stuff gets examined.

Place du Portage and the Civil Service

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Spiffys Hull

Place du Portage I to III – the grand, butt-littered and otherwise unused entry staircases, panoramic weed-cracked roof gardens, planters filled with old Tim cups – a grand vision in Federal office space that apparently didn’t take into account everyone will be entering from the bus-stop and parking garage entrances, or that only exiled smokers will actually use the outdoor areas regularly and everyone else will be sitting around the Tim’s. Our very own crumbling historical Parthenon, with smokers instead of grazing goats.

For those of you that are unfamiliar, Place du Portage phase I to III is part of a series of monolithic GoC office buildings built in the late 60’s and early 70’s on the Hull side of the Ottawa river. They stand like impassive monsters amongst the quaint working-class small-townish row houses and aged beat down commercial buildings that largely make up Hull. Huge tracts of these little natives were torn up to build the monsters, and the survivors, including the post-apocalyptic EB Eddy paper mill, now get to sit around them and mock. Building the monsters was necessary from the standpoint of the government, to house the huge numbers of civil servants scattered through the Ottawa area. It also conveniently allowed the crushing of dozens of little eyesores in Hull and the once-shantytown of LeBreton Flats on the Ottawa side. The Peace Tower could now been seen surrounded by towers of bureaucracy and vistas of green grass instead of factory chimneys and ugly brick row houses. A Utilitarian decision flavoured with vanity.

Each of the building types in this story reflect an economic and government background that saw their development. The row houses and shantytowns represent an earlier time, when government didn’t take much interest in the conditions of the working classes and the poor, who were expected to make due as best they could under conditions imposed by their employers, primarily the lumber and railway industries. By the 70’s, the federal government had taken an active role in the affairs of common people and the employers they worked for, and required places to put all the people managing this participation – the buildings of the working poor were bulldozed to make way for offices.

The civil service and the buildings it inhabits represent the standard of living Canadians have come to enjoy and expect. We can mock it for its “career loafers” with union-protected rights, and I am personally jealous of them, but they manifest our standard of living. They also contribute significantly to the economy – the thousands of rock-solid secure careers in the Ottawa area are reflected in ever-rising house prices and quality of services in the region. The civil service also has many needs that must be fulfilled by external sources, a huge contribution to the livelihood of many companies and individuals, nationally and internationally.

It is easy to forgot what one is getting from something that’s a fixture with obvious and huge appetites and an effect on the world that isn’t always positive. It’s also likely that something as gigantic as the civil service may not be adapting to the times as well as it should, which is kind of a given seeing it’s a Bureaucracy. We to remember its root purpose and not go hacking away at it without thought, especially under the influence of people who may not see the purpose of a government as providing stability and safety to all citizens. If we forget the value and succumb to a passing notion, we may find ourselves once again building shanties for the working poor who survive as best they can under uncaring and unregulated governments and employers.


Written by balloonhed

April 17, 2011 at 10:36 pm

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