Picturing Lebreton Flats
Returning light, colour, and play to the site of Lebreton Flats, a formerly vibrant neighbourhood in Ottawa.
In the 1960s, the National Capital Commission expropriated the neighbourhood of Lebreton Flats, forcing businesses, schools, and communities elsewhere as part of an urban renewal project. While official explanations for the expropriation cited soil contamination from decades of industrial use, the federal government was also motivated by an impulse to "improve" the lives of people living in a low-income neighbourhood.
Ottawa artist Ralph Wallace Burton studied at the Banff School of the Arts as a student of Group of Seven Painter A.Y. Jackson. While he usually painted colourful oil scenes of life in the Ottawa Valley, he spent several months creating thirty oil sketches of urban life in Lebreton Flats before its expropriation and demolition began.
As part of an experiment in guerilla digital history, I combined the colourful paintings of Ralph Wallace Burton with films produced by the National Film Board as justification for the expropriation. I used a technique called "projection mapping" to enable the projection of multiple images or videos simultaneously onto complex backdrops like building facades and windows. In this case, I used construction hoarding, a display panel and a utility box. These evocative slices of life bring colour and play back to the site of a once-vibrant community.
Click through the gallery for more glimpses of the Flats between 1962-63. These are government photos from Library and Archives Canada, and while it is unclear for what purpose they were commissioned or collected, they reveal similar themes as those explored in this project - children playing, buildings before or during demolition - and are another view into the past.