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“Sympathetic demolition” of Westboro landmark to begin

By Jared Davidson – 

After 27 years, one of Westboro’s most iconic landmarks is about to come down. Earlier this year, Ottawa’s city council approved a new 24-storey development that will take the place of the old Trailhead location, a post and beam building at the corner of Scott Street and McRae. The new development is the second phase of Westboro Connection, Colonnade BridgePort’s mixed-use project that now houses Pythian and Farm Boy.

City council approved the new building in April despite dissent from seven council members, one of whom was Kitchissippi Ward Councillor Jeff Leiper. For Jeff, it was the height of the building that posed an issue.

“What has been approved is far higher than what I, and I think most people in the city, consider to be appropriate,” says the Councillor. “The building is going to loom over the residential.”

However, it is clear that the city considers this site one at which density is a priority. It is located directly across from Westboro Station on the Transitway, which will be converted into an LRT station in 2023 with the completion of Stage 2 of Ottawa’s light rail expansion. Jeff notes that residents who have expressed concerns take issue with the height of this development and fear it may usher in even more tall developments like it.

“I’m concerned that it has already been a precedent in the community for tall heights on Scott Street before we’ve had a chance to determine what the appropriate height on Scott Street is going to be,” says Jeff.

The Councillor pointed to the need for a plan for Kitchissippi development that fits with the city’s new guidelines, which encourage density near transit.

With its demolition looming later this year, there is no shortage of nostalgia for the old Trailhead building, which opened its doors in 1992. Jeff refers to the building as “beautiful,” and says that many in his community want to see it preserved. Its post and beam structure marketed the nature of the products and services within, and its influence helped encourage other outdoor shops like MEC and Bushtukah to make Westboro their home.

Construction on the 24-storey development going in on the site of the former location of the Trailhead building on Scott Street begins this year. Photo by Jared Davidson

Trailhead co-founders, Wally Schaber and Chris Harris, had wood shipped from British Columbia for the building’s construction. And though he has moved onto other things, including authorship of a book about the Dumoine River, Wally has a soft spot for the soft lumber that makes up the building.

“I always said our magnificent post and beam building would look more at home on the banks of a great river than Scott Street,” says Wally. “Hopefully some of the wood gets recycled into buildings overlooking the Ottawa [River].”

He expressed interest in buying the remains of the building after the demolition takes place, but according to Colonnade BridgePort President Hugh Gorman, that may not be possible. However, he has acknowledged the importance of the building to the community and the company has opted for what they’re calling “sympathetic demolition.”

“What we’re trying to do is take some of the structure of the building and preserve it for other uses,” says Hugh.

Those uses include the donation of beams from the building to both Wally and Chris, as well as to the new Trailhead Paddle Shack location at Fairlawn Plaza. In addition, Colonnade Bridgeport plans to turn some of the lumber from the old building into decorative accents for the new development’s interior, as well as build a pergola in the green space behind their building for tenants.

With construction slated to start this year, Hugh acknowledges that some, especially those near the building, will be negatively impacted by the construction. However, he claims that the feedback he’s gotten from the community has been overwhelmingly positive.

“I get nine, maybe nine-and-a-half positive comments for every negative comment that I get,” he says.

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