Planning for Island Park began seven decades ago
BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL
Staff Seventy years ago this summer, the groundwork was laid for the creation of one of Alexandria’s most popular seasonal venues.
“Ottawa authority likes the island” boasted a headline on the front page of the June 17, 1949 edition of
The accompanying article went on to explain that J.A. Dulude, the City of Ottawa’s commissioner of parks and playgrounds – speaking to council and representatives from local service clubs at a recent engagement in Alexandria – “highly recommends the Island site for a playground and park in Alexandria.”
Mr. Dulude added that if “this body of water and adjacent land was near Ottawa it would be worth a hundred thousand dollars” – equivalent to approximately $1.1 million in 2019.
He was apparently so impressed with the spot’s potential that he even offered to return to town “to assist in laying out the grounds after a survey had been made.”
Of course, the valued parcel of property to which Mr. Dulude was referring is what came to be known as Island Park.
And while the files of don’t seem to offer up any evidence that Commissioner Dulude ever fulfilled his promise to provide assistance with the park development project, his comments definitely appeared to light a fire under local municipal leaders.
By the middle of the following month, council had established a committee to negotiate the purchase of the Island property from the estate of A.G.F. Macdonald, which council ultimately agreed to do at the end of August, at a cost of $2,100.
The July 29 issue of stated that the aforementioned committee would “meet almost at once to start a plan” on the park/playground project.
During a special (budget) meeting of council in April 1950, building a road (via Derby Street) to, as well as the landscaping of, the park and playground – at a total cost of $4,000 – was among the capital projects introduced for the upcoming year. By early summer, work on the project was underway in earnest, with reporting on July 7 that “many of our citizens spent the Monday holiday” – Dominion Day had fallen on Saturday that year – watching a Menard Construction Company dragline excavator in operation at the site, cleaning up the shoreline and removing stumps and other debris.
Further details regarding how the park was going to take shape were also presented, as readers learned that “two small islands will be raised above the normal water line, a sandy beach will be laid off the park shoreline,” and that a bulldozer was to be used to “cut down protruding hillocks and fill depressions.”
Work on the road connecting the park to Derby Street – a project involving the reuse of excavated stone and earth from the western shoreline of the park property – was also well underway. And even though “an oldfashioned stoning bee” held on July 19 to aid in smoothing the grounds and clearing the site of stones failed to attract the manpower organizers had hoped it would, “some twenty men worked throughout the afternoon and quite a few loads of stone went into the area to be filled.”
On July 28, reported that the official opening of the park and playground was set for Labour Day (September 4) and that plans were being developed for “a big afternoon.”
When that day arrived, approximately 5,000 people turned out – despite colder than usual temperatures and heavy rain showers in both the afternoon and evening – to participate in, or watch, a variety of activities, including motor boat races, diving and swimming exhibitions, fireworks, and a chicken race.
Human participants in the poultry dash had to “drive or persuade their” respective fowl over a 100yard course – a competition in which Kenyon township Reeve John D. MacLean “proved the warmest persuader.”
Among the throng on hand for the park’s official opening was Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs George Dunbar who delivered the “principal address” and also assisted Alexandria Mayor R.J. Graham in the obligatory ribboncutting ceremony. Mr. Dunbar was quite impressed with the park, stating that it was “indeed an honor and a privilege to see the good work which has been accomplished by this wonderful little town.”