Central Experimental Farm National Historic Site Management Plan (8 of 20)

II.5 - Existing site resources

Urban Setting

The Central Experimental Farm is one of a series of key federal properties that are interconnected by a series of federal parkways to Parliament Hill. These sites form a unique overlay on the urban landscape of Ottawa, establishing a separate identity through the use of distinctive architectural and landscape treatments. Unlike the regular grid of the civic realm, with its classical and neoclassical architecture, the federal realm is marked by a more romantic and picturesque approach to both architecture and landscape. These federal sites were developed independently throughout the late 19th century, and then tied together in a brilliant scheme of scenic driveways, overseen by the Ottawa Improvement Commission with the help of landscape architect Frederick Todd.

The Central Experimental Farm was one of these elements. It faced northeast towards Parliament Hill, and adopted a picturesque style of landscape and a romantic arts and craft style of architecture to establish its federal identity. The Rideau Canal Driveway (now the Queen Elizabeth Driveway) was completed in 1904 and ran from Cartier Square to the Experimental Farm. The Ottawa Improvement Commission constructed a causeway across Dow's Lake to join the Experimental Farm with the Driveway.

The distinctiveness of the parkway system has been somewhat undermined in recent years, by increasing use of these roadways as regional arterials and civic roadways.

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Aerial Photo of Central Experimental Farm (CEF), 2002
[Source: Canadian Aerial Photo Company]

In terms of the civic landscape, the Farm is surrounded primarily by residential and institutional land uses, as opposed to commercial or industrial. These are compatible with the institutional character of the Farm landscape, and provide potential links to its research and recreational aspects.

Transportation and Circulation Patterns

The circulation patterns were carefully designed in the 1880s to provide a logical sequence into the site, and to highlight the character of the various zones.

Prince of Wales Drive was the key entry route, providing a link from Parliament Hill and the federal core in downtown Ottawa. It entered the site from the northeast and connected to Highway 16 to the south. Originally referred to as the Ottawa-Prescott Highway, it continues to be a link between areas to the south and the downtown core. The National Capital Commission still labels it as a "scenic entry" into the National Capital for visitors. However, the heritage character of the corridor is deteriorating. The balance between soft landscape and hard landscape has shifted towards an inappropriate hard landscape character through road widening and removal of edge plantings. The intended continuity between Queen Elizabeth Driveway and Prince of Wales Drive has been obscured by developments between Preston Street and the Farm property. Proposed widenings would further undermine its parkway character. And the traffic circle has become a barrier to movement across the Farm property rather than a connecting focus.

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Aerial Photo of Prince of Wales Drive, 2002
[Source: Canadian Aerial Photo Company]

The Driveway running west from Prince of Wales and eventually connecting to Island Park Drive retains its parkway character in the western part of the site but has been inappropriately widened and reconfigured in the core area of the Farm. This link was part of a picturesque driving route from Parliament Hill south along the Rideau Canal to Dow's Lake, west across the Central Experimental Farm, and then north along Island Park Drive and across the Champlain Bridge to Hull and Gatineau Park.

The access road from Prince of Wales into the core area, at the northeast corner of the site, was originally fitted with a gate and considered a primary entrance to the site. It led up a meandering drive to the Director's Residence, the most imposing of the original buildings in the central compound. This entry road has become a minor access, available only to southbound traffic, to a parking lot for the Sir John Carling Building complex. This has significantly altered the patterns of access to the core. The rest of the road network north of the Driveway has remained relatively unchanged, but the detailing is no longer consistent. Unfortunately, the entrance off Carling at Irving Place has been widened several times, and now encroaches on the landscape of the Observatory complex. So too has the portion of the Driveway just west of Prince of Wales and in front of the Agricultural Museum. The road system south of the Driveway has been disrupted by the Museum operation, with its perimeter fencing to control access.

On the east side of Prince of Wales, the arboretum parkways have remained essentially intact, with their lookouts. However, parking areas have expanded. The road system in the field areas remains similar in character to its earlier forms. Local alterations have been made over the years to reflect evolution in field research patterns.

Fisher and Merivale have been modified to accommodate significantly more vehicular traffic, and any further widening of Fisher threatens the integrity of the surviving shelter belt dating back to the early years of the Farm landscape. Almost all of the shelterbelt along Carling has been removed.

Overall, the internal road and pathway systems have survived relatively intact, but the circulation patterns have been disrupted by the different custodians who want to control access in their own areas.

Landscape Resources

The landscape resources of the Central Experimental Farm are a key to its cultural value and its legibility. The original founders of the Farm saw utility and beauty as interrelated measures of agricultural success, and the landscape resources reflect this understanding.

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Arboretum, 2002 [Source: Canadian Aerial Photo Company]

The nature of the landscape, and the character of its resources, varies considerably across three zones - the entry zone, the core zone, and the support zone.

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Historic Greenhouses [Source: PFS]

The entry zone has a picturesque character defined by a predominance of soft landscape. The most prominent feature is the Arboretum, a collection of trees begun by William Saunders at the time of the Farm's inception, and maintained as a scientific collection ever since. The Arboretum, as originally conceived, continues across Prince of Wales and penetrates the core area around some of the key residential and institutional buildings. At the north end of this area is the hedge collection, and at the south end the ornamental gardens with their horticultural collections, both part of the scientific landscape as conceived by Saunders and developed by him and his successors. The Arboretum is at a critical stage with its research value increasingly in question. Recent tree plantings, undertaken for a variety of commemorative and aesthetic purposes, have not always continued the logic of the original intentions.

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Agricultural Building [Source: PFS]

The core zone has more of a balance between hard and soft landscape. The hard landscape is a combination of architectural features, roads and parking lots, fences, signs, and parking lots. These have become increasingly disorganized, with a wide variety of types and treatments. With multiple users, there are different and sometimes conflicting messages being communicated to the public. There are also problems with the soft landscape, which relies on a combination of continuous lawn areas with a wide variety of tree, hedge, and ornamental garden plantings for establishing and maintaining the more ordered character of the core. The continuity between the Arboretum tree plantings southeast and northwest of Prince of Wales Drive is no longer as obvious as it was, in part because the road itself has become more of a barrier than a connector. The hedge plantings and the extensive ornamental garden plantings are also caught between the original holistic understanding of these collections and a more recent separation of aesthetic and scientific considerations.

The support zone, with its open field pattern, is perhaps the least changed of the key areas. Although the details of the plantings change from season to season, and from year to year, the intentions are similar and the research activity still provides a logical and legible framework.

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Support Zone [Source: PFS]

Individual landscape elements are valued and inventoried as part of the scientific landscape of the farm, but are not individually recognized for their historical or associative value.

Architecture Resources

Unlike the landscape resources, many of the architectural elements on the Farm - the buildings and engineering structures - have been individually assessed for heritage value. Some of them, such as the Main Dairy Barn and the Cereal Barn, are significant landmarks in their own right. Most of them have a collective value as part of a larger complex. The rich Arts and Crafts style of the early layer of buildings provided an important counterpoint to the picturesque landscape of the entry zone and the more ordered landscape of the core. They illustrated the convergence of beauty and utility that so interested Saunders and the other Farm builders. Subsequent buildings have sustained this romantic image through the use of Tudor Revival and other related styles and through careful disposition of the buildings within the various landscape settings. The more functional buildings have occurred at the boundary between the core zone and the support zone, further reinforcing the logic of the original design.

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Cupola of Museum Building [Source: PFS]

The architecture is important both at a distance and close up. From a distance, the core complex of barns and related residential and institutional structures provides a village character within the larger rural landscape character of the site. The Central Dairy Barn acts as a central point of reference. From close up, the variety of textures and colours in the architectural finishes - wood shingle, board and batten, half-timber, stucco, brick and stone - further complements the richness of the landscape.

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Buildings Alongside National Capital Commission (NCC) Driveway [Source: PFS]

The FHBRO recognized buildings have interest individually, but they also create important compounds within the Farm. The model farm complex south of the Driveway, now the heart of the Canada Agriculture Museum, juxtaposes a number of similar late-19th and early-20th century barn types and research facilities to create a rich complex of indoor and outdoor spaces. Fires have damaged some of the elements of the original composition but key components survive. North of the Driveway is a collection of early residences in an elaborate shingle style with a compatible collection of Tudor Revival style institutional buildings. These buildings still provide a coherent campus around a central green. Further north, the special architecture of the Observatory compound, and the more functional architecture of the research facilities, create smaller identities within the landscape.

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Observatory [Source: PFS]

Many of the individual buildings have undergone modifications over the years, but this has been part of sustaining the relationship between the buildings and a working landscape. Most of them continue to provide essential services to the research activities on the Farm and to other interested parties such as the Agricultural Museum who are attracted by their association with the history and evolution of the Farm.

Saunders Building
Saunders Building [Source: PFS]

The Sir John Carling Building (designed by Hart Massey for the federal Minister of Agriculture) has been a landmark building in the region because of its size, scale and prominence relative to other buildings on the farm. The building's original design was comprised by decisions and changes made at the time of its construction.

Insect Building

Central Experimental Farm
Aerial View of the Central Experimental Farm (CEF), 1963


One of the strengths of any scientific undertaking is its access to data through record-keeping and, in the case of survey sciences, specimen collecting. Many of the records and collections at the Central Experimental Farm have acquired high scientific as well as historic value due to their age, their association with scientists of national and international stature, their curatorial integrity, and their beauty. The collections represent a wealth of diversity, both in terms of subject breadth and biodiversity. Some collections are active; others are static.

The prime active collections on site are:

  • Canadian National Collection of Insects and Arachnids
  • National Vascular Plant Herbarium
  • National Mycology Herbarium
  • Canadian Fungal Collection
  • Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) Library
  • Arboretum Specimens
  • Arboretum records, including ledger books, file cards and plans
  • Ornamental Garden specimens
  • Ornamental garden records
  • Scientific records documenting field research.

With the exception of those related to the Ornamental Gardens and Arboretum, the collections described above are part of current scientific programs. There is potential to reintegrate records and specimens of the Arboretum and Ornamental Gardens into research programs. In all cases the collections, like the Central Experimental Farm (CEF) itself, provide a window into the history of Canadian science and agriculture.

Some important static collections are located off-site:

  • At the National Archives of Canada
    • Archival documents
    • Audio-visual records
    • Ledgers for the Arboretum and Ornamental Gardens
    • Historic plans
    • Historic photographs
    • Botanical drawings
    • Architectural drawings
    • Posters
    • Records related to the Dominion Observatory.
  • At the Canada Agricultural Museum and Museum of Science and Technology

    • Botanical prints and sketches
    • Historic photographs
    • Machinery prototypes and models
    • Customized and custom-made machinery
    • Brochures and posters
    • Astronomical instruments from the Dominion Observatory.

There is uncertainty about the long-term sustainability and accessibility of some of these collections, particularly those that are still evolving in relation to research needs and interests. All collections should be inventoried, catalogued, conserved and maintained according to either scientific standards or to cultural resource management principles. Some should be repatriated on site.

Farm-Within-A-City Resources

The Central Experimental Farm (CEF) is a rare example of a farm located near the centre of a large urban area. On a cultural level, its attributes include large expanses of research fields on what would otherwise be an unpunctuated suburban landscape. The scale of the site improves spatial literacy for people who drive and walk through it. On a scientific level, the CEF lands represent an interface between the urban and rural, where it may be possible to develop scientific programs focused specifically on increasing agricultural productivity in edge zones or developing a deeper understanding of urban environmental conditions.

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Eastern Cereal and Oilseed Research Centre (ECORC) Field Work

Environmental Resources

The Natural Open Space System (NOSS) report, prepared by the City of Ottawa, identifies a number of significant natural resources on or adjacent to the Central Experimental Farm site. The Arboretum ranks in the highest category for social value, reflecting the importance Ottawa residents attach to this area for its visual and natural relief, and for its contribution to the quality of life in an urban context. The NOSS study recommends protection of the Arboretum, an adjacent open water wetland habitat, two nearby watercourse reaches, and the CEF woods near Fisher Avenue. It also provides suggested management guidelines.