We have written previously about Thomas Seaton Scott, the builder and original resident of Albert House Inn Bed and Breakfast and touched briefly on his work in the landscaping of Parliament Hill. This post is about a long forgotten but very important landscape design of his and, at one time, a must see tourist attraction called “Lover’s Walk”. The following excerpt is from the history of the construction of the Parliament Buildings and grounds from Public Works and Government Services.
“Providing a proper setting for the new buildings was so important that the Governor General, Lord Dufferin, took a personal interest in getting it right. He suggested that the Chief Architect, Thomas Scott, go to New York to see Central Park. Urban parks were becoming all the rage. They offered stressed-out office or factory workers and apartment bound children a chance to experience nature and take a break from the hectic pace of city life. One of the best parks then and still today, was Central Park, designed by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. Scott toured the park with Calvert Vaux, Olmsted’s partner, who also drew up a plan for terraces, driveways and a fountain for the lawn of Parliament Hill.
When Scott returned to Ottawa, he set to work laying out the grounds using what he had learned in New York. Vaux’s terrace walls were designed to give the Centre Block more presence by creating an elegant base and sweeping approach driveways. At each side, a massive flag base and staircase framed the main building. The one problem in Vaux’s plan was the fountain at the foot of the centre staircase. Thomas Fuller complained that the fountain was a distraction and ought to be removed. When he became Chief Architect in the 1880s, one of his first projects was the removal of the fountain.
Scott had learned that a well planned park would offer people many different experiences. Vaux’s lawn was formal and structured. Behind the buildings, Scott created a more relaxed area for strolling, admiring the view and enjoying the exotic floral displays created by skilled gardeners. These Pleasure Grounds had benches, a charming summer pavilion and commemorative statues of Canadian statesmen. This was Nature, tamed and improved by Man.
For untamed Nature, the public could follow a pathway cut into the face of the escarpment along an old raftsmen’s trail. This feature was first created in the 1860s and had always been popular. It was a perfect fit into Scott’s park. He built stairways from the Pleasure Grounds, look-out platforms, washrooms and water fountains for the convenience of the public. Known as Lovers’ Walk, it was a welcome escape from the city streets into the cool shade. “A more charming stroll for man or maid, lover or misanthrope, could not be wished for … shut off from the city life and embowered in trees”.”
Here is a wonderful description of “The Lover’s Walk” from a tourist publication (date unknown).
Today, sadly, not much remains of this charming pathway. There were plans not too long ago to revitalize the walkway and surrounding area behind Parliament Hill and we hope that it will still happen so guests of Albert House Inn Bed and Breakfast and all visitors to Ottawa will be able to stroll along Lover’s Walk, enjoy the nature and the views of the Rideau Canal and the Ottawa River and perhaps recapture some of the magic of this wonderful, unique part of Ottawa’s heritage.