Posted November 17, 2016
Some residents in the central Gatineau neighbourhood of Île de Hull say they've gone long enough without a place to buy food. There has been no grocery in that sector of the city since the last one closed its doors in 1999.
With dépanneurs and restaurants the only options, Hull has become a food desert, they say.
A 2013 report by Health Canada, called Measuring the Food Environment in Canada, examined the prevalence of food deserts in Canadian communities and found that "healthy eating is central to overall health and reduces the risk of nutrition-related chronic diseases and obesity."
A 2011 paper published in Archives of Internal Medicine argued there is more evidence of "food swamps" than food deserts in Canada. These are typically disadvantaged areas "with a plethora of fast food; convenience stores selling calorie-dense packaged foods, super-sized sodas, and other sugar-loaded beverages; and other non-food retail venues selling junk food as a side activity," reads the paper by J.E. Fielding and P.A. Simon.
Annie Lacasse, chair of Gatineau's ACORN chapter (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now), said there's an urgent need for a grocery store in the Hull community. A round trip to the closest store with her four children can take up to three hours and cost her $45 in bus and cab fare, she said.
Though Île de Hull is comparable in size to Ottawa's Centretown neighbourhood, there are no grocery stores. Food in the area is served by a waiter or on a dépanneur shelf.
'We absolutely have to have a grocery store'
"[It's a] huge problem... You can get crappy food here; there's a McDonald's, there's Giant Tiger," said resident Steve Moran.
"We absolutely have to have a grocery store."
Coun. Denise Laferrière, who represents the area, invited residents to a community centre Wednesday night to hear their ideas on how to spend $300,000 from a community building budget.
The funds were carried over from 2000, when Hull was an independent city.
The money has at times been earmarked for the establishment of a grocery store, either to see and support the creation of a community co-op or to offset property development costs.
Some of the other ideas presented by residents and by Laferrière herself during a brief slideshow included a skating rink chalet to improve a local park, planting trees and restoring a civic fountain.
"That [the fountain] is for what demographic? The kind of demographic that is not in this city currently," skoffed resident Jean-Emile Ventrillon. "Nobody cares about a fountain. People care about getting food at a good price."
'Clear lack of will'
People in the crowd of 100 repeatedly urged Laferrière to use the $300,000 for a supermarket. They loudly applauded those who pointed out that, without a grocery store, Île de Hull is an incomplete community.
"I came tonight because I think there is a clear lack of will to solve the problem," said Yanic Bessette-Viens, who clashed with the councillor during the meeting.
Radio-Canada has reported on community efforts to bring a grocery store to Île de Hull over the past 11 years. At one point, it appeared the money would be used to help establish a co-operative community grocery store.
A proposal by Heafey Group to add a 30,000-square-foot Provigo grocery store to the ground floor of a 12-storey condo tower at the corner of Eddy and Wellington by fall of 2015 also fell apart before it began.
In January, Radio-Canada reported that the SAQ liqour depot, a former home of a Domion Grocery store until 1999, was being eyed as a possible site for a new Hull supermarket.
Too few residents, councillor says
By March, however, Laferrière opined that there were too few residents in the area to draw and support a grocery business. On Wednesday night, she again argued the Île de Hull market is too small to attract a national grocery chain.
"She's also saying there's too many deps. Now, this is why you have zoning laws. If you let this many deps open up and they can't renovate their buildings because they're all heritage-designated, then of course you can't have a grocery store," said resident Yanic Bessette-Viens.
His friend Jerome Simon agreed, saying if you build it, they will come.
"If you have a nice fancy apartment building then it would bring the demographic that they want to be able to have a grocery store running," Simon said.
Laferrière said she will continue to consult with residents before deciding how to spend the money.
Article by Stu Mills for CBC News Ottawa