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November 15, 2013

Christopher Ryan: Dundonald: A park by any other name (Part 2)

A weekly feature from Christopher Ryan, a local photographer, blogger and researcher. It appears every Friday on our blog.

Dundonald Park, 1920s (Source: Library and Archives Canada/Department of the Interior (PA-034336)

This fence was a frequent target.
(Source: Library and Archives Canada, Topley Series SC, PA-010136)
As construction was completed during the early 20th century, Dundonald Park quickly became known around Ottawa as one of the City’s most beautiful. Maintaining that beauty came at a cost and the well-used park not only faced regular wear-and-tear, but was also the frequent target of vandals. For example, a November 1, 1927 report of Halloween damage to the park noted that “wire fences around the big bed of flowers which adorns the centre of the square were torn up and thrown around in the most wanton fashion.” A similar report from the Journal in 1937 spoke highly of the flower arrangements but lamented that “off duty” children frequently played in the flower beds, destroying the beauty. Demands for a greater police presence appeared to go unheeded.

Perhaps the result of local pressure to ensure that this does not happen, another dispute between the City and the Federal District Commission erupted. Although the City had been previously assessed as being on the hook to provide security for the park, the maintenance appears to have been treated with something of a light touch by both parties. Letters to the editor, decrying the park’s condition in both the Journal and the Citizen became common. By 1945, the Federal District Commission had decided to install a fence across the entrances to the park during the winter months to “keep children off the park and stop them from destroying the shrubs.” The city took a hands-off approach, electing to do nothing when nearby residents regularly broke the fence. The Commission did relent, but with the cryptic response of “we may not be so nice come summer.”

Ottawa Journal,
December 1, 1949
We often like to think of parks as reasonably permanent features in an urban area. They tend to be well-loved, ferociously defended, and legally protected. When Ottawa’s second City Hall was destroyed by fire in 1931, Dundonald Park was almost immediately pointed to as a potential location for the new facility. The story of Ottawa’s homeless city government is well enough known, but suffice to say, that Sword of Damocles hung over the park until the eventual site at Green Island was selected in the latter mid-1950s. As late as 1949, George Dunbar, the provincial Minister of Municipal Affairs expressed his preference for the Dundonald site. It is therefore fortunate that it is somewhat too small a lot for the seat of municipal government.

Following the Second World War, the normal community uses (and abuses) of Dundonald Park would come to be seen as somewhat less important – at least temporarily. Without going into great detail, the small walk-up apartment at 511 Somerset across from the park was home to Soviet cypher clerk Igor Gouzenko. In 1945, Gouzenko defected, demonstrating that the Soviet Union was indeed spying on Canada; in no small part to secure nuclear secrets from the United States. This event is widely considered to be the public beginning to the Cold War.

Gouzenko's apartment on Somerset (June 2013).
Meetings recorded by the
Kellock-Taschereau Commission (1946)
(click for full size)
The location of Dundonald not only close to Gouzenko’s apartment, but to other clerks involved and the Ottawa TASS (Soviet Wire Service) Office on Gilmour.This meant that it served as a convenient meeting place for Soviet and Canadian operatives alike. With the Red Menace plotting, children stomping on flowers suddenly became a little less concerning and the number of stories and complaints died down – at least temporarily. In recognition, both the City and Government of Canada installed plaques commemorating the affair about ten years ago. While you’re waiting for your Gooey Gouzenkodosa, you can take a gander.
As the realities of the Cold War set in, Centretown residents’ concerns returned to more parochial ones, filled with local intrigue, rather than international. A March 1965 report in the Journal described local complaints that teens were making out in the park. Unlike previous complaints, the Chief of Police quipped that the hedges surrounding the park made it “suitable for lovers.”

Today, Dundonald remains a well-loved oasis in Centretown enjoyed by one and all. Whether you’re there to escape the summer heat, to people watch, use the playground equipment on its west end (which was originally installed to some controversy in the early 1970s), or to catch an outdoor film screened by Centretown Movies, Dundonald is a Centretown jewel valuable to one and all.

-- Photos & text by Christopher Ryan 

See also: Ottawa History Guide
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