Home / World Localities / Who’s laughing now? In ’89, NCC mocked Andy Haydon’s stadium on LeBreton Flats
Who's laughing now? In '89, NCC mocked Andy Haydon's stadium on LeBreton Flats

Who’s laughing now? In ’89, NCC mocked Andy Haydon’s stadium on LeBreton Flats

When we pull into the driveway, Andy Haydon, now 86, is tidying up the house — maybe part of his past — by carrying a bag of trash across the floor of the garage at his Barrhaven home.

The barking starts. “Be careful. There’s four of them, but only one is mine. Can you imagine I live with four dogs?”

At the kitchen table, he flips open a legal-sized folder, full of photographs. In 1989, while he was still chairman of Ottawa-Carleton’s “regional government” — an upper tier that was blended during amalgamation in 2001 — he had a bold idea: a 60,000-seat, domed stadium for LeBreton Flats.

He spent $20,000 of his office budget for architectural drawings and a model. It featured a circular dome with a green copper roof that would evoke Parliament Hill’s gothic covering. It looked a little like Rome’s Coliseum, except it was served by bi-coloured buses and, we’re fairly sure, no one was to be eaten alive for entertainment purposes.

At the time, the capital was pretty much run by an eclectic trinity: Haydon, Ottawa mayor Jim Durrell and National Capital Commission chairman Jean Pigott, who in 1989 was on a high. In the previous two years, the National Art Gallery on Sussex Drive (1988) and the Canadian Museum of Civilization (1989), both landmark cultural institutions designed by prized architects, had opened.

Ottawa, suddenly, was no longer just a canal with Victorian fringe and poutine.

It was an era when Pigott was intent, if not intoxicated, with the notion that the NCC was a culture/history/tourism maestro committed to “building a capital for all Canadians,” with a massive landbase as its muscle. Our new National Hockey League franchise, meanwhile, would not be announced for a year. So where did local sports fit in with the “national interest” potential of LeBreton, the last large tract of undeveloped land downtown?

It didn’t.

About a meeting with Pigott, Durrell and the general manager of the NCC, here is Haydon’s recollection of the outcome: “I showed it to Jean. She just, unquestionably, rejected it. So I said, ‘Take it to your board.’ No, she just wasn’t going to do it.”

Andrew (Andy) Haydon shows a photo of his plan for a stadium at Lebreton Flats.

Kelly Egan /

Postmedia

And now, 30 years later, the NCC is regrouping after four years of begging to get a stadium/arena built a few metres away from Andy’s “Haydome.” Funny thing is history — it makes fools of the best of us.

(By the way, re-reading LeBreton’s past, post 1968, makes the once-famous snowdump era look like the golden age of urban innovation. Among proposals fallen Flats on their bum: federal offices for 18,000, low-rent housing, an airport, an aquarium, a new embassy row, a mini-Expo and a garbage incinerator. If tempted to say “God help us” — heaven knows Pope John Paul tried with an outdoor mass for 250,000 in 1984.)

Haydon also had an idea for how to finance the proposal. Sell the land for $1 to the private-sector builder, then install a $1-surcharge (or more, indexed to inflation) on every ticket, giving the Crown an income in perpetuity, or on a 99-year lease.

“You’ll end up with your stadium and the NCC will end up with cash.”

Haydon said he came up with the idea after a holiday in the seaside city of Pula, now part of Croatia, and famous for its Roman amphitheatre — built, literally, when Senators carried real swords and “Et Tu, Brute” was a news flash.

So he asked an architect to block out a stadium in a similar shape, but one with moveable seats that could accommodate football, baseball, tennis, soccer, even hockey.

He added a major bus hub (Haydon is considered a father of the Transitway) and envisioned Quebec traffic using the nearby Prince of Wales bridge.

The public reception was fairly negative. Ottawa Alderman Mark Maloney said the idea was “out of the blue” and stomped all over public consultations, which did not envision a sports stadium.

“It’s like a flying saucer that has landed in from Mars on LeBreton Flats. We already had five very good concepts.”

There was, however, this encouraging note from one Cyril Leeder, president of Terrace Investments Ltd., which was in December 1989 exactly a year away from winning an NHL franchise.

“Forty years down the road, we may well need a domed stadium,” Leeder said. “If we are ever to get one, we need the regional chairman’s support. I applaud Haydon’s effort.”

Haydon said he was so upset by Pigott’s outright refusal that he didn’t even keep the scale model. “I put the model out at the curb. I was so upset, I threw it out.”

Taking out the trash — my, oh my, the things we’re good at on LeBreton Flats.

To contact Kelly Egan, please call 613-726-5896 or email kegan@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/kellyegancolumn

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