Tue. Jul 5th, 2022

A years-long revitalization of Laroche Park west of downtown Ottawa has provided an insight into the lives of working-class residents at the turn of the 20th century — thanks to everything they threw out.

In August, crews began transforming and reviving 95-year-old Laroche Park, a heavily used green space in the city’s Mechanicsville neighborhood, just south of the Ottawa River.

Since they revised the site, workers have also dug up centuries-old bottles, pottery, boots and animal bones — a testament to the park’s past history as a city dump.

“A lot of what came in here is actually coal and ash waste from people’s heating equipment,” said Erin Tait, an environmental remediation specialist in the city of Ottawa.

“But among it is everything else that people might have thrown out at the time.”

In the 1910s and 1920s, the land was used as a Stonehurst Avenue Dump, Tait said.

With municipal recycling and green trash programs in the distant future, the residents of Mechanicsville would put all manners with things in it, from old dolls and Listerine bottles to the carcasses of horses, cows and other farm animals.

Erin Tait, left, Ottawa City’s environmental remediation specialist, and Louise Cerveny, right, planner and project manager for the park and facility planning department, stand next to Laroche Park. (Trevor Pritchard / CBC)

“It was before people had cars, so a big part of our city life back then [involved] animals, ”Tait explained when she offered a tour of the sanitation site to a CBC reporter earlier this month.

“Disposal of animals that had died or been eaten – that was part of the waste stream at the time. It would be something typical of a landfill at this point, and we certainly see old bones in there.”

The city museum crews have also been on site and picked through the artifacts in hopes of preserving and perhaps one day showcasing them.

“By digging up a site of that size and with that kind of varied history to it, it’s inevitable that they’ll find some things,” said Dave Allston, a columnist with the Kitchissippi Times community paper and curator of the Kitchissippi Museum, a online history blog.

“I think it’s really cool that they … find some things, and even better, that they’re actually making an effort to preserve it and take a look at it.”

Many of the artifacts found during the revitalization of Laroche Park point to the origins of the working class in the Mechanicsville neighborhood, says local historian Dave Allston. (Trevor Pritchard / CBC)

‘Everything has a story’

The $ 7.5 million Laroche Park project also includes a new field house, and Allston said some of the artifacts could be shared there — or the city could commemorate the park’s past with a mural.

The plan is to open the new field house and part of the park next year and the rest in 2023, when the grass is strong and healthy, Kitchissippi Coun said. Jeff Leiper.

Although upgrading the park has been a priority for residents for some time, it is certainly not the only city park of environmentally unfriendly origin, he said.

“Many parks like this were built a very long time ago, under very different circumstances under different environmental regulations,” Leiper said. “They are built on fire sites. They are built on old industrial sites. They are built on in this case an old landfill.”

Tait said the work, which has also uncovered a large storm sewer running diagonally through the park, is likely to leave artifacts hidden, as crews will dig down a maximum of about half a meter.

It would be “prohibitively expensive,” she said, to dig up and excavate all the contaminated soil from the site, which is why the plan instead is to bury it under a hood with clean soil.

Still, Allston said he hopes further interesting artifacts will be uncovered, similar to the 18th-century sword discovered during the excavation of Lebreton Flats almost a decade ago.

“It would be a little nice if they had some really cool discoveries, rather than a few bottles,” he said. “But hey, everything has a story.”

Some of the bottles and other artifacts, probably from the early 20th century, that have been uncovered during redevelopment work in Ottawa’s Laroche Park. Before it was a park, the place was a city dump. (City of Ottawa)

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