Ottawa’s Golden Triangle was not always so golden or even a triangle. The unique shape of this neighbourhood was created during the building of the Rideau Canal in the mid-1800s. To create the “point” of land, the canal makes a 90-degree turn, which is the only such sharp turn in the whole length of the waterway.
The abrupt angle was made to take advantage of a natural stream course that drained into the Rideau River, which made the excavation much easier. In contrast, digging the first length of canal from the Ottawa River to the stream was extremely hard going due to a high volume of wet clay that had to be removed before they found solid ground. This excessive excavation led to the very steep banks of the canal that remain today, with this stretch being nicknamed the “Deep Cut.”
The name carried over to the community that was built along the west shore of the Rideau Canal in the early 1900s. The long side of the triangle was formed by the construction of Biddy’s Lane, fortunately soon renamed after the infamous Lord Elgin. The surrounding canal areas were an industrial wasteland until 1899, when the Ottawa Improvement Commission (now the NCC) was formed. The OIC filled the land with trees and shrubbery that over time became the established green spaces that we know and love today.
The name Deep Cut stuck with the area for nearly a century, and it wasn’t until the early 1970s that the community began to be called the Golden Triangle. The triangle stretches from City Hall to the Elgin Street Police station, and encompasses all the land between Elgin Street and the Rideau Canal.
One of the city’s first main streets and the real star of this ‘hood is Elgin Street—a dense and vibrant district with no shortage of retail, food and nightlife. However, the street is currently going through a rough patch after the city started tearing up the street between Gloucester and Isabella, and construction is expected to last until fall 2020. Budgeted at over 36 million dollars, the project involves a complete overhaul of the aging main street, including new sewer systems, wider sidewalks, buried power lines and flexible parking spaces that can also be used for street-side restaurant patios.
To achieve these improvements, business owners have to endure a road closed to traffic, no parking and buses rerouted away from the street. But in the face of adversity can come greatness, and the merchants of Elgin are making the best of a bad situation.
The I Dig Elgin campaign, an idea spearheaded by Charlene and Christa Blaszczyk, owners of The Gifted Type, is a coalition of businesses that have banded together to promote the neighbourhood throughout the construction project. They’re keeping the vibes positive with great, tongue-in-cheek humour that extends through their social media campaigns and a popular series of road signs carrying fun slogans like, “Drills just wanna have fun,” and “We like big trucks and we cannot lie.”
Dawn Maxwell, co-owner of Eyemaxx on Elgin, admits to feeling some fear and panic when the heavy construction began in January, but with strong communication from the city and steady progress, the experience has been good.
“Yes, the street is all torn up, but each business is making real strides to continue to be successful with support for one another and offering a special experience inside each store,” says Maxwell. “When all is done, the street will be incredible. We are looking forward to the wide and even sidewalks, the power lines gone and the chance to continue the momentum that has been generated amongst the businesses on Elgin Street. More street events and building an even greater community!”
The housing market in the Golden Triangle has had a strange and controversial history. Originally constructed in the early 1900s as a tightly arranged group of small frame houses with an abundance of greenery, the community would have been very beautiful at its inception. But unfortunately the state of the Golden Triangle degraded very rapidly, and by around 1960 the city considered much of the neighbourhood to be a slum.
The state of urban blight was perceived as being so bad, that the city began an urban renewal project for the area. Through the 60s and 70s, the city demolished huge swaths of ramshackle housing, and planned to clear the land to construct high-rise towers and a new highway to run beside Somerset Street with a huge bridge over the canal. But support for the project dwindled, with the majority of residents opposing the demolition and renewal strategy.
By 1976, the Centretown Citizens Community Association brought the Centretown Plan, which discouraged further block-busting and high-rise development, to city council and won approval. The neighbourhood underwent a revival and what was previously deemed unsalvageable became desirable. Old houses have now been beautifully restored to become million-dollar homes, alongside modern infill. There is also a vast rental market of apartment buildings and a thriving condo scene with an average selling price of around $400,000.