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Excavating an Unsightly Past,

Re-Approaching the Trail Road Waste Facility




            The research and analysis into any landscape can yield seen and unseen histories that lay latent within the site. Uncovering these narratives from the past and present environments provide a platform to develop an experiential condition in which to reveal those stories. Studying of the Trail Road Waste Facility landfill in Ottawa, Ontario brings forward an understanding of past intentions of refuse allocations, potential attempts for energy creation, and other past activities. The specific histories and immediate rural contexts of the landfill site can inspire the frameworks of a unique earthwork proposal that can reflect on the past, present and future implications of contemporary waste management. As D.W Meinig’s essay The Beholding Eye refers to a particular view of a landscape as a type of artifact, “the earth is a platform, but all thereon is furnished with man’s effects so extensively that you cannot find a scrap of pristine nature” anywhere.[1] The culmination of these efforts by humans to curate the earth and live a comfortable life disseminates and collects into the pit of the landfill. It seems the advancements in technology and artistic practices has yielded a society of wasteful tendencies and disassociating humanity from the natural world, harkening back to the warnings of these kinds of controlling determinants by Jean Jaques Rousseau.[2] This piece will explore a potential landscape intervention at the landfill through the inspirations of an 18th century English garden, located within the western portion of the landfill. The proposal embodies and embraces the current actions and conditions of contemporary waste disposal practices as its experiential makeup.

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Fig. 1: Trail Road Waste Facility, 1979. 

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Fig. 4: Trail Road Waste Facility, 2008. 

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Fig. 2: Trail Road Waste Facility, 1991. 

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Fig. 5: Trail Road Waste Facility, 2014. 

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 Fig. 3: Trail Road Waste Facility, 1991.

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 Fig. 6: Trail Road Waste Facility, 2016.

The Trail Road Waste Facility was established in 1980 and presently continues operations (Fig. 1-6) The landfill is sited across Trail Road to the north of the former City of Ottawa dump, the Nepean Landfill, which had cease operations by 1993.[3] Since its conception the Trail Road Waste Facility has carried out development and expansion over five phases, transitioning disposal operations from the west side of the site to the east. As of 2015 the landfill is estimated to have a 27 year life span remaining.[4] Many city-wide systems have been established to mediate the accumulating trash volumes and deter ongoing surrounding environmental concerns of soil and water qualities. Implicating the individual households, refuse sorting in the form of coloured waste bins aide to distribute portions of trash into categories of composite and recycling to lessen the shear volumes unloaded into the landfill. Various forms of experimental waste-to-energy production has been attempted on site. One method attempted utilized wells buried deep into the landfill to collect toxic methane gas excreted by decomposing solid waste. Methane gas was collected and burned to create electrical power. A second method saw the clean technology efforts of the process  “plasma-arc gasification” by the privately owned Plasco company.[5,6] The  process would use plasma to superheat collected masses of garbage form the landfill, and create electricity by way of incineration. The latter method was partially funded by the City of Ottawa until 2015 when the company was defunded and in turn decommissioned.[7] These processes aimed to remove the volume and environmental impacts on the landfill site and add to the electrical grid. One wonders why this technology is not further supported and implemented by the City of Ottawa. 

            The layers of trash splayed across the landfill site can embody a recent vertical history of the lifestyle of the citizens of Ottawa. French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau describes the technological resultants of the “state, science and other elements of culture including property and law [having] corrupted the human estate.”[8] Here, the ‘nature’, the landscape of the landfill, is made up of repeated layers of non-compostable waste attempting to be hidden from sight by backfilled topsoil and wild foliage surrounding the site. Through uncovering the anthropocentric striations of trash sedimentation an opportunity for an integrated landwork which could bring about a sensual immersion into the site of a live landfill bringing one’s awareness of collective effects of the landfill on the environment as “the landscape is a great exhibit of consequences.”[9]

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Left: View of ingrown landfill from west end of the site. Acquired online from Google Maps.

Right: Map graphic illustrating the proposed landmark pathway design and the envisioned sight lines associated with the procession.

            A land-work can be proposed for the Trail Road Waste Facility which embraces and reveals the existing strata of the landfill by the creation of an undulating pathway trenched into the vertical mass of refuse. In the spirit of the 18th century English garden the proposal investigates a landscape approach to illustrating an overarching narrative which is “subservient to its subject matter.”[10] Envisioned as an excavated pathway meandering within a defunct portion the existing dumpsite, the trail ascends from road level through the masses of compacted soil and trash and immerses the visitor in Ottawa’s accumulated pungent smells, seagulls, flies and unsightly layered histories of waste disposal. Entering the site at its most western point at the confluence of Moodie Drive, Cambrian Road, and Trail Road, the entirety of the landfill is blocked from view by overgrown trees and foliage. A pathway emerges into the landfill from a surface of wild grasses and weeds and exposes walls made from years of compacted trash and soil. Along the winding pathway of walled trash glimpses of the surrounding land altering histories are revealed. Enclosed and directed by the walls of the pathways specific sight lines frame the adjacent gravel quarries and former city dump site. Finally arriving at a vertical apex of the landfill, one is directed towards the east to witness the grand vista of the active dumpsite. Visitors view the the ongoing evolutions and alterations to the landfill and reflect upon the weight of their personal contributions to the site. The aesthetic of the landfill can relate to Meinig's reference to the landscape as a problem, by way of the “evidence [that] looms in most any view” of its own sublime state.[11,12] This procession aims to invoke a personal self-reflection onto the visitor. By walking on top of, within and around the masses of trash one may feel implicated in the landfill’s continued modifications and an understanding for the land-work’s construction, thus creating a deeper awareness of these effects and altering their waste disposal practices in future. 


            This proposal for the Trail Road Waste Facility landscape intervention aims to create a unique procession of sensual experiences through the mass of the site’s history, pointing out adjacent contextual histories of large scale environmental alterations. A trenched pathway, engulfed by strata of years of waste, connects the visitor to the masses of refuse which surrounds them. The remaining untouched mound of trash remains as voluminous monument of the by-product of a consumer society. By reimagining the purpose and accessibility of the contents and activities of the landfill site one can hope that a communal impression might invoke a sense of agency in reducing the amounts of waste that reach its final resting place in a city dump. As D.W. Meinig refers to landscape as a form of history, “the historical view is meant to serve curiosity, reflection or instruction, the landscape provides infinite possibilities.”[13]

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[1] D.W. Meinig, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays. (Oxford University Press: 1979) 36-37.

[2] Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. (Yale University Press: 1991) 111.

[3] Ahmed Shaker and Wai Yeung Yan, Trail road landfill site monitoring using multi-temporal Landsat satellite data, (Research Gate, June 2010).

[4] Matthew Pearson, After Plasco: City looks to increase diversion, find new technology, (Ottawa Citizen 15 Feb. 2015).

[5] Victo Pilieci, Liquidator takes ownership of Plasco assets for pennies on the dollar, (Ottawa Citizen 18 Aug. 2015).

[6,7] Matthew Pearson, After Plasco: City looks to increase diversion, find new technology, (Ottawa Citizen 15 Feb. 2015).

[8] Oelschlaeger, Max. The Idea of Wilderness: From Prehistory to the Age of Ecology. (Yale University Press: 1991) 111.

[9] D.W. Meinig, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays. (Oxford University Press: 1979) 44.

[10] Gina Crandell, Nature Pictorialized: The View in Landscape History (John Hopkins University Press: 1992) 123-124.

[11] D.W. Meinig, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays. (Oxford University Press: 1979) 39.

[12] Edmund Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of out Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, The philosophy of Edmund Burke: A Selection of his Speeches and Writings, ed. Louis I. Dredvold and Ralph G. Ross, (University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor. 1967) 256-257; 262.

[13] D.W. Meinig, The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays. (Oxford University Press: 1979) 45.

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