The Canada Lands plan for the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe 5.5 kilometres from Parliament Hill envisions a community where between 10,000 and 15,000 people would live and work. The original 12-year plan called for a mix of 4,500 to 6,000 houses and apartments, along with offices, research institutions, shops and parks.

Canada Lands Corporation aims to transform Rockcliffe base
into Ottawa's must-have address for sustainable living

Plans to transform the former Canadian Forces Base Rockcliffe in the heart of Ottawa into “the most sustainable, smartest, best-connected community” in Canada have not been forgotten. But they will need a tweak before the vision for the 310-acre property, with its views over the Ottawa River to the Gatineau Hills beyond, becomes a reality.  

That means the first residents won’t be moving into the national capital’s new showcase community — it is located just 5.5 kilometres from Parliament Hill — any time soon.  

“We’re putting together a team to work on this,” says Manon Lapensée, the director of corporate communications for Canada Lands Corporation, which is developing the vision for the former base, whose last residents moved out in July 2009. “This is a long-term project.”  

Canada Lands Corporation, which prepares surplus federal land for sale to private developer partners, took possession of the property in May 2011, almost 15 years after it first began efforts to acquire the base from the Department of National Defence, which deemed the land surplus in 1994. When Treasury Board in 2005 finally gave DND the go-ahead to sell the base for $27 million, Canada Lands moved into high gear, setting in motion the studies and design work necessary to bring its vision of a “New Urbanism” community to life.  

Twenty-seven architecture and urban design firms from across Canada were invited to apply for the position of prime consultant on “Ottawa’s premier infill development property.” The winning team was announced in 2006: Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects, of Toronto; urban planner Ken Greenberg of Toronto; Ottawa architect Barry Padolsky; and Vancouver landscape architects Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg. The consultants were to create a $500,000 development master plan that would see the base transformed into a sustainable community based on the concept of New Urbanism and its pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighbourhoods featuring narrow lots and front porches.  

The Canada Lands plan envisioned a community where between 10,000 and 15,000 people would live and work. The 12-year plan called for a mix of 4,500 to 6,000 houses and apartments, along with offices, research institutions, shops and parks. Alternative energy sources and green design and construction were all part of the vision, which had the first residents moving in by 2009. The base’s neighbours loved it and couldn’t wait to see construction begin.  

Final sale tied up by land claim

Plans came to a crashing halt in 2007, when Canada Lands announced it was moving its office off the base and placing the development plan on hold until the property, located south of the scenic Rockcliffe Parkway near the Canada Aviation and Space Museum and the Rockcliffe Airport, was officially in its hands. Tying up the purchase was a native land claim filed shortly after sale negotiations began. With no end in sight to the negotiations, the Department of National Defence moved up the base’s closure from 2011 to 2009 in order to save the $1.8 million it cost to maintain the base, already a partial ghost town by that time. The handful of remaining residents were expected to be out of their military housing and off the base by July 31, 2009, ironically the year that Canada Lands had envisioned the first residents moving into the new planned community.  

With hundreds of houses shuttered and weeds growing through sidewalks, there was finally some good news in 2011. An agreement was reached with the Algonquins of Ontario, which would be offered certain blocks or lots for sale “at their fair market value up to an aggregate value of $10 million” once Canada Lands rolled out its phased redevelopment package for construction. The agreement, part of a pending Treaty settlement, gave Canada Lands official possession of the former base.  

“The company will now undertake a development process of the site, beginning with assembling a team of professionals,” the Crown corporation said in the May 2011 announcement. “CLC looks forward to renewed consultations with the community and the city to create a vibrant mixed-used sustainable neighbourhood. More will be said about this as CLC’s development team and the consultation process takes shape over the coming months.”  

Ten months later, the Canada Lands website message is unchanged, with no timeline available as to when the new team will be assembled. “We are hoping it is soon, but we’re taking our time,” Lapensée tells “We want to make sure all the Ts are crossed.”  

While the work compiled by the previous design and planning consultants won’t be thrown away, Lapensée admits some of it will have to be “relooked at.”  

“It’s all part of the process,” she says. “We have to take a step back because of the passage of time — the city has evolved, and policies have evolved.”  

One of three major redevelopment projects

According to the Canada Lands website, the 310 acres of land at the former Rockcliffe base, “so close to Ottawa’s downtown core, present a once-in-a-life-time opportunity to discuss and address issues of urban reintegration, quality of life and factors important in designing the place where you live, work, learn and play. The mission is to develop an exemplary diverse contemporary neighbourhood offering a choice in housing, employment, commercial, institutional and leisure activities which will be defined by the site’s unique setting, along with a commitment to environmental sustainability and long-term economic viability.” 

The Rockcliffe initiative will join two other major redevelopment projects in the capital that are taking advantage of Ottawa’s riverfront and historic Rideau Canal.  

Already underway is the LeBreton Flats master-planned neighbourhood on the banks of the Ottawa River, on the fringes of the downtown core. Spearheaded by the National Capital Commission, another Crown corporation, a mixed-use community is taking shape on a historic 140-acre property neighbouring the Canadian War Museum’s waterfront site. The first condo residents began moving into the new neighbourhood in 2008. The NCC, which has plans for up to 2,500 housing units on the site, has chosen developer Claridge Homes as its building partner.  

About five kilometres south of LeBreton Flats, off Bank Street along the canal, a public-private partnership has been formed to redevelop Lansdowne Park, an aging sports/exhibition venue owned by the City of Ottawa and once home to Rough Riders football and the Super Ex. The city has teamed up with a group of Ottawa businessmen, known as the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, to transform the 40-acre property into a mixed-use facility featuring a stadium for the return of pro football and entertainment, revamped Civic Centre — home of the junior hockey 67’s — and condos and office space above retail shops. As part of the redevelopment, a new urban park is to be built along the canal in the Glebe, one of Ottawa’s hippest neighbourhoods. Construction is to begin in 2012, with the stadium ready for the return of CFL football in June 2014.  

With so much going on in Ottawa, it should come as no surprise that the capital city is growing faster than the provincial average. According to the 2011 census, the amalgamated City of Ottawa has a population of 883,391, an increase of 8.8 per cent over the 2006 census figures. This compares to a five-year growth rate of 5.7 per cent for Ontario as a whole. — March 2012