Doucet: Queen Juliana Park should not be a parking lot

The Prime Minister has been quoted from Europe as saying he is concerned about the gap between promises of climate change and action. Well, there is no better example of that than his consent at the site of the new Civic hospital campus.

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Embassies and ambassadors usually do not have much to do with city councilors, which is understandable. As representatives of their country, they are interested in talking to people at the federal level. Roughly the only contact I as a city council member had with the embassy world was an occasional invitation to an art exhibition or social event when the embassy would fill a hall.

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The Dutch were different. We have collaborated on several projects. I met the young ambassador, his family and embassy staff, grew to know them a little and like them a lot. Maybe it was a hangover from the hungry times when their country was occupied during the war, but they did not like to waste anything and they were incredibly sustainable. They liked to think not only for today, but far into the future.

The sea dikes in the Netherlands are built for sea level rise and climate change in mind with a 1,000-year time horizon. In Ottawa, the first project we collaborated on was not so grand. These were some modest street signs along Queen Elizabeth Driveway designed for bicycles. They were not visually impressive. In a car you can pass them a hundred times and hardly notice them, but they are perfect for pedestrians or cyclists who move much slower and are closer to the curb. We installed a number of them along the driveway where the bike traffic is heavy.

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Another project was the famous “Man with Two Hats” statue at Dow’s Lake. Unlike the mushroom signs, this statue is the size of a tree and tall enough to never be missed. The sculptor was inspired by a photograph taken by a man standing next to the road waving two hats to celebrate the Canadians as they drove past in a victory parade at the end of the war. The actual man waving two hats was never identified, but the photograph of him went around the world.

For a small country, the Netherlands has a large presence in Ottawa. There is of course the spring tulip festival, which was started with a gift of tulips from Holland. There is Queen Juliana Park, named after the Dutch girl who sought refuge in Ottawa during the war and later became queen. The most important thing is that there is a real love between the citizens of the two countries, who remember the many Canadians who died in the muddy fields of Holland.

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When I look back on my 13 years as a city councilor, I remember these small events that I attended with the Dutch ambassador vividly. On at least one of them we were on bikes and it was raining hard enough to soak the whole party. This is one of the many reasons why I am so opposed to the city’s current plan to transform Queen Juliana Park into a car park for the new Civic hospital development at Den Centrale Forsøgsgård.

My daughter tells me that I would have been a more successful mayoral candidate if I did not carry my heart so clearly on my sleeve. She’s probably right, but it bothers me a lot that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently visited the Netherlands as part of his COP 26 meetings, which were held to address climate change, while his government back in Ottawa allows Queen Juliana Park and more than 600 trees in the Maple Lane section of the yard to be chopped up into a hospital and high-rise buildings that don’t need to be there.

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The Prime Minister has been quoted from Europe as saying he is concerned about the gap between promises and action. There is no better example of that problem than Queen Juliana Park. He could have followed the advice of his own agency (NCC) and chosen Tunney’s Pasture for the hospital. It has no trees or cultural heritage value. But he did not.

In this time of COVID and climate change, urban green spaces are more important than ever, and so are friends. The Dutch are. We should preserve Queen Juliana Park in memory of the dark war years and the sacrifice of Canadian soldiers.

Clive Doucet is a former city councilor in the capital department, poet and author. His last book was Grandpa’s House, Returning to Cape Breton.

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