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FOUND: Ritchie’s silos a shrine to city’s agricultural history

BY ROGER BIRD

This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine as part of a series of three colourful workspaces in Ottawa.

Four giant, grey, concrete silos facing Highway 417 in the east end are a monument to the city’s agricultural history. Photo by Jackson Couse

The Monument
On the eastern approaches to Ottawa stands a 20-metre-high monument to the city’s agriculture: four giant grey concrete silos facing Highway 417, with a sign on the side that reads Ritchie Feed & Seed Inc. Each of these silos on Windmill Lane can hold about 1,000 tonnes of corn, with comparable amounts for lightweight grains such as barley or wheat. Beside them, a larger white structure looks like a cluster of giant cylinders crammed together. For decades, if you were a dairy cow, horse, chicken, pig, or sheep, this larger cluster was where lunch was made. Cereal crops, along with vitamins, gluten, salt, and antibiotics, were ground, mixed, soaked, and forced through a device called an extruder to form feed pellets for livestock across the city of Ottawa, the province, and northeastern U.S. states.

Lessons of the land
The “city” in the city of Ottawa consists of about 500 square kilometres of streets, houses, pavement, office buildings, shopping malls, and parking lots. Then there’s 200 square kilometres that make up the greenbelt. But inside city limits, almost 950 square kilometres of Ottawa land is in use for agriculture — that’s more than a third of the city. This paradox is audible on Windmill Lane in early spring. Neill Ritchie of Ritchie Feed & Seed is on the phone handling a call about some soon-to-be-shipped baby chickens, turkeys, and Peking ducks. “Do you want them at the same time? We won’t know until they show up whether they’ve been sexed.” He tells the poultry producer that you get a four-pound bird in six to eight weeks. After that, it’s less meat for a dollar’s worth of feed. Ritchie should know: he’s walking agricultural heritage, a member of the family that founded the company in the 1920s, co-manager with his brother Doug, and the company’s all-round expert on growing things, both plant and animal.

Movable feasts
Feed production — and the necessary silos — started on Boteler Street, south of Sussex Drive, in the 1920s. That operation shut down when the National Capital Commission needed the land for what became the Pearson Building, home to the then Department of External Affairs. Ritchie’s moved to Windmill Lane and built new silos in 1963. A couple of years ago, the company moved again and set up a mill in rented silos on Experimental Farm land near Hunt Club and Woodroffe. It used parts from the Windmill Lane site and continued grinding grains and squeezing out feed pellets for livestock in Ottawa and beyond, driven by a need for efficiencies and bigger volume. Inside the old silos, on a tour with Craig Harrison — the company’s fleet supervisor — it looks as if the crew has just left after a day’s work. Spilled grain on the floor, cobwebs in out-of-reach places, light filtering down from windows high above, and the rich smells of last year’s harvest.

Past and future
Aside from community gardens, the Experimental Farm, and small weekend markets across the city, there’s little evidence of Ottawa’s almost 1,000 square kilometres of farmland in the areas where people live and shop. Among the few reminders, the “Vinette silo” on the east side of Centrum Boulevard in Orleans made it onto the city’s heritage register three years ago. But there’s no talk of seeking that official status on Windmill Lane. Harrison, the man who knows the Ritchie silos best, seems a touch wistful when he says they are lying fallow. “But they’re great for signage,” he adds.

OFFICE CRUSH: Futuristic workspace of MD Physician Services emerges from ashes

This article was originally published in the October 2014 print edition of Ottawa Magazine as part of a series of three colourful workspaces in Ottawa.

BY SARAH BROWN

DSC_0648

Photo by Tim Lau

When a small fire led to extensive smoke damage in MD Physician Services’ six-storey office, president and CEO Brian Peters and his team decided to view the setback as an opportunity to redesign and retool for the next decade. Project Phoenix was born. The dramatic cosmetic changes steal the limelight, but Peters is proudest of how the new office works — state-of-the-art communications tools, flexible workstations, and diverse meeting spaces make for a happier and more motivated workforce.

The design team, 4té, that led Project Phoenix used one wall within the building to celebrate the renovation. Here, an artful array of words and sentence fragments highlights the ideas that drove the design. Four key words at the end sum it up perfectly: Small Fire. Lasting Legacy.

By the Numbers…

MD Physician Services

Type of business: Financial management and investment services for Canadian physicians

Number of employees: 600

Square footage: 120,000 on six floors

Design: 4té

Cost: A few million, some of it paid by insurance

Timeline: January 2013–February 2014

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Photo by Tim Lau

What was the impetus for change?
On January 3, 2013, there was a fire on the ground floor. There was a lot of smoke damage. Since everyone was out of the building for the foreseeable future anyway, we thought why not take the opportunity to completely redo the space and retool for the next decade. Project Phoenix was born.

What are the key elements of the new look?
The designers at 4té took us to visit a number of other office spaces as inspiration. We wanted to be modern and functional. The design process was quite collaborative. We had three big meetings at the Hampton Inn over the course of the design so that everyone in the company could see where we were going and vote on their favourite options.

How does the redesign match your company philosophy?
It matches the way we want to be. Financial services can be a very conservative sector, but we feel that we pushed the envelope a bit with this design. I think it helps us retain forward-thinking people.

Does this workspace make employees more productive?
Definitely. If you’re happy, you’re going to be more productive. This space is much more interactive than the old office. You talk to people more; you’re more focused. The combination of the design and all the systems now in place make everyone feel more connected.

Which room has given you the most bang for the buck?
All the spaces get well used, but if I was going to point to one specific room, I’d have to say the Phoenix Bistro. Before the reno, it was a boring high-school-style cafeteria, but it had the makings of a great space.

How do you justify such a big investment?
This renovation has changed the very dynamics around here. We’re already looking at how we can take the lessons we learned here and transfer them to the other offices around the country.

Click on the thumbnails for a virtual tour of the MD Physician Services office:

All photos by Tim Lau

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