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Green Space and Parking at the Canadian Museum of Nature

Questions and Answers

Updated: December 2015

The following answers are in response to questions about parking and green space at the Canadian Museum of Nature, tied to recent developments with the west side of the museum.

Who owns the land?

The museum is proceeding with the landscaping and construction to complete the Landscapes of Canada gardens. Final plans were approved in spring 2015 by the National Capital Commission as part of the museum's design proposal for its site. Work began in late June 2015 and is expected to be completed in spring 2016.

Landscaping

Why is the west area fenced off?
The museum is proceeding with the landscaping and construction to complete the Landscapes of Canada gardens. Final plans were approved in spring 2015 by the National Capital Commission as part of the museum's design proposal for its site. Work will begin in late June and is expected to be completed by November 2015.

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The zones in the Landscapes of Canada gardens.

To complete the work and to allow for the plantings to take root, the entire park area of the museum's west side will be temporarily fenced off. Access will re-open in June 2016.

What are the Landscapes of Canada gardens?

As a national museum, the Canadian Museum of Nature proposed these gardens as a way to extend its programming and educational mandate onto the surrounding grounds of it site.

The gardens represent three distinct Canadian ecozones: Arctic tundra (the Arctic being an area of research expertise for the museum), prairie grasslands and boreal forest. For each zone, the museum is adding new plants or trees that can typically be found in those regions. All species that are native to Canada.

The design for the gardens comes from the expertise of CSW Landscape Architects Limited. The museum's own botanists also collaborated with CSW to identify species that will not only be representative of a distinct ecozone, but also able to grow in an Ottawa climate.

What is the scope of the work?
In general, the work involves:

  • excavation, soil preparation and grading
  • seeding, and planting of new trees, grasses and plants for the regions representing Arctic tundra, boreal forest and prairie grasslands
  • areas for "natural" play: log trail, tundra terrain, grasslands path
  • installation of an Arctic-themed sculpture (in autumn 2015)
  • relocation of the the museum's popular mammoth sculptures closer to the front of the museum along McLeod Street (in autumn 2015)
  • space in prairie zone for open-air classroom
  • benches, picnic area and pathway
  • educational interpretive signage (in 2016).

Will the mammoth sculptures remain on your site?
Yes, although around September they will be moved to a spot along McLeod Street, closer to front of the museum building. These popular sculptures, the backdrop for many photos, are almost 30 years old and are modelled after real mammoth remains found in Yukon and Siberia.

What is the Arctic sculpture?

It is an outdoor sculpture inspired by an iceberg and will be a focal point in the tundra ecozone of the Landscapes of Canada Gardens. The sculpture reflects the importance of the Arctic to Canada, to Canada's natural environment, and to the museum (which has a strong focus on Arctic research and exploration).

The sculpture is about 12 metres high and is made of stainless steel. The large size of the "iceberg" helps convey the natural differences in scale that define Canada's Arctic. It presents a stark contrast to the tiny plants that populate the Arctic where trees do not grow.

Who is the sculpture's artist?

The sculpture is designed by artist, adventurer and inventor William (Bill) Lishman. Lishman has a rare combination of experience as an artist and sculptor, as well as firsthand knowledge of the Arctic as an adventurer. Lishman has been to the Arctic and Antarctic about 15 times—and has photographed and studied icebergs, which inspired the sculpture. He describes that there are many shapes and sizes of icebergs, and he has tried to capture in the sculpture the general feel of icebergs as they flip, melt and freeze.

Will the area still be fully accessible to the public?
Yes. Once completed, the whole area for the gardens will be open to the public—whether museum visitors, or members of the community. There will continue to be benches, a picnic area and pathways.

The museum desires the landscaping to offer an outdoor exhibition experience that is educational and enjoyable. Interpretation signage for the different ecozones and the representative vegetation will be installed in 2016.

Some areas in the ecozones will encourage "nature" play for children: jumping over the log trail in the boreal zone, climbing over the boulders and around the sculpture in the tundra zone, or running through the prairie-grasslands trail. The gardens will also continue to welcome the public at large—from dog walkers (as long as they poop-and-scoop!), to those seeking a natural experience in an urban area.

What will happen to the grass lawn?
This area will be transformed into the prairie grasslands zone. Once the grasses grow in, a trail will be mown through the grasslands. A circular clearing will also be created to serve as a natural outdoor classroom area or gathering space.

What are some of the plants that visitors can expect to see?
All are species that are native to Canada. They were chosen because they represent species that are typically found in the the ecozones (boreal, prairie and tundra). Also, they are species that stand an excellent chance of growing in an Ottawa climate.

  • For the tundra zone, plants will include purple saxifrage (Saxifraga oppositifolia), Arctic willow (Salix arctica), and bearberry (Arctostaphylos sp.).
  • In the prairie zone, plants will include six species of grasses, as well as swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnate), purple cornflower (Echinacea purpurea) and prairie crocus (Pulsatilla ludoviciana).
  • The boreal zone will include trees and plants such as white spruce (Picea glauca), trembling aspen (Populus tremuloides), black larch (Larix laricina), jack pine (Pinus banksiana) and balsam fir (Abies balsamea).

What is the status of trees on the site?
The museum takes seriously the removal of any trees on its site (whether for health-and-safety reasons or others) and looks for mitigations where possible. In general, the plans for the Landscapes of Canada gardens include maintaining existing trees, as well as the addition of new greenery that includes trees, shrubs and plants.

The museum also continues to actively monitor the health and safety of trees on the site through its existing landscaping inspections.

Parking

How many parking spots does the museum have?
The museum now has 192 spots: 96 on the east side and 96 on the west side (about 6500 square feet in total). Prior to renovations in 2004, the museum had 176 parking spots (about 8000 square feet) in a ring that circled the museum.

How did the current plans for parking evolve?
Prior to renovations in 2004, the museum had 176 parking spots, centred in a ring that circled the museum. During renovations, the west side of the museum served as a staging area for construction. Permanent parking was moved to the east side of the museum (today there are 96 spots) and additional parking options were explored, one being underground parking. The goal for the west side was to landscape the parkland as green space, according to the site's Master Plan.

When the construction was completed in 2010, the museum continued to use the west side as temporary parking while it pursued plans for underground parking, in recognition of the fact that the parking on the east side would not be sufficient for visitors.

What is the current status of parking on the west side? (As of May 2015).
Following the submission of concept plans in September 2013, the museum received approval in principle from the National Capital Commission to proceed with the construction of a temporary, 96-space, surface parking lot on the west side of its property. This follows review of a proposed five-year concept for the area that also includes landscaping of green space.

Construction of this lot was completed in June 2014. The parking is considered a temporary measure that will require review in 2019 to assess its viability based on feasibility for underground parking.

Is underground parking an option?
Not at this time. Efforts for underground parking were made in 2008 and 2011 that showed that there was no business case. Then, following a meeting with the National Capital Commission in summer 2012, the museum issued an RFEI (Request for Expressions of Interest) for third-party developers of underground parking. Two proponents expressed an interest with reservations. The museum met individually with the two proponents and both confirmed their interest in working with the museum to construct, finance, maintain and operate an underground parking facility with a third party at the museum. Both proponents, however, also confirmed that the economic model presented was problematic and was a major impediment to the realization of the project; therefore, the museum did not move forward with this option.

What is the museum doing on the west side?
The museum's long-term Master Plan still includes the redesign of the west side to incorporate a park.

However, the museum needs to meet the needs of its visitors as a national museum and a national visitor destination in the National Capital Region. Since the museum reopened following renovations in May 2010, attendance at the museum has increased significantly, reflecting appeal for the new galleries, renovated spaces and its use as a community and visitor destination.

Now that underground parking is not feasible in the short or medium-term, on-site options for parking must be considered. The museum has had to make a difficult decision to use the temporary parking on the west side and create a more permanent structure to accommodate about 96 spots.

Will there still be a park on the west side?
Yes. Green space is important for both the museum's users and the community. The immediate plan is to create the Landscapes of Canada gardens on the west side. The museum's long-term Master Plan still includes the redesign of the west side to incorporate a park.

Is the museum following a Good-Neighbour Policy?
Yes. Contrary to some public statements, the museum is committed to following the Government of Canada's "Good-Neighbour" Policy of seeking municipal approvals where appropriate. During the six-years of renovations of the museum from 2004 to 2010, the museum presented the plans to the City of Ottawa on appropriate changes. The museum will continue to follow the policy where required.

Will you need approvals for changes to the site?
Yes. Proper procedures are being followed for approvals with the National Capital Commission. The museum will also seek approvals from the City of Ottawa, where applicable, on issues such as vehicular access and site management.

How is parking being used at the museum?
Parking on site at the museum is 24 hours per day and available for the public at large on an automated pay system. The majority of the users during daytime are museum visitors.

Museum staff who work at the museum downtown pay a monthly rate for parking.

During peak periods, mainly the summer tourist season from May to Labour Day, or holidays, such as spring break and Christmas holidays, we do not have adequate parking. When this is the case, visitors are directed to either street parking or nearby public parking lots.

Are there alternatives to parking on-site?
Throughout the renovations, the museum investigated other options to maximize the use of limited parking space. This included discussions with other organisations in the neighbourhood, such as the YMCA and local businesses. None of these options was viable for the long-term.

During peak periods, visitors or other users have been directed to local street parking or neighbourhood paid parking lots. Since 2010, two of these lots on McLeod have ceased to exist, with the construction of condominiums and office buildings.

What is the museum doing to encourage alternative transit?
The museum has bicycle racks on site, and promotes access by bus on Elgin Street and Bank Street on its web site. There are no transit stops in front of the museum; however, arrangements have been made with an Ottawa sightseeing bus company to stop at the museum as part of its regular schedule for tourists. For two years, the museum was part of the rental Bixi bike network. That network no longer exists, but the museum is open to similar parternships that may asise from other bike-sharing ventures.

The museum also continues to be part of bigger-picture, longer-term planning discussions and consultations with the City of Ottawa, the National Capital Commission and community groups about urban transportation and infrastructure.

How will you communicate about progress with the project?
Updates are provided through advisories to the neighbourhood and at nature.ca/west.

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