Ottawa Riverkeeper announced today that it has signed a lease to become the first official tenant of the NCC’s newly renovated River House, a celebrated heritage building located on the Ottawa River.
The move to the new location was described as “an exciting new chapter” for Ottawa Riverkeeper by the non-profit organization’s long-time board chair, Geoff Green, during a special gathering held with Riverkeeper and CEO Laura Reinsborough, community leaders from the organization, representatives from the National Capital Commission and elected federal government officials.
Serving as the magnificent backdrop to the announcement was the historic red-trimmed River House. It was surrounded by the calm waters of the Ottawa River and the warm and muted shades of autumn. The small crowd sang along as Grandmother Irene Compton performed a traditional water song to start things off.
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“While driving here today and crossing that (interprovincial) bridge, it really hit me what a significant moment this is right now,” said Green, a resident of Chelsea, Que. and founder and president of the Students On Ice Foundation. “This has been an incredible journey for so many years to get here.”
NCC River House opens in summer 2023
The River House, slated to publicly open during the summer of 2023, will be used by Ottawa Riverkeeper as a fresh water lab for scientific monitoring and quality testing, an educational space for school groups of all ages, a conference and collaboration hub, and office space.
Ottawa Riverkeeper will be taking over the top floor and half of the lower floor as part of its five-year renewable lease. Currently, it’s based out of a downtown office building.
The new headquarters for Ottawa Riverkeeper is the most important development to date in the history of the organization, which has marked many successes and growth since it was created in 2001 to protect and promote the Ottawa River watershed. “What we’re announcing today marks an innovation and a new step in what we can achieve together in the years to come to benefit this entire watershed and beyond, nationally and even internationally,” said Green.
Ottawa cabinet minister Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board and MP for Ottawa-Vanier, was joined by Liberal Ottawa Centre MP Yasir Naqvi to announce a $750,000 commitment from the Federal Economic Development Agency to cover capital costs of the fit-up for the interior spaces. “I can tell you I truly believe in this,” said Fortier while delivering brief remarks.
NCC CEO Tobi Nussbaum outlined several reasons why the federal Crown corporation was excited to partner with Ottawa Riverkeeper.
“For generations really, when the river was an industrial zone, we turned our back to it,” said Nussbaum. “One of the key things the NCC is working on throughout the National Capital Region is how do we turn and face it, and how do we welcome it, and how do we provide more and better opportunities for visitors and residents of the capital to enjoy it.”
NCC River House is almost 100 years old
The revitalization of the NCC River House, which is almost 100 years old, recently received an award of merit from the Canadian Association of Heritage Professionals. “Heritage is a very important part of our mandate,” Nussbaum noted.
The partnership also fits with the NCC’s commitment to protect the environment, said Nussbaum. “We take very seriously a sustainable development mandate, a climate mitigation mandate. The Riverkeeper is such a great partner in terms of helping us realize that objective of being better guardians of the environment.”
Also unveiled was the organization’s new campaign cabinet, co-chaired by Ottawa Riverkeeper board member Colleen Westeinde and businessman and philanthropist Michel Drouin. They’re leading a $5-million fundraising campaign that will support the expansion of the organization’s educational programming.
“I believe the River House is really, really going to amplify the Ottawa Riverkeeper’s work in keeping this gorgeous watershed healthy for future generations to enjoy,” said Westeinde.
Joining them are volunteer business and community leaders from both sides of the river, including: Paul Drouin, Jeff Parkes (Taggart Realty), Éric Déry (Raymond Chabot Grant Thornton), Nicholas Bouquet, Craig Stewart (Insurance Bureau of Canada), Green, Velma McColl (Earnscliffe Strategy Group), Kimberly Biggs (Agence POP Inc.), Charles Desjardins and Linda Dwyer-Commando (Indigenous Leadership Initiative).
Reinsborough, who joined Ottawa Riverkeeper last year, said she’s looking forward to helping visitors of their new location gain a deeper connection to the river and a better understanding of the richness of species that live within it. She indicated the organization will be able to start using its new space within the next few months, as renovations are still ongoing.
“I feel really fortunate that I’ve come into the organization at a time when this is our next big step,” Reinsborough told OBJ. “I knew this coming into the role, we’ve been planning for it for so long, and I feel really grateful that I can help steward the organization through this big opportunity.
“We’ll be growing in every way because of this. That’s exactly what’s needed in this decade. I took this job and I joined this team because of huge environmental crises around biodiversity loss, around climate change. I mean, you can go on and on. The crises are so big and overwhelming and here this amazing organization with such a strong track-record of success has this opportunity to grow and be more and do more.
“I’m excited, to say the least.”