Sunday, December 28, 2014

The start of something old

Welcome to my blog. What is the "Kitchissippi Museum" exactly? I'm not quite sure. I have long wanted to get a solid local history blog going, to explore and share the history of my neighbourhood. For many years (over 16 now, crazily enough) I have focused on individual projects, mostly house histories. I love doing these, but unfortunately, I've come to realize that for all the time and effort I put into them the audience I have is very limited; the clients will read the project and may even share it with some friends or neighbours. But ultimately, I've written some pretty interesting stories and dug up some pretty neat facts, yet to a limited audience. As I certainly do not do the projects "for the money", it just feels right to take these little research projects to a wider audience. So I'm really hopeful that this blog will enable me to share stories on the history of west Ottawa, that readers and researchers will appreciate. 

What really prompted this is a dearth of history information out there on the Kitchissippi area. This has been an issue to me for the past 20 years I've been interested in this stuff (since my high school days)! What sources there are out there are excellent (Bruce Elliott's book "The City Beyond" is essential reading for anyone interested in the complete history of the development of west Ottawa/Nepean), the Hintonburg Community Association has a very good heritage section on their site (and some much-loved walking tours), and Bob Grainger's book on Westboro Beach is excellent. But beyond these (aside from a handful of lesser-known older documents), ultimately, there is really practically NOTHING out there on the history of Westboro, Wellington Village, Hintonburg, Mechancisville, Champlain Park, etc. I've set up a booth at various events in the community over the last 4-5 years (Westfest, Arts Park, Tastes of Wellington West, etc.), and I've shared some old photographs, maps, fire insurance plans, yearbooks, artifacts, etc. And it surprises me how little members of the community know about the history of the area! That's not their fault of course, little is done to promote/protect history in Kitchissippi generally. But the resources are limited as well. I've spent nearly 20 years digging in various archives, libraries, land registry files, Westboro basements, storage rooms of various institutions, etc., and have assembled a collection, and knowledge base, of Kitchissippi history that I am dying to share! Hopefully this blog will become a successful vehicle to do so!

To start off with, let me state what i consider "Kitchissippi" to be. I consider it to be everything north of Carling Avenue, from as far west as McKellar Park east to about Preston Street, including Westboro, Laurentian View, the Hilson development, Hampton Park, Elmdale, Wellington Village, Westboro Beach, Champlain Park, Tunneys, Mechanicsville, Hintonburg and Bayswater. And additionally, I'll state that this is really the area that I've limited my research in over the years. I find the downtown Ottawa area is extremely well documented (except that the ultimate "History of Ottawa" book has yet to be published); lowertown/Byward Market has been well researched, photographed and recognized for heritage; the Glebe and Old Ottawa South have fairly well documented histories (and some great community groups who do excellent work in documenting the history of these areas); and even other pockets of the city have been well covered. That hasn't stopped me from taking on the occasional house history in these neighbourhoods, but my true love is Kitchissippi. I love it because it has such an interested and varied history; I love it because it has such an unknown history, that practically everything I've learned about the area I've had to dig really deeply to uncover it and piece it together; and I love it because it has been my home my entire life, and my families' home dating back to the 1870s. 

I live on Gilchrist Avenue, in the 'heart' of that previously-unnamed area that now gets referred to with that slightly-too-trendy-sounding moniker "Wellington Village". For a historian who considers himself not all that 'trendy', it's not my favorite name (I'm a "Richmond Road" guy, not a "Wellington Street" guy... but more on that topic sometime in the future!). But back to the point - I purchased my parent's home from them in 2008, the home I grew up in, which my Dad loved so much when he found it on his walk to work at Tunney's Pasture in 1986. He grew up on Western Avenue (where my grandparents lived from the mid-50s until 2008), and he married a Cowley Avenue girl. My great, great x2 and great x3 grandparents go back all the way to the 1870s, F.X. Sauve my direct great x3 being one of the first three settlers of Mechanicsville (I'll dedicate a blog post to him some time soon). I even married a Snider, one of the well-known old families of Westboro. So I feel pretty tied in to the area, even in a genealogical sense.

I have great plans and great ideas for this blog, and I sincerely hope that I can find the time and initiative to get it going, and keep it fresh and updated. I'm in awe of some bloggers who can keep a blog interesting and relevant for years. I'll do my best to become exactly that. I urge you to "favorite" this blog, and check in from time to time for new posts, new photographs, etc., and especially to contribute and share. I find the best part of setting up my community event booths is the information I learn from others who have the experience, or the connection to events and people of the past. Almost everything I know I've had to research and learn, and believe me, I don't know even 1% of the long and interesting history Kitchissippi has. So I see this is a place to share, where I hope that one blog post of mine will bring in a dozen or more comments with people commenting on their own experiences or knowledge of a particular topic. And if there are particular topics you'd like to see covered, or have always wondered about, then let me know! Be it a house, a property, a business, a person, an event, etc. That's what this blog will (hopefully) be all about. Can't wait to get it really flying! Thanks for visiting!

Dave Allston