Heading back in time at Lansdowne

Marcela Gonzalez • Mar. 1, 2024

(City of Ottawa Archives/1957).


Can you imagine that the modern park where people run, watch games and attend events today was first used to host an agricultural fair?

Lansdowne Park, located in the heart of Ottawa, is a green space with various buildings, plazas and courts that have come to serve as the destination for sports and music fans.

Its journey began in 1868, when the Ottawa Agricultural Society bought land in Bank Street, close to the Rideau Canal, to set up a fairground which would be known as the ‘Exhibition Grounds.’

Something interesting to point out is that people weren’t really that happy with the location of the fair, since they thought it to be too far from everything else. And hey, at the time Ottawa didn’t really extend past the equivalent of McLeod street so it makes sense that they complained, even if later on residents of the Glebe would have the opposite problem with the ruckus of some festivals.

Sadly, the Exhibition Grounds were damaged by the Great Fire of 1870 that consumed the Ottawa Valley, but throughout the following years they evolved to see expansions and three provincial exhibitions, organized this time by the Agricultural and Arts Association of Ontario.

In 1877, one exhibition came with the first public demonstration of the telephone in Canada. The native inventor Thomas Ahern had come up with a telephone system after reading about Bell’s invention: though his model included cigar boxes, magnets and wires that allowed for a call between Pembroke and Ottawa. Just like him, many others would take the grounds to show off their discoveries.

The site was named Lansdowne Park in 1890 making reference to the Marquis of Lansdowne, the previous Governor General of Canada.

After this, buildings like the Coliseum and the Aberdeen Pavilion were built. This last one served as a hockey rink for a while, being witness to the Ottawa Senators many wins like the one against Winnipeg were they sent nine of their players to the hospital.

(City of Ottawa archives/1903).

Many markets have found their home in the Pavilion, like 613Flea and Ottawa’s Market, taking advantage of the high roof and spacious room.

Current-day market 613Flea (Courtesy of 613Flea).

As for the Coliseum, it was demolished ten years ago after a record of awry accidents, including the two times its roof collapsed because of snow and the time the boiler exploded. 


Other bits and pieces of history include the reposing of Lansdowne in World War II to enlist people in the army, the first Panda Game between Carleton and the University of Ottawa even a world figure skating championship!


(City of Ottawa archives)

And let’s not even begin to talk about all the artists that have performed in the arena. Next time you head to Lansdowne, think about the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Supremes and Paul Anka who were there not too long ago. 


Listen to this article as heard on CHUO’s weekly show The Mosaic: