Sunday, January 25, 2015

Street Profiles: The history of Fraser Avenue

This week I am looking at the history of Fraser Avenue which is in the McKellar Park-Westboro area of Kitchissippi. This is a street which may have a lot more history in it than you can imagine. Part of this street was once a golf course. All of it was once a farm. Street cars ran through it for 60 years. It was the site of a deadly train wreck of new Canadian immigrants. And most importantly, like the neighbourhood which surrounds it, the street has developed into a place that families can call home for many years. Many move on to Fraser and remain for multiple generations.

Current Street Name: Fraser Avenue
Former Street Name: was known as "First Avenue" until 1944 (and part of it as "Banting Avenue" from 1950 until the late 50s)
First established: 1911
Name meaning: Was named after Robert and Mary Ann Fraser, one of the first (and long-time) builders and residents of the street. Their home (551 Fraser Avenue) remains standing today as a McKellar Park landmark.
How named: Nepean Township worked with the Canadian Post Office Department in 1944 to established improved addressing for the introduction of mail delivery in the suburbs. As a result, large-scale home renumbering and street renaming took place. At this time it was also known that annexation of Westboro to the City of Ottawa was imminent, thus a Bylaw was passed in April of 1944, changing the names of many streets in Kitchissippi. The large majority of streets were given new patriotic names. All of the numbered streets in the McKellar Townsite subdivision were assigned proper names, in some cases recognizing long-time, pioneering families of the suburb. Fraser Avenue was one of these streets named to memorialize the important and well-loved Fraser family.

Early days:
The McKellar Park neighbourhood, of which Fraser Avenue is the original/historic eastern border, has it's earliest roots dating back to 1873, when 60-year old dairy farmer Archibald McKellar purchased 266 acres of land in west Kitchissippi. McKellar was born in Scotland, and had come to Canada just shy of his 30th birthday. He had established a successful dairy farm on leased land on the Billings Estate in the east end for the previous 30 years; the Kitchissippi purchase was his first instance of owning property. The McKellar's new farm had already been in existence for many years, dating back to the Thomson family (they of the Maplelawn-Keg Manor fame). Along with acquiring the land, McKellar purchased the large stone mansion on the north side of Richmond Road (built circa 1840). He modified the home a little, but ultimately it looked the same in the 19th century as it still does now (on Richmond Road, near the foot of Windermere Avenue, better known as McKellar-Bingham House).

Below is an amazing illustration of the farm from Belden's 1879 Atlas of Carleton County. So many details! From the train (on which was then the Canada Central Railway line), the buggies on dusty Richmond Road, the square timber raft, etc.

McKellar farm from the 1879 Belden Atlas. Note the stone mansion house at
the top left which still stands on Richmond Road today.

Archibald McKellar passed away in 1889, and willed the farm to his only son, John McKellar, who was 45 years old at the time. John and his two sisters still resided at home, and all three were unmarried (I suppose the options for courting and marriage in this era were very limited, particularly on the relatively isolated farm). John McKellar and his sisters kept the farm going for another 22 years.

"Drawing Hay at McKellar Farm" photo from the Topley Collection at
the National Archives (PA-009866). This photo would date from the 1890s,
and shows the Ottawa River in the background top left, the Thomson farm
and Maplelawn top right, and the cluster of trees lining Richmond Road.
In 1899, McKellar sold a portion of his farm land to the Ottawa Electric Railway, who were extending streetcar out to Britannia. The rail line split the McKellar farm near the north end when it ran its first trial run car on December 18th, 1899. Regular streetcar service began on May 24th, 1900, and would run until May of 1959.

1911 was a huge year in the transformation of McKellar Farm. A local group of businessmen, led by coal dealer Gordon F. Hodgins, had formed a syndicate and came to an agreement to purchase the farm sometime in late 1910. It was officially registered in the spring of 1911, but the group (the McKellar Townsite Company) wasted no time in drawing up a plan for the community, and kicking off an aggressive advertising campaign in the newspapers of Ottawa. Advertisements for lot sales began to run in mid-January of 1911, and the McKellar Townsite Plan (plan M-29) was officially registered with Carleton County on June 14th, 1911. The plan created 1,029 lots in McKellar Townsite on seven new streets running north-to-south from the River to Carling Avenue. The Townsite Company hoped to cash in on John Cole’s recent success in selling real estate in Westboro and Highland Park. The company graded the roads and in 1912 installed 24,000 feet of cement sidewalks. The lots were equipped with electric light and heating, and water was sourced from artesian wells (where pressurized water naturally rises to the surface). The company also opened a quarry on the property and supplied building stone at cost to lot purchasers.

Earliest map of the McKellar Townsite plan from January of 1911. After realizing
the confusion that would likely result from duplicate naming of streets with
"Avenue" for north-south and "Street" for east-west, all of the east-west running
Streets would be given proper names in the final plan filed in June of 1911.
The future Fraser Avenue appears here as "First Avenue" at the top.
The initial promotional campaign for lot sales was intense, and the managing director hired to sell the lots, W. H. Tate, was creative in his two-plus years of advertising. A sample of some of the original ads appear below (click on these or any photo to bring up a slideshow which enlarges the photos):
Ottawa Citizen, March 10th, 1911
Ottawa Citizen, May 4th, 1912
McKellar himself had no involvement with the McKellar Townsite Company. He sold the land but kept two lots as his own, on which stood (and still stands) his historic stone mansion, as well as a second stone home built during the 19th century. McKellar moved into the smaller home (later known as the "Wayside Inn"), and sold the mansion in 1911 to John Bingham, Managing Director of the Ottawa Dairy Company (and thus is why the home is now known as the McKellar-Bingham House). McKellar died just three short years later, but in that brief time span was able to witness the fast development of the subdivision which bore his name, on the land he and his father had farmed for the past 40 years.

371 Fraser - the first officially built on the street
But back to Fraser Avenue (or First Avenue, as it was known then), The first lot sold in the entire McKellar Townsite was on First Avenue, lot 38 (now the site of 543 Fraser Avenue), sold to Mrs. Margaret MacLeod for the sale price of $400. However, the lot would not be built on until the 1950s. The first structure to be built on First Avenue itself was constructed in late 1912 or early 1913 at the very north end of the street at the water's edge, by Harold W. Jones, Chief Tidal and Current Surveyor with the federal government. This house, 371 Fraser Avenue remained until expropriation in the 1950s. Bob Grainger in one of his excellent columns in the Kitchissippi Times describes the house in greater detail, and I've borrowed a photograph of it from his column at right.

However, on a technicality, this is not really be the first built home on Fraser Avenue. The small portion of the street north of the CPR tracks near the River actually became it's own individual street over time, and in 1950, this portion was renamed Banting Avenue. Bob Grainger does a thorough job in covering the history of that portion in 3 columns at the Kitchissippi Times which I recommend you check out (http://kitchissippi.com/banting-avenuethe-street-that-time-erased/). This little segment is best identified in the little map below taken from the article (note the map does contain one error, as the "Fraser Avenue" line is identified incorrectly. Fraser is the road just to the left. But the map still does the job to show the Banting separation well).


This area north of the CPR tracks would be expropriated in the 1950s anyhow, for the creation of the River Parkway. So unfortunately, this segment of the street has disappeared and with it, all of its stately riverside homes that once existed here.

Ottawa Journal - June 7, 1913
For the Fraser Avenue which still remains today, the first two homes built are both still standing in 2015. They were built at roughly the same time: 551 and 623 Fraser. Construction on #623 commenced in June of 1913 by millwright Percy Ellis Harris. The Journal even made mention of it in their short column on the Townsite (along with the even more notable mention of the pending arrival of telephone lines to McKellar residents!).

Meanwhile, in July of 1913, Robert and Mary Ann Fraser purchased lot 40, took out a mortgage for $2,000, and began building what would become #551 Fraser Avenue.

623 Fraser is pictured at left, a gorgeous shot of this historic Fraser Avenue home in the 1930s.

The building restrictions of the time are quite interesting. Subdivision owners would often include them as part of a sale deed, to ensure only a certain class of home and occupant would reside in the subdivision. The McKellar Townsite Company had a lengthy list of restrictions: "Only one single or semi-detached house to be erected or constructed on each lot according to present survey. Each house must be constructed of brick, brick veneer, stone cement, or if frame, must be clapboarded and painted on outside. All buildings must have stone or cement foundations. No building to be less than 1 ½ stories in height. No business to be carried on upon the land hereby transferred which shall be a nuisance to the neighbourhood, or which will depreciate the value of the property in the vicinity. And any building erected upon the land hereby transferred at any time prior to the first day of January, A.D. 1925 must be of the value of at least Two Thousand Dollars ($2000.00) exclusive of out-buildings when complete, and all water-closets erected upon the said lands hereby transferred must be enclosed in a wood shed or other shed or building, and under no conditions shall any such water closet be exposed to public view. Each building shall be at least twelve feet from the street which it faces. No signs allowed on the within mentioned property without the written permission of the Company."

This era cannot be discussed without including a note on the tragedy which occurred on June 25th, 1913, when a long west-bound C.P.R. Express train headed to Winnipeg filled mostly with new immigrants from Scotland and Ireland, who arrived in Montreal from Glasgow that very morning, derailed, killing 11 and injuring 40. The derailment occurred within a few feet of Fraser Avenue, by the River's Edge.


It is uncertain whether 551 or 623 Fraser was completed first, but certainly by early 1914, both houses were occupied. 555 Fraser next door to 551 was not far behind either.

551 Fraser, the original Fraser family home, pictured at left.

Builder Percy Harris resided in 623 Fraser for a few years before selling to William A. Bond, patriarch of the long-running Bond's Decor business, in 1918. The Bond family would remain in this home until 1957. The Frasers (at 551 Fraser) would go on to raise their four children in the home. Robert passed away suddenly in 1936, while the family was temporarily living in Alberta. His widow and children returned to the house and remained until September of 1943 when they moved for good. As an obvious show of respect, when the streets of McKellar Park were all required to be renamed in 1944, the name "Fraser Avenue" was selected for the former First Avenue.

Overall the street was fairly slow to develop. It was not until post-WWII that the construction boom took off. By 1948, the streets of McKellar Park were still quite sparsely populated. A quick snapshot of the area from the 1948 Fire Insurance plan, showing the area behind Nepean High School between Crossfield and Keenan show Westminster, Mansfield, Fraser and Denbury still with lots of room to grow.

Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa 1948

Businesses on Fraser Avenue:

Ottawa Journal - June 11, 1927
Unlike a lot of streets in Kitchissippi, where a corner store or shop frequently would open to serve nearby residents, there appears to have never been a merchant operating on Fraser Avenue over the years. However, one "business" that operated for many years which obviously must be mentioned in this article is the McKellar Park Golf Club.

The Club opened in the summer of 1927. It was an 18-hole, 6086-yard club, which would have present-day outer boundaries of Carling Avenue on the south, Courtenay Avenue on the west, Keenan Avenue on the north and Fraser Avenue on the east.

The course began just next to the Bond's home at 623, with the green of the first hole located mere feet from the house. Tom Unsworth Sr. and Jr. were the course caretakers, and lived in a home on Fraser just north of Dovercourt, which was built around 1932 (633 Fraser).

For more info on the course, Flagstick Magazine in 1998 did an excellent story on its history. I recommend you click here and take a read!: http://content.yudu.com/Library/Az6cm/FlagstickGolfMagazin/resources/47.htm

I've incorporated the map from the story below, which shows well the location of the course (as well, if you take another look at the photo I posted the other day of the barren fields at the intersection of Broadview and Carling, you can now place a golf course on this spot once the snow dries up).

McKellar Golf Course layout (from Flagstick Magazine). Fraser Avenue is
labelled just at the top of the map, running top to bottom. The green for the
first hole is just north of the intersection of Dovercourt, and the greenskeeper's
house, as well as the 3rd hole, is labelled as being just south of Dovercourt.
Sadly, in 1952, a decision was made by the City of Ottawa, and its city council, led by Mayor Charlotte Whitton (the new owners of the McKellar Park Golf Club following the recent annexation from Nepean), that the city of Ottawa would not operate a municipal golf club, and that the land was too valuable. The course was last played on in 1952, and though there was a great call from the golfing community to keep the club open in 1953, even into the spring of 1953, the city closed the course, and soon after sold off the property for housing development later that year. Fraser Avenue south of Dovercourt was very quickly built up with homes within a few short years.

To close off this look at Fraser Avenue, I am sharing a couple of amazing photos which were so graciously shared with me a while back from the family albums of the Bond family. Mr. George Bond, one of the friendliest gentleman I've ever met, and a true McKellar Park historian, had these two great photos showing the McKellar Park subdivision in its infancy, I have yet to see a photo like it, showing what is now such a full and mature neighbourhood, nearly 100 years ago. Mr. Bond estimates the photos were from when the family first moved onto the street in 1918. Given the minimal growth to date, that date would be pretty close.

This is Mrs. Bond and her brother, sitting on the porch at 623 Fraser.
The photo is looking north up the street.

This photo was also taken from the front porch of 623 Fraser, and shows the
McKellar Park subdivision looking west. The Warren home (599 Mansfield)
can be seen at right, and a home on Westminster in the distance at left.


11 comments:

  1. Great article! What strikes me right way in the illustration from the Belden Atlas is the almost complete lack of trees on the Quebec side.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I lived near Carlingwood most of my life. The location of my house is on that map of the golfcourse, I overlayed a google map of the area lining up Dovercourt, Windermere and Fraser. Was just forest then.
    Thanks for the great pics.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wondering if anyone still argues over the wisdom of Whitton and company making that decision...?

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks Dave! I grew up at 604 Fraser as you may well remember. It's very neat to see all these photos you have collected of the area. Joel

    ReplyDelete
  5. I owned 623 Fraser for a number of years and restored it to its former glory, rebuilding the porch that had disappeared. On all the papers, though, it said the house was built in 1892, though. What to make of this? And I am now further West, in a house supposedly build in 1895 on Hartleigh Avenue. I like to think that you could see one from the other in these early days... Excellent articles, I am glad I found them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi Marine, thanks for the message, glad you found the article. I did a complete house history report of 623 Fraser a couple of years ago for the current owners, and I remember your name. So as I always say, the "year of construction" that appears in real estate listings, MPAC documents, etc. is almost never right, it is just a guess someone made. There is no repository of actual construction dates of houses, it requires careful research, and even sometimes even then it is hard to get more than a 6-8 month window. The house was definitely built in 1913, and none in McKellar Park pre-date 1911 because it was just farmland.

      Hartleigh I'm not sure about, as I haven't done too much research outside of the Kitchissippi boundaries. Hartleigh used to be called Brighton Avenue until 1950, and some houses in the Woodroffe/Woodpark communities could certainly date as far back as 1895. Your best bet would be the land registry office to confirm for sure. Thanks again for reading, cheers.

      Delete
    2. Thanks for this information. I had found out about the Bonds owning it before and always meant to get in touch with them but never did. We were told at the time that the house had been the greenkeeper's house and also, at a different time, a chicken farm.
      When we renovated the house in 1993-94, we recreated the porch at the front, going by the clues provided by "scars" left on the house after it had been removed, I love seeing that we succeeded in going back to what it looked like before. Glad you did the complete history of the house, a beautiful house!

      Delete
  6. What a wonderful site you have here Dave, thank you! LOVE any and all history of Ottawa, specifically Westboro Village, as I was the 4th generation to live there (Churchill/Richmond Rd) and Mckellar as I have now lived on Fraser Ave for just over 40 years. How would I find out the exact age of 511 Fraser, our old wood, ballon structure, house. When we purchased it as an Estate sale from the Brown Family, Mr. Tom Brown then deceased, the older son told us he was born there and he was 60? at that time.
    My husbands father and my father both lived on Richmond Rd. His father in the old wooden house that was later an Art Gallery, until it fell into disrepair and was torn down (yellow porch:) and my father, born in the apt above Tubman's funeral home, grew up in the apt that was torn down to extend Mountain Equipment's parking lot:(
    When we bought, my husbands father said he remembered delivering the newspaper to Fraser ave and one of the few houses on that rd being ours. Now, he would have been maybe 10 years old or so? (wish when your younger you paid more attention and asked questions of the older generations) That would put it at roughly 1932, give or take.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. hi Christine! My apologies, somehow I had not noticed your post until now. So since I'd already done quite a bit of research on Fraser Avenue, I can tell you a bit more about your house, #511. It was built in 1928 for sure. I can confirm this thanks to Nepean Township assessment rolls, which showed the lot still unsold by the McKellar Townsite agents as of Feb 1928, but as of the assessor's visit on Feb 14 1929, the Browns were residing in a house there, valued at $500. The Thomas L and Lola Brown had been living in a tiny 1-storey wood house at the south end of Fraser before that (where 651 Fraser now stands), the only house south of Dovercourt, west of Denbury. They had lived there since about 1923, prior to that they lived with Thomas Brown's brother William on Highland Avenue (William was a well-known contractor in the west end, and co-ran a firm with M.N. Cummings. William died at age 44 in February of 1928, otherwise I would have suggested he was a likely candidate to have been the one to build #511, but it can still be assumed Cummings or someone in the firm was likely hired for the job). So Thomas built the larger house (511) further north up Fraser in 1928, and sold the old 1-storey cottage which went on to have an interesting life of its own (the cottage survived until the early 50s, and was located in between the 1st and 3rd greens of the McKellar golf course, and became known as the "greenskeeper's house" as the course keeper Tom Unsworth lived in it for many years).

      Delete
  7. And just to ad, my husbands Paternal Grandmother worked at the golf course. My husband was just wondering the other day when the golf course was in operation and exactly where it was. I'm looking forward to showing him your info and the photo of the courses boundaries:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Christine, that makes a couple of interesting connections to the golf course you have. Again sorry I didn't get to reply to your post sooner, but I do hope you see this reply at some point! Cheers!

      Delete