Thursday, February 5, 2015

Street Profiles: The History of Tweedsmuir Avenue

This week's street history will be on Tweedsmuir Avenue. Quite a lot has happened on this long street, which has long been the eastern border of Westboro. In this article, we'll explore it's early days as parts of the long-forgotten suburbs "Mansfield Park" and "Springdale Park"; its tie-in the actual Miss Florence Nightingale; the site of one of Ottawa's worst house fires of all-time; a historical look at it's busy intersection at Richmond Road; and more.

Current Street Name: Tweedsmuir Avenue
Former Street Name: was known as "Strathcona Avenue" until 1941 (a portion was also known as "Xavier Avenue" from 1909 to 1917)
First established: 1900
Name meaning: Tweedsmuir was named after John Buchan, first Baron of Tweedsmuir, and Governor General of Canada from 1935 to 1940, who had recently passed away in February 1940 while still serving as Governor General, after suffering a severe head injury when he fell during a stroke at Rideau Hall. 
How named: A Nepean Township Bylaw was passed in September of 1941, changing the names of many streets in Westboro and the suburbs to the east (to eliminate duplication within Ottawa and its suburbs). The Canadian Post Office Department required it do to the commencement of door-to-door mail service. As there was also a Strathcona Avenue in the Pretoria-Glebe area, Westboro's Strathcona was required to change. Many patriotic names were selected (Churchill, Roosevelt, Patricia, etc.) as WWII was raging at the time. A second large-scale street renaming in west Ottawa was later done in 1944.

Early days:
The earliest beginnings of what we now know as Tweedsmuir Avenue can be traced back to the Cowley family. Daniel Keyworth Cowley's farm on Richmond Road was located just west of what is now Island Park Drive during the second half of the 19th century. His son Robert H. Cowley, who was Provincial School Inspector, also grew interested in real estate development. He acquired portions of his parent's property, as well as other parcels of land, and created a series of subdivisions within Kitchissippi during the 1890s and early 1900s. His first foray was the little community of "Ottawa West" which he laid out in 1893, and which grew steadily over the next 10+ years (this is the area between Richmond and Scott, bordered by Western and Rockhurst; more on it in a dedicated future column). In December of 1900, Robert Cowley purchased a three-sevenths interest in a 43 3/4 acre parcel of land owned by Ottawa lawyer Arthur James Forward (he himself had only purchased the land a few months earlier). Forward was a friend to Sir John A. MacDonald and was heavily involved in Ottawa's business and political scene. Perhaps unaccustomed to the world of real estate prospecting, Forward allowed Cowley to become the chief shareholder when he sold an additional two-sevenths interest to Cowley's cousin John McJanet, leaving himself also with two-sevenths interest.

So just before Christmas of 1900, the trio registered Plan 206 with the County of Carleton, laying out both sides of present-day Tweedsmuir Avenue from Carling north to just past Clare Street, both sides of Clare east to what is now Kirkwood, and both sides of what is now Avondale west to Churchill. It was an odd little plan, laid out based on the odd-shaped parcel acquired by Forward. It was particularly odd in that this area was really quite isolated at the time. Some minor growth had occurred just to the west on the old Birch property, and the Hilson development was decent on the east. But at the time, it was largely farmland surrounding it. 

Original Plan 206 creating Tweedsmuir Avenue. Carling Ave
is at left, Churchill along the top. Clare is at bottom right.
Before we jump into the birth of Tweedsmuir Avenue, it is worthwhile to look back at this 43-acre parcel of land, and the period of time just a little before Forward and Cowley acquired it. This piece of land was owned in the 1870s and 1880s by Senator Hon James Skead, who owned a mill where Westboro Beach now exists. He also accumulated as much land in Kitchissippi as he could get his hands on. But hard times later hit Skead, and he lost a lot of his land to the banks. After his passing in 1884, his widow Rosina sold off his remaining holdings. In May of 1891, Rosina sold this particular piece of vacant farmland to Charlotte and William Upton. 

The Uptons were notable Gloucester Township pioneers. William was born in 1811 in England, and his family had relocated to Russia some years afterwards. William’s father John Upton had helped build Sevastopol, Russia, including the water supply, road layout and many features of the town and harbour. After the Crimean War, the family immigrated to Canada in 1857, and built a homestead (known as “Groveland”) over where the Ottawa Hunt Club and part of the Uplands airport is now located. William Upton is also well recognized in local Ottawa history owing to his detailed diaries of life on his early Gloucester farm, all of which have survived (and are an incredible read, if you can access sources to it - some harrowing tales of grim, lonely, cold winters in the mid-19th century). 

Ottawa Citizen - February 22, 1938
The Uptons never did anything with their Westboro land, and in fact both had passed away within three years of acquiring it. But what makes them notable to the story of Tweedsmuir Avenue is that they were friends of THE original Florence Nightingale (who is perhaps best known for her work tending to soldiers during the aforementioned Crimean War, creating a legacy of changing the nursing profession to a more compassionate, committed style of patient care).

An article was written in the Ottawa Citizen in 1938 about the Upton's daughter (who led quite an interesting life!) and was still alive at the time, at 92 years old. Notably, the article describes the Uptons connection to Miss Nightingale, and thus proves the Westboro link; that friends of Florence Nightingale indeed owned a good portion of pre-developed Westboro in the 1890s!

So back to Tweedsmuir Avenue - the street originally was given the name "Strathcona Avenue", after Sir Donald A. Smith, knighted in 1886 in honour of his executive role in the development of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and was titled Baron of Strathcona and Mount-Royal. He also served as Canadian Commissioner in London from 1896 until his death in 1914 at age 94. He was best known for driving the “Last Spike” on the CPR in 1885 at Craigellachie. 

Most lots on Strathcona were about one-half acre apiece (100' x 200') in size. It was still unforeseen that west-end neighbourhoods would become as packed with homes as they are now. Over time, these large lots would be split quarters or smaller sized parcels of land. The depth of these lots was incredible though - the ones on the east side stretched all the way back to (and early on included) the hydro right-of-way. 

The first lots sold on Strathcona were sold to Samuel Bruce Edey in early 1901, who purchased a block of 4 lots (lots 5, 6, 7, and 8) on the east side of the street (this would now encompass the area from about 679 Tweedsmuir south to where the street turns into a dead-end at Saigon Court. 

681 Tweedsmuir in 2014; the first
house built on Tweedsmuir
Edey built a small home just a little north of where Currell now runs, on lots 7/8. Impressively, this house has survived, and is now the original core portion of the expanded home at 681 Tweedsmuir.

Samuel Edey's family (well,
everyone except him - the
photo shows his parents, his
wife Miriam, and their 2 kids)
(source: Ancestry)
Edey was from the Carp area, and had moved to Westboro in 1899 after marrying his wife, the impressively-named Araminta Miriam Hawkshaw. Samuel worked as a market gardener, likely utilizing the fertile gardens and orchards found on his large property. Miriam's father William Hawkshaw even purchased a lot of his own (lot 13) on Strathcona, perhaps intending to one day move as well, but he never did, and the lot was resold back to Cowley, Forward and McJanet a few years later.

The Edeys did not remain on Tweedsmuir for long, as the family left Westboro by early 1906, returning back to the family homestead at Marchhurst. Their little home (valued just $150 on the 1905 assessment roll) sat vacant for several years, before eventually being purchased and improved by its various owners throughout the early part of the century. 

The Edey house, and the vastness of the area can be best shown in a 1920 aerial photograph of the area (see below):

1920 aerial photo of the intersection of Tweedsmuir (running top to bottom)
and Carling Avenue (running left to right along bottom edge). Not much to
the area in 1920. The Edey house is visible near the top. Currell Avenue can
be seen running west off Tweedsmuir, with a small cluser of houses at it's
southwest corner. Carling Avenue has barely any construction at all).

The second home built on Strathcona was constructed between 1904 and 1905 by Joseph Breadner on lot 19 (it no longer exists, but was built about where 232 Clare Street now stands). The next oldest house built and still standing from these early days is 569 Tweedsmuir, built by William F. Turner in 1910.

North of the new Strathcona Ave development was the James Magee farm. Magee was the son of one of Richmond Road's earliest settlers, Charles and Francis Magee having opened their farm on the south side of Richmond Road in the 1840s. James Magee spent his working life as a farmer, cattle dealer and cattle “drover” (a person who moves cattle over long distances). He housed his cattle during the late 1800s on other property he owned north of Scott Street, over the former site of Skead’s Mill (now Westboro Beach). 

Ottawa Journal,
July 20, 1909.
By 1909, Magee had retired from farming, and was ready to take advatange of the popularity of the area. He filed a plan in May which he titled "Springdale Park", which encompassed Tweedsmuir and Athlone from Richmond Road to north of Clare. The name "Springdale Park" was selected mostly for advertising reasons, and did not stick. Largely this segment of Tweedsmuir was simply known for years as the Magee Farm. Magee used Strathcona for the continuation of the street north, but for the new street Athlone, he chose the name "Magee Street". 

This interweaving of the two subdivisions also explains the slight jog Tweedsmuir takes north of Clare; it is where the two streets met up, though slightly out of line. But where the jog begins is where the Magee farm ended.

405 Tweedsmuir - RIP
The first house built on this segment of Tweedsmuir was #417, built by contractor John A. Parker in the summer of 1911. It remains today. Just down the block at #405 was an impressive brick home built within a year of #417. I was sad to see this house town down in 2012 to make way for the new development that has been built in its place on the sizeable lot behind the Richmond Plaza. At right is a photo of it during its final days.

The last segment of Tweedsmuir Avenue is the portion north of Richmond Road. This was a small subdivision created by Francis Xavier Laderoute, an Ottawa real estate agent and speculator. In March of 1909, Laderoute subdivided a 12-acre of parcel of land formerly part of Frederick Heney's holdings. He called his subdivision "Mansfield Park", and created two streets between Scott and Richmond Road (Athlone and Tweedsmuir), which he called, respectively, Francis Avenue and Xavier Avenue. This was Carleton County Plan 263. 

Ottawa Journal - March 27, 1909
Plan 263 was officially filed on March 27th, and already by April 30th, there were several lots that had been sold, and construction begun on 3 houses. The first homes built on Xavier (Twedsmuir) north of Richmond Road were on lot 9 (was 369 Tweedsmuir, now torn down, owned and built by Thomas L. Goode, a contractor), lot 15 (345 Tweedsmuir, owned/built by William H. Pack, a blacksmith and carpenter), and lot 42 (372 Tweedsmuir, owned/built by Samuel J. Hunt, contractor).

Laderoute took out some ingenious ads in the local papers, looking to separate himself from the other agents selling lots in all the other growing mini-subdivisions in west Ottawa at the time. Very persuasive ads indeed!

Following the success of his “Mansfield Park” project, Laderoute would create and sell lots in several other subdivisions in the area, and “Laderoute Avenue” running between Iona and Clare just next to Kirkwood still bears his name today.  

It was around this time as well (summer of 1909) that the ratepayers of the area decided to create a new district, and the name "Laurentian View" was chosen. This was a well-used name throughout the 20th century, but oddly disappeared in common usage by the late 70s. The center of Tweedsmuir was the western boundary (Hilson was the east), and it covered the area south of Richmond to Carling. Thus, from 1909 until 1950 (when the area became part of the City of Ottawa), Tweedsmuir was split between two different districts: the west half belonging to Westboro, the east half to Laurentian View

Businesses on Tweedsmuir Avenue: Tweedsmuir has not always been necessarily strictly residential. A quick glance through various archival sources shows that over time a few businesses have existed on Tweedsmuir itself, not to mention at the corners of the main intersections of Richmond Road and Scott Street. Let's start with a look at the intersection of Richmond and Tweedsmuir:

NW corner: Now Whispers (the subject of a soon-forthcoming blog post of it's own, so I won't go too deeply in to details!). Was built in 1911 as a home, Later became altered to allow for a small grocers shop and convenience store in the 1920s. Best known as the "Westboro Confectionery" for 25 years (run by George Monsour). Later a restaurant, and became Whispers in 1981.

NE corner: Was Junipers until recently. Sat as a vacant lot until the fall of 1952 when Gale's Used Cars operated out of a small building at the back of the lot, alongside Tweedsmuir. The car shop changed hands a couple of times (Hollington & Hobbs in 1957, Elliott Motors & Trailer Sales in 1963, Alan Auto Sales in 1968), before Otto's moved from Carling Avenue and built a large showroom in June of 1969. Juniper moved into the west portion of the building around 2006.

1920 aerial photograph of Tweedsmuir (running top to bottom)
and Richmond Road (running from left to right)
(Click on the photo, or any photo to enlarge it). The aerial photo at left shows the intersection of Tweedsmuir and Richmond Road as it was in 1920. Whispers is there (the large white-looking box at the corner), and Tweedsmuir itself is barely a lane north of Richmond, and even less than that south of Richmond to Byron. Sparsely built on at the time as well. Kitty-corner to Whispers one can see the original home where Nick's Service Station now exists, owned by the United Church.

SW corner: Is Mac's Milk now, formerly known as Winks (where the back part of the store was a huge wall of VHS movie rentals, from which my Dad used to rent videos all the time; only 99 cents in the early 90s!). There was originally a house here, torn down in 1952, and replaced by a Sunoco station in 1953 (operated by different managers including John B. Brown, Stu McGarvey, and Burns). In 1970, the original station was essentially demolished and replaced with the new building when it became Taylor's Sunoco. Sunoco closed in the mid-80s and was replaced by Wink's.

SE corner: About to be redeveloped, but was Nick's Service Station, plus the Richmond Plaza Motel of course. Was owned as a huge private lot by the United Church, with a house for the Reverend, until it was sold in 1950. The house stayed until about 1956, when the lot was redeveloped, and the Richmond Plaza Motel opened around 1957. Fronting Richmond was the service station which opened as Elliott's B.P. Station, also around 1957, until later becoming Nick's B.P. in the early 70s. (I assume Elliott's here was tied to the Elliott's used car lot which existed across the street and mentioned above).

Intersection of Richmond and Tweedsmuir in 1965.
Whispers at top left, the used car lot top right, the Sunoco
bottom left and the BP station bottom right. At the very
bottom right can be seen the north edge of the Richmond
Plaza, and a few cars parked diagonally in front of it.

The intersection of Scott and Tweedsmuir is a little less interesting. The southeast corner had a large home on it until the early 70s before it was demolished and the lot left vacant (I think Trailhead keeps a little outdoor shed on this spot now). The southwest corner is now a short building used by Adam's Moving Company, which has been on Scott Street since the mid-70s. It was built around 1952, and has been used by many companies over the years: Hart Construction (1952-1954), WT Sharp Flooring (mid-50s), Seaway Building Specialties (late 50s), FJ Shouldice Construction (most of the 1960s), Rideau Electric (late 60s), Alpine Roofing (late 70s), and others.

Otherwise, over time the little subdivisions blurred into one single neighbourhood, and Tweedsmuir evolved into one single street (with a single name to boot). Construction on the street was gradual, but was largely built up by the mid-40s. Considerable expansion was seen with the development of  the 21 rowhouses at 674 Tweedsmuir (purchased by the City of Ottawa Non-Profit Housing Corp for $607,000), and also by the development of the large area in behind Tweedsmuir (Molenaar Pvt) by the Westboro Housing Co-Operative in the early 1980s (phase III to their original plan of creating affordable housing in the Westboro area; phase I was the renovation of 19 existing homes and apartments; phase II, completed in 1980, was 10 townhouse units at the end of Elmgrove Avenue).

Notable Events:
The front cover of the Ottawa Journal - January 12, 1956
Tweedsmuir Avenue was the site of one of the worst house fires in Ottawa history. On January 12th, 1956, a fire at 321 Tweedsmuir killed a housewife and three of her six children. What made the story even more shocking was that her husband, former Ottawa Rough Rider Curly Moynahan, was a Lieutenant with the Ottawa Fire Department. And even more shocking than that was the fact that Curly Moynahan was out of town in London, Ontario at the time, acting as a pall-bearer for her five-year-old niece Susan Cadieux, who had been assaulted and murdered a week earlier (that horrible case was never solved). 

The fire at 321 Tweedsmuir started in a back bedroom during the night. An alert neighbour managed to save 17-year-old daughter Diane and 18-month old baby Ricky by placing a ladder against the front of the house.  

Lost in the fire was Mrs. Joan Moynahan (39) and her three daughters Maureen (11), Sandra (6) and Joanne (4). 

Ottawa Journal photograph - January 12 1956
Curly Moynahan rebuilt the house after the fire and the remaining family lived in the new home for many years following.

So this concludes my look at Tweedsmuir Avenue. I could keep going, but I have to stop somewhere! As mentioned above, please look forward to my more in-depth look at the neat history of the Whispers Restaurant building, coming up later in February. Cheers!


  1. So very interesting! I would be interested also to know whether the Tweedsmuir Ave. houses backing onto Belford Crescent (E. side of Tweedsmuir between Byron and Clare) would at one time have had alleyway access...our house (461 Tweedsmuir, apparently built in 1917) and several of its neighbours all have garages/sheds located at the back of their respective properties--which leads me to surmise that vehicular access must at one time have been possible from the rear. It would be interesting to know when this was the case.

  2. Very interesting and very well done. Thank you for this!

    I was fortunate enough to grow up in the row houses at 674 Tweedsmuir. Great place and a great neighborhood.

  3. Does anybody know what happened to Harnett Avenue in Laurentian View?

    1. Hi Tom!
      Harnett Avenue is what Dovercourt was known as east of Tweedsmuir until the 1940s. "Dovercourt" as a name for a long time only existed for the small segment between Churchill and Athlone; west of Churchill it was known as Olive and Balmoral. They finally just picked one name for the full length of it, and selected Dovercourt as that name.

  4. Hi Dave, just wanted to thank you for the post regarding my mother's tragic family fire. My mother, Mary Ellen Theriault (nee Moynahan) was away at school in England at the time and was spared of the devastation. Her sister, my Aunt Diane was the 17 yr. old that rescued my Uncle Richard who is alive and well and living in Saskatchewan. Unfortunately, he is the only surviving member of the family. I stumbled upon your article while Googling the family name "Moynahan" and was very pleased on your reporting of it.
    Thanks again, Dan Theriault

  5. Hi Dave, Loving all this history !! Thank you so much for all your hard work, and for sharing.

    My grandparents marriage certificate (Oct 1921) has my grandmother's address at "98 Strathcona Ave., Westboro". Do you have any idea how the house numbers on Strathcona relate to the numbers on Tweedsmuir ?

    1. Hi Jan...just was referred back to this article due to a new post being made--and saw your question. I don't know exactly how the house numbers on Strathcona would compare to those on Tweedsmuir today, but if you are inclined to do some detective work, I Can tell you that I lived at 461 Tweedsmuir Ave. until just over a year ago. Five years ago, when our house was purportedly turning 100, I did some research on its history, and found out that before the name-change, it was known as '141 Strathcona Ave.' These days, there are generally 4 digits between the house numbers on Tweedsmuir; for example, our neighbour's house to the south is 465 Tweedsmuir. So, if you were to assume that a similar interval was used for Strathcona Ave., it should be possible to figure out where 98 Strathcona might be now. However, that also assumes that you would be able to find out what the originating number on Strathcona would have been, at the North end of the street (corner of Scott St.) For that, I might suggest you check out the Might's Directories which are available for study at the City of Ottawa Archives on Tallwood Drive. (I was able to find out a bit about who had lived in our house before us by using these references). Good luck with your search!

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  7. hi Jan (and Heather). From old records, I can tell you that 98 Strathcona Ave in Westboro in 1921 is what is now 486 Tweedsmuir. (There was actually two renumberings over time, believe it or not!). 98 became 164 and then later 486. Prior to 1931, the City Directory books won't list any of the Westboro streets individually; they are only in the "suburbs" subsection, which only occasionally has civic numbers. The only way to compare civic #s (for 1930 or before) is through fire insurance plans and/or assessment rollbooks. Hope this helps :)

    1. Hi Dave, thanks for this info. I think I might have missed it when you replied so soon after my question !! Sorry about that. I really appreciate being able to identify the house that my grandmother lived in :) Thanks so much. from Jan

    2. Wow, I missed Dave's comment too! (Which is why I added my own before I saw the rest of this thread!) It was I did not know that there were two renumberings--which makes me think that although I was able to find only one for our old house (no. 141) it appears as if there must've been an earlier one, most likely something below the number 98, and of course an odd number, as 461 Tweedsmuir is on the east side. He's right too about the directories...which made it impossible for me to exactly trace everyone who had lived in our house from the purported date of its construction (1917) up to the 1930's.