History of Richelieu Park
In 1937, Vanier welcomed the Société des missionnaires d’Afrique, commonly known as the White Fathers. It was Monsignor Guillaume Forbes, then Archbishop of Ottawa, who convinced them to settle in the region.
This Catholic missionary order was founded in 1868 by Cardinal Charles Martial Lavigerie of Algiers. The White Fathers are well known for their missionary work in Africa, and have members everywhere around the world. The order still exists today with over 2000 members. The White Fathers bought an old sand and gravel quarry that belonged to the Grandmaître family, north of Montreal Road. A first building was inaugurated in September of 1938. This building served as a scholasticate, a theological college where novices were trained before being sent to Africa on a mission. Two annexes were added to this building in the 1950s. These buildings are now the public library and the Richelieu-Vanier community centre.
The White Fathers greatly improved the aesthetic quality of the land, notably by draining the marshes and by planting trees. Originally, the domain was much marshier and counted many creeks. It was virtually impossible to reach the scholasticate by car. In the 1940s, part of the land was rented to the City of Ottawa and used as a municipal dump. A Sugar Shack was also built by the White Fathers.
Throughout their time in Vanier, the White Fathers had good relations with the local residents. They were often seen in the local parishes and even allowed residents to take advantage of their vast domain, especially to play hockey behind their scholasticate in the wintertime. A formal agreement was signed in the 1960s between the City and the White Fathers to let the residents of Vanier use the property for recreational purposes. The property comprised initially over 56 acres. However, the White Fathers slowly began selling parts of their property starting in 1957. At its peak, up to 105 novices from all over the world were being trained at the scholasticate by a dozen priests. Nevertheless, the number of novices at the scholasticate began to decline in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, the scholasticate was closed down and only a handful of priests remained on the property.
The White Fathers were expropriated by the City of Vanier in February 1976, and the domain was converted into a municipal park. At the time, the property had only 22 acres left. The expropriation of the White Father by the City of Vanier was a long and somewhat complex process. In the 1970s, in response to the lack of green space, the City of Vanier was ordered by the Ontario governmenet to acquire at least 40 acres of land and convert them into parks. At first, the City had proposed to expropriate over 200 families throughout Vanier in order to created many small municipal parks. However, the proposal was met with strong popular discontent. In 1973, the Association of Citizens of Vanier proposed instead to acquire the land of the White Fathers as well as the Riverain Park along the Rideau River to create two large municipal parks in Vanier. The City opted for this alternative and thus avoided a massive expropriation in Vanier.
The White Fathers asked for 3 to 4 million dollars for their land and the three buildings on it.Unfortunately, the main building of the scholasticate required many renovations that would have cost, according the City’s estimates, over 3.5 million dollars. Because of the high costs, the City decided to demolish the main building of the scholasticate and to expropriate the White Father for the sum of 1.2 million dollars. The expropriation was contested in vain by the White Fathers in court.
Starting in 1976, the City of Vanier began an ambitious renovation plan on the former property of the White Fathers. One of the annexes was converted into a municipal library while the other became a community centre. The building of the community centre also welcomed the City Hall of Vanier in 1985. The City Hall remained in the Richelieu Park until the amalgamation of Vanier with Ottawa in 2001. The area where the main building of the scholasticate once stood between the two annexes became a parking lot. The National Capital Commission took care of the maintenance of the forest and bike paths of the Richelieu Park. The conversion of the property of the White Fathers into a municipal park cost over one million dollars. The City had foreseen many great projects for the Richelieu Park that unfortunately were never carried out, including a sculpture garden, an amphitheatre, a pool and an outdoor interpretation centre.
Today, the two annexes of the main building of the scholasticate, a statue of the Virgin Mary, the two pillars at the entrance of the park and the maple grove are the last reminders of the past presence of the White Fathers in Vanier. In order to protect the White Fathers’ heritage on this land, these historical remnants were designated as heritage property by the City of Vanier in 1997.