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Downtown Gatineau has lost thousands of workers, says new report

Part of Hull in downtown Gatineau, Que., in April 2023. According to a new report, downtown Gatineau lost more than 21,000 workers between 2016 and 2021. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)
Part of Hull in downtown Gatineau, Que., in April 2023. According to a new report, downtown Gatineau lost more than 21,000 workers between 2016 and 2021. (Michel Aspirot/CBC - image credit)

A new study shows that various organizations want to reverse the decline of downtown Gatineau, Que., one that's been fueled by an exodus of workers, including many federal civil servants.

The City of Gatineau asked the Observatoire du développement de l'Outaouais (ODO) to carry out the study, which aimed to find solutions to diversify the local economy and revitalize the city centre.

According to the report, which was unveiled Friday, downtown Gatineau has seen a sharp drop in the number of workers over the span of five years.

In 2016, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 36,070 workers in the area. By 2021, that figure had fallen to 14,460, the report said.

More employees have been working remotely, leading to deserted offices and making it very likely the federal government will vacate buildings it rents in the downtown, the report said.

The report puts forward several potential solutions for revitalizing the downtown, including stimulating the local economy by supporting small businesses.

Someone walks in downtown Gatineau, Que.'s Hull community Nov. 22, 2022.
Someone walks in downtown Gatineau, Que.'s Hull community Nov. 22, 2022.

A pedestrian walks through downtown Gatineau in 2022. According to the ODO report, of the 55 downtowns the authors looked at across Canada, Gatineau has seen the largest drop in pedestrian traffic since the pandemic. (Michel Aspirot/CBC)

Revitalization won't happen overnight, says mayor

At a press conference Friday, Gatineau Mayor France Bélisle acknowledged the revitalization of the downtown was "a challenge" the city would have to take on.

"Development and a sense of belonging will take time," Bélisle said in French. "We won't see results in 48 hours or next year."

City administration will have to look into forming some sort of action plan for the downtown, as well as potentially offering financial assistance, in the weeks and months to come, the mayor said.

Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle speaks at a press conference on the flood risk along the Gatineau River on May 23, 2022.
Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle speaks at a press conference on the flood risk along the Gatineau River on May 23, 2022.

Gatineau, Que., Mayor France Bélisle, seen here in 2023, says developing Gatineau's core to make it more lively won't happen overnight. (Alexander Behne/Radio-Canada)

"We need to make sure that people understand where is the downtown core," said Alex Van Dieren, co-president of Gatineau event planning company Orkestra.

That includes concentrating shops and events in one location, Van Dieren said.

Van Dieren also said that when it comes to collaborating with the City of Gatineau, the relationship has been more positive than ever — but multiple different groups will need to work together to solve the issues facing the downtown.

"We feel the city is really into it, and very much so believes — like many others — that now [downtown Gatineau should return to] being the place to be."