May 13, 2002
Concrete paving stone and slab projects upgrade historical landmarks

Story and photos by Brian Burton

Our first case study for this season examines two large-scale commercial "hardscaping" projects using interlocking concrete pavements (ICPs).

     The first project is along the banks of the Lachine Canal in Montreal and the second involved upgrades to Confederation Boulevard in downtown Ottawa.

     In both cases, these landscape upgrades have made significant contributions to the economies of the respective cities.

Montreal restores the Lachine Canal
The Lachine Canal renewal project is part of a five-year, $82 million program announced two years ago by the federal government and the City of Montreal. The project involved an ambitious scheme to reopen, restore and revitalize the Lachine Canal and surrounding areas. The first phase involved the design specification and installation of interlocking concrete pavements for the bicycle pathways and parks that join the Lachine canal.

     The first attempt to build a canal was started in 1689 but quickly abandoned due to the engineering and construction difficulties. The original Lachine Canal was finally opened in 1825. Soon, railroads improved Mon­treal's links even further and from 1852 to1858, the area along the eastern part of the canal became the birthplace of Canada's "Industrial Revolution." Many companies located here took advantage of the excellent transportation links and waterpower generated alongside the canal. Neighborhoods were built nearby to house factory workers. The opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959 allowed ocean-going ships to bypass Montreal, and this soon led to the closing of the canal. The outcome was a decline in the surrounding industrial and residential areas, and the eastern part of the canal was eventually filled in completely.

     In 1978, the federal government created a number of excellent parks along the banks of the canal, which were connected by a six-metre wide paved bicycle path. Almost one million cyclists use this bicycle path each year. The canal itself remained virtually unused and isolated from the surrounding areas that suffered from industry relocations and closures. Unemployment became a serious problem in the area and in the early 90s, it had one of the highest rates in the nation.

     The Lachine Canal Revitalization Program acted as a catalyst for economic, social and urban revitalization for the surrounding areas. The next phase of the project will involve removing the fill from the canal itself, restoring the canal walls and rebuilding the three remaining sets of locks. The project will also see the modification of three bridges in the area. The City of Montreal has also allocated $44 million to improve municipal public spaces and roads alongside the canal. The canal project represents one of the largest waterfront development products in North America.

     Pierre Wilkie, manager of sales for Permacon, was impressed with the landscape improvements to the canal area. "This project definitely demonstrates the tremendous impact the color and shapes of interlocking concrete pavers can provide in landscape upgrades." Wilkie, who provided Landscape Trades with a tour of several of the park installations, also noted that there has been a noticeable increase in tourism in the area. Pavages Unis GL completed the work on the Lachine Canal.

     "There has been a tremendous increase in the number of cities that are making improvements to their waterfront infrastructure. Presently, Toronto, San Francisco, Boston and many European cities such as Paris and Barcelona are actively working on schemes to improve their parks and waterfront facilities," Wilkie reports. "Toronto, for example, is looking into $12 billion urban scheme which would reactivate huge parcels of industrial lands that are sitting unused…much like the environment in Lachine when we began this project."

Flowing with history
The story of the Lachine rapids and Lachine Canal is a key part of North American history. When the earliest European explorers ventured up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic Ocean, they had clear sailing for the first thousand miles. They then encountered the Lachine rapids. This obstacle to their progress eventually led to the settlement of Montreal, located immediately east of this major obstacle to navigation. Montreal's early growth was due to the furthest point that could be reached by ocean-going ships headed towards the Great Lakes and the heartland of the continent. In the 1930s, Montreal was the largest grain handling port in the world.

Capital Commission upgrades Ottawa's Confederation Boulevard
Confederation Boulevard links many Ottawa parks and tourist attractions. The attractions along the Boulevard include the National Arts Centre, the National Library of Canada, the National War Memorial, and the National Archives of Canada. Also located along this route are: Dole Hall, the peacekeeping monument, the Supreme Court of Canada and, of course, Parliament Hill.

     In addition to the symbols of our heritage, mag­ni­ficent architecture and splendid landscaping grace Confederation Boulevard. Its route also includes the National Aviation Museum, the National Science and Technology Museum, the Peace Tower, the Canadian Museum of Nature and scenic Gatineau Park. The Confederation Boulevard circles the heart of Ottawa linking both shores of the Ottawa River. It serves as a ceremonial route of the capital core that is seen by official visitors from other nations. It is also the route for such events as the opening of Parliament in the Changing of the Guard Ceremony.

     Since the first phase of construction, the upgrading of Confederation Boulevard presented a number of challenges, including how to maintain and enhance the distinct character along the existing route and how to enable cost-effective maintenance and repair.

     The National Capital Commission worked in close colla­boration with suppliers to select the colour, texture and finish of concrete slabs for the Confederation Boulevard project. Their colour was designed to match the original granite and give the Boulevard an appearance of prestige, quality and durability. Suppliers also developed special sizes for the slabs to create a random looking pattern, which is entirely unique for the project. The pattern used six different sizes in an established pattern. The total surface along Wellington Street in slabs was approximately 12,000 square metres.

     "The first phase of the project involved removing and cleaning the original granite setts, which had been in place for over 50 years. These units were moved to the border and created an excellent visual effect," reports the landscape contractor who completed the work on Confederation Boulevard, admitting that there was a number of interesting challenges with this project. The contractor also commented on the difficulties in completing the work in the early spring and summer when the city was crowded with tourist and other visitors.

     "It certainly was a very busy site," reports John Mazzarello of Prestige Pavingstone Ltd. In total, the project required almost three months to complete. Another major challenge on this project was coordinating a schedule with the city of Ot­tawa. Traffic control, especially around the War Memorial was particularly busy. The over­all effect of this unique pattern is striking and distinct, giving the Confederation Boulevard a unique appearance. From the point of view of maintenance and life cycle management, paving slabs allow for snow and ice removal in the winter with little or no damage. Furthermore, the 100 mm thick units allow for the occasional but necessary use of the Boulevard maintenance vehicles for pruning trees. In the past, maintenance vehicles caused serious damage to the granite units that were only 50 mm thick. Along the route, the concrete paving slabs were placed on 30 mm of bedding sand over 300 mm of granular base. The completed installation has held up well to winter weather.

     A qualified, local contractor handled the placement of the slabs, using mechanized equipment to ease the installation of the large units. These machines not only ensured that these paving slabs were installed correctly, but helped to keep the bedding material clean and level while the slabs were placed.

The argument for public space
In today's world, parks and recreation facilities are recognized as essential to our well being. There was a time, 150 years ago, when the need for parks was generally overlooked. By 1900, the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and there were 13 cities around world with more than one million inhabitants such as London, Berlin, New York and Chicago, to name a few. At the turn-of-the-century, these industrial cities lacked much of the infrastructure we take for granted today and citizens (for the most part) had no running water, sewers, garbage collection, electricity or pollution controls. Cities were noisy, dirty, dark and crowded. In fact, one famous writer referred to Chicago as the "cess­pool of the world." The idea of "landscaping" to improve the public environment was very rare and usually reserved for the gardens of wealthy citizens. Almost 100 years ago, the famous and innovative landscape architect F.L. Olmstead, who had firsthand experience with effects of uncontrolled ur­banization, published his famous book "Gardens cities in theory and practice." This book introduced a concept that urban residents needed parks, open spaces and greenery to function effectively. Slowly but surely, the recognition of the value and benefits of landscaping and the concept of using a formal approach to the design of these installations began to gain acceptance.

     At the time it first appeared, this idea was considered radical. It is now almost universally accepted. Nonetheless, the average person on the street probably undervalues importance of horticulture and landscape science in urban settings. The public also underestimates the contribution they make to our environment and our economy.

About the author: Brian Burton is a certified instructor for the ICPI certification program. He is a Member of the Standing Committee for Technical Evaluations for the Canadian Construction Materials Commission.

For further information on the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute or list of ICPI members call the ICPI at 800-241-3652, or write the ICPI at P.O. Box 23053, 55 Ontario Street, Milton, Ontario. The e-mail address is ICPI The web address is