Creating the Poets’ Pathway
The Poets’ Pathway is a walking and biking trail (pathway) of approximately 35 kilometres, much of it on already-existing walking paths through Ottawa. It runs from Britannia Bay beach, south along Pinecrest Creek, east along Nepean Creek. It crosses the Rideau River through the Southern Corridor, including McCarthy Woods, then moves along the Eastern Corridor, including Pleasant Park Woods, and finally along the Rideau River and Beechwood Avenue. It ends in Beechwood Cemetery where some of the poets lie. With the exception of the “urban” segment along Beechwood Avenue, this trajectory is strictly along either existing or planned recreational pathways.
The purpose of the Pathway is two-fold: it helps preserve greenspace in the nation’s capital; and it commemorates Canada’s ’Confederation Poets’ along the trail.
The Poets’ Pathway Committee was formed as a committee of the Greenspace Alliance of Canada’s Capital. When Steven Artelle, then-chair of the Poets’ Pathway Committee, initiated the Ottawa Literary Heritage Society in May 2003, the Committee became a joint committee of the Society and the Alliance. In December 2006, Steven resigned as co-chair of the Committee to devote all his energy to the Poet’s Hill project at Beechwood Cemetery. For a while the Poets’ Pathway again became a committee of the Alliance only but increasingly the Committee found its own feet and in 2011 it was incorporated.
When Ottawa became the capital of Canada in 1867, the Fathers of Confederation wanted to make it a capital worthy of comparison to any capital city in the world. They understood that a true capital is more than bricks and mortar. They wanted a city to lead Canada in arts and sciences, culture and intellect. To that end, they encouraged worthy poets, writers, scientists and artists to move to Ottawa to create the “Florence of North America.”
The group that really helped create Canadian English poetry and literature was a group of Ottawa poets, The Confederation Poets, comprised of Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and William Wilfred Campbell. They jointly wrote a column in the Toronto Globe, in 1892-1893, entitled “At the Mermaid Inn.” It has become renowned as the genesis of Canadian literary criticism, and the heart of Canadian literature.
As well, a group of French speaking poets and authors belonging to the Mouvement littéraire came to Ottawa from Québec City when the civil service moved to Ottawa in the second half of the 1860s. This group included Antoine Gérin-Lajoie, Alfred Garneau, Benjamin Sulte, Achille Fréchette and others. They are considered some of the most important poets and writers in 19th Century French Canada.
Ottawa is therefore the literary heart of Canada. Yet there is no monument, museum, or memorial to the achievements of these poets in Ottawa, nor anywhere else in Canada. We have no place to share the ideas and imagination of these creators of Canadian culture. The Poets’ Pathway Committee seeks to create such a place – a pathway to honour and commemorate Canadian poetry and literature, in the place that was the inspiration for some of Canada’s greatest words.
It was a sense of place that motivated the enduring literary achievement of the Confederation Poets and the Mouvement littéraire. The natural environment that inspired these artists should be preserved as a memorial to our Canadian literary heritage.
Following the Poets’ Pathway
There are 14 bronze plaques commemorating the work of these poets along the pathway. The first of these plaques was unveiled in September 2010, and the final plaque was unveiled September 2017. The map below shows the location of each plaque. It was created with help from Paul Galipeau.
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The Pathway in 12 Walks
The Poets’ Pathway has been divided into 12 walks. Detailed instructions on how to follow each of these walks can be found on the Poets’ Pathway’s website using the links below:
Walk 1: Britannia Beach to Carling Avenue
Walk 2: Carling Avenue to Baseline Road
Walk 3: Merivale Road to Woodroffe Avenue
Walk 4: Prince of Wales Drive to Merivale Road (Nepean Creek)
Walk 5: McCarthy Woods to Riverside Drive
Walk 6: McCarthy Woods to South Keys
Walk 7: South Keys Ledbury / Bank to Heron Road
Walk 8: Heron Road to Pleasant Park Woods
Walk 9: Pleasant Park to Industrial Avenue & Riverside Drive
Walk 10: Cancer Park to Montreal Road
Walk 11: Montreal Road to Sussex Drive
Walk 12: Rideau Falls to Beechwood Cemetery