Monday, June 6, 2011

Astrolabe Theatre on Nepean Point

Despite growing up in Ottawa, I realized I'd never been to Nepean Point when the Citizen reported that the NCC would be taking down the theatre there. In fact, I didn't even know there was an amphitheatre at Nepean Point. So on a half-decent Saturday last month I went up there to check it out (if you follow me on Twitter or just the photos), you'd have seen some of the photos I took with my phone at the time.

Nepean Point is characterized by the statue of Samuel de Champlain, who is portrayed holding up an astrolabe (when instead it should be suspended). The statue of the Anishinabe scout used to be on a plinth at the base of Champlain's statue, until it was removed for good taste. You can see the plinth in the photo below right under Place du Portage in the background.

Even with the empty amphitheatre, it's still a tourist draw because of just how much you can see from the point. I hopped onto the empty plinth to take a look around. While I was scouting out camera angles, I squatted with one knee lowered in a visual pun paying homage to the scout.

As for the amphitheatre, the centennial-era space was designed by John Leaning, then chief architect at the NCC but known in Centretown for instigating the public process that led to the Centretown Plan. The Citizen article explains that it will have to be demolished as it is frought with mold and asbestos. The artist changerooms are underneath the seating, and the modernist restrooms (in the first picture of this post and in the middle of the one below) all must be removed.

The amphitheatre has been in disuse in recent years. Given that, Leaning isn't bothered by the removal of the amphitheatre so long as the hill remains. There have been many other changes to this part of town since the days of the elephant and python fountain.

Among the things you can see in this one angle alone are: The National Gallery of Canada, the U.S. Embassy, the Connaught building, the Chateau Laurier, and even Ottawa City Hall's green carillon. In the foreground are Major's Hill Park and the approach to the Alexandra bridge.

Off screen to the right are the Parliament buildings and the Bytown Museum. To the left is the controversial sculpture One Hundred Foot Line by New York artist Roxy Paine. I'll show that one in another post, but it suffices to say that there was quite the outcry by some that the tall stainless-steel sculpture would spoil the view. If anything, the black metal posts on the march up to Nepean Point spoil the view of One Hundred Foot Line!

There's another vertically-oriented installation at Nepean Point, this monument that used to be a boundary marker of the 45th parallel between Canada and the United States.

Specifically, there are two plaques on the base of the monument, which read: "This monument was erected by the Women's Canadian Historical Society of Ottawa, Mrs. Thomas Ahearn, President, November 1914." and
This is one of the monuments erected in 1845 to mark the international boundary along the 45th parallel, between the province of Quebec and the state of New York, as determined in the Ashburton-Webster Treaty signed at Washington in 1842. The International Boundary Commission replaced the badly deteriorated original monuments with granite posts in 1902, and this original was presented to the City of Ottawa.

These are just a few of the views you can see from Nepean Point. I highly recommend you check it out if you've never been. Get there before the NCC closes it!


  1. Wow...I thought you had been everywhere in the city! It's always worth the visit. My running group sometimes does hill training running up to the top. Can't beat the views.

  2. I played a few shows there back in the 90's. On a nice evening it was a great spot, since one could watch the band and look out over the river. For the performers it was OK (we mainly just saw the crowd with Champlain looking overhead), but we usually had to cope with anything from a light breeze to a strong wind (fun when using music stands) and a less than ideal equipment load-in.