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Re-making Sparks: Ottawa's downtown pedestrian mall through the decades

To mark this morning's town hall on how to revitalize Sparks Street, CBC went through our archives for stories about the pedestrian mall through the decades, from its opening in the 1960s to its decline in the early 2000s.

City soliciting ideas to revitalize Sparks Street Mall

Here's what Sparks Street Mall looked like right after it opened. Look at that pavement! (CBC)

Residents can have their say about the planned revitalization of Sparks Street at a town hall being held this morning.

The city wants ideas to improve how the mall functions, its programming, amenities, transportation access and more.

The town hall is being held in council chambers at City Hall from 9 a.m. to noon on Jan. 13.

Heading into the meeting, CBC spent some time in our archives, digging into the mall's storied past. Here's some of the more interesting video we found.

What do you think about the mall? What should change? Leave your comments below this story. 


Early stages

In the late 1950s, plans were being developed for the Sparks Street pedestrian mall, including a sculpture garden, lots of seating, flower beds, big trees and more.

Plans for a long canopy along both sides of the mall, equipped with infrared heating, were eventually scrapped.

People were still allowed to walk through the mall during construction, but it didn't officially open until 1960.

In the mid-1960s, plans were being developed for the Sparks Street pedestrian mall. Construction took a while, and it opened to great fanfare. 2:20

In February 1991, CBC dug into the archives and produced this The Way We Were segment about the grand reopening of Sparks Street Mall in 1967, when it was made a permanent feature of the city.

Interestingly, the mall was the envy of municipal planners from Baltimore, Md., who came to Ottawa to check it out.

When Ottawa's pedestrian mall became permanent it received international attention. 1:23

Hippie hangout

This one is pretty funny. In June 1993, CBC's The Way We Were produced this segment about hordes of hippies hanging out on Sparks Street in 1967.

At the time there were fears that a "hippie invasion" would descend on the capital in 1968. Officials even spoke of mysterious posters, apparently seen in the U.S., promoting some kind of hippie love-in in Ottawa for the summer of 1968.

The invasion never transpired.

In June 1993, CBC dug into the archives and produced this Way We Were segment about dozens of hippies hanging out in Sparks Street Mall in 1967. 2:18

Problems mount in the '80s

​This April 1980 story by CBC reporter Doug James reveals some problems facing the mall including high winds, a lack of sunlight and a scarcity of green space.

Then it cuts to CBC video taken in May 1985, showing hundreds of people on the street. The place looked pretty bustling back then, despite the complaints.

This CBC story by Doug James reported on problems at Sparks Street Mall, including wind, a lack of sunlight, the need for more parks, and more. 1:25

Street vendors kicked out in 2000

In 2000, Sparks Street's management board decided force street vendors off the mall after allowing them for about seven years. The board felt the mall had become too cluttered, and merchants in stores along Sparks Street has were complaining the street vendors were cutting into their business and ignoring contracts.

Sound familiar? That's because in 2014, pretty much the same story played out again.

In March 2000, there was a plan in the works to kick outdoor vendors off the Sparks Street Mall. 1:56

Decline of Sparks Street

In March 2000, CBC reporter Arthur Lewis took a long look into the decline of the Sparks Street Mall.

Among the issues he touched on were the rise of suburban shopping centres in the 1950s, the expropriation of the north side of Sparks Street by the federal government in the 1970s, the National Capital Commission's stewardship of its Sparks Street holdings, and a lack of dialogue between the NCC, the federal government and the city.

Some familiar faces appear in this video, including Mayor Jim Watson and the former city councillor for the area, Diane Holmes.

In March 2000, CBC reporter Arthur Lewis took a deep look into what caused the decline of the Sparks Street Mall. 8:01

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