Near the intersection of the city’s Little Italy and Chinatown neighbourhoods sits a field, roughly the size of a CFL football field. More than a mere playing surface, Plouffe Park has been an essential greenspace in the area for more than a century, according to the Dalhousie Community Association.

“It goes back a long time. People have been using that park forever,” said Ryan Turley, a resident of the area. “It’s been a place to meet up for a long, long time and make connections with other folks in the neighbourhood and to bring the community together.”

When the the city released a plan for the area in May, the greenspace, which is right next to Ottawa’s historic Plant Pool, was put in jeopardy. Initial city plans for the site in 2021 called for a mixed-use development on the adjacent 1010 Somerset St. W. site. The city had considered putting a French-language elementary school on the field. But the community didn’t give up its beloved park without a fight. 

“People are motivated to fight for what we need in our community,” said Jane Harley, a resident of Little Italy. “More green space, not less … We need to keep what we have, and for everyone.”

The community’s love of the park is reflected in the cultural importance of the space. More than just a grassy retreat, it is part of the very fabric of the area, both for families and businesses, according to Dalhousie Community Association president Catherine Boucher.

“They went there to play soccer, and they use the rink, their kids went there to play soccer and use the rink, so, you know, it’s generational,” Boucher said.

Boucher’s organization is one of a number of local associations, including the Plant Pool Recreation Association, that have formed the Plouffe Park, Plant Pool Expansion Coalition, or P4X.

In an article for the Centretown Buzz, Robert Smythe wrote that the park’s origins can be traced back to June 1902, when the city bought the land from Export Lumber Co.

According to Carol Sissons of the Plant Pool Recreation Association, over the years, the space has hosted circuses with live elephants and a recruitment centre during wartime periods.

However, by 1998, work had begun to transform the park from a pair of occasionally used baseball diamonds into a more family-friendly grass field, Sissons said.

“We decided that these … fields were no use for our kids to play on,” Sissons said. “[The] community came out with shovels, and they dumped us free sod, and we went to town.”

For over two decades, the field has remained a favourite destination for many young parents, such as Harley and Turley.

“Year-round, we use that park, and it’s very important to us because it’s so close,” said Harley, a mother of two. “My kids, my family, it’s very important for us to get out and get fresh air and move.”

The boards for a community skating rink are seen in Plouffe Park on Nov. 9, 2023, from a drone. [Photo © Liam Baker]

According to Boucher, the greenspace Plouffe Park offers will be more vital than ever as a large influx of new housing is expected in the area in the coming years. 

“Those people need a place to play and sit and have picnics and do whatever you do in greenspaces and parks,” said Boucher. “Which we’re hoping to help the city plan for our community.”

In 2021, the city purchased the 1010 Somerset St. W. property from the federal government. The acquisition coincided with the city’s Corso Italia Station District Secondary Plan, outlining redevelopment in the area surrounding the future LRT Line 2 Corso Italia station, which includes Little Italy, Chinatown and Hintonburg.

When the city bought the land, “the promise was an expansion of Plouffe Park all the way to the O-Train,” said Boucher.

A separate 1010 Somerset report stated that the acquisition of the property provided the city an opportunity to “expand the Plouffe Park and create a large community park as per the Secondary Plan.”

The city’s first proposal called for 1,000 residential units to be built within the 1010 Somerset development, including a new French-language elementary school in place of the park. A separate Ottawa Community Housing project known as “Gladstone Village” was slated to be built right next door. 

Concept Design for 1010 Somerset Development

An aerial view of the proposed development, including an expansion to the Plant Recreation Centre:

An aerial view of the concept design from Preston Street, including the proposed French-language elementary school

View of the proposed 1.2 hectare park and the LRT Trillium Line 2:

A layout of the conceptual 1010 Somerset Plan, as designed by Hobin Architecture

Images courtesy of the City of Ottawa and Hobin Architecture. For more details, please refer to the Concept Plan.

OCH Chief Development Officer Cliff Youdale said that the exact number of units within Gladstone Village is still to be determined but expects it to be between 1,000 and 1,200. 

According to Turley, as more developments proceed and the population increases, greenspace within the area will only become more precious. 

“We’re in a neighbourhood with some of the lowest greenspace to people ratio in the city,” said Turley, who also serves on the Dalhousie Community Association Board. “We have to be looking at expanding our greenspace and not cutting it.”

Many parents at nearby École élémentaire publique Louise-Arbour say a new location is sorely needed for students currently in the aging facility.  

Since 2017, the school has been located at 175 Beech St., in a building owned by the Ontario Catholic School Board. 

A petition for a new school location lists various concerns with the current building, including overcrowding and child safety due to “outdated infrastructure and insufficient facilities.”

Despite concerns over greenspace, Little Italy and Chinatown residents understand the importance of a new French-language school.

Turley, who originally hails from Quebec, says she thinks the two interests have been unfairly pitted against one another by the city. 

“I really empathize with the parents whose kids are currently at Louise-Arbour because obviously, that school is unfit to be used, and I think we need to be getting a new French-language school in the neighbourhood as soon as possible,” Turley said. “But I don’t think we should have to sacrifice our greenspace for it either.”

Counc. Ariel Troster’s office declined a request for comment but a message on her website stated that the community should not have to choose between a school and a park. 

Previously, the city discussed possible locations outside the 1010 Somerset development. One possible location was Gladstone Village, though these plans have since been abandoned, according to Youdale.

Despite the fact that the city’s latest plan calls for a new, larger park space located beside Plouffe Park, the new greenspace will not be an immediate replacement. Instead, according to Engage Ottawa’s website, the development of the park could take several years to begin, while the development of the school is scheduled to begin in the next year or two.

For parents like Turley and Harley, this could mean a lack of local playing fields and communal space for years to come.

“That’s a whole childhood that would be lost in the interim,” Turley said. “With our growing population, I don’t think it’s a big space that we can afford to lose for that length of time.”

But the loss of Plouffe Park is not a done deal. In an update on Engage Ottawa’s website, a survey regarding the 1010 Somerset concept plan received more than 1,100 responses. 

As such, the city will conduct a full review of the concept plan.

“I think that the level of engagement really shows how important the space is to our community,” Turley said.

Troster told CBC that the city is now revising its plan for the property at 1010 Somerset St. in response to “an overwhelming” amount of community feedback.

“The idea of putting the school in the middle of the park just didn’t fly with a lot of community members,” Troster said. “I really hope that we can come to a plan that the majority of the community can rally around.”