Sunday, November 8, 2015

Expanding on the old Richmond Road tollhouse & O'Neil house

In the Kitchissippi Times of October 15th (, I wrote about the lot at the corner of Richmond Road and Island Park Drive, on which the Mizrahi development is slated to go. I detailed a little bit about the important history the lot holds, and profiled the house (now known as Bella's) which is going to be an innocent victim in the construction of a 12-storey condo building. The research I put in to the piece yielded a lot more information than I was able to put in the Times article, so I wanted to be sure to expand on both topics a little bit here on my blog (where I have no word count limits!).

So here is a little more info on the interesting history this important parcel of land has.

Going back in time, this property was part of the Cowley family farm which existed from Western Avenue to Patricia Avenue, back in the 19th century. The Cowleys had an old stone house, which was built closer to the Patricia edge of the property, which was lost to fire. No need for me to go too much into the Cowley history - it has already been done in a thorough and exciting manner by Mrs. Christine Jackson. I encourage you to check out her histories at:

It was from his parent's farmland that Robert H. Cowley in 1893 opened up one of the earliest subdivisions in Kitchissippi, when this area was still truly little more than open farmland. He created a plan for "Ottawa West", which was Plan 145 of Carleton County (this area was still in Nepean Township, and would not become part of Ottawa until 1950).

Plan 145 (1893): the "Ottawa West" subdivision.
Scott Street at the top and Richmond Road at bottom.
Island Park Drive was still 30+ years away from being created (just to the west of the subdivision), and Wellington Village (from Western to Holland) was just under 30 years away. Westboro was still not even Westboro yet.

By the spring of 1895, the first two houses were complete in the new subdivision at 5 Gould Street (demolished in 2007) and at what is now 41 Garrison Street (formerly Perth Street), which I think still exists, at least in some form, inside the house which was significantly renovated and expanded 10 years ago.

One or two other houses were built during the summer of 1895, but it would be in the fall of 1895 when the first construction of significance would occur.

I'll break the history of this property (the Mizrahi property) into the three (well, three and a half) separate lots that it is (lots 1, 2, 3 and 4 on Richmond Road) - see the plan above for the location of these lots. Essentially they are each 50 feet wide. The most westerly 50 feet (lot 1) is the office and parking lot portion of the car wash/gas station property; lot 2 is the service bay portion of the car wash; and lot 3 (and west half of 4) is Bella's.

Lot #1 

As mentioned in the article, Richmond Road at the time, actually all the way back to 1853, had been a toll road. Two booths were set up at either end, and travelers on the road had to pay a toll in order to use it. The fees were used to maintain the street, and keep it clear. The toll booth at the western end was in Bells Corners, and at the eastern end, seven miles away, was in Hintonburg (though still several years away from actually being called "Hintonburg").

1879 Map of Bells Corners, showing the toll booth on the western
edge of the village, roughly at where Stinson now ends at Robertson.
The double line between the words "Bells" and "Corners" would
be today's Moodie Drive. 

1879 Map of Hintonburg, showing the toll gate at the corner
of Wellington and what is now Parkdale, at the eastern
edge of the R.J. Hinton property

The toll booth was originally located on Richmond Road, on the west side of what is now Parkdale (at the time Parkdale was probably no more than a dusty lane, if that, north to the River, and south up to the concession road, aka Carling Avenue). It would later be known as Queen Street into the 20th century.

This first Hintonburg tollhouse burned down in 1883, and was replaced with a new building a little east of Parkdale, at what is now 1121 Wellington Street (the building still stands today as Tony's Shoe Repair). A fire in March of 1888 led to some rebuilding, but essentially the building is the same 130 years later.

Hintonburg elected to become an independent village in December of 1893, chiefly over their battle to allow the Ottawa Electric Railway to lay tracks down Wellington Street. With the streetcars coming, the Bytown and Nepean Road Company had to move the toll house. It was decided that it would be best to move the toll house beyond Hintonburg's limits, which in 1893 was today's Western Avenue. Cowley's new subdivision was an ideal spot, so the Road Company purchased the lot at the western edge.

The Company paid Cowley $275 for the lot on November 15th, 1895. They paid well-known Ottawa architect Moses C. Edey $78.75 (5% of the cost of construction) for him to prepare plans and superintend erection, and they paid Clement I Amey, builder of the toll house, $1,575.25, which included a $2.25 overage for extra wire fencing.

Ottawa Journal - October 12, 1895
The Company sold Richmond Road to the Electric Railway Company on October 11th, 1895, and streetcar tracks began to be laid soon after. A tiny notice in the Journal the next day listed all of these incredible highlights in one brief paragraph (see at right).

Construction of the toll house was completed in the fall of 1895.

Built were a tollhouse, where the toll collector would live, and a woodshed. The house was built with the following specifications: "balloon-frame, 20 ft x 26 ft, 1 1/2 storeys high, with frame kitchen 12 ft x 14 ft 1 storey high, all to be sheeted inside and out with rough boards, felted inside and out, clapboarded with good quality of lumber and painted, all on stone foundation; said house to have shingled roof and one brick chimney."

The toll booth would remain in operation until February of 1920.

Unfortunately, I could not locate a good street-level photograph of it (my search continues though!), but I do have a few items which help demonstrate what it looked like.

Firstly is a clip from a 1915 Fire Insurance Plan, showing the structures along Richmond Road. The one at the far left is the toll house, which is shown with its approximate shape, size, and location. What makes this drawing interesting is the detail in how it shows the "toll gate office" built right on Richmond Road, and the thin little walkway which existed between the house and office.

1915 fire insurance plan

And below, a few aerial photographs from the National Aerial Photo Library which show the area with a fair bit of clarity and detail (particularly considering the photos are 100 years old, and as you can imagine, both photography and airplanes were still primitive at the time):

Aerial photo 1920 showing Richmond Road. The 1920 aerial
photos are the oldest that exist. The tollgate had been removed
earlier this same year. 

Aerial photo November 1928 showing Richmond Road, with
the new Island Park Drive now cutting through. This is the best
photo I have that shows the detail (from above) of the toll house,
the first house to the right of Island Park Drive on the north
side of Richmond Road.

Though sadly I cannot located a photo of the original toll house in action, the Ottawa Citizen in the 1950s produced this illustration showing an artist's example of a 19th century Ottawa toll gate. This drawing is likely not too far off what the original looked like:

Ottawa Citizen, August 8th, 1953. 

The toll collector was required to live in the house, and essentially was expected to work 24 hours a day, 7 days per week. The rate of pay was $1 per day, for all days of the year, with a small bonus of $10 paid in December, if the quality of work had been good during the year.

The brave souls who acted as toll collectors during the period the tollbooth was open in this location were:
John A. Owens: 2 August 1894 (he had been collector at the Hintonburg location) to 1 April 1903
Erasmus T. Duke: 1 April 1903 to 1 May 1908
Ashburn E. Bradley 1 May 1908 to 1 May 1911
Richard Bassett: 1 May 1911 to 31 Jan 1913
Justus P. Merrifield: 1 Feb 1913 to 29 Feb 1920

Here is a copy of the Tariff of Tolls issued by the B&NRC in 1881, showing the price to travel from the tollgate to certain points on the route. The price varied based on the season (summer or winter), the number of horses, and if a vehicle (carriage or cart) was present:

The Richmond Road toll road closed in 1920 after Carleton County expropriated the roadway and the tollhouses from the Bytown and Nepean Road Company (as well as the Nepean and North Gower Consolidated Road Company, the Ottawa Gloucester Road Company, and the Ottawa, Montreal and Russell Road Company). The transfer of all these toll roads occurred on February 7th, 1920

Ottawa Journal - Saturday February 7, 1920

The end of the toll road era in Ottawa was celebrated by the general public and media alike. The editorial in the Ottawa Journal later that month noted "a relic of the mid-Victorian era, the toll roads should have been done away with a quarter of a century ago. Ottawa was one of the last of municipalities to continue to endure them and their retention was not only a nuisance but a poor advertisement for the city. Legal difficulties and the lack of sufficiently concerted effort on the part of the city and the rural municipalities have for many years stood in the way of the taking over of the roads from the private owners."

In the end, Carleton County paid the Bytown and Nepean Road Company $35,000 for the road (as decided by an arbitrator in 1922).

Once title of the road and tollhouses were put in the name of Carleton County officially, they were able to sell the two properties. The toll house on Richmond Road was sold to the former tollkeeper, Justus P. Merrifield and his wife Annie, for $3,500 in August of 1922.

The Merrifields would remain in the house until October 1929, when they sold to Bernard S. Rumsby of the Cities Service Oil Company. Within a short time, the house was torn down, to make way for the Cities gas station constructed by 1930.

The gas station was often referred to by it's manager, and this station had a long list of different managers over the years that I could easily dig up:

1938-39: Fred A. Farmer
1940: Ray Temple
1941: Dale & O'Meara
1942: Paul Gauthier
1943: Oscar Mastin
1948: Fred Farmer again
1953: Bert Steele
1955: Bob Bradley
1958-59: Doug Dunn
1960: Albert & Galarneau
1961: Les McCrum
1962: was known as "Parkway Garage"
1964: was known as "Island Park Cities Service Station"

It remained a Cities station until 1964 when they sold to BP Canada, then in 1973 to Frisby Tire, 1974 to Joe's Car Radio & TV, and finally in 2007 to Pro-Shine Car Wash. 

Lot #2

This lot was originally purchased by long-time Carleton County Schools Inspector Archibald Smirle (for whom Smirle Avenue is named, and who resided on Richmond Road a little further east, not-too-coincidentally at the corner of Smirle. But more on him in an upcoming blog post later this week). Smirle purchased this lot on July 15th, 1896, perhaps for investment purposes, but died a year later. His daughters sat on the property for a few years, before finding a buyer in 1908 - tollkeeper Ashburn E. Bradley.

Bradley purchased the lot for $330, and constructed a home between 1910 and 1911. It was finished by the township assessor's visit on April 20th, and 11 days later he gave up the position of tollkeeper and moved next-door into his new house. I can only guess that Bradley smartly used his free time in between collecting tolls to work outside constructing a home next door, and then moved in once completed.

Bradley's 2 1/2-storey brick veneered house was originally used as a grocery store and post office in 1911 (it is noted as such in the 1915 fire insurance plan posted above). Bradley worked as Ottawa West's postmaster for a year, before renting the house out to 73-year old David P. Brown, retired contractor from North Gower, who took over the grocer/butcher/postmaster role for two years. By 1915, 21-year old Edgar King took over the grocery shop for a year, though the Postmaster position was given to Henry Porteous, who operated a grocery store out of a house at the northwest corner of Carleton and Richmond.

By 1916, the home's brief run as a grocery shop had ended. There was much competition on Richmond Road in the vicinity, including of course Shouldice Brothers on the northeast corner of Carleton, in what is now Metro's parking lot; not to mention the area's population was still small. Hampton Park was just a couple of years new, Cowley's subdivision had prospered, but there was really little else built between Hilson and Holland. In 1916, Bradley was listed as having moved back in to the house, while he began working as a conductor for the Ottawa Electric Railway.

In 1919, Bradley sold the house to soldier William R. Delaney and his family. Delaney ended up being posted to Winnipeg between 1926-1928, so he rented to William Tiva and family, a driver. They would be the last to reside in the house, when Delaney sold to Cities Oil in 1929. This house too would be demolished in 1930 to make way for the gas station.

I have no photo of this house either, but the 1922 fire insurance plan has some neat detail of the incredible number of outer buildings that existed on the property at the time:

1922 Fire Insurance Plan, showing the former toll house, the
Bradley-Delaney house, the O'Neil house, and the Porteous
house, all along Richmond, west of Carleton. 

Lot #3 (and part of lot #4)

Expanding a bit on the history of the house (now Bella's restaurant) which I covered in the article, the house was built during 1896 by Joseph O'Neil. He acquired the lot sometime in the spring, prior to the assessment roll being drawn up on April 22nd (it was not uncommon in this era for land transactions to not be registered at the registry office until months or sometimes years after the fact; Cowley was one such real estate dealer who operated this way. He would sometimes sell a lot, even lend money and assist the purchaser to build, but not register the transaction for some time). The transaction was officially registered as August 19th, 1897, but that was well over a year after it actually occurred.

Work was ongoing into the winter of 1896-1897, and in a cool stroke of luck, the Ottawa Journal even commented on its construction progress on the 30th of December, 1896.

Ottawa Journal - December 30, 1896
J.G. Clark mentioned in the article above was constructing a home on the north-west corner of Richmond and Carleton, which was for a long time owned by Henry Porteous.

So back to the O'Neil house, as mentioned in the article O'Neil was a millwright, and in 1896 was 34 years old when he built this house. He was married in 1888 to the former Mary Ann Wilson (born 1862). They had children William Clarence (1889-1969), Thomas Wilson (1893-1964), John Ernest (1896-1961), twins Pearl E (1898-1986) and Joseph Wilbert (1898-1953), and Harold I. (1901-1969), I believe that Mary O'Neil actually had given birth to two sets of twins, but one of one of the twins passed away in infancy.

Joseph O'Neil (builder of 1445 Wellington Street)
and wife Mary Ann O'Neil.

The 1901 Census also listed Joseph's brother John, John's wife and their two children Myrtle (age 6) and Clara (age 4) as residing in the home on Richmond Road as well. That would be 12 people residing in the house as of 1901. Interesting to think of today, but not all that uncommon for that era.

Joseph died on March 15th, 1903 in Byng Inlet, near Parry Sound, while working on the construction of a sawmill. He was 41 (newspaper accounts giving his age of 38 were incorrect).

Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1903
After Joseph died, Mary Ann remained in the home with her children, and made it work, despite what must have been a difficult life for her alone with the six children.

O'Neil family children (around 1906-1907)

On August 24th, 1903, five months after Joseph's passing, Mary Ann O'Neil acquired the lot next door, lot 4 on Richmond Road, from Robert H. Cowley, for the deeded sale price of $1. There is no way to confirm it, but Cowley may have gifted the lot to O'Neil after losing her husband. From all accounts Cowley was a very generous man, and by 1903 he still owned the vast majority of the lots in the subdivision. So the gifting of one lot, worth about $200 to $300, was something he could easily afford, and may have helped Mary Ann and the family by giving them a larger lot and/or a little extra financial stability/insurance by virtue of the additional land ownership.

The O'Neils did not do anything with the extra lot, and 50 feet of frontage on Richmond Road, other than probably use it for extra family space. It would be not until 1930 that O'Neil sold the east half of the lot to Louis Baker, of the well-known Baker Brothers outfit, who were LeBreton Flats-based auto wreckers and junk dealers. Louis Baker also acquired lot 5 that year, and he had constructed two houses on his new lots in 1930. These two houses, as well as the Porteous house mentioned above (27, 31 and 33 Richmond Road) were all torn down in the early 80s to make way for the construction of a single-storey commercial plaza which included a Quickie Convenience Store and Tommy's Donuts, and which was recently razed as well, replaced by "The Wellington at Island Park" condo building.

Meanwhile, the west half of lot 4 remained with O'Neil, and in fact is still part of the Bella's property today, which explains the extra-large parking lot the restaurant has been able to use to its advantage over the years.

Mary O'Neil lived a long life, passing away in August of 1953 at the age of 91. Her son Clarence O'Neil remained in the house until the late 1960s. He purchased the property off his Mom in June of 1950. He did not marry until late in his life, marrying long-time friend Edith Bennie when he was in his 70s. Clarence sold the O'Neil family home in November of 1967 to Charlotte I. Innes, for the price of $38,000, and the couple moved to a smaller home on Laurentian Place. He passed away October 23rd, 1969 at the age of 80. 

I am indebted to Mrs. Heather Backs, daughter of Thomas Wilson O'Neil, for sharing some stories about her grandparents and the house on Richmond Road, and for helping me eventually connect to the right family member who had the wonderful photo of the house from the 1920s, as well as the photo of Joseph and Mary Ann O'Neil above. She still has many fond memories of the home, including her earliest childhood memories of her grandmother's sugar cookies which were kept in a tin up high in the kitchen; she recalls that before she was old enough to talk, she could point at the tin of cookies.

As I mentioned in the Times, Joseph O'Neil had also built the stone house on Churchill Avenue near Scott which is now home to the law firm of Farber, Robillard and Leith. Mrs. Backs noted that her Dad Thomas had been born in that house, in 1893.

Mrs. Backs told me that it breaks her heart that her family's home will likely be torn down soon. She feels it should be designated in some way, and of course I agree. Perhaps I am just a little too late in trying to defend the house, and I wish I had started making efforts a few years ago to have some homes of heritage significance properly recognized. Unfortunately, the O'Neil home has without any thought been considered a simple tear-down through this process. Not surprisingly, Mizrahi doesn't care about the old house, and surprisingly the owners of Bella's appear to care little either; I was a little surprised to see the owners at the City Planning Committee meeting 2 weeks ago arguing on behalf of Mizrahi and the "landmark" design. But I guess it shouldn't be all that surprising, considering they sold the lot to Mizrahi, and profited from that, and at one time during the process, were also promised to be able to re-open Bella's in the main floor of the new condo building (not sure if that's still the case).

But back to Mrs. Backs, she spoke so highly of her grandmother, and understandably so. She shared that Mary Ann had been so resourceful, particularly as she had little education, and was the eldest of 12 children in Dunrobin. Her mother died at a young age, and she essentially helped raise all her brothers and sisters. Her escape to Kitchissippi to marry Joseph O'Neil in 1888 was a second phase of raising children, but from the sounds of it, she did it happily and lovingly, working hard in whatever work she could take in, until the eldest sons were able to go to work. A great story of perseverance, strength and family, from the early days of Kitchissippi.

Aerial photo from 1933, showing the new Cities gas station,
the O'Neil house, and the trio of houses towards Carleton.

Aerial photo from 1965. The traffic circle is gone, the gas station
has been rebuilt, and the whole area has certainly gotten a lot busier.

Photograph of the house from the mid-1980s, when it was
"Chez-Soi", a French restaurant (photo courtesy of the
archives of Newswest).

My vintage Chez Soi matchbook
(found a few weeks ago at Crazy Carl's
on Armstrong - thanks again Carl!)


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