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.
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?