NCC Horror Stories

The Woodburn Dairy Farm

The Woodburn Dairy Farm: Greenbelt history left to rot

The Ottawa Citizen -- Final
City October 22, 1999

NCC criticized for neglecting heritage homes and barns
Ken Gray

The National Capital Commission has allowed a number of historic buildings in the Greenbelt to decay -- some to the point of collapse.

A Citizen search through an NCC list of 16 sites in the Greenbelt containing historic homes, barns and other structures revealed a host of serious problems: sagging foundations, pillars and beams; missing portions of roofs; partially collapsed walls; fire damage; missing doors and windows; and sites overgrown with vegetation.

"I'm sad to see nothing has been done to preserve the buildings," said Barry Padolsky, a prominent Ottawa architect and heritage consultant. "It's a scandal."

Indeed, the NCC itself once condemned the neglect of the buildings, and urged immediate action almost 20 years ago.

A massive, two-volume NCC study conducted in 1982 of Greenbelt heritage buildings recommended urgent repairs to preserve structures and suggested the creation of a strong maintenance and management program.

"Heritage buildings in the Greenbelt have been badly neglected over the years," the Greenbelt Heritage Research study said. "We discovered in our research recommendations for repairs made 15 and 20 years ago that still need to be undertaken."

"The log buildings are for the most part salvageable, but work on the foundations and roofs will have to be performed in the near future or severe deterioration will occur," the report warned.

NCC officials were unable to say what action was taken by the commission following the report. The Citizen found 12 historic barns on Greenbelt land in Nepean and Gloucester. All were in need of major repairs.

While few of the heritage buildings are irrecoverable, according to Mr. Padolsky, at least one old log barn in Nepean is on the brink of collapse and loose boards at the top of the barn wave in the breeze, creating a potential hazard to passersby on the public land.

NCC heritage planner Johanne Fortier said recently that she did not know whether any repairs had been done on the 16 sites containing historic buildings in the Greenbelt.

She did say more studies are needed to determine the heritage value and condition of historic Greenbelt properties.

"I would have to do that second phase of research" to discover if any repairs had been done, Ms. Fortier said.

The Greenbelt was conceived by French urban planner Jacques Greber, who drew up a blueprint for the venture in 1950. In the two decades that followed, the NCC, a federal Crown corporation, gradually acquired the land that now makes up the Greenbelt.

Created to provide a 18,600-hectare ribbon of green around the nation's capital, much of the land was acquired through expropriation in the 1950s and '60s - a controversial, sometimes acrimonious, process.

Those bad feelings continue to this day.

Just last month, Gloucester farmer Doug Woodburn won a battle in Ontario Superior Court to stop the NCC from selling about $7- million worth of Greenbelt land at Blair and Innes roads.

The 9.3-hectare parcel was expropriated in 1963 by the NCC after the farm had been in the Woodburn family for more than a century. Mr. Woodburn then leased his family farm from the agency until 1994, when the NCC refused to renew the agreement and he moved off the land.

In 1997, the commission had the land rezoned commercial, raising its value, and declared it surplus, offering it for sale to developers.

The NCC rents much of its Greenbelt land to farmers and homeowners.

With the Greenbelt lands come the barns, sheds and homes of some of the area's earliest settlers.

Copyright The Ottawa Citizen 1999 All Rights Reserved.