From bottles to bones, park remediation digs up Ottawa's century-old trash

·3 min read
Erin Tait, left, the City of Ottawa's environmental remediation specialist, and Louise Cerveny, right, planner and project manager for the parks and facilities planning department, stand next to Laroche Park. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC - image credit)
Erin Tait, left, the City of Ottawa's environmental remediation specialist, and Louise Cerveny, right, planner and project manager for the parks and facilities planning department, stand next to Laroche Park. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC - image credit)

A year-long revitalization of Laroche Park west of downtown Ottawa has provided a glimpse into the lives of working-class residents at the turn of the 20th century — thanks to all the stuff they threw out.

In August, crews began transforming and revitalizing the 95-year-old Laroche Park, a heavily-used swath of green space in the city's Mechanicsville neighbourhood, just south of the Ottawa River.

As they overhaul the site, workers have also dug up century-old bottles, ceramics, boots and animal bones — a testament to the park's previous history as a city dump.

"A lot of what came in here is actually coal and ash waste from people's heating equipment," said Erin Tait, environmental remediation specialist with the City of Ottawa.

"But in amongst that is everything else that people might have thrown out at that time."

In the 1910s and 1920s, the land was used as the Stonehurst Avenue Dump, Tait said.

With municipal recycling and green bin programs in the far-distant future, Mechanicsville residents would pitch all manners of items into it, from old dolls and Listerine bottles to the carcasses of horses, cows and other livestock.

Trevor Pritchard/CBC
Trevor Pritchard/CBC

"This is before people had vehicles, so a huge part of our city life back then [involved] animals," explained Tait, as she provided a tour of the remediation site's perimeter to a CBC reporter earlier this month.

"Disposal of animals who had perished or been consumed — that was a part of the waste stream back then. That would be something that is typical of a landfill of this time, and certainly, we're seeing old bones in there."

City museum crews have also been on the site, picking through the artifacts hoping to preserve and perhaps one day showcase them.

"Excavating a site of that size, and with that kind of varied history to it, it's inevitable they're going to find some things," said Dave Allston, a columnist with the Kitchissippi Times community paper and the curator of the Kitchissippi Museum, an online history blog.

"I think it's really cool that they are ... finding some things, and even better, that they're actually making an effort to preserve it and take a look at it."

Trevor Pritchard/CBC
Trevor Pritchard/CBC

'Everything has a story'

The $7.5-million Laroche Park project also includes a new fieldhouse, and Allston said some of the artifacts could be shared there — or the city could commemorate the park's past with a mural.

The plan is to open the new fieldhouse and part of the park next year and the rest in 2023 once the grass is strong and healthy, said Kitchissippi Coun. Jeff Leiper.

While upgrading the park has been a priority for residents for some time, it's certainly not the only city park with environmentally unfriendly origins, he said.

"A lot of parks like this were built a very long time ago, in very different circumstances under different environmental regulations," said Leiper. "They're built on the sites of fires. They're built on old industrial lands. They're built on, in this case, an old dump."

Tait said the work, which has also uncovered a large storm sewer running diagonally through the park, will likely leave artifacts hidden, as crews will only dig down about a half-metre at most.

It would be "prohibitively expensive," she said, to dig up and excavate all the contaminated earth from the site, which is why the plan is to instead bury it beneath a cap of clean soil.

Even so, Allston said he hopes additional interesting items will be uncovered, similar to the 18th-century sword unearthed during the excavation of Lebreton Flats nearly a decade ago.

"It'd be kind of neat if they had some really cool discoveries, rather than a few bottles," he said. "But hey, everything has a story."

City of Ottawa
City of Ottawa
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting