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Ottawa father hopes to keep tree fort standing after kids get tear-down notice

Victoria fort
Nine-year-old Victoria works on a tree fort in her Hawthorne Avenue neighbourhood back in March. Michael Bailey / Provided to Global News

Editor’s note: Michael Bailey says he spoke with staff from the city’s parks department Wednesday who agreed to let the fort stay up until the end of the week.

A DIY dad is hoping for a brief stay-of-demolition on his Old Ottawa East tree fort, a modest wooden structure on city-owned land that has become a sanctuary for a handful of kids during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The treehouse in question sits a few feet up a cluster of trees in an otherwise empty clearing at the end of Hawthorne Avenue, backing onto a Highway 417 off-ramp.

Michael Bailey says he and another parent in their east-end neighbourhood started work on a tree fort towards the end of March as a project to help keep their kids busy during the pandemic lockdown.

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It has a simple railing and slightly uneven floorboards, but the fort has been a saving grace for kids in the neighbourhood typically stuck indoors while schools are closed and Ottawa’s parks are off-limits.

“The tree fort’s one of our only forms of entertainment in this difficult time,” says nine-year-old William in a video posted to his dad’s Twitter account.

Bailey says William and his twin sister Victoria came back to their home up the street earlier this week to say an official had come by the treehouse, informing them there had been a complaint filed against the fort and it would have to come down.

“They were pretty upset,” he says.

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While Bailey knew there were limits to what residents could do on city-owned land, he had hoped his Hawthorne Avenue neighbourhood, where many families have young kids, could let the infraction pass.

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“We recognized that if somebody complained, the city would have to tear it down,” he says. “I didn’t think that would happen here in this neighbourhood.”

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Other kids on the street have made use of the fort during the lockdown as well, including one young girl set to turn eight years old on Wednesday.

While Bailey acknowledges the fort will likely have to come down eventually, he hopes it’s not the sore spot of a birthday already disrupted by the coronavirus lockdown.

In addition to posting a letter on the fort itself asking for a stay-of-demolition, Bailey has reached out to Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard to see if he could intervene to keep the treehouse in place for a few more days.

There’s a bit of confusion as to which authority has its qualms with the treehouse — a City of Ottawa department or another body such as Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation.

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Bailey says he was told by a neighbour that it appeared to be a city official assessing the fort, though bylaw officers he spoke to said it could’ve been an employee of another city department.

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A City of Ottawa spokesperson told Global News in an update Tuesday evening that the city’s bylaw services department hasn’t received a complaint about the treehouse and does not have plans to demolish it.

A spokesperson from the MTO followed up with Global News on Wednesday to say that it reviewed the case and determined the fort was on City of Ottawa property, not in provincial jurisdiction.

Menard told Global News in an email that his office is now sorting out who informed the kids about the impending demolition.

If it is indeed staff from a city department taking umbrage with the fort, Menard said he’s asking the tear down to be put on hold.

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Bailey’s plea comes at a time when the debate over outdoor space in Ottawa during the pandemic is reaching new highs.

Menard and other city councillors penned a letter Tuesday to Ontario Premier Doug Ford, Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Ottawa’s city manager Steve Kanellakos asking them to loosen restrictions on the province’s parks and green spaces to let families stretch their legs at a safe distance during the pandemic.

Ford himself said Monday the province was getting “close” to opening up parks again.

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