The Soeurs de la Visitation Development

The Soeurs de la Visitation convent redevelopment is causing a lot of division in Westboro these days.
As the future of Ashcroft Homes’ plans for the site are put into question because of the City of Ottawa, community members are debating the redevelopment’s purpose.
Check out photos and interviews.

March 30, 2010 at 7:47 pm Leave a comment

Closure plans revive alternative schools support

Students play at Churchill Alternative School on Tuesday morning in Westboro.

The fall review of Ottawa’s alternative school system that threatened to shut it down may actually strengthen the program in the future.
Richard Deadman, chair of the Alternative Schools Advisory Committee, says the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board’s decision to keep the program after lengthy debate has made alternative education principles more widely known and will give parents confidence in enrolling their children next year.
About 380 students attend Churchill Alternative School in Westboro now. When parents and teachers found out about the board’s plans to shut down the program, they rallied together to fight the decision and spread the word about alternative education principles.
Susan McClelland, whose son goes to Churchill, attended board meetings and wrote to trustees to help save the school.
She says her son’s experience with alternative education is an example of its effectiveness. “From day one it was amazing,” she says.

Churchill opened in 1984 as the second alternative program in Ottawa, according to the school’s website.
To McClelland and other supporters, the board’s recommendation to end the program was surprising because of the school’s longevity and success.
“It’s unusual that someone would want to get rid of something that is working,” she says. “We’re not saying that amazingness and innovation aren’t happening at other schools, but what we’re saying is that they’re happening in our school every day.”

Alternative education principles heading to public school

Alternative education aims to create a non-competitive learning environment with a hands-on approach to teaching and multi-aged classes, says Deadman. Students with behavioural problems are not given suspensions or sent to the principal’s office, and parents are not sent a report card with letter grades for their children each term.
“For many kids, I don’t think that comparing themselves to other kids or measuring themselves by a certain letter is particularly useful,” McClelland says.
“What you end up with at Churchill is, it’s not that they don’t evaluate the kids, they do give some testing… but the kids focus on the ones they got right as opposed to the ones they got wrong.”
While keeping five of Ottawa’s six alternative schools open, the board also decided in late February to incorporate some alternative mandates into regular public education, says Deadman.
“The whole alternative program is based on grassroots parental support,” he says. “Now that this decision is behind us, the alternative staff, students and parents can get on with… making its tenets and philosophy more widely known and understood.”
This fall, Ontario public school report cards will not give letter grades to students at the elementary-school level.
McClelland says this decision reflects alternative principles, as Churchill and other schools use a “student-led conference” to replace first term report cards.
“Instead of parent-teacher interviews, you go in and your child will lead you through the work they’ve done.”
Many former alternative students showed up at the board meetings to fight the program’s closure, says McClelland.
“It certainly is an eye-opening experience,” she says of a Feb. 9 board meeting. “We had 12 speakers… and at least 150 people.”

March 16, 2010 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

More reading material

Here are a few more blogs that are worth checking out covering the Westboro and greater Ottawa area:

1. Westboro boasts two community associations: one for the general Westboro neighbourhood and one specifically for Westboro Beach. Each has its own blog and administration board. Here is the Westboro Beach Community Association blog. It is often updated and details community member opinions, events and action committees in various topics such as their recently renovated greenspace preservation committee.

2. Although the Cycling in Ottawa blog is geared towards the entire Ottawa area, it applies to the Westboro neighbourhood since this is a scenic area with a lot of avid outdoorspeople. The cycling blog keeps an eye on bike and transportation issues that will affect cyclers and advocates for a better cycling system in a city where the number of cyclers is going up.

3. A blog for art lovers, Jessica Ruano’s The Most Exquisite Moments celebrates Ottawa arts events and exhibits and lists showtimes for various productions. Jessica Ruano also writes entries focused on memorable moments had in the arts community or with members of it. A great place to look for something original to do in the city.

March 3, 2010 at 12:56 am Leave a comment

Construction everywhere

Muddy sidewalks, fenced-off lots and piles of wood and rocks. The aftermath of the many construction projects and renovations going on in Westboro is everywhere along Richmond Road.

Red scaffolding covers a building undergoing major repair across from the Mountain Equipment Co-op. At the corner of Richmond and Roosevelt, two backhoes rest in the rocky mud of an expansive lot.

The fencing around the lot reaches back to houses along Byron Avenue and covers them from view. The rubble and mud from the construction gives the area an air of transition, but it also disrupts the view of old neighbourhood homes.

According to the City of Ottawa website, the Community Design Plan for Westboro is a “long-term design and development… based on a collaborative community effort to develop a vision for Richmond Road/ Westboro.”

But to community members including many who comment on the Westboro Community Association blog, all the development isn’t necessarily welcome.

To some, high rise buildings like the Minto Metropole and apartments like the Sky Bungalows proposed for Byron Avenue, are eyesores that prohibit the view of the traditional neighbourhood.

To others, the modernization of the village is welcome. The debate is sure to continue.

March 3, 2010 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

The Newport Restaurant “World Famous” Experience

From outside Moe Atallah’s World Famous Newport Restaurant looks like an average one-room deli with one mural of Elvis Presley in his memorable white jumpsuit and a few neon signs in the front window.

But above the door of Westboro’s best known culinary landmark, a large sign indicates this restaurant is not quite like any other. It says the restaurant is the official world headquarters of the Elvis Sighting Society. And judging by the inside of the Newport, to Moe Atallah, the king is very much alive.

The walls of the Newport are covered from floor to ceiling with Elvis memorabilia including plates, posters and signs. A painted portrait of a young Elvis with his arm around Moe Atallah hangs from the left wall near the bar.

According to the waitress, Moe met Elvis in 1976 when the king visited the restaurant and ordered a banana and peanut-butter sandwich. This story is more legend than fact at the Newport though, where the menu claims Elvis is alive and retired in the town of Tweed.

While the Newport is known for its Elvis sightings, it’s also known for its pizza. The menu lists more than 20 topping combinations including Montreal Style, which has tomato sauce, smoked meat, mustard and pickles. Surprisingly, although intimidating-looking, it tasted delicious, almost like an omelette with a crust.

March 2, 2010 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

Churchill Alternative School is saved

Churchill Alternative School is tucked into a corner on Ravenhill Avenue near the heart of Westboro. Around 2:30 p.m. on weekdays, parents start appearing and gather in small groups around the playground to wait for their children to finish up the day.

The engines of two yellow school buses grumble as they sit outside the front of the school. As students exit the building, the echoes of their voices in the yard can be heard all the way down Churchill Avenue.

But until last Tuesday, parents at Churchill and Ottawa’s five other alternative schools were unsure whether the decades-old program would continue. A fall program review by the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board said it was too similar to regular public school to continue being designated as “alternative”.

Susan McClelland’s son goes to Churchill.

“When I heard in early October that the board was planning on closing the program, at that point I realized that I had to step up to the plate because it is a program that was really working,” she said.

After months of presentations and letters to the board, Susan said about 150 alternative school supporters showed up at a school board meeting. In September, these children’s voices will still echo from the school yard every afternoon, as Churchill’s program has been saved along with four other alternative programs.

February 27, 2010 at 4:17 pm Leave a comment

Waterloo Ice Dogs Festival

For the reading week break I left Ottawa to visit Waterloo, my hometown. On Saturday, Feb. 20 I decided to check out a festival I noticed going on in the Uptown core. It was the Ice Dogs Festival.

The Waterloo Ice Dogs Festival has been running for seven years now and attracted several hundred guests this year, packing the Town Square so tight it was hard to walk through in many places. Some guests were families there for the activities and hamburgers at the barbeque, but about half of the guests were dog lovers who had dressed up their pets in winter coats or were parading them through the street. Many people without dogs stopped people with dogs for a quick pat and to ask the breed and name of their pet. Dogs were everywhere uptown on Saturday, making the festival live up to its name.

February 23, 2010 at 8:48 pm Leave a comment

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