|Photo courtesy of remax.ca|
This past week, the double at 49-51 Gilchrist Avenue was put up for sale, and already a lot of worry has surfaced amongst neighbours about the future of the house. At its asking price ($1.15M), it seems likely that developers would be the largest contingent amongst potential buyers. It sadly looks like the days are gone where this house could be owner-occupied, a perfect way for a savvy young family could live in one half, and rent out the other side to help pay the mortgage. Now, as an aging building on a corner lot in one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in town, it seems to be potential fodder for the wrecking ball, and the inevitable application at city hall for 4 units. Or 6. Or 8. Or who knows. That corner lot location means the opportunities are theoretically endless. Throw in the "bonus" opportunity space the abandoned city back-lane provides, and it seems like a development is likely. If I sound pessimistic, consider that the sellers did not even bother to include a single interior photo in their listing, despite how nice I know the units are.
My fingers are crossed that we aren't headed that way, and that a buyer will be found who will keep the building just as it is, and appreciate the history and quality of the house.
I thought then it might be interesting to share the history of this proud brick double, and bring to life its 90 year history a little bit.
* * *
The lot was sold in the second Ottawa Land Association auction, held in June 1920. However, the initial lot buyer did not build right away, and it was not until the summer of 1928 when things got moving.
67-year old real estate investor William J. Riley came to an agreement in early July 1928 to acquire the lot, and took out the building permit in mid-July in his name (sandwiched between the permits issued for St. Giles Church on Bank Street and Elmdale School all within a week). He officially purchased the lot (along with a second lot a few blocks away) on August 6th, 1928, immediately took out a mortgage against the land for $2,500.
|Ottawa Citizen listing of monthly building permits issued,|
for the month of July. Listing ran August 3, 1928
Construction would have taken place throughout the fall of 1928, and into early 1929. He took out a second mortgage on April 12th, 1929 for an additional $1,500, like to complete the final stages of construction.
William Riley was born in Prospect, Ontario in 1861, and came to Ottawa in 1902, where he worked with the Office Specialty Manufacturing Company for years. Riley never married, nor had any kids.
|An old ad for Riley's employer for most of his career|
(from Google Images)
He had been living in the Battleford, Saskatchewan area during the 1890s, and apparently owned several properties there. He may have owned one or two other properties in Ottawa in the 1920s, but nothing in large numbers. The Gilchrist Avenue double was likely just an investment in his retirement, perhaps as a way to keep busy with managing it.
Being 67 years old at the time, and with little evidence of having been a tradesman, I suspect Riley had hired out for the construction of the house. The mortgages in 1928 and 1929 were both from a man named Albert Edwin James, who was listed on the real estate documents as a carpenter. Research shows James was also from the Prospect, Ontario region, who had been a farmer there until retiring from farming in 1922 and relocating to Ottawa. In the era, banks and loan companies weren't as essential as they are today. Many mortgages (more than half on average) were taken out from individuals. It was also not uncommon for a builder to build a house for a lot owner and charge it to the owner by way of a mortgage, which would be guaranteed against the value of the property (foreclosure would be a solution if the owner became unable to pay back the loan). So James may very well have been the builder of 49-51 Gilchrist Avenue. Otherwise, due to Riley taking out the permit in his name, and his being the only name on title, there is no way to definitively determine who the builder was.
The house seems to have been ready in mid-March or early-April 1929, as a classified ad advertising the house for rent ran on March 15th, 1929, described simply as "New double, cor. Gilchrist, Spencer, complete electric wiring."
|49-51 Gilchrist is first advertised for rent.|
Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1929
Riley never lived in the house; he lived downtown on James Street, and instead had tenants move into both sides of the house. The first occupants were Reginald J. Shaw and his wife Ellen in the 49 Gilchrist half (Reginald was 27 years old, with the Air Force) and William and Annie Chapman in the 51 Gilchrist half (William was a 36-year old salesman). Each couple had one child.
Sadly, Riley passed away just a few months after the building was compelted, on August 13th, 1929. On his death, an article about his life in the Journal noted: "Though not a public man, he took a deep interest in affairs pertaining to both church and state. Honest in his dealings and respected by all with whom he came in contact, Mr. Riley leaves a vacant place in both family and community circles."
|March 1946 view of the double at 49-51 Gilchrist|
(courtesy of Bruce Chapman)
After Riley passed away, ownership of the house transferred to his widowed sister Emmeline Jane McRorie, and his brother-in-law Dugald Robert Ferguson, as trustees of his estate. Perhaps unfortunately for them, with the great depression underway, selling the big double house would likely have proved impossible. I'm not sure if they even tried, but regardless, they retained ownership for 13 years, renting it out to tenants along the way.
In November of 1942, the William Riley estate sold the house to civil servant Ernest Brault, and his wife Edmée. The Braults would become long-time owner-occupants. They lived in the 49 Gilchrist half for the next 34 years, where they raised their four children (sadly, one of their children, Andrée, passed away in November of 1946 at the age of 12).
Notably, Edmée Brault made the news in 1950, when she led a campaign to have shorts banned in Ottawa! The topic was heavily debated in the media over several weeks that summer, and was rehashed in 1983 by the Ottawa Citizen (see article below):
|June 25, 1983 Citizen article|
While the Brault family lived on the north half, tenants resided on the south half. The longest tenants to live in the house were Cedric and Beatrice Dunning, who lived in the #51 half from 1940 until 1950, and Delbert F. and Madeline Carter who lived at 51 from 1958 to 1968.
|April 1949 view, with a nice look down the south half of|
(courtesy of Bruce Chapman)
Interestingly, in December of 1950, the OMB heard a case from Brault, looking for an amendment to city bylaw 6839 which limited the density of buildings within the ward. Brault was attempting to convert the building into a triplex. No newspaper reports tell the story of what happened at the OMB, but of course we know that it did not succeed. The house remained two units.
|The golden age - paperboy Bob Boucher of 51 Gilchrist|
helps donate $100 to the Ottawa Boys' Club.
Ottawa Journal, February 7, 1955
Ernest Brault passed away on January 24, 1976, and a few months later his widow Edmée sold the home (she ended up living to the great old age of 96, passing away in 2006). It changed hands twice more in 1979 and 1981, and remained under the same owner I believe until about ten years ago, when it was sold to the current owner.
49 & 51 Gilchrist Avenue will always be one my favourite houses on Gilchrist, and I sure hope the right buyer is found, and it remains standing for years to come. It would be a sad thing if this article becomes a eulogy for one of Wellington Village's oldest and most impressive structures.