Searching for Manor Park’s communal ‘water cooler’

By Douglas Cornish

Manor Park Rock the Block festival in October 2022
Manor Park Community Council's Rock the Block event returned in October and was a huge success. The location could be one of the neighbourhoood's "water cooler" locations. Photo: Paul Gragg

The office water cooler has been a well-known interactive meeting place. The water cooler can be the proverbial information-gathering place, or a place where gossip thrives–but that’s probably up to everyone to distinguish between the two.

In neighbourhoods where public water drinking fountains aren’t as abundant as they used to be, the metaphorical water cooler can be found in different places. Does a water cooler neighbourhood make a better neighbourhood? Where is Manor Park’s communal water cooler? The Dairy Queen was a neighbourhood meeting place for decades, but, alas, it is no more.

One water cooler might be the newly constructed NCC bridge at the end of Blasdell. I have seen people stop and momentarily linger to chat at either end of the bridge before they proceed to their destination. The bridge provides not only transportation for walkers and cyclists, but also a water cooler ambiance where neighbours, sometimes from different parts of the neighbourhood, meet and greet. It might not be the Rialto in Venice, but it is the only bridge in Manor Park!

Pathway pauses

The various NCC pathways surrounding the Manor Park area, including the wonderful Ottawa River Pathway, can provide more than just an exercise route, or a place to walk the dog. Enjoy a water cooler pause for human interaction, if only briefly.

Manor Park’s many dog owners need to get off the couch with the necessary and sometimes temporarily annoying fact — their dog must be walked, no matter what the weather. On the plus side, it’s interesting to note the many water cooler moments involving a dog. Dogs are great conversation starters. Even when someone is shy and not always open to a chat, a dog usually opens the door. Anthony Vincent Park, in what some call Central Manor Park, has potential for a water cooler spot. Dogs are allowed in the park’s open space, and while the dogs play, the people talk. Larger popular parks include Hemlock Park and London Terrace Park, which are often busy with off-leash dogs and children’s activities.

Lanes, fences and the RCMP

Water coolers are found in other places. The lanes in Manor Park central can be meeting places as someone walks down a lane, encounters a neighbour, and strikes up a conversation.

The local neighbourhood fence is an age-old water cooler place. Good fences can, indeed, make good neighbours. The fence provides the necessary conduit for the conversation, as neighbours talk from either side of the fence. The conversation might be trivial, as in, “You have nice roses this year,” or it may be more serious, as in, “How’s your child doing after that broken arm incident last week?”

And yes, even the RCMP Musical Ride horses have a water cooler effect, as people park in a nearby lot and walk near the fence to see (but don’t feed!) those beautiful horses. These water cooler conversations may only involve people talking to the horses!

If you happen to live in an apartment building, there still is a water cooler—it’s called an elevator! And if someone is not interested in a water cooler moment, then that’s perfectly all right, too.

Well, what about the winter months, which are approaching, you may ask? The water cooler at this time of year may have a thin layer of ice on it! Winter can provide the water cooler effect (cooler being the operative word, here), where on a brisk, clear, and star-studded night one might be out shovelling the drive, or snow-blowing the drive when a neighbour walks by. The snow shoveler stops and leans on the snow shovel for a chat, or the snowblower is temporarily turned off for a quiet conversation. Winter can be inviting, and magical.

With the hybrid office located at home these days, the water cooler might be missed. The answer is out in the neighbourhood. Take a short computer break for a walk (with or without dog) and discover what a water cooler neighbourhood has to offer. To water cooler, or not to water cooler, that is the question?