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Owen Sound Streetscape

By Kim Allerton, OALA, principal
Northwood Associates
Landscape Architects, Ltd.








Owen Sound is a small city on the shores of Georgian Bay (part of Lake Huron) 190 km northwest of Toronto. It serves a local market population of 39,000 and is the regional centre for an area with a population of 165,000 that swells seasonally to 200,000.






Park benches and shade trees were added to the walkway connections to off-street parking at the Percy England Parkette, located next to City Hall, making for a peaceful resting point for pedestrian traffic.





Black cast iron light poles with acorn style luminaires were installed along several portions of the project, including Tenth Street, giving the area its desired "eclectic heritage" feel.


The city has a thriving economy and a strong sense of community. Tourism, as well as a strong manufacturing base and growing service industry sector, form the economic foundation. A high proportion of seniors live in Owen Sound and influence the local market demand for services and amenities, passive and cultural recreation. Owen Sound is a regional cultural centre and functions as a base or point of departure to other outdoor recreation tourism attractions in the surrounding region.

Downtown Infrastructure

Owen Sound's downtown is located along the Sydenham River at the head of the harbour. The main street, Second Avenue East, runs north-south and is intersected by Eighth, Ninth and Tenth Streets. Tenth Street (Provincial Highway #6) is the only continuous east-west corridor through the city. It is a very heavily traveled route that links peripheral commercial areas on the east and west sides of the city. City Hall is located on Second Avenue at the corner of Eighth Street, the farmer's market, library and art gallery buildings are adjacent and flank the river.






Downtown Owen Sound is host to many tourism events, such as the "Hottest Yard Sale" in July.





Local Ledgerock "Eramosa" cut limestone was used for street name markers at the crosswalks in the downtown area.


At their annual retreat in 1999, city councilors were again trying to grapple with their gnawing infrastructure problem in the downtown: Sewers and services had been needing upgrading for 20 years, but the concern over lost business during a dusty and dragged out construction process had led past councils to postpone the project. This time, when the councilors emerged from their retreat they hired a consulting firm to prepare a master plan to offer the downtown business owners something to look forward to after construction. By December of 2000, a team of consultants led by Hough Woodland Naylor Dance Leinster, a Toronto-based landscape architectural firm, had completed an extensive public consultation process and finalized the "Owen Sound Harbour and Downtown Urban Design/Master Plan Strategy."

Harbor and Downtown Urban Design/Master Plan

The master plan, which deals with an area much larger than just the core, nonetheless recognized that Owen Sound's downtown is "a handsome district of heritage buildings, exhibiting fine architectural detailing and structures of local stone and ornate brickwork." It recognized that the downtown core was vibrant and balanced, with no obvious gaps in the existing retail mix. The report also pointed out that the city excels at event tourism. For more than 20 years Owen Sound has hosted Summerfolk, an outdoor music festival in August, and the more recent Festival of Northern Lights in the winter, Hottest Yard Sale in July, and a Celtic Festival in September.

Key planning strategies of the master plan are to:

  • TStrengthen the image and identity of the downtown and harbour
  • Consolidate retail, resist fragmentation
  • Enable more intensive programming
  • Create integrating linkages and connections
  • Accommodate future large scale development

The master plan also provided streetscape guidelines and divided the study area into precincts with distinctive urban character that translated into general streetscape character guidelines.






Concrete paving was selected for the main walking surfaces. These areas are accented with colored, reduced beveled-edged pavers.





The luminaries, such as these on Second Avenue, were designed to be relatively low to enhance pedestrian scale and experience. The poles are fitted with arms for banners and hanging flower baskets.


Eclectic heritage describes the character of Second Avenue, wherein the streetscape elements reinforce the heritage nature of the historic building facades and create a fun pedestrian-oriented walking/shopping experience. Tenth Street is identified as a regional scale city entrance route primarily oriented to vehicular traffic with "gateways" and enhanced intersections.

Project Scope and Phasing

Late in 2000, while the master plan was being finalized, the Owen Sound-based team of Henderson Paddon, Consulting Engineers and Northwood Associates Landscape Architects were hired by the city to respectively engineer the infrastructure and design and detail the streetscape for the two downtown streets most in need of infrastructure upgrade: three blocks of Tenth Street and four blocks of Second Avenue. Northwood Associates was hired independently to design and detail the area around City Hall and Carney's Lane. The plan was to have the first phase ready for February tender and spring 2001 construction. This was an extremely tight time frame, particularly for the design of the streetscape, as the master plan with its streetscape guidelines was barely complete as the project was being detailed.






Red oak trees are grouped at key locations in the downtown core, rather than lining the street. This refocuses attention back to the architecture of the building facades and storefronts.





The Owen Sound City Hall received a total redesign and reorientation to create a street-level plaza for community gatherings and events.


Nevertheless, the deadlines were met and construction began and was completed, on schedule.

Phase 1 -- spring 2001 included the two central blocks of Second Avenue between Eighth and Tenth Streets, City Hall, Percy England Parkette and Carney's Lane.
Phase 2 -- fall 2001 included three blocks of Tenth Street from the harbour/river to Fourth Avenue.
Phase 3 -- spring 2002 included one block of Second Avenue north of Tenth Street.
Phase 4 -- spring 2003 included one block of Second Avenue south of Eighth Street.






The busy intersection of Tenth Street and First Avenue illustrates the combination of new lighting poles and their banners with the city's older buildings.





The walkway from the Percy England Parkette opens to a side street adjacent to City Hall.


One of the main reasons for the success of this project has been the whole-hearted endorsement of the master plan by city council and senior staff. In spite of the significant project costs, which were funded entirely by the municipality (except for a portion of the costs of the Tenth Street work, which was provincially funded as a "highway connecting link"), the city did not waver in its commitment to complete the entire Second Avenue and Tenth Street projects. Of course, the fact that the infrastructure was in such poor repair--with water mains breaking on a regular basis and storm and sanitary sewers combined in these areas--helped immeasurably in justifying the project politically.






An interpretive plaque near Tenth Street explains the history of "Damnation Corners." Once stood four hotels/bars whose proximity to the bustling harbor made for a raucous intersection. Brick pier and wrought iron fencing were installed along the outer edge of the sidewalk to re-establish the street edge and urban character of the area.





During winter, custom made seasonal cross-street lighting displays based on Christmas lighting are used to decorate the downtown area.


The city's commitment to the master plan is further illustrated by the fact that the project was not limited to the physical limits of the necessary infrastructure replacement, but rather extended to include:

  • the plaza in front of City Hall;
  • walkway connections to off-street parking (e.g. the Percy England Parkette next to City Hall, Carney's Lane in the block south of Tenth Street);
  • walkway connections to the harbour walkways in several locations.

Streetscape Design Highlights

Second Avenue

  • Each block has a "mid-block crossing": a widening of the sidewalk with benches, planters and barrier-free pedestrian street crossings that line up with walkways to off-street parking lots.
  • There are grouped plantings of trees at key locations (and in planters where possible) in the downtown core, rather than lining the street refocuses attention back to the architecture of the building facades and storefronts.
  • Trees create a "street edge" at the north and south ends of the design area where buildings tend to be set back from the property line.
  • Used concrete paving for main walking surfaces accented with deeply coloured unit paving with reduced beveled edges ('Fineline' by Oaks Concrete Products in mahogany blend colour); walkway surfaces at mid-block crossings and corner intersections.
  • Black cast iron lightpoles with acorn style luminaires (metal halide lights) and a high level of detailing (King Luminaire); height of luminaire relatively low to enhance pedestrian scale and experience; poles fitted with arms for banners and hanging flower baskets.
  • Matching banner poles were sized to accommodate hanging banners, cross-street banners and seasonal cross-street lighting (King Luminaire and Holophane).
  • Screen-printed reinforced vinyl banners emphasize cultural heritage of the city.
  • Used street furnishings and fixtures with an eclectic historical character: Toronto Fabricating benches, trash and recycling receptacles; Holophane bollards, Jaro telephone booths; Trystan tree grates; Terracast polymer pots; local Ledgerock "Eramosa" cut limestone for heritage street name markers and City Hall plaza paving stone.
  • Colourful horticultural displays (hanging baskets, pots and "wire-art" topiary).
  • Custom made seasonal cross-street lighting displays based on Christmas lighting used to decorate the downtown in the 1950s.

City Hall

  • Total redesign and reorientation to create a street-level plaza for community gatherings and events (plaza design intended to complement the early 1960s architecture of City Hall and clock tower)
  • Front steps designed to double as "stage" for flag-raisings and festivals (barrier-free access to City Hall doors and stage platform provided via unobtrusive ramps).

Tenth Street

  • Continuation of paving materials and patterns used on Second Avenue.
  • Black cast iron lightpoles with tear-drop luminaire (metal halide lights) mounted at a higher height appropriate for scale of street; poles fitted with arms for banners.
  • Matching banner poles grouped at entrances to the downtown for "welcome" banners.
  • Screen-printed reinforced vinyl banners emphasizing natural heritage of city and region.
  • Brick pier and wrought iron fencing along outer edge of sidewalk to re-establish street edge and urban character in locations where commercial buildings were not at property line (i.e., gas stations, fast food outlets).
  • Enhancement of "Salvation Corners" (intersection of Tenth Street and Fourth Avenue) with planters, benches and interpretive plaques explaining history of four stone churches at this corner. An interpretive plaque one block west explains the history of "Damnation Corners" where there once stood four hotels/bars whose proximity to the bustling harbour made for a raucous intersection. Incidentally, the four church communities enjoy pointing out that while all of the churches at Salvation Corners are still standing, all four hotels at Damnation Corners are long gone.

Community Support

Throughout the project, local business owners from the Downtown Improvement Association (DIA) were brought in and were extremely supportive. Community pride runs high, and the city is seeing the fruits of its investment.

This downtown streetscape work is merely the first phase of the changes proposed in the master plan. The other challenges are further linking the downtown and the harbour; developing the River Works Lane and Fisherman's Walk (the area along First Avenue between the river and the backs of the businesses fronting onto Second Avenue); and eliminating the parking in Market Square; and Eighth and Ninth Street improvements.



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December 10, 2019, 7:12 pm PDT

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