copywright Glebe Report
by Karen Reynolds
When the Glebe Community Centre opens its doors on October 2,2004, it will be almost thirty years since the first official opening of the Centre was held on November 28, 1974. It has been thirty years of dedication, cooperation, compromise and at times controversy. The result has been the transformation of a stately heritage building into a vibrant community centre designed for the needs of our community – in the heart of our community.
Plans for a community centre in the Glebe began in 1972 when the Glebe Community Association (GCA) formed a Community Centre Committee, chaired by Elaine Marlin. The committee enlisted the help of Carleton University architecture student, Michael Lundholm, who took on the project as a thesis topic. Lundholm created a survey to be distributed to every home in the Glebe asking neighbours what they wanted in a community centre.
In the midst of this process the GCA became aware the city of Ottawa was considering the purchase of the St. James United Church as a site for a community centre. Though the GCA had considered the acquisition of St. James as a location for community office and meeting space, it questioned its adaptability for recreational programming. With no other existing facilities available and a lack of vacant building space for new construction, the GCA endorsed the purchase of the church. It was hoped recreation facilities might be provided at Lansdowne Park or in community schools. The city purchased the church for $300,000.00 and took possession of the
building on April 1, 1973.
From the beginning the community made it clear they wanted a say in both alterations to the building and the programs and activities to be offered in the new centre. To that end the Glebe Community Centre Council (GCCC) was formed, with Sandra Elwood elected as the first chair. The GCCC invited representatives from all interested Glebe groups to join its membership. The GCCC reviewed the results from Lundholm’s survey, which indicated a preference for a diversified community centre fostering a sense of community through activities of community interest and concern.
A daycare centre was listed as the top priority for services in the new facility and the Glebe Parent’s Daycare was established in the basement of the centre on May 1, 1973. The survey results also highlighted the need to renovate the church to make it usable as a community centre. Discussions began over how best to deal with the floor in the main hall which had been originally been built to slope towards the front of the church. The GCCC favoured a split-level design to create an amphitheatre effect while maintaining a large level area in the centre for dancing and active play. The design was approved and formed part of the first renovation of the centre in 1974, along with upgrades to the kitchen, washrooms and fire alarm system. With the focus shifting from renovation to programming, the GCCC changed its name to the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Council and soon after, the Glebe Neighbourhood Activities Group (GNAG). George Post was elected chair and the group was incorporated as a not-forprofit on April 25, 1975. Under the leadership of GNAG, in partnership with the city’s Recreation and Parks Department, the centre became a hub of activity offering special events and a full slate of cultural and recreational programs for all ages. In addition, the Pantry Restaurant opened in September 1975. As the activities and programs diversified GNAG’s chair, Rick Sheffer, proposed further alterations to the building. In 1979 the centre was renovated to add a darkroom, children’s craft room, pottery studio and an expanded Pantry.
Thereafter the building was maintained adequately to allow for safe programming but it became apparent a major renovation would be required to restore and preserve the building. The Glebe Community Centre Renovation Working Committee (GCCRWC), chaired by Jennie Aliman, was formed in 1994, with representatives from the city, GNAG the GCA and the community at large. For two years the committee worked to develop three options for the renovation of the centre with estimated costs ranging from $1.5-$4.5 million. Without warning plans for the renovation came to a halt when the city revealed a recommendation to close both the Glebe and the Ottawa
South Community centres and build a complex at Brewer Park to serve both neighbourhoods. Over 1200 residents from both communities marched to Lansdowne Park to participate in a public meeting over the proposal. The crowd boisterously voiced their opposition to the Brewer plan favouring distinct centres in the heart of their own communities. By the end of the meeting city officials withdrew the proposal. Following the victory at Lansdowne, city council approved funds to complete working drawings for the centre. Throughout 1997 the GCCRWC worked with city Project Manager Grant Peart and Barry Hobin architect Gord Lorimer to complete the design development phase of the project. To demonstrate community support for the project, a Renovation Fund was established to pay for upgrades and enhancements to the proposed facility. T-shirts were sold at the 1996 Snowflake Special and a fundraising kick-off was combined with the celebration of the centre’s Heritage designation in March 1997. The Renovation Fund’s most successful initiative, the popular Taste of the Glebe, was established by then Mayor Jim Watson in 1999. For six years the renovation plans hung in limbo as budget roadblocks and the amalgamation of the city of Ottawa in 2000 delayed final approval. Throughout this period, GNAG, the GCA and members of the GCCRWC kept the renovation at the forefront appearing before city council at every opportunity.
Over a decade of community activism was rewarded when in January 2003 approval for the renovation was finalized and construction began the following September. On October 2, 2004, the community will gather to celebrate the reopening of the Glebe Community Centre. It will be a day of fun and festivities and an opportunity to reflect back with pride and gratitude on thirty years of a community’s commitment to its beloved community centre.
NOTE: Another article about the history of the Glebe Community Centre featuring much of the earlier history of the building, can be found on page 17 of the March 2016 issue of the Glebe Report. Click here to access.