Created By: Douglas T Stiff
Britannia Park’s origins lie in the Ottawa Electric Rail Company’s (OERC) decision to create a dedicated park along the Ottawa River in 1893. Construction of the park began in 1898 and its grand opening, on May 15, 1900, was attended by 12000 to 15000 visitors. The park’s beaches, bathing and boating facilities were unparalleled by other sites in Ottawa. As such, the park proved immensely popular and rapidly became an established summer resort destination, significantly influencing the region’s development with cottage-style residences constructed between older properties in Britannia Village in early 1900.
Full trolley service to the park began on May 24, 1900, extending rail service from their West End Park station on Holland Avenue. From Ottawa’s downtown post-office (Sparks and Elgin St., SW of National War Memorial) the trip to Britannia Park by OERC’s trolley lines took approximately 30 minutes, at an initial cost of 10 cents (later reduced to standard 5 cents after costs for Britannia line recovered). Beyond Preston St. (then the limits of the City of Ottawa), the trolley line made three stops at Westboro, Barry’s Wharf and Baker’s Bush, taking a total of 8 minutes, as it travelled through gently undulating country and riverside areas.
With the park’s success and large number of visitors, OERC continued improving park amenities. For example in 1904 alone, OERC:
Mass-production of the automobile led to the gradual decline of the park from the 1920s to the 1940s, as individuals were no longer confined to activities along existing rail lines. This led to the closure of many private amusement parks, including those operated by OERC (e.g. West End Park) and their rivals (e.g. Aylmer Park). However, the diversity and popularity of Britannia Park enabled its persistence, despite an apparent decline in conditions and amenities during this period. By 1948, the City of Ottawa concerned with OERC’s financial conditions took over their operations and properties, including Britannia Park, making it a public park thereafter.
With this transition the park experienced a brief renaissance in the 1950s. Decrepit amenities were removed or renovated, the base of the OERC’s pier was expanded to increase the park’s area and new attractions such as a small steam train amusement ride were constructed. However, by the 1960s and 1970s, methods for weed control on the beach, which included bulldozing, rocksalts and other chemicals had polluted the waters and general neglect of maintenance prompted the park’s further decline. At this time, the park was threatened by two development proposals. The first was to extend the Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway along the existing Canadian Pacific Railway right-of-way which cut through the park (now the TransCanada Trail), while the second was a proposed bridge linking Aylmer to Ottawa through the park. The site was cleaned up and rejuvenated in subsequent decades, as local urbanization and densification highlighted the ever-increasing importance of maintaining this multi-purposed public park.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Britannia Village History