Scheme For Traffic Lights,” http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2012/03/the-origin-of-the-green-yellow-and-red-color-scheme-for-traffic-lights/.

U.S. Patent Office, 1918. “Municipal Traffic Control Signal of J. B. Hoge, Patent Number 1251666,” 1 January, https://www.google.com/patents/US1251666.

Ottawa the Beautiful — The Gréber Report

18 November 1949

Ottawa is undoubtedly a beautiful city. Blessed by geography, the city borders the mighty Ottawa River, and is bisected by the Rideau River and the Rideau Canal, one of only eight UNESCO world heritage sites in Canada.  Reputedly, Ottawa has 8 hectares (20 acres) of parklands for every 1,000 residents, compared to only 3.2 hectares (8 acres) of green space for every 1,000 Toronto residents, and a miniscule 1.2 hectares (3 acres) for every 1,000 Montréalais. And that’s not counting Gatineau Park that encompasses 361 square kilometres (139 square miles) of rolling hills and pristine lakes, and extends close to the centre of Gatineau, Quebec, just a few minutes’ drive from Parliament Hill.

Befitting a capital city, Ottawa can also boast magnificent governmental, cultural, and historic buildings and monuments. The National Capital Commission’s “Confederation Boulevard,” which is bordered with broad, tree-line sidewalks, runs along Sussex Drive and down Wellington Street before looping across the Ottawa River and along rue Laurier in Gatineau before returning to Ottawa. On this ceremonial route, one can find the stately homes of the Governor General and the Prime Minister, Canada’s National Gallery, the War Memorial, the storied Château Laurier Hotel, and the Canadian Museum of History. Of course, the crown jewels of the route are Canada’s iconic Gothic Revival Parliament buildings on Wellington Street, perched on a bluff overlooking the Ottawa River.

While a beautiful and extremely livable city, Ottawa is not without blemish. Sparks Street, once the commercial heart of the city, hardly beats these days, while parts of Bank and Rideau Streets are tired and shop-worn. And let’s not talk about LeBreton Flats. But Ottawa is redeemed by its parks and gardens, flourishing neighbourhood communities, thriving markets, and leafy parkways that border its waterways.

Not that long ago, however, Ottawa was a grim, dirty, industrial town; crumbling buildings and blighted neighbourhoods were but a short distance of the Parliament buildings. During World War II, most of the downtown green spaces was filled with “temporary” wooden office buildings hastily constructed to house the Capital’s burgeoning civil service. The city’s natural beauty was also threatened with unplanned urban sprawl, while its waterways were fouled by the detritus of the area’s extensive wood-products industry and the untreated sewage of its mushrooming population.

Efforts to improve the city began shortly after Confederation with the creation of Major’s Hill Park in 1874. In 1899, three years after Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier voiced his desire for Ottawa to become the “Washington of the North,” the first city improvement committee called the Federal District Committee initiated a number of landscaping projects. A series of urban planning studies were subsequently commissioned, including the Todd Report in 1903, the Holt Commission in 1915, and the Cauchon Report in 1922. Their recommendations included an expansion of Ottawa parklands, the rationalization of the city’s tangle of railway lines, and the enforcement of building regulations. Broadly speaking, however, little was achieved owing to changing government priorities, war, and the Great Depression. One idea that initially found traction but ultimately also failed was the suggestion of forming a National Capital District, akin to the District of Columbia in the United States, that would encompass the cities of Ottawa in Ontario and Hull in Quebec, along with their hinterlands. Political opposition, notably from Quebec, and concerns about the linguistic future of the area’s francophone residents scuppered the idea.

Another effort at rejuvenating Ottawa’s downtown core close to the Parliament buildings began in 1937 under the guidance of Jacques Gréber, a noted French urban planner whom Prime Minister Mackenzie King had met at the Paris Exhibition (Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne) held that same year. Gréber had been the Chief Architect of the Exhibition. When the two men hit it off, King asked Gréber to come to Ottawa to help prepare long-term plans for the development of government buildings along Wellington Street and in adjacent areas. However, war broke out before much could be achieved beyond the construction of the National War Memorial at the intersection of Wellington and Elgin Streets.

Wellington and Lyon Streets

Ottawa the Ugly – Intersection of Wellington and Lyon Streets, looking South in 1938

Immediately following the end of World War II, Mackenzie King invited Gréber back to Ottawa to head a far larger urban planning project—devising a long-term development plan for the entire 2,300 square kilometre (900 square miles) National Capital Region. Gréber was a controversial choice. The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada objected, writing a letter to Mackenzie King saying that the National Capital development project should have been entrusted to a group of Canadian specialists rather than to a foreigner. Officially, responsibility for the project rested with the 17-member National Capital Planning Committee composed of representatives of the cities of Ottawa and Hull and area counties, the chairman of the Federal District Committee (FDC), the Federal Minister of Public Works, Canadian professional institutes, including the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, and others. While Gréber was clearly the lead consultant, he was supported by the FDC and a staff of Canadian architects and engineers.

The final 300-page report, along with the accompanying volume of maps, watercolours, and scale model of the city, was released on 18 November 1949 after more than four years of work. Mackenzie King, who had retired as prime minister the previous year, wrote the foreword to the report. In many ways, Gréber’s plan for the National Capital was King’s legacy to the country. The plan was also dedicated as a memorial to Canadian service people who died in World War II.

Before discussing its recommendations and their justification, the Report provided an in-depth survey of the National Capital Region, covering its physical characteristics, history, demographics, land use, housing, public buildings, transportation systems, with a special section on the railways, and recreational/touristic facilities. Sometimes the Report is more poetry than prose, referring, for example, to the “broad bosomed” Ottawa River and the “boisterous leaping Chaudière.” At one point it strays into conjecture, uncritically accepting the unsubstantiated claim that the 1916 fire that demolished the Centre Block on Parliament Hill was “set by a German hand.” Despite such quibbles, the Report is exhaustive, and makes a compelling case for its sweeping urban renewal plans for downtown Ottawa-Hull, and the preservation of rural greenspaces.

The key recommendation was the relocation of the railways and associated rail yards and warehouses out of the downtown core. Gréber argued that the tracks had been laid to serve the interest of their operators and the lumber barons rather than those of the broader community. Originally on the outskirts of the city, the railways had been constructed without regard for future urban expansion. In addition to beautifying the city, their removal would return the city to its citizens by eliminating rail barriers that divided neighbourhoods, improve safety, and speed traffic circulation. Replacing the railways would be a network of highways, urban arteries, and tree-line parkways. Gréber recommended the construction of two new bridges across the Ottawa River on the outskirts of the city that would link the Ontario and Quebec highway systems, one in the west over Nepean Bay at Lemieux Island, and another in the east over Upper Duck Island. Gréber also sought the elimination of Ottawa’s trolleys as their overhead wires and related infrastructure in the downtown core detracted from the beauty and monumental nature of the area.

Jacques Gréber

Jacques Gréber shows off the model of his plan for the National Capital to Members of Parliament, 30 April, 1949

Other important recommendations included urban renewal for blighted neighbourhoods close to Parliament Hill, such as LeBreton Flats, the elimination of the war-time “temporary” buildings that littered the city, the imposition of strict building regulations to preserve the view of Parliament Hill, and the decentralization of government operations. To address urban sprawl, Gréber recommended that the Government acquire land to build a greenbelt around the city. He also favoured the expansion of Gatineau Park and the preservation of neighbouring forests and rural areas for recreational and touristic purposes. In downtown Ottawa, he recommended the construction of a number of large monumental buildings, including an Auditorium and Convention Centre on Lyon Street between Sparks and Albert Streets, the establishment of a National Theatre on Elgin Street, a National Gallery on Cartier Square, and a National Library on Sussex Street, north of Boteler Street. Noting that, a “capital without a dignified City Hall is a paradox,” Gréber proposed the construction of a new Ottawa City Hall to replace the one destroyed by fire in 1931 but never rebuilt. His proposed building fronted on Nicholas Street with a new bridge across the Rideau Canal at that point. He also recommended relocating Carleton College (the forerunner of Carleton University) to the fields of the Experimental Farm along Fisher Avenue. Finally, in keeping with the idea that the redesigned National Capital Region would be a memorial to Canada’s war heroes, Gréber planned a giant memorial terrace at the southernmost point of the Gatineau Hills with “an imposing panoramic view” of Ottawa.

As one might expect with any such sweeping plan, there was opposition; many of Gréber’s recommendations were rejected or ignored. But the French urban planner got his way on two key recommendations—the relocation of the railways out of downtown Ottawa, and the establishment of a greenbelt. Through land swaps between the FDC and the railways companies, downtown Union Station, which was across the street from the Château Laurier Hotel, was replaced with a new passenger station built south of the city on Tremblay Road. The unsightly, 600 foot long, train shed at Union Station was demolished, and the tracks that ran alongside the Rideau Canal were removed, making way for Colonel By Drive. Similarly, the Ottawa West freight station and tracks at LeBreton Flats were expropriated. Ottawa’s rattling trams with their unsightly overhead wires were also retired in favour of more economical buses. Earning the gratitude of future residents, the Federal Government was also able to push through Gréber’s greenbelt proposal south of the Capital, despite opposition from suburban townships—Nepean politicians called the greenbelt the “weed belt.”

On other issues, Gréber was less successful. His idea of a huge war memorial in Gatineau was dropped owing to opposition from veterans who wished to commemorate World War II dead at the National War Memorial in downtown Ottawa. Most of the monumental buildings he planned for the downtown core were never built, or were located elsewhere, though his call for the demolition of the “temporary” war-time office buildings was heeded, albeit over a very long time, with the last one—the Justice Annex to the east of the Supreme Court building—only succumbing to the wrecking ball in 2012. His attempt to preserve the view of Parliament Hill from the south through height restrictions on commercial buildings also failed as high-rise office buildings, constructed to house federal civil servants, blocked the view. Similarly, his attempt to rejuvenate the LeBreton Flats took more than a generation to get underway owing in part to changing government priorities and inertia. Fifty years after the blighted neighbourhood was demolished, it remains a work in progress.

With hindsight, Gréber’s preference for the automobile over trains and trams, also had its downside, in part because he grossly under-estimated the expected future population of the National Capital Region. He had anticipated a population on the order of 500,000-600,000 by 2020, compared to 1.4 million today. Like the railways that preceded them, highways and major urban arteries came to divide neighbourhoods. A case in point is the Queensway which replaced the east-west CN rail line; Gréber had envisaged a tree-lined boulevard. Many mourn the loss of a downtown train station, and the passing of the city’s tram lines. The failure to build two new bridges across the Ottawa River at the city’s periphery linking the Ontario and Quebec highway systems has meant that interprovincial traffic continues to be routed across downtown bridges, aggravating traffic woes. Finally, the development of the greenbelt did little to stop urban sprawl as Gréber had hoped. Instead of the greenbelt promoting the development of self-contained satellite communities as he had envisaged, the automobile permitted them to become bedroom communities for Ottawa, and in the process further contributed to traffic congestion.

In sum, the Gréber Plan was marred by faulty assumptions and inadequate follow-through. But, despite all, Ottawa was transformed from a grimy, industrial city to a capital Canadians can be proud of. For that, we must give a big hand to the vision of Jacques Gréber.

Sources:

Butler, Don, 2012. “Putting things back on track for Ottawa’s train station,” 27 May, The Ottawa Citizen, http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Putting+things+back+track+Ottawa+train+station/6690940/story.html.

City of Ottawa, 2010-15. Relocating the Rail Lines, http://ottawa.ca/en/residents/arts-culture-and-community/museums-and-heritage/witness-change-visions-andrews-newton-6.

Gordon, David. 2000. Weaving a Modern Plan for Canada’s Capital: Jacques Gréber and the 1950 Plan for the National Capital Region, https://qshare.queensu.ca/Users01/gordond/planningcanadascapital/greber1950/Greber_review.htm.

Théoret, Huger, 2013. “Le plan Gréber dévoilé aux Communes,” Le Droit, 8 mars.

NCC Watch, 2003(?). NCC Blunders: Ottawa’s Union Station, http://nccwatch.org/blunders/unionstation.htm.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1945. “Canadian Architectural Institute Protest Hiring of Jacques Greber,” 2 October.

———————-, 1945. “Jacques Greber Arrives to Plan National Capital,” 2 October.

National Capital Planning Committee, 1950. “Plan for the National Capital,” (The Gréber Report), https://qshare.queensu.ca/Users01/gordond/planningcanadascapital/greber1950/index.htm.

Macleod, Ian, 2014. “The lost train of nowhere,” The Ottawa Citizen, 18 December, http://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/from-the-archives-the-lost-train-of-nowhere.

Images:

Intersection of Wellington Street and Lyon Street, looking south, 1936, the Gréber Report, Illustration #153.

Jacques Gréber shows off the model of his plan for the National Capital to Members of Parliament, 30 April, 1949,National Capital Commission, 172-5, http://www.lapresse.ca/le-droit/dossiers/100-evenements-historiques/201303/08/01-4629049-16-le-plan-greber-devoile-aux-communes.php.

Jewelled Plague

25 July 2008

Something was wrong with the ash trees in the east end of Ottawa. Trees lining St Laurent Boulevard and Ogilvy Road near the Queensway were under stress, their upper canopies thinning, with wild growth appearing lower down their trunks. Sent out to investigate, the city’s Forestry Services discovered small “D” shaped holes on their trunks and branches along with strange serpentine tunnels that scored the wood immediately under the bark. On 25 July 2008, Ottawa City Council received the Forestry Services’ grim report—the emerald ash borer had arrived in the city.

Agrilus planipennis, a.k.a. the emerald ash borer, is a small, metallic-looking member of the beetle family.  Measuring only about 8.5 to 14 millimetres in length and 3 to 4 millimetres in width, this attractive insect, sometimes referred to as a “jewel” beetle, is native to north-east Asia, including parts of China, Japan and Russia. Its larvae feed on the cambium of ash trees (genus fraxinus); the mountain ash (genus sorbus) is not affected.   The cambium is the thin layer of cells found between the wood of a tree and its protective bark.  On its inward side, the cambium produces sapwood which carries water and other nutrients up to the tree’s leaves, while on its outward side it produces the phloem which carries nutrients produced by the leaves through photosynthesis down to the roots. It’s this cambium layer that makes the annual growth rings in a cross-section of a tree truck.

Emerald Ash Borer

Agrilus planipennis: the emerald ash borer

In the spring, the adult female ash borers deposit their eggs on the bark or in cracks in the bark of infected trees. Up to as many as 90 eggs can be deposited by each female. After about a week, the larvae emerge and make their way to the cambium layer on which they feed. In the process, they make serpentine “galleries” through the cambium and sapwood. A serious infestation can girdle a tree, effectively disrupting the tree’s ability to draw nutrients and water up to its leaves, killing it in the process. The mature larvae pupate over winter with the adults emerging in mid-May or June from exit holes of about 4 millimetres in diameter.  The adult males live for about two weeks, while the females survive a week or so longer. Adult ash borers are good flyers and can travel for up to one kilometre. The insects can also be disbursed through the movement of infected wood and wood products.

Trees attacked by the emerald ash borer typically die within a few years of being infected. In their natural range in Asia, the insect is considered a minor and episodic pest, with recent research showing that it is biologically controlled by at least three species of tiny, stingless wasps, Oobius agrili, Spathius agrili, and Tetrastichus planipennisi. These wasps, measuring only slightly more than one millimetre in length, parasitize ash borer larvae by laying their eggs on them. When the wasp larvae emerge, they eat the ash borer host larvae, killing them.

In the summer of 2002, the emerald ash borer was identified in several south-eastern counties of the U.S. state of Michigan as well as one county in bordering Ontario. It is believed that the insect was introduced, possibly as long as five years earlier, into North America through the port of Detroit in wooden packing used to protect goods transported by ship from China.  Since then, the invasive and destructive insect has quickly spread, affecting countless ash trees throughout central United States, Ontario and into Quebec, apparently unimpeded by our cold winters.

The arrival of the emerald ash borer in Ottawa represented a major threat to the city’s urban forest as ash account for more than 25 per cent of trees in the Ottawa area, and up to as much as 40 per cent in parts of eastern Ontario. Ironically, many of the city’s threatened ash trees, fast growing and tolerant to air pollution, were planted during the 1960s and 1970s to replace dying elm trees, felled by Dutch elm disease. That arboreal epidemic was caused by a different alien invader, a fungus that also originated in Asia which was subsequently spread by host beetles throughout North America. A still-earlier imported blight killed off 99 per cent of eastern North America’s chestnut trees, once a mainstay of southern Ontario forests, at the beginning of the twentieth century.

Dying Ash

Dying Ash Tree on Ash Lane at the Central Experimental Farm, July 2014

Since the summer of 2008, the emerald ash borer has spread throughout the city despite municipal, provincial and federal efforts to control the pest through regulations that strictly control the movement of firewood from the affected areas, and encourage the removal of infected trees, and their replacement with different species. In some cases, systemic insecticides injected into a tree’s bark have also been applied to save trees. Despite these efforts, the emerald plague has continued its advance. Less than two years after being first identified in Ottawa, ash trees at the Central Experimental Farm came under attack leading to the felling of eighty-year old ash trees on Ash Lane to be replaced by maples, ginko bilobas, and oaks; Ash Lane was gone in all but name. In 2012, Andrew Haydon Park lost close to 1,000 of its ash trees. By 2013, dead and dying trees were everywhere, along streets, in neighbourhood playgrounds and schoolyards, and in city parks.

In June 2013, there was finally a small bit of positive news. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave its approval for the introduction of a biological control, enlisting the help of Spathius agrili, and Tetrastichus planipennis, two of the three parasitic wasps, in the battle to contain the ash borer beetle. While the wasps would not be able to eliminate the beetle, it is hoped that over the long run some kind of ecological balance could be restored. It remains to be seen whether this new approach will be able to save our remaining ash trees. Regardless, Ottawa’s landscape has been radically altered.

Sources:

Ash Trees & Emerald Ash Borer: http://www.manotick.net/docs/emeraldashborer.html.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Central Experimental Farm Advisory Council: http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/offices-and-locations/central-experimental-farm/about-the-farm/central-experimental-farm-advisory-council/central-experimental-farm-advisory-council-meeting-dates/central-experimental-farm-advisory-council/?id=1355771625561.

Ottawa City Council, Report to Committee(s) of Council Internal Routing

http://www.shadqadri.com/document/ACS2008-PWS-SOP-0012.pdf

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, Data sheets on quarantine pests, Agrilus planipennis: http://www.eppo.int/QUARANTINE/insects/Agrilus_planipennis/DS_Agrilus_planipennis.pdf?utm_source=www.eppo.org&utm_medium=int_redirect.

The Manotick Directory, 2013. “Emerald Ash Borer, Two Choices: Treat or Cut,” http://www.manotick.net/docs/emeraldashborer.html.

 The Ottawa Citizen, 2008. “Invasive Beetle Threatens Ash Trees,” 26 July.

———————-, 2013. “Approved: Tiny Wasps that Kill Emerald Ash Borer,” 5 June.

Image: Emerald Ash Borer,Anthrophysis,  http://anthrophysis.blogspot.ca/2011/09/invasive-forest-insects-damage-budgets.html.

Image: Dying Ash Tree on Ash Lane, Central Experimental Farm, July 2014, by Nicolle Powell

The Canal

29 May 1832

It’s no exaggeration to say that Ottawa owes it very existence to the Rideau Canal, the ribbon of water that snakes its way through the heart of the city before heading south to Lake Ontario more than 200 kilometres distant. Without this incredible feat of early nineteenth century engineering, the south shore of the Ottawa River would not have been settled where and when it was. With no Ottawa, Queen Victoria would likely have chosen Montreal, or even Kingston, as the nation’s capital, radically changing the course of Canadian history.

It all began in the War of 1812 which pitted Britain and British North America against the new, thrusting U.S. republic to the south. With the Saint Lawrence River, the principal transportation route into the interior of the continent, forming the Canadian-U.S. frontier, the movement of military and other supplies from Montreal to Kingston on Lake Ontario was a perilous enterprise. Supply vessels coming to the defence of Upper Canada were exposed to potential attack for much of the journey. Consequently, an alternative, safer route was a military necessity. In 1814, the British sent out reconnaissance missions to assess the merits of building a canal system through the Rideau Lakes system, linking Kingston to the Ottawa River which flows into the St. Lawrence at Montreal. Although interest in a canal waned at the war’s conclusion in 1815, the start of work on the Erie Canal two years later, which provided a navigable water route from New York City on the Atlantic coast to Buffalo on Lake Erie, as well as efforts by the Duke of Wellington to strengthen Canadian defences against possible future U.S. aggression, convinced British authorities to proceed with an alternative, all-Canadian route from Montreal to the Great Lakes.

Colonel By

Colonel By, Royal Engineers

In 1826, Lieutenant-Colonel John By of the Royal Engineers, who had fought under Wellington during the Peninsular War in Spain against Napoleon, was assigned the task of supervising the construction of the canal. By was given instructions to proceed with all dispatch using two companies of royal sappers and miners as well as contracted local labour. The cost of the project, based on rough-and-ready estimates made by earlier surveyors, was placed at £169,000. This number, which proved to be wildly inaccurate, was to haunt By in later years.

Building commenced 26 September 1826, with the ground broken by the Governor General, General George Ramsay, the ninth Earl of Dalhousie, at the head of the canal at Sleigh Bay (later Entrance Bay), a ravine roughly a mile above the Rideau Falls on the Ottawa River. As well as starting construction on the initial eight locks of the canal system and two wharves, By built there a hospital, barracks, a commissariat (now the Bytown museum), and storehouses. Two town sites, Upper and Lower Bytown, on either side of the canal connected by Sappers’ Bridge were also developed. The community began to swell in size as workers and their families arrived in response to the demand for skilled and unskilled labour, forming the nucleus of what later was to become Ottawa.

By established three work camps to build the canal. The first at Entrance Bay, the second at Kingston, and the third midway at Isthmus Summit, roughly where the village of Newboro is located today. In addition to the companies of sappers and miners, more than 4,000 labourers and 1,000 masons were employed, mostly during the summer months. It was a logistical nightmare to feed and equip all these people, some with families, at a time when Kingston, the largest city in Upper Canada, had less than 3,000 inhabitants. The workers had diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. Many, particularly at the Ottawa River end of the canal were French-Canadians, employed by two Lower Canadian companies, Philemon Wright and Sons of Wrightville (later Hull) and McKay and Redpath of Montreal, winners of construction contracts tendered the military.  Poor Irish immigrants, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, dominated the workforce at the Kingston end. It was a potentially combustible combination, but there was surprisingly little ethnic strife, though tempers would flare in the largely male shantytowns that grew around work sites where alcohol was widely available. Worker peace was maintained by a strong military presence. But it also reflected the humane treatment of workers by Col. By, who provided the often emaciated Irish workers with clothes, blankets and medical treatment, in addition to adequate food and employment. When smallpox threatened Bytown in 1828, By vaccinated the children of the community, heading off a possible epidemic.

Rideau Canal

Rideau Canal, looking into Entrance Bank, Ottawa River

Nonetheless, it was a tough life, especially for immigrants unfamiliar with the torrid hot summers and bitter cold winters of the Ottawa Valley. Workers battled terrible conditions, labouring 14-16 hours days, six days a week, driving the canal through sparsely-populated bush country and mosquito-infested swamps. For three summers, malaria, known then as swamp fever or the ague, caused temporary work stoppages with sixty per cent of the workforce coming down with the disease; many died. Workplace injuries also took their toll though accidents were apparently relatively low given the scale of the canal project and the times. In total, some 1,000 lives were lost, mostly from disease, in the almost six years it took to build the canal.

In addition to the high human cost, the financial costs of building the canal skyrocketed. Though the initial cost estimates were widely recognized as being ludicrously low, By’s decision to enlarge the size of the forty-seven masonry locks to accommodate steamboat traffic was a costly one. He was also forced to make a number of changes to the location of the canal from the original survey owing to local conditions. Furthermore, the speed of construction raised costs, as did construction setbacks; for example, the dam at Hog’s Back had to be built three times. By also had to compensate landowners whose land was expropriated for the canal. Although By’s decisions and expenses were closely scrutinized and approved by the British Army’s Ordnance Department, the British Treasury was greatly displeased when the final price tag came in at more than £800,000.

On 29 May 1832, Lieutenant-Colonel By, accompanied by his wife Ester and their two daughters, Ester and Harriet, arrived in Bytown on the maiden voyage from Kingston through the Rideau Canal. They made the five-day journey aboard the 80 foot, 12 horsepower, paddleboat steamer Pumper, rechristened the Rideau especially for the occasion. By, who must have been savouring his success, was unaware that a letter recalling him to London to explain the cost over-runs was already on its way to him. Although he was vindicated in the subsequent inquiry, By, caught in a political squabble between the army and a new, penny-pinching government, never received the recognition that was his due. He died a disappointed man in 1836 in his home in Sussex, England.

Initially, as By had hoped, the Rideau Canal became a favoured route of vessels going upriver to the Great Lakes from Montreal. But it went into decline in the late 1840s following improvements to the canals and locks on the Saint Lawrence River route which allowed larger, heavier ships to bypass the Lachine rapids. Improving political relations with the United States also undermined the Canal’s military raison d’être. The only time the waterway was used to transport troops was in 1838 when soldiers were sent to stop an invasion of “Hunter Patriots” at the Battle of the Windmill outside of Prescott, Ontario. From the late 1800s onwards, it was principally used by pleasure craft. In 1925, the Rideau Canal was designated as a National Historic Site. In 2000, the Rideau Waterway was declared a Canadian Heritage River in light of its historic significance and superb recreational facilities. In 2007, UNESCO named the Rideau Canal a World Heritage Site. It is the only North American canal dating from the golden years of canal building in the nineteenth century which is operational through its entire length with most of its original buildings intact.

 

Sources:

Corbett, Ron. 2007. The Rideau Canal, Then and Now, Magic Light Publishing, Ottawa.

Conroy, Peter. 2002. Our Canal, The Rideau Canal in Ottawa, General Store Publishing House, Burnstown, Ontario.

McKenna, M. J. (ed.), 2008. Labourers on the Rideau Canal, 1826-1832: From Work Site to World Heritage Site, Borealis Press, Ottawa.

Passfield, Robert W., 1982. Building the Rideau Canal: A Pictorial History, Fitzhenry and Whitside in association with Parks Canada, Don Mills, Ontario.

———————–, 2013. Military Paternalism, Labour and the Rideau Canal Project, AuthorHouse LLC, Bloomington, IN.

Tulloch Judith, 1981. The Rideau Canal: Defence, History and Archaeology, No. 50, Transport and Recreation, Parks Canada, Environment Canada.

Watson, Ken, 2013. Bye By, Rideau Canal World Heritage Site, http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/tales/bye-by.html.

———————-, 2014, History of the Rideau Canal, http://www.rideau-info.com/canal/history/hist-canal.html.

Images: Lieutenant-Colonel John By, Royal Engineers Museum

Rideau Canal Locks at Bytown, Etching, Library and Archives Canada, PA-133872

Our Farm

12 May 1886

It would hard to exaggerate the value of the Central Experimental Farm to the well-being of Ottawa, its residents, and indeed of all Canadians. The 425-hectare (1,050 acres) working farm established in the late 19th century, initially on the outskirts of the city but now long encircled by suburbs, constitutes the most important green space in the city. With free admission to its grounds, the Farm has something for everyone. Best known are its Ornamental Gardens, lovingly maintained by Farm gardeners, and volunteers, called Friends of the Farm. Beds of peonies, irises, and day lilies, as well as a host of annuals, attract residents and visitors alike, including newlyweds seeking the perfect backdrop for their wedding memories. In the spring, rows of lilacs and winter-hardy roses propagated by Farm experts delight the senses. The working dairy farm and agricultural museum provide Ottawa’s urban youngsters a year-round taste of rural living, while walkers and cyclists can explore the Farm’s treed lanes that divide research fields, free from city fumes.

 

Experimental Farm

Central Experimental Farm, Field of Sunflowers, 2014

Across the road from the Ornamental Gardens is the Dominion Arboretum, a 29-hectare park, home to more than 1,700 species of trees and shrubs. Each spring, its crab apple, cherry and pear trees come into flower, their pink and white blossoms perfuming the air. Stretching down to Dow’s Lake and the Rideau Canal, the Arboretum is a favourite of walkers, joggers, picnickers, and dog owners. In wintertime, outdoor enthusiasts toboggan down its slopes.

The Farm has, however, a far more important and serious side. Its fields and greenhouses are the home of the Eastern Cereals and Oilseed Research Centre for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, responsible for crop development in eastern Canada of corn, soy beans, spring and winter wheat, oats, and barley. It also has a national mandate “for assessing and utilizing biodiversity and environmental resources for Canadian agriculture.”

Established on 12 May 1886 by the government of Sir John A. Macdonald with the support of Sir John Carling, Minister of Agriculture, the Farm was the product of recommendations of a parliamentary committee chaired by Georges Auguste Gigault, MP for Rouville Quebec, which had studied how best the government could support and encourage Canadian farmers. Despite farming being then the mainstay of the Canadian economy, Gigault’s committee had discovered that farmers had little knowledge of the appropriate seeds to plant, did not systematically follow crop rotation, were unaware of how to improve soil fertility, and did not know how to effectively breed and raise livestock. Gigualt recommended the establishment of agricultural schools and model farms to which Canadian farmers could turn for advice.

With Gigault’s proposals favourably received, agricultural research facilities were subsequently established across the country with a mission to improve the crops and agricultural practices of Canadian farmers. The Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa was the crown jewel in the network, with other smaller research centres set up in Nappan, Nova Scotia; Agassiz, British Columbia; Brandon, Manitoba; and Indian Head, Saskatchewan. Today, there are nineteen such facilities across Canada.

In November 1886, an initial 188 hectares (466 acres) of farmland in Nepean Township was purchased by William Saunders, the first Director of Experimental Farms, at a cost of $120,000. Saunders, an eminent botanist, entomologist and agriculturalist, was attracted to the property by its proximity to Parliament Hill, only five kilometres away. Three years later, James Fletcher, the first Dominion Botanist, planted the first 200 trees and shrubs in the Arboretum. More land was purchased during the 1920s and in the 1940s to expand the Farm to roughly its current size, though some 38 hectares (93 acres) of surplus land was sold in 1988.

Saunders encouraged farmers, gardeners and horticulturalists to send samples of their seed to the Central Experimental Farm for testing of their vitality and germinating power. Subsequently, the Farm began distributing three-pound bags of high-quality seed to Canadian farmers for free through the mail. This highly successful program improved the yield and quality of barley, spring wheat, field corn, peas, and potatoes, thereby raising farm incomes.

The Central Experimental Farm’s national and international reputation was cemented by the development of the Marquis brand of wheat in the early 20th century by Sir Charles Saunders, the son of William Saunders. Marquis wheat matured seven to ten days earlier than Red Fife, the most popular grain grown at that time, had a high yield, and made excellent bread. The shorter growing period allowed farmers to plant further north, effectively doubling the amount of land that could be profitably tilled on the prairies. By 1918, close to 90 per cent of the wheat grown in western Canada was of the Marquis variety. While better wheat hybrids came to replace Marquis over time, virtually all types of wheat grown in Canada over the past 100 years are derived from it.

The Farm also made a name for itself in horticulture, developing fruit trees and flowers that could withstand the rigours of a Canadian winter. Of particular note, is the Explorer series of roses and the Preston lilac, Syringa prestoniae, a late blooming, winter-hardy variety developed by Isabella Preston during the 1920s. Eighty of her cultivars are recognized in the International Lilac Register.

In the Second World War, the Farm was mobilized to support the war effort. Among other things, it invented a process to preserve fruit that “the boys in the hottest and stickiest Africa will find hard to tell from the fresh produce.” It also developed things that we take for granted today, such as oil from sunflowers and rapeseed (canola). It additionally made parachute cords from flax, and researched rubber-bearing plants such as Russian dandelion and milkweed. During the Cold War, the Farm investigated how radioactive contamination could be removed from animal products, especially milk.

In the 1970s, the Farm’s help was also enlisted in the war on drugs. A three-acre plot of marijuana was planted for scientific purposes, mostly for studies to determine its cancer-causing properties rather than its medicinal value. The plot was surrounded by an ordinary farm fence, and was hidden by corn fields…until the marijuana plants grew 20 feet tall! With the marijuana field located off of Ash Lane, the road naturally became known as “Hash Lane.” Ostensibly, the field was secret, but it was widely known among university students.  As well, what secrecy there was would have been lost following a Montreal Gazette article in early 1971 titled “A ‘pot’ farm thriving in central Ottawa.”

The Central Experimental Farm has had a profoundly positive impact on the farming community and the well-being of all Canadians since its establishment almost 130 years ago. While agriculture is no longer the backbone of the Canadian economy, the Central Experimental Farm continues its important mission of improving Canadian agriculture. Over the past two decades or more, it has been working in the forefront of gene manipulation of crop plants. It’s also undertaking biosystematic (the study of biological diversity) research of vascular plants, fungi, bacteria and invertebrates important to agriculture, as well as studying the long run environment impact of agricultural practices. In recognition of its importance to the history of Canadian agriculture, the Farm became a National Historic Site in 1998, thus preserving it for future generations.

 

Sources:

Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Central Experimental Farm, http://www.agr.gc.ca/eng/about-us/offices-and-locations/central-experimental-farm/?id=1170701489551.

Dictionary of Canadian Biography, George Auguste Gigault, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/gigault_george_auguste_14E.html.

———————-, William Saunders, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/saunders_william_14E.html.

Friends of the Farm, Highlights of the Farm’s History, http://www.friendsofthefarm.ca/highlights.htm.

Interview with Dr Ernest Small, http://www.druglibrary.org/olsen/hemp/iha/jiha6208.html.

Smith, H. 1996. Ottawa’s Farm, A History of the Central Experimental Farm, General Store Publishing House, Burnstown, Ontario.

 The Huron Examiner, 1891. “Seed Testing at the Central Experimental Farm,” 30 January.

The Montreal Gazette, 1971. “A ‘Pot’ Farm Thriving in Central Ottawa,” 2 March.

The News and Eastern Townships Advocate, 1962. “Central Experimental Farm,” 2 August.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1928. “Experimental Farm Extension,” 22 February.

——————–, 1936. “50th Anniversary, Opening of William Saunders Building in Memory of 1st Director,” 6 June.

——————-, 1946. “Need Larger Acreage at Experimental Farm,” 21 December.

——————-, 1986. “Experimental Farm, 100 years old, Research Centre Kicking up Heels,” 28 April.

The Sherbrooke Examiner,1887.  “Distribution of Samples from the Central Experimental Farm at Ottawa,” 22 January.

Image: Central Experimental Farm, Field of Sunflowers, 2014, by Nicolle Powell