‘We were here first’: Larga Baffin faces pushback from residents, city councillor against proposed Ottawa location


Larga Baffin, an organization that operates a medical hostel for Inuit travelling to Ottawa for appointments from Nunavut is heading to another round of negotiations over its proposed new location in the city’s south end and is facing opposition from some area residents and its city councillor.

Councillor and mayoral candidate Diane Deans held a virtual meeting where she, and residents could offer their opinion on the proposed development.

Deans says that while she supports Larga Baffin’s purpose, she’s concerned about the size of the development and said at the virtual meeting that it’s “grossly oversized.”

“I believe that the majority of the community’s issues with the application are based on planning principles and anytime you have a large-scale planning, large scale application abutting a residential neighborhood, there are lots of issues that need to be worked out,” she tells APTN News.

“We need to work through those issues to get to a positive outcome and that I think that’s my job, as a member of council to try and bridge all of that.”

According to Larga Baffin’s real estate advisor Bill McCurdy, the “gross floor area” of the building is less than what is currently allowed in the area in the south end of Ottawa.

Current zoning laws allow for six stories with 18 metres of total height. The Larga Baffin building is 22 metres. That’s the only exception to the zoning bylaws Larga Baffin is looking for.

Other concerns include traffic and apparently, water pressure.

“I mean, there were some comments that were made that I thought were inappropriate and I didn’t agree with,” says Deans. “But I do agree that the community’s legitimate planning concerns need to be heard and addressed or the planning process.”

Larga Baffin
The current Larga Baffin building in the city’s west end. Photo: APTN.

Baffin Larga’s current operation is in the city’s west end. But the 103 rooms help fewer than 200 people who travel to Ottawa for medical appointments. If there’s no room here, people are placed in a number of hotels in the area.

Sending people out of Nunavut for medical appointments is a multi-million dollar operation for Nunavut.

In 2020-21, Nunavut budgeted $107.6 million for medical travel, an increase of $17.6 million from the previous year.

Ottawa is just one of the hubs – people also travel to Yellowknife, Edmonton and Winnipeg.

According to Larga Baffin, the new location in Ottawa will have 220 rooms and be able to accommodate 350 people.

“We are exceeding our ability to provide accommodation to our clients and having to place some at hotels as we do not have the room to hour all clients,” says the Larga Baffin website. “The demand for service isn’t slowing down.

“We are in the planning development stage and hope to move into our facility in the next 3-5 years.”

Aedan Ovilu, 24, now lives in Ottawa. But is from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut and has used Larga Baffin in the past.

She says what she read about the meeting upset her.

“I was just filled with frustration and anger, I couldn’t understand why people would say such a thing about Inuit,” she says.

“I’ve done medical travel for months on end before and being away from your community, away from family is super stressful, it can cause a lot of mental health issues if you’re away from your support systems too long.”


The tweets that Ovilu likely read came from the account of Dean Tester, president of Making Housing Affordable.

For the past six months, he’s been attending the city’s planning meetings.

He said when it comes to some developments, there’s always pushback from white, retired, and wealthy homeowners.

When he heard the pushback happening with Larga Baffin’s proposal, he wasn’t at all surprised.

“I saw Councillor Deans was tweeting about concerns about the size and the traffic and red flags went up for me instantly because those are the complaints we hear at almost all of those meetings and those are never what they actually mean.”

Tester started live-tweeting and what he posted was this zoom audio clip of a woman named Madelaine.

“I’ve spent a lot of money for this house ok and I can’t move anywhere else. So I’m just saying it’s not fair that the city will amend the zone without considering the existing residents of upper hunt club… we are here first,” she told the meeting.

Tester says he was overwhelmed with the response on social media.

“Sometimes at these planning meetings, you see the ugly side of this city, but the reaction to my post showed the best side of this city.”

Tester says more than 450,000 people saw the post on Reddit.

“We had hundreds of comments, thousands of uploads.  I had people from across the province sharing stories, people from across the country sharing stories about the impact Larga Baffin had,” he says.

 

According to Deans, a meeting between the planners and Larga Baffin will take place next week to talk about the issues.

The next planning committee is scheduled for June 23.

APTN reached out to Larga Baffin for comment but did not get a response by the time this article was published.