Camping out for Canada Day 150

The City of Ottawa is looking to establish temporary campsites throughout the city to accommodate the crush of visitors during the peak of Canada 150 celebrations next summer, Centretown News and iPolitics have learned.

“In speaking with staff, they are in the preliminary planning stages with regard to the possible use of parks and space around public buildings to accommodate visitors for the Ottawa 2017 celebrations over the Canada Day long weekend,” said Somerset Coun. Catherine McKenney, whose ward encompasses much of the downtown core.

“It is my understanding that the downtown core is not the area of focus for this purpose.”

A source close to the sesquicentennial planning process, who asked not to be named, had a different take on the situation.

“The city is going to try and relinquish some land downtown and look at ways to accommodate families, primarily, in the downtown core,” the source said.

The source said details of the plan have yet to be finalized, but noted that the city is looking at prime locations close to the action around Parliament Hill.

“They’re looking at opening up opportunities around public buildings, where people can park their trailer and pitch a tent.”

This development comes after Centretown News and iPolitics reported that nearly every hotel in downtown Ottawa is already sold out for the July 1st weekend next summer. Only five hotels showed any vacancies between June 29 and July 3, with an average nightly rate of $610 for a standard room – a price tag far out of reach for the vast majority of Canadians. But that sum pales in comparison with the cost of a bed at the capital’s ritziest address, the Fairmont Château Laurier — where rates for a basic room start at an astonishing $900 per night.

It’s not known which sites the city is looking to transform into interim campsites, but it doesn’t appear that any land controlled by the National Capital Commission is on the list. The NCC, which oversees much of the Ottawa’s downtown greenspace, says it hasn’t been approached by the city, adding that a number of prominent locations — including Major’s Hill Park, located right next to Parliament Hill — are already being used to host events associated with the main Canada 150 bash.

City officials declined to provide further details but confirmed that wheels are in motion at City Hall for a solution to the hotel crunch.

“The City of Ottawa and the Ottawa 2017 Bureau are working collaboratively on initiatives to accommodate the influx of visitors during peak periods in 2017,” said Dan Chenier, the city’s general manager of parks, recreation and cultural services. “Plans will be announced in due time.”

“We’re working on alternative sources of accommodation in the downtown core to assist with the demand,” said Steve Ball, co-chair of the Ottawa 150 bureau and president of the Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association.

Ball said organizers are doing their best to ensure the party is financially accessible for a large number of Canadians.

“We are conscious of trying to be as accommodation-friendly as possible, particularly at Canada Day,” he said.

The source said the city of Ottawa will announce its final campsite strategy soon, but cautioned there is still much work and consultation to be done before it’s made public.

“There are lots of hoops and details and things that need to be checked first before we can go ahead,” the source said.

Residents living downtown will have to wait to see how the city would deal with the many problems that might come with having an onslaught of campers invade public spaces around Parliament Hill — problems involving sanitation, water supply, electricity, the orderly allocation of spots and, most importantly, security.

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