The tour will follow city sidewalks.
. . . or How MacKenzie King learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Totalitarians.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story.
It’s the story of a huge monument to those who died in foreign lands—a public memorial looking for a final resting place. It is a tale of a misappropriated public space that was supposed to become something else. It is a story of a leader playing God with a capital city and pandering to the demands of a voting base with deep wounds—and (not incidentally) deep pockets. It is a tale of a single-minded tyrant ignoring cries of dismay from loud reporters, an angry mayor, and countless experts—and acting over the objections of the very organization that was supposed to be in charge of planning such things. It is a tale of well-meaning decisions that led to the senseless killing of a vibrant, and important, urban place in Ottawa.
The monument in question? The National War Memorial, and the leader? William Lyon McKenzie King.
Surprised? Well so was local storyteller and gadfly-at-large Dennis Van Staalduinen, who will lead this two-hour walk to trace the degrees of separation between King, the idealistic bachelor and wannabe urbanist, his giant monument (which Van Staalduinen really likes), and the even bigger space-killer destined for the Courthouse lawn further to the West (about which Van Staalduinen will politely decline to express an opinion for the moment). Along the way, we’ll conjure the bones of a few famous dead Europeans, and discover the rough but vibrant city that once thrived along Wellington Street – including two houses full of “friendless women,” a candy factory, and two breweries—all on the same block! And yes, we’ll talk about how political choices and priorities from on high shape how we perceive, enjoy, and occasionally dread, parts of our city. How much death can one city take? Let’s find out together.
Note change to starting point: Meet at Confederation Park, north side of Laurier across from City Hall plaza. We've shifted the start to avoid the Poutine Fest on the plaza in front of City Hall. Of course, feel free to pick up some poutine to bring along as street food. We'll meet at the north end of the crosswalk from City Hall so we can see people who don't see this notice, and they can see us.
We’ll walk up to Wellington, then west on Wellington as far as the National Archives.
Dennis Van Staalduinen is a local storyteller, community activist, and co-founder of the Champlain Oaks Project. He thrives on discovering the hidden connections between cities, stories, and history. His walks of previous years have been well-attended and well received.