Monday, January 11, 2016

The story of Archibald Smirle & family: Kitchissippi pioneers

The name "Smirle" is well known in west Ottawa, mostly for the street in Wellington Village which bears that name. Unfortunately, very few people could probably state who Smirle was. So I am excited to dig in to the late 19th century to come up with a biography on the man for whom Smirle Avenue is named.

Many streets are named to honour an individual of importance in the history or establishment of a particular neighbourhood. However a rare few can claim the distinction of actually having resided on that very street. Smirle Avenue is one such case.

Archibald Smirle was one of eastern Ontario's most well-known and well-respected citizens of the second half of the 19th century.

He was born in 1841 in Finch Township, Stormont County, the fifth of eleven children to 1830s Irish immigrants. Archibald grew up on his family farm in a location known as Cannamore (a location mostly lost through time, and now essentially only exists as the location of the Cannamore Orchard business). He became a very keen student in those early, primitive days of education in Upper Canada. His interest in furthering his education led him to Ottawa, where he attended the Ottawa Grammar School (the precursor to the Ottawa Collegiate Institute, or as it is known today, Lisgar Collegiate). He completed his studies at the Toronto Normal School, a teachers college, and at a young age, began his career as a teacher back home in Stormont County. Soon after, he moved to Gloucester Township to teach, and became a member of the Board of Trustees in Ottawa by 1865, at the age of 24.

Ottawa Citizen - December 12, 1865

In 1867, he was appointed Principal of Ottawa's Central School East on George Street. He would go on to hold this position until June of 1883, when he became Public School Inspector for the County of Carleton. He would remain in this role until the day he died.

Ottawa Citizen - June 22, 1883 from an article about Carleton County Council's
June 1883 meetings, where Smirle was appointed the new Public School Inspector.

He was also very involved in various social clubs and fraternities; he was a prominent member and held the title of "Master" of the Freemason Doric Lodge, and later Goodwood Lodge in Richmond, and was a long-time member and held a lengthy term as President of the Irish Protestant Benevolent Society. A religious man, he was a member of the Presbyterian Church.

He was also very involved in the business of Ottawa, occupying executive positions on the boards of various building and loan associations.

His obituary in 1897 noted the following about his teaching career: "As teacher and inspector he took rank among the foremost educators of the province. As a man and citizen he was esteemed and respected by all who knew him. His pupils, the teachers under his inspection, those with whom he worked at all times and in all capacities recognized in him a man worth of confidence, and whose love of truth and right was always his guide in all his doings... To him as inspector a great part of the efficiency of the schools of the county is due. Under him the school buildings, the grades of teachers, the methods of teaching and the results to pupils were all improved. The number of schools was increased and the county brought to a point where it may compare favorably with almost any other county in Ontario in educational matters. He was always the friend of the teachers under him, as may testify all who, for any length of time, have taught in the county and know how freely and friendly his advice and counsel were given when asked. Yet his goodness of heart never interfered with his sense of justice, which was to him one of the greatest virtues."

Of his personality, the obituary stated: "Of Irish descent, many of the characteristics of his race were discernible in him. Warm hearted, sympathetic and generous, choosing rather to excuse than condemn, to condone than punish, his associates were his friends. Of strong individuality and to some extent original, he lived a self-containing life. His conclusions were all his own, his acts all self-advised."

Archibald Smirle in 1875, while Principal at the Central School East
in Ottawa. The only photo I have ever found of Smirle.
(Source: Bytown Museum, P210)

On December 29th, 1869, Archibald married twenty-four-year-old Miss Harriet Holmes Cowley, daughter of the famous Captain Daniel Keyworth Cowley, who had settled on the Richmond Road (just west of what is now Island Park Drive) in early 1868.

The couple began growing their family right away, with a first child, Daniel Keyworth Cowley Smirle being born in June of 1870. However, he, like most of the Smirles children, did not live to survive through childhood. The Smirles would go on to have nine children in total between 1870 and 1884, but only three would survive past the age of six, and just two past the age of thirteen. Interestingly, the Smirles would twice re-use names with subsequent children; they had a second Daniel Keyworth Cowley Smirle (born 1875), and they had two daughters named Marian Harriet Hill Smirle (born 1874 and 1880).

Their two children who survived childhood were Elizabeth Edler Harriet Smirle (born 1878) and Harriet Marian Hill Smirle (1880). 

Sadly, his wife Harriet passed away on December 12th, 1884, during childbirth of the eighth and ninth children, twins Archibald Holmes and Hamnett Hill. She was only 39 years of age.

Ottawa Citizen - December 13, 1884

Prior to 1885, the Smirle family had resided in downtown Ottawa, in a large brick house on Lisgar Street, between Bank and Kent streets. Following the passing of his wife, Smirle decided to move his family outside of Ottawa, perhaps to move closer to his young children's grandparents, the Cowleys on Richmond Road. In early 1885, Smirle purchased three large lots on Richmond in the former McLeansville subdivision of the Stewart farm (now Wellington Village north of Wellington), which featured a large stone house on the property. The stone house was likely quite new at the time, perhaps inside of two years old. (Adding a little twist to my research, Robert J. Hinton and his family were listed as the occupants of the house in 1884. Robert was arguably the "founder" of Hintonburg, though it was his father Joseph for whom Hintonburg was named. But the land they owned was east of Huron Avenue, they never owned land west of Huron, but in 1884, Robert is listed as renting this stone house. Robert passed in February of 1885. I am working on more extensive research on the Hintons for a future post; this little twist is one more angle I look forward to studying a bit further.)

Regardless, the Hintons were out of the house by mid-late 1885, and the Smirle family of four moved in to the home by the fall. Residing with Archibald was son Daniel Keyworth Cowley Smirle ("Keyworth"), age 9; Elizabeth Elder Holmes Smirle ("Lizzie"), age 7; and Harriet Marian Hill Smirle ("Hattie"), age 5.

The Smirles occupied lots 8, 9 and 10 on the McLeansville property, which today would be the equivalent of nearly the entire block of the north side of Wellington between Grange and Smirle (Hillary's Cleaners, Sushi Umi, House of Barons, Bija Bijou and Blueprint Home), just excepting Petit Bill's Bistro (which was on old lot 7). The house itself was constructed where Blueprint Home now exists. The family had a large plot 150 feet wide, 125 feet deep, in the wilderness of rural Richmond Road. The stone house was described as being two storeys high, with 10 rooms. The Smirles owned a horse (which Archibald used to travel throughout Carleton County for his work), and a dog, and their large property was valued at $1,500 in 1886. They also soon after acquired a live-in housekeeper, a spinster in her mid-50s, Ms. Hattie Lynch.

Smirle Avenue itself (or as it was called on the original McLeansville plan, "McLean Avenue") existed only on paper until after WWI. There was no street going north from Wellington Street, there was likely not even a path beyond the back line of the property.

The Smirle family home (const. 1885) as it appeared with many alterations and additions
in 1960, when it was being used as mixed commercial and rental-unit building.
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-20775)

2015 Google Streetview of the same location. Kulu Trading in the red brick building on the right
is the same as the "Philco Bendix" building shown in the 1960 photo above.

A rear view of the Smirle stone house in 1960, showing better detail of the
mosaic of additions and uses of the building at the time.
(Source: Ottawa Archives, CA-20431)

From 1885 to 1897, the Smirles resided in this home, living a happy life, with the exception of the loss of son Keyworth on March 6th, 1888. The two daughters Hattie and Lizzie excelled in school, and were from all accounts very social and popular in the community.

Lizzie Smirle, circa mid-1890s, as a student
of Hintonburg Public School.

Hattie Smirle, circa mid-1890s, also as a student
of Hintonburg Public School.

In 1893, Smirle purchased the surrounding lots to further increase the size of their property. Perhaps knowing that Alex Stewart was on the cusp of selling the entire Stewart family farm to the Ottawa Land Association investment syndicate, he picked up adjoining lot 7 on Richmond Road (Petit Bill's), as well as the most southerly lots on Grange and Smirle immediately in behind his existing property for $300. This gave Smirle a property as deep as 216 feet, and the full width of land between Grange and Smirle, a total of just over 200 feet wide.

A few articles below show examples of the type of work Archibald Smirle was doing as a Public School Inspector of the 1880s. Fortunately, many of these types of articles are preserved in the archives of old newspapers, which prioritized the publishing of these reports.

Ottawa Journal - June 15, 1889. An interesting article publishing the
contents of Smirle's annual report on Carleton County's schools.

Ottawa Journal - November 10, 1889. Smirle, Stewart, plus some well-known
Ottawans embarked on a hunting trip that made it to the local papers.

Ottawa Journal - May 7, 1894. Publishing the contents of his evaluation
of Hintonburg Public School (now known as Connaught School).

In June of 1895, Smirle sold lot 10 at the corner of Grange to Rev. Robert Eadie, who immediately built a modest brick home (where Hillary's Cleaners now sits).

The Smirle home was a landmark in west Ottawa at the time. Beyond Holland Avenue, there would have been only the former Stewart houses on the south side of Richmond Road (now leased out by the OLA) before the Cowley and Holland manors west of what is now Island Park Drive. The Smirle home was even used as a start and finish point of a very early Ottawa bicycle race!

Ottawa Journal - July 20, 1897

Archibald Smirle was in ill health throughout 1897. He had been ill on and off throughout the latter part of his career, but rarely missed work. He took a short vacation in the summer of 1897 to rest, but showed no improvement. He checked in to a hospital in Montreal for treatment, but little could be done for his heart condition, and he died on September 19th, 1897. Archibald Smirle was only 55 years old.

Lizzie, 19 at the time of her father's death, and sister Hattie, 17, did not remain in the family home. It may have sat vacant, while the sisters moved in with their grandmother and uncle Robert Cowley further west down Richmond Road. Certainly by Christmastime of 1898, while both were deep in to the furthering of their education, they were reported as staying with the Cowleys.

Ottawa Citizen - December 28, 1898

Miss Lizzie Smirle - May 1901
(Source: Topley photo, LAC, MIKAN #3475846)

Miss Hattie Smirle - May 1901
(Source: Topley photo, LAC. MIKAN #3475845)

Meanwhile, efforts were made to establish a Memorial in Archibald Smirle's name. Oddly, it was three years later when a library for teachers was decided on as the memorial for Smirle.

Ottawa Journal - June 15, 1899

Ottawa Journal - March 3, 1900

The family home was put up for sale in 1901, a classified ad for it was found in the Ottawa Journal:

Ottawa Journal - May 10, 1901
A buyer was finally found on July 20th, 1904, when Lizzie and Hattie Smirle sold the property to 44-year old British Spinster, Miss Mary French for $2,300. French remained in the home until her death in September of 1920.

1922 Fire Insurance Plan showing the house as it was in 1922. The Rev. Eadie home
built in 1895 is shown at the corner of Grange. The blue colour indicates stone construction,
pink=brick, yellow=wood, and grey indicates wood outbuildings/sheds. 

The two daughters would both go on to marry. Hattie married Gilbert B. Wilson of Winnipeg, Manitoba in December of 1903, while Lizzie married Walter H. Spencer of Calgary in 1904.

Ottawa Journal - December 24, 1903. An account of the wedding of Hattie Smirle.

It seems to have been something genetic, as with both their parents, and all of their siblings, Hattie and Lizzie would also pass away at relatively young ages. Hattie died in 1922 at the age of 42, and Lizzie in 1932 at age 54.

Ottawa Journal - March 7, 1932

As for Smirle Avenue, it maintained the name McLean Avenue, even after The Ottawa Land Association purchased the Stewart farm in 1893. The company sat on their property for many years. When the village of Hintonburg (which stretched as far west as Western Avenue) was annexed to the City of Ottawa in 1907, some duplicate street names were required to be changed. Thus, the OLA honoured the Smirle family by renaming McLean Avenue "Smirle Avenue" in 1908.

The lots on Smirle Avenue were eventually sold in the great auction of 1920 (for more on this, please read my article on the history of Wellington Village at The street would have been opened up that same summer, with construction on the first houses on Smirle commencing in 1921.

The Smirle's stone house actually remained on Wellington Street until the late 1970s (it still appears on a 1976 aerial photo), but at that point, it was nearing 100 years of age, and after being a rental property for more than half of it's lifetime, with some commercial use on the main floor, it was likely in poor condition. The photos I have of the house above from 1960 exist only because the City had gone around at that time and taken photos of structures in Ottawa in poor condition as part of their Urban Renewal project. Most of those homes photographed in the early 60s were demolished soon after, so it is even a little surprising that the house remained until the late 70s. Perhaps some long-time residents can recall the old stone house?

St. Vincent de Paul came on to Wellington Street in 1973, at first occupying one storefront where Sushi Umi and House of Barons, etc. now exist, but expanded in the late 70s with the construction of the new building next door when the stone house was demolished. They remained at this location for many years before moving to their current location (1273 Wellington) in 1993.

The stone house is gone, and the Smirle name sadly was unable to continue on when the last son passed away far too young. The daughters did have three children between them out west (and if by chance any descendants happen to read this story, I would love to hear from you, please do get in touch), but in terms of the history of Kitchissippi, their period here was brief, but substantial. And most importantly, the legacy of Archibald Smirle thankfully lives on in the name of Smirle Avenue.


  1. Thanks, Dave, for another interesting and well-researched article.

    1. Thanks very much. Glad you enjoyed it, thanks for reading!

  2. The photos of the Smirle girls say they attended Hintonburg Public School in the 1890's. My grandmother,Alice Storey, lived at the corner of Roosevelt and RiƧhmond Road. She graduated from Hintonburg Continuation School in 1907, and went on to Lisgar Collegiate. I wonder where these schools were located. We're they both on the site of what is now Connaught School on Rosemount Avenue?
    Anne Sterling, Ottawa

    1. hi Anne. Thanks for reading. The Hintonburg Public School was indeed located on the property of Connaught today, but was located in behind where the present-day school is, fronting onto Rosemount. I spoke a bit about it in my article from December on the Rosemount Library (and even included a rare old photo of the school). In 1908 it changed names to Rosemount Public School. When the new school was built in 1915, it was named Connaught. I'd been thinking that I am well overdue for a blog post on the history of Hintonburg/Rosemount School, so I'll try to do that soon! Continuation classes were common for the schools of that era, before the high schools like Nepean and Glebe arrived. Broadview, Westboro (Churchill) and Hintonburg all had small continuation classes. So your grandmother would have been one of a limited number of students to attended these neat classes. I only have a few records of students at HPS, and didn't spot her name, but I did come across this quickly, in case you haven't seen it before, from July of 1907: Cheers!

  3. Dave
    Thank you so much for this information. The news article about the picnic and games is a thrill for me to read. My grandma was almost 13,her sister Elva almost 11, and Cora was 7.I notice they won all the races, even tho Aice was not an athlete.
    Would it be possible to get an email copy of the photo of the Hintonburg School?
    Anne Sterling

    1. Of course. Please send me your email address at daveallston AT rogers DOT com and I'll be happy to forward it to you! Cheers, glad you enjoyed that neat little article!