By Charlie Senack
The mainstream news cycle often ignores Barrhaven, but when a historic municipal election approaches, their microphones and notebooks cross the Greenbelt.
In late September I was approached by CBC’s Ottawa Morning to do a drive around tour with well-known radio host Robyn Bresnahan. It’s become a tradition for the Barrhaven Independent to provide context on radio programs during city elections.
With longtime councillor Jan Harder not seeking re-election in Barrhaven West after two and a half decades, the ward was an open playfield for a fresh face with new ideas.
Harder has been a household name in local politics for 25 years. Her connections to the community run deep; she’s been involved with various associations in the community over the decades, even before becoming a politician in the 1990s.
On Sept. 29, Bresnahan and I met at Tutti Frutti on Strandherd Drive to begin our journey of a suburban community not well understood by those who live on the other side of the Greenbelt.
We started our conversation by discussing Barrhaven’s rapid growth and development, climbing from a population of 40,000 residents in 2001 — the year I was born — to over 100,000 now.
“It’s a community that’s gone from cows to condos,” I explained to Bresnahan, whose knowledge of Barrhaven primarily came from previous municipal election coverage.
The land near the popular brunch spot was among the most recent to be developed, providing another shopping destination to the growing community. With many big names like Costco, Marshalls, Value Village, East Side Mario’s and Lone Star, it’s become one of the neighborhood’s busiest destinations.
It wasn’t long ago Barrhaven got its first fast food restaurants: McDonalds and Wendy’s. When name brands and chains first started to open in the once tiny suburb, they finally put Barrhaven on the map.
Amazon, one of Barrhaven’s biggest employers, just opened their doors, creating 1,000 new full-time jobs. The fulfillment centre — which towers over the community — is just one of many big names looking to call this community home.
We took a drive down Strandherd to Jockvale, where the community has long called for a safer pedestrian crossing to be built. Newspaper clippings from the mid 1990’s expressed the need for better walkways on the Barrhaven United Church side of Jockvale, but now almost three decades later, no action has been taken.
A community meeting was held last month where Steepleview Crossing residents expressed their worry of crossing the road. Some said they don’t leave their homes in the winter over fear of getting their wheelchair stuck in the slush and snow.
Out of the 88 people living in the affordable housing complex, roughly 40 per cent struggle with health challenges and 20 of the residents use mobility devices.
Various plans and drawings have been released over the years, proposing different ideas for the future of Jockvale road. In 2019, a $6 million underpass was unveiled, which would go under the train tracks. While it was seen as a step in the right direction — and city council did approve the plans — no money was ever brought forward.
The next part of our journey included a fight through Barrhaven traffic to the Greenbank Road Bridge, which is one of the only access points to Half Moon Bay.
“This is it? It’s tiny!” gasped Bresnahan as we crossed onto the other side of the Jock River.
Data released last year showed that about 35,000 residents live on the south side of the river, a number which is increasing by the day as Half Moon Bay expands closer to Manotick.
To keep up with the demand of primarily young families, plans were brought forward in the early 2000’s to realign Greenbank Road. An Ottawa Citizen report from 2007 showed people camping out overnight to build a home in Half Moon Bay, all under the pretense of easier access.
Plans to retire the narrow two-lane roadway are in the works, with construction on the Greenbank Road realignment expected in 2030. Construction would then finish two years later in 2032. Many community members have called these timelines unacceptable, saying the work needs to start now. Mayoral candidate Mark Sutcliffe pledged to fast track the process if elected, but didn’t give any clear timelines.
Our tour of Barrhaven West ended at the Minto Recreation Complex in Half Moon Bay, a facility Bresnahan commented she’s familiar with. We spoke about the constant need for community space in Barrhaven and the push for more youth activities.
As we spoke, the bell rang at nearby St. Cecilia School, where students were finishing up their morning recess. Barrhaven is now home to about 30 schools with even more already planned.
The demand for pupil space has led to a sea of portable classrooms in many local school yards. Despite their best efforts, the province of Ontario hasn’t been able to fund new schools fast enough. When a new one opens in Barrhaven or Riverside South, it’s already at over 100 per cent capacity on day one.
Elections always matter, but this one was crucial. With 10 councillors not seeking re-election and a new Mayor to lead the pack, change will come to Ottawa.
From OC Transpo to safety, Barrhaven is expected to make the headlines when the next term of council reconvenes. A community commonly known as “Farhaven” is now an integral part of the city.