Ottawa stories: The return of Nanny Goat Path (maybe?)

For long-time Ottawa residents, patient this view will look strange, and it should. Because it doesn’t exist anymore – or rather, the view has changed drastically, and the hill and path are now blocked off and overgrown. But I’m thinking it’s time for Nanny Goat Path to rise again.

Photo from early 1900s showing the rough path that once ran down Nanny Goat Hill from the Western end of Laurier down to Le Breton Flats.  Source: Urbsite

 So where is this? 

Believe it or not, this picture was taken on Laurier Avenue. Specifically, the photographer was standing at the very Western end of Laurier Avenue, at the top of the Nanny Goat Hill escarpment, facing West. The road that stretches straight to the horizon is now the Western part of Albert Street, where it turns into Scott Street.

The view is toward the sawmills and housing on Lebreton Flats (gone), the O’Keefe brewery (gone), and the Western Ottawa railroad yards, roundhouse, and the old West-end train station (all gone).  To get a better idea of how it all once fit together, this great piece on Urbsite is a solid primer, but we could spend a whole book talking about Lebreton Flats… oh wait Phil Jenkins already did.

Originally, the  path in the photo was part of Maria Street – the road that eventually became Laurier Avenue. Maria  ran straight down the escarpment here as a road which joined the old Richmond Road. You can still see the grading, retaining walls, and utility poles (above) from the era when this was a municipal street.

But in the late 1800’s: the grade of Maria Street proved too steep for streetcars, so engineers route trams and roads around it to connect Wellington Street downtown with today’s Wellington Street West, and Albert Street angled across to merge with Wellington near the same spot.

So by the early 1900’s, the Nannygoat Path became what you see in the photo above: a rough, informal pathway. Rough, but a convenient way for people to move on foot from downtown Ottawa to a few major residential, employment, and transportation centres. So you can see the path in the photo is well-worn and steep, but not unreasonable for a person on foot.

So what happened to Nanny Goat Path?

Two things went wrong for this path. First, with the Lebreton Flats fiasco and the death of the rail and sawmills, all the major reasons to use Nanny Goat Path had disappeared by the 1960’s. Second, car culture came along, and at the bottom of the path, Albert Street became the major route for cars, and later Transitway buses, to climb the escarpment.

So Nannygoat Path was stranded in an awkward high-traffic corner, with not a lot of people using it anyway. So eventually, the top and bottom of the hill were fenced off, and over time, largely forgotten.

But this is critical: the Nanny Goat path right-of-way remains City of Ottawa property.

Imagine with me…

Now that Laurier is the major East-West bike route through downtown, and the Albert / Scott corridor has long been identified as the ideal place for a major East-West bike way, this hill would be a poker-straight connection between those routes.

Certainly, the grade is still steep, so it would be a hard climb and a fast descent, so switch-backs, road crossings, and connections at the bottom would need to be considered.

But even if it never became a bike-route, at the very least, this path should be resurrected as a pedestrian path. What do you think? Crazy? Possible?

Here are a couple of Google Map grabs showing the rough route (red shapes).

10 replies on “Ottawa stories: The return of Nanny Goat Path (maybe?)”

 @modalmom Sorry, I tried editing your comment, but my edits don’t seem to be getting across from WordPress to LiveFyre. But if it helps: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, IGNORE THE COUNTRY MENTIONED ABOVE!!!! Better?

 @DenVan We can make car elevators in the Lebreton condos, we can figure out a nice way to get walkers and bikes up and down the hill.  Hold on, whereabouts is that LRT thing poking through?

I had a quick look at how steep this would be. It depends a bit on where you measure from and to, but I looked at a distance of 88m which goes from 65m of elevation to 82m. That’s a grade of about 18%, which is about the steepest short grade in the Tour de France. This certainly isn’t impossible to bike up and down (in San Francisco there’s some pretty common 20% hills), but telling people to take these routes will make you unpopular quickly. As a straight line, Col de Nanny Goat Path a very poor bike route.
(I’m a big fan of biking up very long, steep hills and travel the world to find 1500m climbs. But I can’t seem to sell this idea to others.)
And how about switchbacks? By comparison, the switchbacks between the Corktown Bridge and U of O covers an 18% grade but is a quarter of the height. You’d need a wider path to build it, and I don’t know how wide the right of way is. It is probably too narrow.
An elevator (like the one I used in Saumur, France (not Finland)) could work well. Good luck getting the city to try something new, though. That’d be my preferred solution.
But! There’s been some talk about how to get people sanely from the Albert St. MUP to the Laurier SBL. In side conversations over the years, I know there’s an idea to redo Commissioner’s St to be usable for cyclists (a 7% grade over 150m), then connect it to a diagonal path through the former Ottawa Tech grounds. It gets a side mention in the May, 2012 Downtown Moves presentation on page 31.
The tool I’m using for my calculations is . I can never find where the Downtown Moves presentation is.

Thanks for all the work on that Alex! I’d wondered about the grade. And 18% is steep, but not as outrageous as I’d feared. The question is: will it be more annoying to go up a steep-ish slope (and if you look at the new images I added, I do think the wide right of way would allow for at least gentle switchbacks) or a longer round-about route that crosses a couple of major roads? Dunno. Just throwing it out there.

[…] It seems to me to be a lot of effort and circuitous perambulations to get to a point that is just a few hundred feet east of where you started on Albert. For not much benefit. Here’s an historic photo I stole  from Urbsite that shows what a straight line Laurier is (from the top of the hill) to the section of Albert on the Flats down below. A staircase up this hill might have been worth it, but not the circuitous one now suggested by the city, which sends one on a long detour to get to this spot. The merits of this route is discussed in […]

75 No Problem Gee Wiz! It was a path. It should still be a path. Of course if you sit behind a computer all day or just lay about all day, it might be a bit much for you to walk up the path. It would seem that people in the early 1900s didn’t have that problem.
Put it back and it will be used.

My father had an apartment on perkins street , I asked him why is it called Nanny goat hill.
My dad told me not to many people can climb nanny goat hill a lot of people must have tried at one time or another, who know’s. All I no is my dad told me you would have to be a goat to climb this hill. If you made it to the top with out the path and lived to tell about you had an angel on your shoulder that day, If you fell down that hill from the top pray to God you live to talk about it. I never tried my dad put the fear of God in me that day on perkins street.

My brother and our friends would use this path all the time as children in the 70s. We were always a bit afraid it was haunted mainly because at the time there was so much overgrowth and it was always dark no matter the time of day you entered the path. I do hope it’s brought back though. It saddened me to see it closed off the last time I was in the area.

Comments are closed.