Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"A History Buff's Beef" - interview for Carleton University journalism

Recently I was interviewed by a Carleton U journalism student, who was asking about how Kitchissippi is Ottawa's oldest ward (according to the 2011 Canadian Census National Household Survey) and particularly about the demolishing of the old houses, the increase in new builds, condos, etc. You can view the final article, which includes some interesting applied data from the Household Survey at this link:


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Kitchissippi video footage from 1949!

Today, Library and Archives released a video on Youtube (coming out of nowhere really, the LAC has seen their funding and staff cut so severely, that you rarely see them publish any new materials online - especially videos).  This video is really amazing though, it's a 3-part instructional video made in 1949 for the RCMP by Crawley Films in Ottawa, lasting 24 minutes. It's worth watching the whole thing, though there is about a 5 minute spot in the middle which is largely filmed in Kitchissippi.

I've watched it a couple times, and have tried to identify all the definite Kitchissippi spots that appear in the video.  I'm sure I've missed a couple, but have done my best in an effort to share the video right away! I'll come back and edit as required. Anyone with any tips or can point out something I missed from our area, please let me know!

Go to this link to view the video:

And you can use the following as a guide to help point out some of the clips in Kitchissippi. Unfortunately, it jumps around too quickly in some spots, but there are still some really cool video shots of the neighbourhood from 66 years ago!

So you'll want to for sure check out the clip of Island Park and Richmond Road at 14:33, but here is as complete a list as I can compile for now:

11:36-11:42 - coming down Richmond Road heading east, in front of Maplelawn (Keg Manor). The distinctive stone wall along the left side of the road.

12:05-12:16 - appears to be Island Park Drive, I think at Byron?

12:29-12:35 - seems familiar
12:35-12:44 - familiar also, but might be the Glebe?

12:55-13:01 - driving east down Richmond Road in Westboro, approaching Churchill. You can see the town hall just at the left in the first second the shot appears, and the old Westboro Sports at the northeast corner, plus the Percy Halpenny billboard, and Port's Lunch on the right.

13:01-13:06 - two very quick shots of what look like Westboro/area, but I can't place it.

13:06-13:11 - driving east down Richmond Road at Winona. The "Robinson's" grocery store on the left is what is now the Legion (it was part of a set of twin buildings, the one on the east still exists today with the same appearance, now as Baker Street). Town hall can be seen in the distance on the left. The white Westboro Theatre comes into view along the left at the last moment.

14:33-14:38 - a shot of the old Island Park traffic circle, looking west on Richmond Road. The old Champlain gas station recently given heritage status can be seen at left. What strikes me is how large the traffic circle appears. Old photos did not do it justice.

14:59-15:16  - I think the officer parks on the north side of Richmond Road, in front of the old Methodist/Baptist Church, now the Ottawa Chinese Bible Church, Camera looking east.

15:16-15:26 - Richmond Road looking east at about Athlone. Heath Hardware on the left, and just just past it is the Westboro Confectionery (now Whispers), with its original front porch, but the distinctive three upper windows. The circular sign seen in front of Whispers is a sign for Evans Brothers garage, where Rikochet now exists.The video just catches the red roof and red brick of 270 Richmond Road on the right side of the screen (now Design First Interiors)

16:19-16:21 - A too-quick clip of the driver going down Wellington, going east, towards the intersection of Holland. The Victoria Tea Room, Beamish, and the old Bank of Toronto on the right, and most recognizable is the old apartment building on the southeast corner, which burned down in the mid-90s (Joynts Pharmacy was on the main floor). There's a streetcar waiting to turn left onto Holland coming west down Wellington.

16:21-16:27 - Hintonburg on Wellington, driving east. You can catch the old stone house on the left, and is that a horse and buggy the car pulls up behind?

16:27-16:29 - Somerset going east, after the turn from Wellington, on the approach to the Somerset Street bridge.

Monday, November 30, 2015

The History of Rosemount Library: Endless Growth

The Rosemount branch of the Ottawa Public Library is a fixture in Kitchissippi. It has been a popular spot for area residents to visit for five generations. This popularity is only ever increasing. And while technology has led to dramatic changes in the types of services the library provides, what hasn't changed is the undeniable benefit it provides to many in the community.

There is no question that expansion, or at least updating, is required for this historic branch library. A group of local residents have formed a group called READ (Rosemount Expansion and Development Group) to advocate for these required changes, and to lobby for funds from the city budget. The prospect of the library obtaining these funds is getting closer, as it is at the top the Library Board's priority list. Let's keep our fingers crossed that more than just a cursory amount of funding will be invested into Rosemount.

So for this blog, I of course like to tackle topics of a local interest, but I always try to present more than just the well-known history that anyone can google. The deeper one digs, the more interesting details which can emerge (see my recent writing on Laroche Park for a prime example). So when I launched in to Rosemount Library, initially I did not expect to find too much; perhaps a few dates, stories about its original location in a store, when the addition was put on. Even my initial research was going nowhere, there was just so little out there, and typical methods were yielding minimal results. So I tried harder, and lo and behold, there was a quite an interesting history tied to the early days of the library! Quite a few interesting surprises. So I'm happy to share the story of the early development and establishment of the Rosemount Library here in this article. 

The history of the Rosemount Library is perhaps somewhat surprisingly not much shorter than the history of the public library in Ottawa in general. The first Ottawa public library opened on April 30th, 1906, thanks to a $100,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie. It was a beautiful old building, located in the same spot the current one is, fronting onto Metcalfe. It was sadly demolished in 1974 to make way for the ugly new library building, which is currently on life support. I could write paragraphs about the history of the OPL itself, but will focus this article mostly on the Rosemount branch.

Original downtown public library

The first meeting of the Carnegie Library Board (as the OPL's board was known) in 1910 saw re-elected Chairman Dr. Otto Julius Klotz, respected Director of the Dominion Observatory, and key figure behind the establishment of the Ottawa public library suggest the need for the creation of "branch libraries". With the success of the new library on Metcalfe, he envisioned the Board doing more to serve citizens who lived outside of the downtown Ottawa area. Dr. Klotz noted that he hoped "the time would soon come when rooms could be secured in distant portions of the city and branch libraries opened to meet the wants of the people in those places. The expense entailed would be slight".

It did not take long for his idea to come to fruition. By June of 1910, arrangements were made with the public school board of Ottawa to create small branch libraries inside of public schools in the more distant areas of the city. The school board voted at their meeting on June 2nd, 1910 that "it is recommended that the Carnegie Library be granted permission to place branch libraries for the use of the public in the following schools: Bronson Avenue, Crichton Street, Evelyn Avenue and Rosemount Avenue schools."

An important speech made by Miss Miriam Solomon, the Children's Librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, in August of 1910 at a meeting of the Eastern Library Institute was an additional key step in highlighting the need for the establishment of these branch libraries. Though the library and school boards had made general agreements regarding the creation of these branches, nothing was set in stone. Miss Solomon's presented comments, titled "The Child and the Book" was reprinted in full in the Ottawa Journal, and certainly appeared to further motivate the Ottawa public towards increasing the accessibility of the local library for the benefit of children.

On September 24th, 1910, the first branch library opened up at Crichton Street Public School in New Edinburgh. The library featured a total of 64 books ("among the number being several German ones, as there are many German residents in New Edinburgh" so said the newspaper), and was located in a dedicated room in the school which was opened to the public for one hour each Wednesday and Saturday night. 

Funding would always be a big issue for the library. Then as it is now. A Journal editorial in 1910 noted "Ottawa's public library is doing much for Ottawa; Ottawa, with little effort could do considerable more than it is doing for its public library."

Following the opening of the Crichton School branch, Hintonburg residents began to pressure for a branch. A petition was circulated around the village, and submitted to the Library Board at their meeting on October 26th. Chairman Dr. Klotz noted that it was "a question of getting the necessary books, the Board being unanimous in its desire to meet the request of the people of Hintonburg." A library in the west end seemed close.

And indeed it was. Two weeks later, a notice appeared in the newspaper announcing that a library would be opening at Rosemount avenue Public School on November 10th, 1910, featuring 350 books.

Ottawa Journal - November 9th, 1910

As mentioned in the article above, the hours of operation for the library in the beginning were Monday and Wednesday evenings, from 7 to 8 o'clock, and like for Crichton School, teachers at the school gave their time to run the branch without pay. The agreement was that the library board would keep the books coming, to benefit the students (and the local adults), while the school on their end would provide the free accommodation and staff. The school board also supplied the shelving for the books, and was responsible for the delivery of books to and from the schools, noting that the books were "changed at the end of each school term".

At this point, it is important to detail what exactly Rosemount Public School was. In 1889, Hintonburg Public School opened in what is now the school yard for Connaught Public School, and faced onto Rosemount Avenue.  It was renamed to Rosemount Avenue Public School in 1908 when Hintonburg was annexed to the City of Ottawa. Construction began in 1913 on the new Connaught School in what was the school yard of the old school. The new school opened in 1915, at which time the old schoolhouse was demolished (a lot like what is happening at Broadview School now, where the new school is being built while the old one continues to operate).

A rare photo of Rosemount Public School (aka Hintonburg P.S.), from 1899,
the location of the original Rosemount Library branch beginning in 1910.

The new Hintonburg branch library was a success in its early going. An update in the Journal on December 9th noted that there were over 160 individuals who had borrowed books. An additional update in January of 1911 noted that during the first two months of the branch being opened, there was a total of 952 volumes of books borrowed.

Ottawa Journal - December 9th, 1910

In November of 1912, librarian W.J. Sykes of the main library told the Ottawa Citizen that along with increased funding to acquire important new reading material, there was an urgent need to enlarge the Hintonburg branch. 

The use of the library had grown exceptionally high. During May of 1913, it was reported that 1,098 fiction and non-fiction books were circulated, plus 444 reference books, compared to 156 during May of 1912.

Sometime in early 1913, the branch was moved out of the Rosemount School, and relocated in a storefront on the main floor of the brand new Iona Mansions apartments, which were finished in late 1912 or early 1913. The main floor of the apartment building had four separate storefronts (as it does now), and the library was located in #1125 Wellington Street, the third from the west. (1123 on the east end first opened as Victor P. Aubin's printer shop; 1129 was at first the caretaker's apartment; and 1131 on the west corner was John Clademenos' confectionery shop).

Present-day photo of the Iona Mansions. The library was located
at #1125 Wellington - now 'Collection Y.B.'
The change in location allowed the library to increase their hours of opening. They would now be open afternoons and evenings all six days of the week (Sundays excluded). In the summertime, they would adjust their hours to be closed on Saturday evenings.

1915 was an interesting year for Rosemount Avenue. In August, representatives from the Rosemount Methodist Church (which still exists today as the Rosemount Branch of the Somerset West Community Health Centre next to the library) petitioned the Ottawa Board of Control to widen Rosemount. Rev. C.S. Deeprose argued that "the Anglicans have their church on Fairmont avenue, and it is a wide street; the Presbyterians have theirs on Parkdale avenue and it is a wide street. Our Methodist church is on Rosemount which is only 30 feet wide. We should have some consideration, particularly as a very large public school is on the same street." In fact Rosemount was as narrow as 24 feet at the intersection of Wellington Street. The Church was requesting a widening to 40 feet, but the Board suggested even 50 feet would be fine, to make it uniform with other modern streets. Controller Champagne even joked "The road to go to church cannot be made too wide.".

The photo below is from the 1912 fire insurance plan, and shows the west side of Rosemount, from Wellington going south. In the plan, from top to bottom, can be seen:
  • 1124 Wellington Street: 2 1/2 storey wood-framed building that was a long-time grocery store, but in 1915 was the shop and home of Michael Sibroski, shoe-maker.
  • 2 Rosemount (still shows old pre-1908 civic numbers on plan, so it shows as #75): a rustic 1 1/2 storey wood house occupied by carpenter William Anderson
  • 30 Rosemount (#85) - Hintonburg Methodist Church
  • 36 Rosemount - 2 1/2 storey wood-frame house occupied by Thomas Gillespie, a long-time boom master with the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company
  • 100 Rosemount - the public school
Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa - 1912

What you may also notice about the fire plan is that it shows the buildings towards the top all situated at an angle to the street. When Rosemount Avenue was widened, these buildings were forced to be modified, or moved. You'll see therefore on the 1922 fire plan shown a few photos below, that the house at the corner of Wellington and the large church were actually moved back, and slightly clockwise, to align with the direction of the street. By turning the church (think of it as turning it from a diamond to a square), it opened up a parcel of land to its north that was could suddenly be used for another purpose. But more on that a little later.

After a lengthy debate as to how wide the residents wanted Rosemount to become, it was settled in mid-October that Rosemount would be 50 feet wide. 10 feet were taken from both sides of the street. The cost of the widening was $18,111. The City paid 20% of the cost of the work, while the owners of the properties on Rosemount paid the other 80%. The 10-feet of property was expropriated by the City, with a rate paid to the lot-owners for the piece of their land that was taken. Later in the process, the school board stepped in to fight against the taking of some of their property for the widening, but ultimately their property was expropriated also (the new Connaught Public School had opened on February 9th, 1915). The work began in December of 1915, with the buildings moved by August of 1916, when the roadway was prepared for the final steps of widening and paving.

Ottawa Journal - October 20, 1915

At the meting of the Library Board in April of 1916, it was shown that the library was now lending out 1,882 volumes per month (the stats from March), up from 1,028 from March of 1915. The marked increase in monthly usage at the west end branch was a regular theme of the library board updates each month.

Ottawa Citizen - June 16th, 1916
A report from the librarian of the Hintonburg branch included some great details about the branches usage while still located in the Iona Mansions storefront location: "On December 29, 1916, the afternoon attendance at the West End branch was 101, and on January 6, 1917, 122 used the room. In this room we have three tables, at which can be seated 18 persons; we have 21 chairs, counting the assistants. With any more than 22 people in the room at one time, it is impossible to reach the book shelves. People have to stand and wait, many going out to return later, but in many cases they do not come back that day. Remarks such as the following are heard repeatedly: 'There is no use going in, the place is crowded', 'No use trying to read in that crowd', and 'Present quarters are much too small for the needs, and the branch is steadily growing'."

Circulation of books at the West End Branch in 1916 was up to 15,647, up from 12,826 in 1915.

In January of 1917, the Carnegie Library Board in their Annual Report stated: "The West End branch was found very popular and much used. It has decidedly grown beyond the narrow limits of the quarters that are in use there. The contemplation of the construction of an adequate building for library purposes is being put forward by the directors in this section."

In the new year of 1917, research was conducted by the Library Board into options on how to erect a full-sized branch library in Hintonburg. The Board sent out a request to the thirty millionaires of Ottawa to donate the required funds. The request was roundly ignored.

At the meeting of the Carnegie Library Board on March 13th, 1917, the board decided that it would formally request Mayor Harold Fisher to write to the trustees of the Andrew Carnegie library fund, and ask for a bequest of $15,000 towards the construction of a library. Part of the agreement of the acquisition of these funds was that the city would be required to provide the land, and agree to spend one-tenth of the grant ($1,500) per year on maintenance (in 1916, $1,300 had been expended on the Hintonburg branch, thus the difference was negligible).

However, Mayor Fisher was reluctant to apply for these funds, and said that Ottawa would be lowering it's dignity to ask for the library funds.

Ottawa Journal - March 15, 1917
Mayor Fisher filed a memorandum with City Clerk Lett asking for the opinion of council on requesting the funds from the Carnegie Foundation, but re-iterated that he was opposed to carrying out the request "believing that the city would place itself in a humiliating position by seeking such a small grant from Mr. Carnegie". He stuck to his belief that the wealthy citizens of Ottawa could be persuaded to donate the funds.

Thankfully, city council voted unanimously on April 16th to make the application to the Carnegie Library Fund in New York for $15,000.

By early July, the response was received; the Carnegie Foundation agreed to provide the full $15,000. So on Thursday July 5th, Stewart McClenaghan (chairman of the library board), W.J. Sykes (Librarian), Mayor Fisher and the Controllers of Ottawa toured Hintonburg, and decided upon the old Town Hall site as the location for the new library. Though the city had the power to acquire new land, it was deemed unnecessary, since it was agreed that the Town Hall was an ideal spot.

The Town Hall site was located where 430 Parkdale Avenue stands today, immediately to the south of the old fire hall. (It was the original Nepean Township Town Hall, but when Hintonburg gained independence from Nepean in December of 1893, a new Nepean Town Hall had to be built - which it was, in Westboro, on Richmond just west of Churchill - the great old stone building still standing today)

430 Parkdale Avenue today, the chosen site for the West End Branch
of the public library in July of 1917.

Plans changed later in the summer, and an article in the August 8th, 1917 Journal noted that the branch's construction was about to go ahead with, and that Ottawa City Council had decided to grant the site of the old Hintonburg Pumphouse for the library!

The Pumphouse was located off River Street, just north of where the Parkway runs today, by the entry to the bridge to Lemieux Island. It's ruins are still there (unfortunately a fire there in the mid-80s destroyed the old house which had remained from the late 1800s). Can you imagine if the Library had actually been built here?? Really out of the way spot, but it would potentially have been quite a scenic spot.

Ottawa Journal - August 17, 1917

By October, however, the Pumphouse location was no longer being considered, and the City and Library Board were back to using the old Hintonburg Town Hall site. Architectural plans were drawn up by architect J.P. MacLaren, and a call for tenders was put out in October (the advertisement appears below).

Ottawa Journal, October 22, 1917

Another twist came about a week later, when the West End Glee Club (an organization that was formed in 1915 for local social purposes) offered to exchange to the City of Ottawa a piece of property they owned at the corner of Tyndall and Parkdale, which they argued was better suited for the construction of the library. The deal would allow for them to take over ownership of the old Town Hall building (which they had been using over the past two years for their events and functions). The local newspapers did not think there was a chance the Library Board would go along with this trade, however on November 5th, the Library Board stunned local residents, and the city Librarian who had issued a report opposing the change, by voting to approve the exchange of lands, which would also see the Glee Club pay the City of Ottawa $450 (and the Glee Club was also required to grade the piece of land at Parkdale and Tyndall being transferred to the City). The board voted 4-1 in favour of the Parkdale and Tyndall location.

The Rosemount Avenue Methodist Church had also made a presentation at the meeting, suggesting the city acquire part of their site on Rosemount. Librarian W.J. Sykes believed this site was actually the most ideal. As reported in the newspaper: "The opinion of W.J. Sykes...was that the property offered the board by the church people was the best, as it was advantageously located. The old town hall site, he thought, was not so suitable, being too far out, while that owned by the Glee Club, he said, was still more unsuitable, being out of the region of shops, churches, schools, and being on the south-west corner of the built-up part of the suburb. Concerning the latter, he said: 'It is a debatable question whether the Public Library had better not stay where it is, in a small, crowded, rented store, rather than use Carnegie's money to build a large, well-fitted branch so far out of the way that people will not come to it in large numbers."

Despite Sykes' report, the board still voted in favour of the Glee Club site, after a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of each.

At the same meeting, the Library Board also awarded tenders for the construction of the library. For the building itself, the tender was awarded to R.J. Mackey, who bid $9,347.50; and for the installation of a hot water heating plant and plumbing, the contract was awarded to J.T. Blythe, who bid $2,088.

The Board of Control then approved the property exchange, followed by City Council, and it was a done deal. The library would be built at the north-west corner of Parkdale and Tyndall.

But wait! In March of 1918, the Library Board changed their minds again! Despite the real estate transaction going through the previous fall, the board now voted to acquire part of the Rosemount Methodist Church property on Rosemount. Believe it or not, to do this, the City agreed to trade to the Church, the property at Parkdale and Tyndall plus $450, for the lot on Rosemount Avenue! All parties agreed, City Council agreed, and thus the exchange was made, and construction could finally begin.

Ottawa Journal - March 30, 1918
The builder of the library, Robert John Mackey, operated a relatively small contracting business. He was born in Twin Elm, Ontario in 1855, and came to Ottawa in 1885 to build houses. He resided at 19 Arlington Avenue, and as far as my research can tell, he operated his business from his home. I could find little other information on Mackey, nor details of other buildings he built. It sounded as if the library was one of his final projects.

Meanwhile, the contract for construction of the shelving in the new Rosemount library was awarded in April to George M. Mason & Co. (whose large planing mill operation was located close-by at Wellington and Bayswater).

But 1918 was a difficult year. World War One was underway, and in addition, due to the flu epidemic, most public gathering spaces were being shut down. This included the city's libraries, which were closed often during the year. Residents with books checked out were worried about overdue fees, but more so there was great concern regarding books potentially contaminated by influenza germs. The Board of Health had a standard rule whereby the Public Disinfector R.J. Smith destroyed all library books which had been handled by smallpox, scarlet fever or diphtheria patients. However, Librarian Sykes re-stated that "influenza germs would not thrive on the printed page and that there was no danger from books in this way."

The completion of the Library went ahead, and was formally opened on Friday night, November 29th, 1918. The article detailing the big event is shown below:

Ottawa Journal, November 30, 1918
The Rosemount Library had its main floor devoted to the library itself, while in the basement was constructed a small public lecture hall for meetings, that would hold 150 people. Chairman McClenaghan of the Library Board at the opening night suggested that the hall be named 'Victory Hall'. He suggested "that the names of all from that district who enlisted in the war be secured...and placed on the walls to commemorate all those from the West End who took part in the war."

It was noted at the Public Library Board in December that grant money had also been obtained from the Ontario Government for the new branches in Ottawa South and Hintonburg, totaling $240 each.

The library as it looked not long after construction
(source: reprinted in the Ottawa Citizen in 2006)

Thus by the end of 1918, Rosemount Avenue had gone through substantial changes in the past three years. The Fire Insurance Plan of 1922 (pictured below), shows the structures on Rosemount as they appeared in 1922 (no different from 1918): the old shop at the corner of Wellington (moved in 1915), the rustic small house, the new library, the Methodist Church (also moved in 1915), and the brick house at 36 Rosemount (later torn down mid-century). Not shown of course was the new school completed in 1915 which now faced on to Gladstone.

Fire Insurance Plan - 1922

Below is an aerial photograph from 1920 (from the earliest set of aerial photos I've ever seen for Ottawa), which captures Rosemount Avenue (along the right side), Wellington on the top and Gladstone at the bottom. That's the new Connaught School at bottom right, and the Grace Hospital at left, on the south side of Wellington (still under construction at this time).

Aerial Photograph - 1920
Similar shot from an aerial photo - May 1928
In 1931 and 1932, discussions began regarding an addition for the West End branch. However, with the depression in full swing, it was decided in February of 1932, that construction would be postponed until "more favorable times". However, things ended up moving quickly, as it was announced in May that plans were being prepared by architect J.P. MacLaren once again, for the addition, "to be used as a stack room" and to "relieve congestion in other parts of the current building." A building permit was taken out in June in the amount of $4,000. Work began in November, and was still going into the very early part of 1933.

In early 1935, the firm or T.B. Barnard was paid $365.20 to supply and lay new linoleum floors in the library, "which was said to be badly needed".

Ottawa Archives CA-32274 - A photo of Rosemount Avenue
on April 25, 1955 (there was a gas leak being repaired).
The library is visible along the right edge.

April 1966 oblique view of Rosemount Avenue, looking west.

Rosemount remained the only west Ottawa branch until 1957, when the Carlingwood branch opened.

Finally, in 1982, the Rosemount Library underwent a $330,000 "facelift", which included a new elevator and washroom facilities for the disabled, a new front entranceway, new insulation for the walls, and new lighting, heating and air conditioning installed. The library was closed from April until November during the renovations, and local residents used a bookmobile that set up in the old lot north of the building on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Other than general maintenance, no work has been performed on the branch since, and thus it is plainly evident that some renovations/expansion would be greatly appreciated by this little branch, Ottawa's only remaining Carnegie library. The running theme throughout the history of the library has been its endless growth, and that has never been more apparent now. As Hintonburg continues to grow, and as the Rosemount Library usage continues to increase, the library building needs to grow with it.

And so there you have it, the detailed history of the Rosemount Library. Let's hope there is much more still to be written on the future renovations and modernizations of this important Hintonburg institution!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The history of Laroche Park - part two

Today's issue of the Kitchissippi Times includes the second part of my history of Laroche Park. This article mostly covers the period of time from when it was converted from a dump to a park, and onwards. A few surprising near-misses on its usage are the highlights for sure, and also learn a bit more on who Mr. Laroche was.

You can check out a print copy, or view the article online at https://kitchissippitimes.wordpress.com/2015/11/26/a-look-back-at-laroche-park-carnivals-picnics-giant-rats-and-a-terrible-injury/


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The sad and shocking Smirle Avenue murder

The following is a long narrative on a case that I've come across multiple times in my years of local research. I'd been intending to really dig into it one day, and so here it is. Consider it my first foray into the world of crime writing. It is a really sad case, but one that really captivated Ottawans in 1930, and had several twists and turns that extended over multiple years. Grab a coffee, and learn more about arguably the saddest incident in Wellington Village's history. (DA)

In the winter of 1929-30, Smirle Avenue was still in it's earliest days. The street numbered just 30 houses at the time (20 on the west side, 11 on the east), and all of them were less than a decade old. Wellington Village as a neighbourhood was in its infancy, but it was a booming little community, pushed ahead by the roaring '20s which saw constant construction on its streets throughout the decade. The great depression had begun to settle in during this winter, and times were changing in Ottawa, and throughout the western world.

But on the morning of Tuesday March 25th, 1930, the neighbourhood and indeed the city as a whole would be shook up by an incident that was as upsetting as any event the area had ever seen.

* * *

The background

Donald Lloyd Campbell was a home-builder who operated like many of the builders of the era; he purchased a lot or two at a time, finished a house, put it up for sale, and perhaps even lived in the completed home, until it's purchaser was found. Then the cycle was repeated.

Campbell had established a small business, D.L. Campbell Ltd., and in the late 1920s had purchased quite a few lots in the Wellington Village area, and subsequently built several houses. One of these lots was lot #697 on the west side of Smirle, at the south corner of Spencer Street. He picked it up for $200 in January of 1928, and acquired a mortgage of $2,800 from farmer Frank Clark of Nepean, and began construction soon after. By the fall of 1928, Campbell had finished construction on 72 Smirle Avenue, and put it up for sale. The home did not sell right away, so instead, he installed tenants in the house sometime during the winter of 1928-29: streetcar operator J.P. Devine and his wife Elizabeth. The couple moved in to the fresh new home, where they stayed for less than a year.

72 Smirle Avenue (in 2009)

Meanwhile, young Ottawa couple Reginald James and Olga Nelson announced their engagement early in 1929, and were married on June 22nd, 1929. Olga was just 18 years old, Reggie 22. Their friends described them as an "ideally suited couple". The Ottawa Journal wrote a brief article on the wedding, titled "Charming Brides of Early Summer", noting that the bride "given in marriage by her grandfather, Mr. Stanley Spencer, was lovely in a gown of pale yellow cobweb lace and chiffon with a large yellow mohair hat and a shoulder bouquet of Ophelia roses and lily-of-the-valley." Following the wedding at St. Luke's Anglican Church, the reception was held at Olga's parents home at 250 Cooper Street, "the rooms being adorned attractively with peonies and sweet peas", and then "the young couple left on a motor trip to New York, returning via Niagara Falls and Hamilton. The bride wore a travelling suit of pale pink and a small white hat. She carried a grey coat." It seemed like a very happy time, for the young sweetheart couple.

Olga James, from the Citizen, taken I believe on
her wedding day.

Reggie James, also from their wedding day.

Reginald Waldo James had been born in Sackville, New Brunswick, and was the son of accountant Frederick Stanley James. Reggie was employed as an electrician with the Ottawa Electric Railway streetcar company. His bride Olga had been raised by her grandparents. Her grandfather Stanley Spencer was the well-known curator at the library of the House of Commons. Olga herself had worked for several years at John M. Garland Son & Co., a dry goods store on Queen Street, and later as a clerk in the downtown department store Bryson-Graham. Since her wedding, she had been working two days a week for Ramsay & Company, patent attorneys on Bank Street, to assist with getting their mail out. Olga's father had slowly gone blind during her childhood, and by 1930 was residing in the Ottawa Institute for the Blind on McLeod Street. Her mother resided with an aunt, but no news reports indicated why Olga had not been raised by her parents.

The wedding account noted that the couple was to reside at 375 Arlington Avenue upon their return home from their three-week honeymoon. However, just a few months later in October of 1929, the couple moved to the one-year old house at 72 Smirle Avenue, perhaps so that Reggie James could be closer to his work at the streetcar workshops at the Champagne Avenue 'barns', and also so that the couple could have a comfortable house in a quiet neighbourhood to start their family. Olga was pregnant and due with the couple's first child in September.

The morning of Tuesday, March 25th, 1930

Reginald James woke up early, prepared his own breakfast and quietly left for work at the Ottawa Electric Railway workshops between 6:30 and 6:45 a.m., leaving his wife sleeping in bed. Olga had planned to visit her in-laws that morning. Apparently it had been quite cold in Olga and Reggie's house recently, owing to their heating coal supply being low. Mrs. James had wanted Olga to spend the day at the James' house on Renfrew Avenue in the Glebe, both to escape the cold, but also to continue the project they had started the previous day; the two had spent Monday together making clothes for Olga's expected baby. But she would never make it back to her mother-in-law's on Tuesday morning.

Mrs. James began calling the house after 9 o'clock, but could not reach Olga. At first, Mrs. James believed Olga might just be still in bed, but grew increasingly concerned.

Reggie went home for lunch, as he did most days, arriving at 12:10 p.m,. When he came in the front door, he did not see Olga and had assumed she had gone out to his mother's place. He went into the kitchen and began to prepare lunch, putting on coffee and was about to start making food when the telephone rang. It was his mother. She said Olga had not come over, and she had been unable to reach her all morning, having phoned several times.

Reggie's next few seconds would be devastating. As he later reported to the papers: "Still feeling only slightly uneasy, I was under the impression that Olga had slept in, and went upstairs to see. She was in bed. My God, what a sight. She was all over blood. Her throat was terribly bruised.".

Reggie said that he hardly knew what he was doing as he rushed downstairs to call for help. He was still not certain she was dead, perhaps only unconscious. He first called his mother and told her the terrible news. Then he put in a call to Dr A.S. McElroy, and after that, called the police.

The afternoon of Tuesday, March 25th, 1930

The police arrived immediately, and began investigating the scene.

Olga was found in her nightdress with her face and neck covered with blood. She was covered up to her neck by blankets. Dr. McElroy on his arrival found that Olga had been dead for some time. and had died from strangulation.

The shocking event caused immediate sadness throughout Ottawa. A lot of it was centered on Smirle Avenue, where grieving parents and in-laws met up with a grieving husband, still overcome by the discovery.

The Journal reported: "There were heart-rending scenes in the pretty home on the west side of Smirle avenue, north of Wellington street, as relatives and friends joined the police and the spreading crowd of the curious about one o'clock. The husband, a tall, slender young man, was completely overcome by the shocking discovery he made at lunch time. As he staggered down the stairs from the death room on the upper floor he cried: "O, my God! She is dead - really dead!""

* * *

The police began putting together the clues.

In the bedroom on the floor, they found a cigar butt which had been left on the floor, as well as an unsigned note next to the bed on the dresser. The letter read: "This is your dirty work you have done on me. It may be a lesson not to treat any other man that way. You got this woman to play the most rotten game she could play on a man. Now see what you have done." The note was written in pencil on a half sheet of notepaper, the reverse side on which was an unfinished, half-written letter by Olga to her grandmother.

The police in investigating the murder scene had found beads scattered over the floor of the bedroom and bathroom, which belonged to a necklace Olga had often worn. The beads in the bathroom led police to believe that the killer had washed his hands before leaving the house. Several days after the murder, Reggie's mother found a bloodstained towel amongst the laundry she had taken home from the bathroom, apparently used by the killer during his clean-up.

It was initially believed that Donald L. Campbell, the builder of the house and Olga and Reggie's landlord may have been involved, but they were able discount him early on.

The neighbours across the street were the only ones to see the killer on the property. While having breakfast between 8:30 and 9:00, they saw a man walk along Spencer, peer in the side door and then went around to the front, mounting the verandah steps and ringing the door bell. They did not see anyone open the door, but the man went in. They thought no more of the incident and did not watch for his departure. They recognized the man, and were able to provide enough of a description to police to assist.

Meanwhile Reggie James, unable to think of anyone who would possibly harm his wife, was asked to considered any possible person who could have done this. The only person he could come up with as even a longshot possibility, was the painter who had been working in his house earlier in the month. This suspect was mentioned to D.L. Campbell, and to the neighbours across the street, and the pieces of the puzzle began to fit together a little.

* * *

Meanwhile family and friends had begun hearing the news, and the press was right there to capture their early reactions. In some cases, it was the press reporters who were breaking the news to family.

Reggie's mother Mrs. Oral James, speaking at the house moments after arriving to comfort her son, was of course shocked to learn of the tragedy "I can't imagine who would have done such a thing" she said, "She had no enemies. Everyone loved her. She was such a dear little thing. It is terrible."

At Olga's childhood home, the reporter arrived moments after Olga's grandmother had heard of what had happened. Eerily, the reporter found that she had predicted tragedy that very morning. "When my husband Stanley left for his work in the library of the House of Commons this morning I sat down for a little while to tell fortunes with a pack of fortune cards I got in New York last summer." she reported to the Journal. "The very first card that turned up was the one that reads 'Death of a dear friend'. I didn't know then how near to me that message was to come."

The Journal  had reached the grandmother before family had, and caught her in her full grief. "She was such a happy girl all the time. You know she lived with me practically all the years before she was married. I really brought her up and I feel now as if one of my own dear children had been taken from me. Oh! Who could have done this? You know she was so bright, such a child even though she was married, that I cannot think of anyone who would even think of harming hair on her head."

"Olga used to come to see me often since she was married and she had lunch with me on Friday last" said Mrs. Spencer "She was so bright and gay then and did not seem to have a care in the world. She was really happy, I know that, for she had a good husband. Nothing was too much for him to do for her. She has not been very strong, you know, and her husband would not let her do anything unnecessary around the house. He would look after it himself, and whenever there was anything to be cleaned up he would do it. They were getting such a nice home together and he had done a lot of painting and cleaning up. Oh what a terrible thing to happen."

"Every time she came here she acted just like a child," she added. "You know, people would think she was only 14 instead of 19 and married. I used to often say to her, 'You'll never grow up', and she would just laugh merrily."

* * *

The police department was acting on every clue, and once suspicion pointed to one individual in particular, three policemen and the devastated Reggie James all drove to a lunch room on Sparks Street, and then to a rooming house at 25 Stewart Street in Sandy Hill where 62-year old William Nielson was said to reside. They waited outside the home for a while, with cops covering both the front and rear doors. When someone matching Nielson's description was spotted walking along the street, the policemen asked Reggie to confirm if that was him - the man who had painted in his house earlier in March. "That's he", said James.

25 Stewart Street (as it stands in 2015), where William Nielson was
arrested, an hour after the discovery of the body of Olga James.

William Nielson was apprehended at 1:35 p.m. and placed under arrest and taken to the local police station at 1:45. Nielson initially refused to say anything, but the evidence quickly began to mount.

Nielson was found with scratches on his hands, his forehead and the top of his head. The cuffs of his white shirt and the front of his clothes were slightly spotted with blood. His coat sleeve was ripped, and indications appeared it has been ripped only a short time before his arrest. He was discovered with two yards of "window cord" in his overcoat, blood-stained, and knotted at both ends. He was also found with $160 in his pocket, having drawn all his money from the bank (potentially planning to flee Ottawa later that day).

The police questioning took only minutes to turn into a full confession.

Nielson admitted to police that when they arrived at his home that afternoon, he was already making preparations to hang himself with the same fatal cord. Police believed that if they had not arrested Nielson at 1:35, he would have taken his own life within another fifteen minutes.

The formal charge against Nielson was sworn out at 3;00, and by 3:45 p.m., Inspector of Detectives Emile Joliat had Nielson's confession. In less than four hours, the murder was solved, and Nielson was taken to the Nicholas Street jailhouse.

* * *

Back on Smirle Avenue, the tragic scene had become a mob scene. Word of the murder had begun to spread throughout town, and curious citizens arrived on the street to see what could be seen.

Reggie James was devastated. "If I could get my hands on him, I'd kill him" said the bereaved husband, with tears streaming down his face.

Unbeknownst to the many visitors to the house, Olga's pet puppy "Pat", a "pup police dog" had been locked all day in the cellar. The Journal noted that Pat, "apparently aware from the strange voices of policemen and detectives on the floor above him that something was wrong, howled mournfully until he was released from the cellar by newspaper reporters. Upon seeing his broken-down master, head bent between his knees and weeping quietly, the faithful pup lay down at his feet, whimpering."

* * *

With a press conference held around 4:00 to announce the killer's confession, and releasing his name and some biographical information, it was a race for the two local English papers to publish this wild new information in their evening editions. The Ottawa Journal had already gone to press with the story as it was known mid-afternoon, but the Citizen decided to delay production, and inserted an updated article (with a non-standard font type and size) on the front page, to provide this breaking news.

The headlines in the evening papers that day screamed out about the shocking murder in Wellington Village:

Front page of the evening edition of the Ottawa Journal, March 25, 1930

Front page of the evening edition of the Ottawa Citizen, March 25, 1930.

* * *

The background; the motive

Details on how Nielson had become involved in the lives of Olga and Reggie James began to emerge on the afternoon of the murder. Some time in February or early March, the landlord D.L. Campbell had hired Nielson to paint inside the house. He was assigned to paint three or four days a week, over a two week period. With Reggie out working at the streetcar barns every day, Nielson was alone with the young bride Olga for long periods of time. He developed an obsession with her.

At some point during this period of time, Nielson made advances to Olga, going so far as to put his arm around her. She rebuffed his overtures, and he left the house. A day or two later, Nielson mailed Olga a gift of two pairs of stockings, which she declined to accept, adding a note saying that she could not take stockings or any other gift items from a man other than her husband.

Several days later, Nielson called Olga on the phone and told her that he attempted to take the stockings back to the store where he had purchased them, but the store would not accept them. He asked Olga to return the stockings herself, and get something else in exchange. During the phone conversation, Reggie arrived home and asked his wife to whom she was talking. Olga then told her husband of the stockings and of Nielson's advances.

Reggie James treated the matter lightly, urging Olga to forgive Nielson on the grounds that he "was an old man and alone in the world." He encouraged Olga to invite Nielson to tea, which she did. Nielson visited on Sunday March 16th, spending a large chunk of the day at the James' home. It was reportedly an enjoyable afternoon, spent listening to records on the Victrola and conversing.

Since then, Nielson had not been seen by Reggie, nor had Nielson returned to the house to his knowledge.

William Nielson had been a 20-year employee for the builder and landlord of 72 Smirle Avenue, Douglas Campbell. When immediately interviewed on the afternoon of the murder, Nielson's landlord and long-time friend Oscar Petegorsky was surprised to hear the story. "How could he do it? He is so quiet. I can't believe it.", said Petegorsky. Most of Nielson's limited number of contacts shared similar sentiments.

William Nielson mug shot, taken hours after the killing.

Nielson was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1868, and had come to Canada in 1907. He was a widower, and was purportedly widely known around town, from having worked on many job sites. He was also known as a recluse, rarely mixing with anyone.

* * *

At 4:00, an inquest was opened into the death of Olga James, at the funeral parlors of George H. Rogers Ltd. on Elgin Street, after the body was identified by Frederick S. James, father-in-law of the victim.

It was also reported that "around noon, a thirteen-year-old Holland avenue girl was returning from St. Mary's School for lunch, and was accosted in the vicinity of Smirle Avenue by an aged man who asked her to come with him. She told him to go on about his business. She told her brother that the man had accosted two other young girls before he spoke to her."

Tidbits of information like this helped the police sketch together a preliminary summary of Nielson's whereabouts for the day.

Nielson had arrived at 72 Smirle at 8:00 a.m., as witnessed by the neighbours across the street. He had a key in his possession that had been provided to him by D.L. Campbell weeks earlier for the painting work, and which he had never returned. Reggie James had left all the doors locked when he left that morning, and when he returned at noon, he found them all still locked. The only others with a key were Campbell and Nielson.

Nielson told police he was inside the house for half an hour. When asked why he had gone there, he answered that "he had heard dirty words spoken about him and had gone to Mrs. James to see about them." He went to the newlywed's house on Smirle "looking for a showdown".

"There was a row, then I tackled her and it was all over" said Nielson in his confession. After he was sure she was dead, he said he wrote the note which later was found on the bureau.

After the killing, Nielson said that he went across the river to Hull, to the Windsor Hotel, had three drinks to steady his nerves, and then went into the lavatory in the basement with the intention of strangling himself with the same rope. Other men however also went into the basement and Nielson said he saw that he would be disturbed and claimed he decided to return to his room on Stewart Street to end his life.

Adding more drama to an already upsetting event, Nielson posted a letter to the Ottawa Citizen early in the afternoon from Hull. Addressed to "The Editor of Ottawa Citizen", Nielson confessed to the murder, and laid the motive for his crime on the gossiping of Olga James ("Mrs. J.") and D.L. Campbell and his wife, and more bizarrely, his hatred of the Ottawa Police. The full text of his letter, as published in the Citizen, was as follows:

"Following is a statement of me, undersigned, that I have committed an awful deed this morning against a woman. From that day I entered her house, she played on me and with her language, and her acts. At last I couldn't stand it any longer and have no use for women else but she got my number. I gave her a suggestion and she just told me I was old enough to be her grandfather. After I left her house I have heard nothing else but talking that pointed back to her and D.L. Campbell. Campbell himself spoke about things I know came from her. The police of Ottawa, whom your paper is always praising, is the most rotten police force I ever knew. After I left Mrs. J's house I have on several occasions heard things that pointed back on Mrs. J. and Campbell, and walking on the street more than once I have heard remarks from some of the women that police employ to do their dirty work, remarks that pointed back to Mrs. J. I got all worked up so I completely lost control of myself. Even yesterday when working in Campbell's house I heard Mrs. Campbell speaking on the telephone about me saying "you better be careful Mrs. J. and I saw him myself on the street the other day, and Mrs James answering back something that made Mrs. Campbell laugh. When you receive this I am already going away myself but all the blame is on the dirty police in Ottawa. If I have made a mistake of this woman then God have mercy on her soul. My heart is bleeding and I am suffering with doubt about her, but the police of Ottawa, damn them, is to be blamed. Yours, Wm. Nielson."

Reggie James would defend his deceased wife's actions repeatedly through the following weeks and months with a similar statement: "He thought she was flirting with him but she wasn't. She merely was trying to be nice to him as she was to everybody. He is an old man and she knew he was alone and was sorry for him."

Wednesday March 26th, 1930

The autopsy was completed this morning, and for at least some degree of relief, it was found that Olga had not been sexually assaulted (interesting side note: in this era, newspapers would not use the term "sexually assaulted", they referred to it as "criminally assaulted"). Initially, it was assumed that she had been. The autopsy showed only that Olga had been killed by strangulation and nothing else. It also confirmed that indeed Olga was an expecting mother due in the fall.

Funeral arrangements were announced, with a private service to be held on Thursday afternoon at Reggie's parents home on Renfrew avenue, and then to Beechwood for burial. The newspaper stated that "privacy is desired by the grief-stricken husband because of the morbidly curious crowds that are wont to gather at the funerals of this nature."

Meanwhile, Nielson was formally arraigned in police court and remanded for one week. An unusually large crowd had assembled at the court house for a glimpse of Nielson. Long before the doors opened at ten there was a line-up, and only a limited number were admitted before the door was closed. Some of the individuals turned away attempted to run to the side of the building to try to gain entry via the side door, but it was under guard by the police.

The police authorities and the relatives and friends of Olga had no hesitation to speak out to the media on this sad day, and to opine that Nielson's statements to the police, and the letter he wrote to the Citizen office were the "the hallucinations of a man mentally affected". The Citizen editorialized that "the police do not think there is any basis for the claim made by Nielson that he heard things on the street that pointed to their having emanated from Mrs. James or from either Donald L. Campbell or Mrs. Campbell, both of whom were mentioned in the letter to the Citizen. Mrs. Campbell as a matter of fact, never knew Mrs. James."

Late on Wednesday evening, while sitting alone, motionless in his jail cell, brooding over the awful crime for which he assume responsibility, William Nielson was told for the first time, that his victim was an expectant mother.

Thursday March 27th, 1930

Olga's funeral was held on Thursday afternoon at her in-law's family home at 49 Renfrew Avenue. As was still common in the era, wakes and funerals were typically held at a family home. Large crowds, mostly composed of women, lined the adjacent lawns and sidewalks, and bowed their heads when the "soft-grey steel casket" was carried out of the house, and placed in the hearse to be taken to Beechwood Cemetery.

The following portion from the newspaper is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, it tells of some unimaginably awful behaviour by some citizens of Ottawa. I can't even believe this would have been normal at any point at time, hardly something you can brush off as "well, it was olden days". Just absurd. And secondly, it represents just how detailed newspaper accounts of the period were. The writing, the descriptions of events, were very descriptive, often hauntingly so.

Ottawa Journal - March 27, 1930

Also on this day. William Nielson's lawyers, Arthur F. Cluffe and Jean Richard, to counteract the claims made by Nielson in his letter that Olga had in some way brought about the attack on herself, issued a statement that "In view of the apparent statements made in connection with this unfortunate affair, and in fairness to the late Mrs. Reginald James, we desire to make it clearly understood that her character is in no way questioned. From our knowledge her reputation is absolutely unblemished."

The police were at a loss to account for what they described as bitter attacks on the police in his letter. They found he had no previous police record. It was felt that as he was in fear of being apprehended for the murder, and contemplating taking his own life, he simply wrote these sections of the letter as a desperate excuse.

The Case

It generally began to be believed that the defense would attempt to go for a plea of insanity, to avoid having to face trial. Reginald James issued a statement three days after his wife's funeral, clarifying his comments regarding the sanity of the killer. "When I stated that Nielson must be crazy, I referred to the statements made by him against my wife's character. I believe he was perfectly sane when he entered the house and killed her."

On Monday March 31st, 1930, Ottawa Coroner Dr. J.E. Craig's office held an inquest in the Olga James case. This was the first time evidence would be given, and witnesses questioned. Talk of the case was popular in Ottawa, and many citizens attempted to attend, but only a limited number were allowed.

The coroner's jury took just five minutes to return a verdict of wilful murder against Nielson.

At the inquest, Reggie James stated that he believed the reason for the murder was jealousy. "I believe that jealousy had a certain amount of play in it, and maybe he took my wife wrong in some of her actions" he stated.

* * *

The story was thrust back on to the front page of the newspapers a week later when the preliminary hearing at Police Court was held on April 9th. Nielson, just as he had at the arraignment and inquest, appeared in court without emotion, saying little, and looking down without lifting his eyes. As the Citizen put it, he appeared "with the stolid mien that is typical of many of the Danish race".

At Police Court, Magistrate Charles Hopewell committed Nielson for trial on the charge of murder.

The full typewritten confession was entered into evidence at this hearing. Arousing interest was Nielson's answer when asked directly: "You were in love with that woman" and Nielson's reply was "I loved her." Here is more from the confession:

Q - How did you get into the house?
A - I had a key for the front door.
Q - Then what happened?
A - I went in and went upstairs to her bedroom. She was in bed. She asked me what I wanted. I told her I wanted an explanation about what was going around behind my back. I told her there was something going around back of me, something around the house, something about me.
Q - You went into her room and she asked you what you wanted?
A - Yes. I asked her to tell the truth about what she had said about me. Something bad she had said about me. Then she lost her temper, I lost mine and this is how it happened.
Q - What did you do when you lost your temper?
A- You know what. I have nothing more to say.
Q- You have marks on your nose.
A- Yes. She scratched me.
Q - Did you have hold of her then?
A- Yes, I said all I wanted was to have a good time with her. I had hold of her at that time. She said 'You will have a good time with me but you will kill me before.' That is what she said.

It was also revealed that Nielson had come by on March 19th, a few days after the afternoon tea, and knocked on the James' door. Olga's mother was visiting, and so Nielson came up with a quick story asking to borrow a plank of wood that he needed to use in a nearby house he was working in. Olga gave him access to the basement, but he came back upstairs empty-handed and left. Olga had told Reggie that she thought he had come by "with the intention of causing her trouble", but Reggie had shrugged it off that he meant no harm.

The additional evidence had also piled up against Nielson, making what seemed to be an all-round air-tight case against him: the handwriting in the letter sent to the Ottawa Citizen was matched by an expert to the handwriting in the note left by the killer in the bedroom; Nielson was found with seven keys in his pocket upon his arrest, one of which was the key to 72 Smirle Avenue; and investigators had found a button on Olga's bed that matched other buttons on Nielson's coat - upon his arrest, his coat was missing the top button, and had loose threads in its place, an indication that it had recently been torn off.

* * *

The trial by jury in the Ontario Supreme Court was put off until October of that fall.

While awaiting trial, things got bizarre in late May, when it was revealed that Nielson was actually Emanuel Theodor Hasberg, a fugitive from justice in Denmark. RCMP authorities had sent fingerprints to Denmark to research more about his early life. Police there confirmed that Nielson had severed multiple terms in jail in Denmark for theft. In 1907 he escaped from jail there, while serving a five-year term of hard labour. and fled to Canada. Denmark police sent along a photo from 1901, which the newspapers published to compare to Nielson in 1930.

Ottawa Journal, May 21, 1930

Oddly, the Crown Attorney announced that this information would not be used against Nielson at trial. Meanwhile, the Denmark Police were anxious to hear the results of the trial. If the Ontario court were to find him not-guilty, they wanted to bring him back to face justice in Copenhagen.

On October 18th, 1930, the fall court scheduled resumed at the Nicholas Street court house, and Nielson's defense team put forward a plea of insanity, as expected. Two alienists (an old term to refer to doctors specializing in mental illness) who were Crown witnesses, and who had assessed him in August, testified to Nielson's mental condition, citing his hallucinations (one of which was that Olga James "was a police woman"), and that he was being watched everywhere he went and persecuted. Dr. Montgomery stated: "He has had the idea that the police were in league against him, and had spotters to watch him that in every place he worked, police spotters were going to those places and giving information about him. During the past few years he has had the idea that police women were on his trail. He has also had the opinion that his employer was in league with the police."

Following the alienists testimony, the jury retired for 20 minutes, and returned with a verdict that Nielson was insane and unfit to take his trial.

The newspapers stated that he would be placed in county jail to await sentencing. I could not find any further updates in the news, or in any records to update what happened to William Nielson after this date. [Edit: A helpful reader Craig Shouldice emailed me to let me know he had found a death record for William Nielson. Nielson committed suicide on July 23rd, 1933 by hanging himself, while he was a patient at a Hospital (Criminal Insane Division) in Penetanguishene, Ontario. Thanks Craig for sharing this information.]

Following the trial

Reginald James never returned to the home on Smirle Avenue. He moved in with his parents on Renfrew Avenue for the next 12 to 18 months, before eventually moving in to a room loft apartment of a house at 540 Parkdale Avenue.

Somehow, despite the huge publicity of the case, D.L. Campbell found new tenants for 72 Smirle Avenue soon after the murder. The new tenants, Carleton Pattie, a conductor for CP Railway and his wife Iona, moved in by July.

Campbell never did find a buyer for his house. He suffered tremendously from the economic depression of the 1930s, and in May of 1931, lost 72 Smirle Avenue via foreclosure to the mortgage-holder Frank Clark. Campbell lost ownership of several houses he had built during the late '20s this way, as the real estate market in Ottawa dried up completely, between the depression and eventually, World War II.

The murder house on Smirle was torn down in 2013, and replaced with an impressive, larger home on the lot at the corner of Spencer Street.

* * *

Life was not easy for Reggie James after losing his wife. Two years later, in July of 1932, James was back on the front pages of the local papers, as he left Ottawa and sent letters to both his family and the Ottawa Journal, announcing that he was taking his own life due to his depression. He wrote the two letters while on board the steamship New York of the Eastern Steamship Line, which ran a coastal passenger and freight service between Portland Maine and New York City.

The letter began: "By the time you receive this letter, I will empty my bottle of poison and be in a new world, one not as cruel as this one. I hope.", and was signed "Reginald W. James, formerly 72 Smirle avenue, Ottawa. Tomorrow, East River, New York."

In the letters, he made mention that he was tired of living. "If Nielsen was crazy I would like to know my condition. That man's face haunts me everywhere I go. He wakes me up at night, keeping me from getting any sleep. He worries me until my brain is overtaxed and weak. How can a man carry on like this? That man did the most cruel trick that I can imagine any one ever doing. Because my wife was kind to him he tried to get familiar with her. Was that a human thing for any man to do to such a small and inexperienced little girl, and then not being satisfied with her refusal to have anything to do with him he killer her in a terrible manner. Also the little baby which we both looked forward to was killed by him. Too bad he didn't do the same to me. It certainly would have saved me a lot of worry and unrest."

Reggie went on to refer to Nielsen escaping capital punishment when he was certified insane at provincial court in October of 1930. He complained that "they would not dare hang a man in Ottawa" and made reference to some recent verdicts in Ottawa. "Perhaps this letter will help to stir things up in Ottawa a bit but it is too bad that murderers are allowed to live in order that they can haunt dear relatives of their victims. Surely the next world will hold a little more for me than this one. However, I shall soon know."

Reggie's parents hoped that he wrote the letters with the intention of disappearing and going to live elsewhere. They noted that they had tried to persuade him to live with them again, but that he did not seem to be happy unless he was alone. He kept up his job with the Electric Railway, working as a line switch inspector, and there too worked alone, rarely conversing with his fellow workers since the tragedy which took his young wife from him.

His parents also noted that they were aware their son brooded over the loss of his wife, though would refuse to talk about it. He kept the bedroom suite and other furniture which had been in the home on Smirle, and always had the dresser arranged as his young wife used to do it. He had preserved all his wedding gifts as a memory.

The story was tracked through the local papers over the following week. Some optimism was felt when letters were received by local friends of Reggie's, indicating that he was seemingly cheerful, and the letters did not mention his premeditated suicide. One letter included a comment that Reggie was looking forward to a new job as a rewrite man on a New York newspaper.

These news reports dried up without any result, and until a few days ago, I had believed the story had likely ended in tragedy.

However, a little digging on the Ancestry website led me to discover that he had remarried in 1944 to a Helen Jean Hepburn Colwell of Saint John, New Brunswick, and that he would live until the age of 85, passing away in Daytona Beach, Florida in 1992. I could find no other information on Reggie James or his life. Perhaps this was no accident, as after several years of intense media scrutiny, personal torment, and the pressures of dealing with such a tremendous loss, it is likely that Reginald James was happy that he was able to get his life put back together, satisfied to have a quiet, private existence for the remainder of his life here on earth.


This morning, December 28th, 2015, I received an email from a Mrs. Sandra James, the granddaughter of Reginald James's brother Stan (who noted that Reginald also acted as grandfather to Stan's grandchildren after Stan passed away at a young age). I was happy to receive this detailed additional information on Reginald James's life, and am even more so happy to share it as an addendum to my original article above. Below are the words of Sandra James, about her "de facto grandfather" Reginald James:

The late 1920’s and early 1930’s were a terrible time in Ottawa with the depression, lack of work, and the rumbling of war. To have the diversion of a murder in a family of very good social standing was a great interest to the newspapers and a thrill to citizens. Reg was never called Reggie. His mother, Deborah Bishop James was an accomplished artist trained in Boston. Her nickname was Ora, not Oral, and that was a short form of Deborah. Reg’s middle name Waldo is named after Ralph Waldo Emerson, a favorite author of his parents.

Reg was a very proficient young man, ruggedly handsome, well read, very well liked and a very good fisherman. He was one of four sons, all college educated. His father and mother were also both college educated and came from prominent maritime families. The family had a house in the Glebe, as well as a cottage in Burritt’s Rapids.

Olga’s maiden name was the same as the man that murdered her, and it is now clear the murderer was very delusional about her. At the time, it was thought that the murderer would hang for the crime. When that did not come to pass, Reg was left with how to pick up the pieces and move on to his new life. There was no Post Traumatic Stress disorder then, and no real way for him to cope. Our family has very deep ties in the Maritimes and in New York City, and has a love of cars and motorcycles. My grandfather, Reg’s brother Stan was living in New York City at the time of the murder, finishing a business degree at Columbia University. It was only natural for Reg to be traveling to see family in the Maritimes, as well as staying with family in New York City.

In his journeys through the Maritimes and into New York State by motorcycle Reg sought redemption from what had happened, and decided to remake his life and the life of others by becoming an RCMP officer. He enlisted in Ottawa in 1935 and was trained in Regina. He served undercover during the second world war, posing as a newspaperman in St. Stephen New Brunswick close to the border of Maine.

In actual fact he was documenting U boat activity and the placement of Nazi weather stations and radio relays along the Maritime coast. Although this information is no longer classified, Reg never spoke of his actual work. He did meet Jean in St. Stephen and married her. As an RCMP officer, Reg served in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick and in the National Division. He was one of the RCMP officers charged with the guarding of Igor Gouzenko, the cipher clerk who defected from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa. Reg and Jean had one son, David, who was born in Ottawa.

After his retirement from the RCMP in 1955, Reg, Jean and David moved to Florida where Reg purchased and ran a motel on the ocean. His mother Deborah visited every winter, and made a point of swimming daily in the ocean.

As his brother Stan passed away in his early 50’s, Reg and Jean took on the role of grandparents to Stan’s Ottawa grandchildren, and developed and nurtured very close connections with Stan’s Ottawa family. He was a joyous man who celebrated life and served his country and his family. His son David and other family relatives have continued that legacy of giving to others, and recognizing the importance of resiliency and kindness in creating differences in people’s lives.

Reg was a man with very strong views on the importance of acknowledging and caring for family, neighbors, and friends. From the depths of an unspeakable tragedy at an early age, Reg served as the role model and patriarch to his own family, friends and grandchildren, and despite his passing in 1992 is still talked about and very much missed by all that knew him.