Monday, March 30, 2015

Long-lost Hintonburg: The Alonzo Street section

Perhaps nothing has influenced change and development in Ottawa more than fire. One blaze can alter the growth of a community significantly. It can wipe out a subdivision, a block or a building of significance, which can eventually have a domino effect leading to a shift in the way a neighbourhood evolves.

One such incident occurred in April of 1910, when the original Canadian Pacific Railway roundhouse was burned in a fire. The affect it would have on the north east corner of Hintonburg would be significant. We still see the results of it today, when we see Tom Brown Arena on the east side of Bayview Avenue. If it hadn't been for that fire, it is likely that the Arena property between Scott and Wellington would today be a heavily populated area with 100+ year old homes, just as are the neighbouring streets to the west.

It is fairly common knowledge that where Tom Brown Arena now sits was once the CPR roundhouse, where trains were stored, worked on, etc. And though a roundhouse has existed in this general location since 1883, it may surprise you to learn that the one which existed on this spot until the 1960s was not the original roundhouse, nor was it originally located in this exact spot. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

The history of this piece of Hintonburg dates back to the early 1850s. Nicholas Sparks (the Ottawa pioneer landowner) had purchased the eastern part of what would later become Hintonburg from Joseph Hinton (who must have felt able to spare a little of his vast land in the area which he had acquired only a couple of years prior but had not moved onto yet; the village was still years away from developing), as well as the land immediate to its east running to Preston Street, in two separate transactions in 1850 and 1851. During his life, Sparks held an incredible amount of land throughout what is now central Ottawa, until his death in 1862.

After his passing, his children maintained ownership of the land, and in fact in 1874 and 1875, registered two plans for the new subdivision of "Bayswater" (Plan 60 north of Scott, and Plan 73 south), dividing the large property into small builder lots, as many of the land-owners of the area had begun doing. It was this Plan 73 ("South Bayswater") which laid out the grid of streets as we know it today. Included in this grid was the section on which Tom Brown Arena stands today, but at the time was a series of builder lots east of Bayview Avenue (then called the "Little Chaudiere Road"), bisected by a little street called "Alonzo".

Part of Plan 73. The "Allowance" road at the top is now Scott Street,
"Richmond" at the bottom is the far east end of Wellington West, and
the "Road from Little Chaudier" is Bayview Road. Tom Brown Arena
exists almost entirely north of Alonzo in "Block 5". Alonzo would be
located about where one today would drive into the arena's parking lot.
Also note the tiny street connecting Alonzo to Scott at the top right,
a short street called "Richmond Street".

Lot sales would be quite slow, as builder lots in the area were plentiful in the 1870s. However, as Richmond Road was the main thoroughfare into Ottawa, and the Little Chaudiere Road was the key access road to the north and the river, the lots at this corner were an easy sale. In July of 1876 the lots on the north side of Richmond were sold to James Clarke (lots 3 and 4), a book keeper and the manager of the Sparks Estate (which was a business entity of its own), and to James Riddell (lot 5), a CPR foreman.

Both immediately built houses on their lots. James Clarke constructed a large 2 1/2-storey brick home on his property (the future 877 Wellington Street) to house his 10 member family, while Riddell built a smaller 2-storey wood-frame home (the future 30 Bayview - later renumbered 157 Bayview). Both were completed by early 1877.

Clarke later in 1877 acquired lot 6 at the corner of Wellington and Bayview, giving him the adjoining three lots along Wellington.

The next key development was the construction of the new CPR roundhouse in 1883. A fire had destroyed the original Chaudiere roundhouse earlier in the year, so the CPR set about building a new one quickly. It was opened by December 12th on the north side of Wellington Street.

Ottawa Citizen December 13, 1883 - "The new round house of the
Canadian Pacific Railway Company at the Chaudiere is now
completed, and affords accommodation for twenty locomotives
and tenders."

Train in front of the new CPR Ottawa West roundhouse, 1884 (LAC PA-203972)

(For some cool detail of the area in 1885, as well as the extent of the CPR and CAR infrastructure, plus the importance of lumber piles and mills, and also to see the roundhouse in it's original location, check out this great plan at:  which shows the roundhouse at the top right, along with just a partial view of the Bayview/Alonzo section of Hintonburg at the extreme top right corner.)

The next to build in this area was Henry Cowan, a mason, who acquired lot 2 on Wellington and built a small stone house for his small 4-person family, between 1885 and 1886.

Thus by 1888, this portion of Hintonburg looked like this:

1888 Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa. That is Richmond Road
(Wellington) running from the bottom L corner to the top R.
The Riddell, Clarke and Cowan houses are shown from left
to right, along with a series of sheds in the backyards.
There was still no construction in the Alonzo-Bayview section north of the houses along Wellington, and in fact Alonzo Street existed at this time only on paper.

In 1889, Henry Clendenning, a CPR engineer (and also a skilled contractor), who had purchased the Riddell house on Bayview, purchased lot 6 at the corner of Bayview and Wellington, and constructed a brick 2-storey mixed commercial and residential building of an odd shape that bordered both Bayview and Wellington. He sold the property in 1890 to butcher & grocer Frank O'Malley, who opened up his business in the large shop. O'Malley essentially functioned as a general store for the quickly growing neighbourhood.

Ottawa Citizen - April 29 1893 - The list of all liquor licenses
issued by the City of Ottawa in 1893, or as it was officially put,
"Vendors of Intoxicants". O'Malley, a new applicant, was
rejected in 1893, but would be approved in 1894.
This store would remain in this location for over 60 years, though with varying uses over time.

In 1895, Alonzo Street was finally opened up for construction, and lots were sold by the Sparks heirs. The first to buy on Alonzo was Camille and Armeline Latreille, who purchased lot 7 on the south side for $500 in 1895. Camille, employed as a sawmill hand, built a small wood-frame home facing on to Bayview Road (34 Bayview) for he, his wife and their incredible 13 children (all born between 1880 and 1900).

In 1896, homes began to be constructed on Alonzo Street. John Craigie, a carpenter by trade, built 14 Alonzo, while the land owner of lot 6 on the north side of Alonzo, Edmund Wood Clark (owner of Clark's Dairy in Bayswater) built 15 Alonzo, a small 1 ½ storey wood frame home, which he rented to tenants.

In late 1897, Simeon Boudreault started on 18 Alonzo, but fell into financial troubles, and lost the homes to William Mason & Sons, who had provided the lumber on account. The house was advertised for sale by Mason (the only instance of Alonzo Street ever being mentioned in any newspaper I could find). The asking price was $995, but it sold not until July of 1899 for the much more reasonable price of $751 by fish dealer Edwin Stratford.

Ottawa Journal - August 12 1898

By 1901 there were eight houses built on Alonzo, a number which would grow to 15 by 1910. These were all relatively small, wood-framed houses. Most were rented to tenants, and their occupants changed almost annually. The majority of the occupants were railroad workers, which was convenient as the roundhouse and Ottawa West yard was literally in their backyards.

The 1901 Fire Insurance Plan contains the only view of this part of Hintonburg during its existence. There are no aerial photos available prior to 1920, and by the 1912 Fire Insurance Plan, the area was wiped out. Therefore this is the only view showing the development of this community in its heyday:

The first significant change to the area came in 1909, when the City of Ottawa finally began construction on the Wellington Street viaduct in a response to the need for a second western entryway to the City of Ottawa (as I wrote in a recent article, the great fire of 1900 saw the Somerset Street bridge burn, essentially cutting off the entire west end from Ottawa). Following construction of the viaduct, property owners Tilley and Cowan put in a request for compensation for their properties, which they argued had been devalued (or ruined?) by the viaduct. Several property owners in the area joined them in the battle for restitution, and in September of 1910, it was decided that the City would purchase the properties at a significant overpayment (arguably more than double).

Ottawa Journal - September 9, 1910

Fire Insurance Plan from June 1912. The new Wellington Street bridge
is visible. The Cowan stone house and brick duplex are gone, and the Tilley
brick house (#913) remains, but would be demolished soon after. The
CPR round house which previously was located where the bridge is
now shown in this plan, is also gone as of the fire of 1910.

In the early morning of April 12th, 1910, a fire burned most of the original CPR roundhouse.

Ottawa Journal - April 12, 1910

Plans were made by CPR to rebuild, but it was desired to expand the Ottawa West-Lebreton yard, and relocate the roundhouse to the north-west slightly. Offers were extended to virtually all of the property owners in this Bayview-Alonzo section. Each person negotiated their own deal, but generally they received a hefty over-payment from the CPR. Some owners had doubled or even tripled their investment in a matter of a couple of years, some even in a few months. For the residents of this area, it was essentially as if they had hit the real estate lottery.

The CPR ended up spending $56,050 to purchase all of this property, and all sellers were handsomely well-paid. The highest profiting seller was also the person who had most newly-acquired their property. Edward J. Delaney had purchased lot 7 on the south side of Alonzo (34 Bayview, the Latreille house) from Latreille in February of 1910 for $3,450. In September, he sold it to the CPR for $6.000.

Ottawa Journal - August 25, 1910

In the end, the CPR purchased all the lots in this entire section, except for a couple of the lots along Bayview at the south-west corner of Wellington.

In the fall of 1910, the CPR tore down the 23 residences and began preparations for construction of the new CPR round house. It opened in the late spring of 1911.

1912 Fire Insurance Plan, showing the new CPR roundhouse which had replaced
the former Little Chaudiere-Alonzo section of Hintonburg

Following 1910, the only structures to remain on this section were the O’Malley business at the corner, and the two houses fronting Bayview (these three buildings can be seen at the bottom right of the plan above).

On May 2nd, 1921, Jacob Taller purchased the former O'Malley commercial building on lot 6 at the corner of Bayview and Wellington for $3,000. For several years various shop-owners had shared the different units within the building - a plumber, butcher, barber, a tiler, the West End Social Club headquarters, a confectionery/corner store, a harness manufacturer, etc. However during WWI the entire building sat mostly vacant, as O'Malley seemingly lost ownership due to foreclosure by the Capital Trust Corp. Taller purchased the building and converted the entire main floor of the building into a mattress manufacturing factory.

Jacob Taller was born in Russia and had come to Ottawa in 1905 at the age of 22. He would become, through his mattress business and his involvement in the Ottawa business scene, one of the first prominent Jewish businessmen in Ottawa. His business was known alternatively as Taller Bedding and the National Bedding Company. He, his wife Ethel, and their ten children (five sons and five daughters) resided upstairs until 1930, when a large fire destroyed most of the business. The newspaper accounts of the fire made it sound as if it had totaled the property, however it appears Taller rebuilt the factory after the fire, and continued in business beyond 1930. Due to the nature of the business, Taller never had insurance and so the fire was a total loss to the family. 

Aerial view of Bayview Road and the surrounding
neighbourhood from May of 1928.

Fae Taller, daughter of Jacob Taller, standing next to the
Taller mattress factory, on the Bayview side, circa mid-
1930s. (Source: Ottawa Jewish Archives and the personal
collection of David Kwechansky)

Following the fire, the family moved in to the connected house next door at 63 Bayview, which Taller also owned, and had been renting to tenants.

According to a brief history of the business acquired from the Ottawa Jewish Archives, written by David N. Kwechansky, "National Bedding made inexpensive thin mattresses with padded filling. They were a far cry from luxury, but in the Depression few could afford luxury. The business did well and his large family lived nicely, but WW II turned it into a gold mine. The Canadian military had an endless need for cot mattresses—right up Jacob’s alley. While big guns boomed in Europe and three sons were there serving in uniform, his business boomed big at home, enough so that at war’s end, and by then in his mid 60’s, he shut it and comfortably retired. At some point one or more of his soldier sons almost certainly slept on mattresses made in their father’s factory."

According to records, it appears Taller closed the business sometime around 1942, and modified the building once again, to rent it out as individual apartment units. By this point in time, the building was in poor condition, and attracted a rough gang of tenants - many newspaper reports of the mid-to-late 1940s reported on the crime-breaking activities of its various residents.

Finally, in 1950, the building met its official end when a fire struck at 10 a.m. on the blistery cold Ottawa morning of February 20th. At the time, an incredible 36 people lived in the fairly small building (11 adults and 25 children), and once again Taller would have suffered quite a loss, as the building was assessed at $35,000, but was insured for only $4.000. Roland Charette and his wife were two of the tenants of the house, and luckily were away when the fire hit. The couple, who had 14 children already, were on their way to the hospital where Mrs. Charette was to deliver child #15.

Ottawa Journal - February 20, 1950
The photo above is the only photo I can find of the original O'Malley-Taller building which stood at the corner of Bayview and Wellington for 60 years. (If anyone reading this has an old photo of it, I'd be very interested in acquiring a copy!). In fact, this is the only photo I've ever found that shows any of the structures from the lost Hintonburg section of Alonzo-Little Chaudiere.

Following the fire, the two houses on the east side of Bayview remained in existence until August of 1961, when the City of Ottawa purchased them "for the widening of Bayview Road" (which does not appear to have ever occurred), and then the last two houses were both demolished shortly thereafter. The last structure still standing was #157, the James Riddell-built house from 1877 (it was gone in 1967). The round house was next to go, as it was torn down in the spring of 1968. From 1967 to 1980, the entire block of land sat empty, until Tom Brown Arena was built commencing in November of 1977. The City continues to leave the spot of land at the south of the property empty, but it could be a spot for future development.

And so there you have it - the story of a lost piece of Hintonburg. If it hadn't been for that 1910 fire of the original CPR roundhouse, it is possible we might still have the houses on Alonzo and the east side of Bayview today!

Current aerial photo of the area, with Tom Brown Arena. The Wellington Street
continuation can almost be seen reaching over to City Centre, and the ghosts of
the old properties along the north side of old Wellington and the east side of
Bayview can almost be seen in the dead grassy areas that exist there now.

(Special thanks to the Ottawa Jewish Archives, and particularly Archivist Saara Mortensen for contributing information on the Taller family for this story, and for forwarding on some great photos and details from the Taller family, especially Mr. David N. Kwechansky).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Beach Foundry: A Kitchissippi landmark

For 60 years, one of Canada's most recognizable companies, and producer of some of the finest appliances worldwide, existed in Hintonburg in what was then a small industrial area at the north end of Holland Avenue. A true landmark in west Ottawa, the Beach Foundry arrived in the area when all the pieces fell into place. The Foundry was already thriving, and land in our neighbourhood was plentiful and affordable. The Ottawa Land Association, after sitting on their land holdings for upwards of 25 years (they owned almost all of the land from Parkdale west to Western Avenue, from Carling to the River) were finally beginning to offer lots for sale. The Great War had just ended, and with it came an improved Canadian economy, with the commencement of the roaring 20s. Thus, it was a perfect marriage between the expanding Beach Foundry and Kitchissippi.

Benson C. Beach
(circa 1944)
Beach Foundry actually began in 1894 when Benson C. Beach, in his native Winchester, Ontario decided he could design and manufacture a better and cheaper stove than any then being offered on the market. At the age of 24, with two assistants, he created patterns in wood and metal, and then using a small cupola (a small vertical cylindrical furnace used to melt iron) successfully produced the first Beach stove - a Longwood box stove. Within a short time, sales took off throughout eastern Ontario. The Beach stoves were both functional and decorative. In 1895 they began producing arguably their signature product, the Maple Leaf, "replete with fancy and intricate scrollwork, gleaming with its blacklead polish". For years, two stoves a week was the company's output.

In 1902, the company continued their growth when they began producing steel ranges for coal and wood. The firm was provincially incorporated in 1903, and with their exploding popularity, Beach products were finding homes throughout Canada and the world. The company began to be considered a leader in home heating and cooking, and soon required a move to Ottawa to expand operations. In 1914, they relocated to Broad Street, in an existing foundry building (the former Butterworth Foundry) in the heart of LeBreton Flats, allowing for an increase in production of 25 to 50 percent. They once again would outgrow their space, already realizing in 1917 that their plant was inadequate. But war conditions did not permit construction of a new plant, so for several years, the company was forced to produce less than their demand. 

The Hintonburg Site:
In early 1919, the Ottawa Land Association agreed to sell a large 4.5 acre portion of their vast property, which at the time was largely open space from Parkdale west, to the Beach Foundry Company. However, before the deal could be finalized, Beach hinged the deal on two requirements: firstly, that the City would agree to close Hinton Avenue between Bullman and Spencer Street; and secondly, that they could have a fixed (and relatively lenient) tax assessment for 10-years, to assist in their endeavour to build a large $75,000 plan on the property. The assessment proposal was supported by the Board of Control, however the idea to close Hinton was fought by several local businessmen and property owners. Contractor Thomas McLaughlin, who owned many lots on Hinton valued at $2,700 was the most adamant against the idea. "I'm looking for protection, because I think this is wrong. It looks like a steal, and I may have to go to the police court." he told the Board, "I couldn't build a hen house if you close the street.". The application to close Hinton went to County Court, where it was initially thrown out due to the fact that Beach legally could not apply for a change to the plan when he did not yet own the property. The Land Association had to re-file and eventually won out. On June 22nd, 1920, Beach purchased the site officially from the OLA for $13,200. 

Immediately, work began on the foundation of the foundry, and thus when some of the first aerial photos ever taken of Ottawa were snapped in mid-1920, some evidence of early work can be seen on the site.

Aerial photo 1920. North at top. Spencer Street runs from left to
right near the bottom. The Capital Wire Cloth building can be
seen at bottom right. Holland Ave goes no further than Spencer.
The CPR tracks run left to right at the top where Scott now exists.
Excavation for the foundry can be seen in the center of the photo.

The Beach Foundry Years:
Ottawa Journal - Feb 2, 1921

On February 2nd, 1921, a building permit was taken out for construction of the foundry building. In all, four buildings were initially built on the property: No. 1 building (the foundry) was three-storeys and 240x260 feet; No. 2 building was the assembling plant, one-storey, 100x240 feet; No. 3 building was a four-storey structure, used for manufacturing and shipping with total floor space of 32,000 square feet; and the fourth building was a smaller office building two-storeys in height, 36x44 feet in size.

Illustration of the completed Foundry facility from a Beach
Foundry ad in the Ottawa Journal, September 1922

Fire Insurance Plan view of the new Foundry site,
from January 1922.
The first ad placed by the Beach Foundry
from their new location in Hintonburg:
Ottawa Journal - October 8, 1921

By 1923, Beach was producing a complete line of stoves, ranges, heaters and furnaces, and the capacity of the new plant was at 150 stoves per day. Innovation came about through the development of new gas and electric ranges in the 1920s. and domestic and commercial refrigerators and air conditioning equipment by the 1930s.

Ottawa Journal - September 10, 1923, an ad promoting
Beach Foundry's display at the Ottawa Exhibition

The plant continued to expand quickly throughout the 1920s, including a large $60,000 addition in 1927, so that by 1928, just 8 years after first arriving on site, the foundry had more than doubled in footprint. 

Aerial photo from May of 1928, of the same location as
the 1920 aerial photograph above - quite a build-up in 8 years!
In 1939, residents of Holland Avenue campaigned to Ottawa's Parks and Trees Committee for the creation of a "tree screen" along Holland Avenue to block the ugliness of the buildings, and also to serve a protective barrier against dust from the foundry. The request likely came as a result of a recent explosion and fire at the plant, which shot foundry dust into the air above Wellington Village. These trees may have been planted, but would not have lasted long, as the plan would be expanded substantially in the 50's.

Journal - Jan 23, 1943
During WW2, the plant shifted priorities, and put on hold all appliance production to lend a hand to the war effort. The Beach Foundry produced steel tank track, shell plugs and other equipment. The number of employees at the plant actually increased, to the point where the government put out a call through the newspapers encouraging residents of the area with a spare bedroom to contact the Housing Registry through the war office, in order to find temporarily accommodations for the influx of workers at Beach. 

Benson C. Beach passed away on February 27th, 1949 at the age of 79, after a long, pioneering career at the helm of one of Ottawa's most successful businesses. Benson's son Donald J. Beach was appointed president in his place.

Reports of incidents at the plant are numerous throughout the years. Fires, explosions and injuries occurred on a fairly frequent basis. This may not be too surprising, owing to the nature of the work being performed. In 1944 the enamel works section of the foundry was destroyed by an explosion and fire, causing $90,000 damage. In July of 1948, a particularly bad explosion (of a pot of molten metal) blew out 200 windows and sent a cloud of dust material over the immediate neighbourhood. A large fire in July of 1954 caused $350,000 damage, and was caused by an explosion of tanks of paint thinning materials and gasoline. Hundreds from the neighbourhood spent their Canada Day evening watching the fire at Beach Foundry take out the top three floors of the paint, tin, assembly and storage division building.

February 5, 1954, the intersection of Holland and Spencer
looking east. (Source: Ottawa Archives, CA-3092)

July 2, 1954 after a fire in the top floors in the tallest building.
The intersection of Spencer and Hamilton, looking north.
(Source: Ottawa Archives, CA-4788)

The Beach-Fleck Years:
In 1955, a merger was announced between Beach Foundry and Alexander Fleck Ltd. Fleck had been involved in Canadian industry dating back to 1842. An article from 1956 noted that they were Ottawa's oldest industry. By the 50s, they were predominantly involved in the manufacturing of specialized pulp and paper equipment. Their base property on Wellington Street was expropriated by the federal government, and they chose the Beach site as an opportunity to relocate within the City of Ottawa. Plans were immediately drawn up to construct three new buildings, including an additional Fleck plant and a new head office building with a demonstration showroom. F.E. Cummings of Westboro won the contract to build the new plant at a cost of $900,000. The Fleck foundry building was built between at 42 feet by 305 feet, fronting on Spencer and running along the edge of Holland Avenue. The new office fronted on Spencer as well, a little to the east of the new foundry. Construction ran between 1956 and 1957. 

Fire Insurance Plan from December of 1956, showing some great
detail of all of the little segments within the plant, as well as the
new additions (still mostly in progress/foundation state at the time)
Mayor George Nelms cut the ribbon on the new plan on Tuesday July 9th, 1957. Two days later, on July 11th, a grand opening was held for the new showroom and head office of the Beach Foundry. The firm at this time was still employing over 300 men, and they proudly produced all products entirely within the plant (with the exception of sheet steel and a few purchased parts and accessories).

New front entrance on Spencer Street - from the Journal July 10, 1957
I was fortunate to have a chance to speak with Paul Johanis, who he himself worked there for a couple of years in the 1970s (as did his father for 28 years from 1951 to 1979, eventually becoming foreman of the machine shop and manufacturing engineer). Paul was able to really bring to life these key years in the plant's life, so I appreciate his contribution of many of the details in the rest of this article. 
Paul noted that during this stage "the foundry part of the operation was very more than 20 workers. They made small castings of various types, some used in the manufacturing plant (like the gas stove burner grates) and outside customers. Very traditional method, sand moulds, hand pouring and finishing.", while the Fleck plant "manufactured very large metal parts like boilers and kettles for the paper industry, also made supports and parts for the radar dishes on the DEW line, custom one off type contracts. Very specialized machinery operators and such, not so much a local employer."

"By far the biggest operation was the electric and gas range manufacturing", which he guessed employed 200+. He noted that Beach was indeed an important source of employment for the neighbourhood, but that workers came from all over, including many from the Quebec side.

Source: Museum of Science & Technology website

April 1966 oblique view from the northeast

Fleck building along Holland Avenue just north of Spencer
November 29, 1966 (Source: Ottawa Archives CA-24659)

Fleck building on Holland. Spencer intersection can be seen in the
background, Wellington well off in the distance.

November 29, 1966 (Source: Ottawa Archives CA-24660)

Foundry building back near Bullman - about where the rear entrance
of Holland Cross now exists. November 29, 1966
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-24661)

In January of 1968, Beach Foundry assumed full control of Alexander Fleck Ltd., and in 1969, the Fleck pulp and paper industry equipment business was sold to Hydraulic Machinery Co. Ltd. of Montreal. This created room for the mobile home furnace production line. The foundry division was closed in October of 1970, making room for metal-forming and storage. Canadian Admiral bought in to Beach Foundry in 1971, when the firm was operating with 180,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 80,000 square feet of storage. Three assembly lines for ranges were in operation (one for deluxe double-oven gas and electric ranges, the other two for 24-inch and 30-inch ranges). According to an article from 1971, here were the steps in producing appliances at Beach: "raw steel is brought from the mills, sheared to size, formed into parts, porcelain enamelled, and then conveyed to the sub-assembly and assembly lines. Special parts, not manufactured by Beach, are purchased from other firms and incorporated in the product at the point of assembly." By 1971, Beach Foundry still was listed as employing 300 workers.

The rail siding connecting to the CPR line on Scott (which is visible in the early insurance plans and aerial photos, and in the photo of the rear of the building just above from 1966) was still in use in the 1970s. Paul noted: "Yes, the siding was still there and being used when I was there. One of the jobs I had was in the shipping room. We would use hand carts to move stoves from the warehouse onto boxcars on the siding. There was a large door that opened at the back and the cars would be pushed through and up to a loading dock. We would stack to stoves inside. The diesel engine would come regularly to pull out cars and push new ones in. We also loaded up 18 wheel trailers from the loading dock on the Hamilton side of the building, near Bullman. The steel sheet used to manufacture the stoves would be shipped to the plant and unloaded back there as well."

While digging deep in the City Archives recently, I came across this photo from the Andy Andrews collection, which was labelled "the last Beach range". The date of the photo was December 13th, 1971.

"The Last Beach Range" - December 13, 1971
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-24809)

I was surprised to hear that this may have meant that Beach ceased production of the appliance in 1971, particularly since some of my research indicated that kitchen stove/ovens was the only thing they were still producing by the late 70s. But Paul noted that production in the 70s was likely under contract; and that once the appliance was complete "we put Admiral and Baycrest (the Bay brand) nameplates on the stove. It's possible that the last range branded Beach was produced then".

The Canadian Admiral/Rockwell years & Closure:
In 1973, Canadian Admiral was acquired by Rockwell International, and Beach Foundry became Beach Appliances International. From this point forward, the business was on shaky ground, as working conditions changed. Gone were the days of Beach feeling like a family. There was increased tension between senior management and the workers of the plant, and talk of plant closure and downsizing was prevalent seemingly for the entire decade.

On Monday August 29th, 1977, the workers of the foundry staged a two-day walkout, to protest the five-day suspension of five employees who were executives in the union, who had taken the previous Friday off to discuss the upcoming contract negotiations. The Company had refused the day off, but the employees took the day anyway.

The workers of the plant held a strike for the full month of February 1978 over pay increases, in-company transfers, and seniority considerations. Admiral was considering shutting down the plant even then.

All of the tension and uncertainty culminated in the announcement in mid-March of 1980 that Canadian Admiral was closing Beach Foundry, and moving operations to Montmagmy, Quebec. This news was not well received at Beach, nor in Ottawa as a whole.

Reasons for the closure were unclear. The company attributed the closure to the antiquated condition of the plant, and also blamed the City of Ottawa for restricting its ability to expand. Insiders argued that the plant in Montmagmy was just as antiquated, and Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar noted that Beach Foundry nor Canadian Admiral had applied for any building permits since 1956, and that in fact the City was supportive of growing light industry in the area, and likely would have approved any application, which would have required a simple spot rezoning. Perhaps the most likely reason for the move, reported through Montreal newspapers, was an apparent business deal with provincial government funding the a Montreal holding company to assist in supporting the $40 million purchase of Canadian Admiral by York-Lambton Ltd. It was also later reveal that the federal government was chipping in $380,000 to Admiral towards the expansion in Montmagmy. This after the company had apparently been seeking federal funding for years towards renovation/updating of the Ottawa plant, but only received it once the move to Quebec was confirmed.

On Tuesday August 26th, 1980, the workers of the foundry staged a sitdown to protest the lack of severance pay for some of its long-time senior workers. Most were faced with the likelihood that when the plant closed in October that they would leave with no pension, no severance whatsoever. The Citizen interviewed 45-year employee Corky Smith who had spent his entire life in the plant (and also his father before him) and believed he may not get anything after the shutdown. Thankfully, the workers were able to negotiate an acceptable severance settlement for the long-time workers.

A report in the Journal in October of 1980 told one more sad story, of a widow whose husband Marcel Seguin, a 40-year dedicated employee of the plant had died in September after falling ill at work. The company refused to pay the $10,000 severance owed to him, as he had died prior to the November 1st severance date. His story reads like a grand symbol of the blue-collar worker that defined Beach: joining the company at the age of 20, working long hours 35 years as an electrician, then on the assembly line since 1975 without taking a single sick day. He had his kneecap replaced by a steel plate after an accident at the plant, and had lost a thumb when nearly electrocuted by a stove he was fixing. He fell ill at work in August of 1980, and came home with stomach pains and a high fever. He fell into a coma a week later, which he remained in for weeks. He woke up in a delirious state shortly before he died, asking his wife Gabrielle "to hurry and get his pants as he had to get back to work." His final words even were of Beach Foundry.

Unfortunately, the closure could not be stopped, and the 275 employees of the plant were out of work on October 31st, 1980 when the plant closed its doors for the final time. There were reports that jobs in Montmagmy would be offered to some of the Ottawa workers, but it was doubtful if any would accept (and I am unable to confirm if any were even offered in the end).

The affect on the local community was significant. This part of west Ottawa had been an industrial focal point for 70 years. Paul, whose father was directly affected by it added: "Yes, I think the closure had a big impact on the neighbourhood in terms of direct employment and business activity around the plant area. That whole block with the Beach, Capital Wire, Sperry Gyroscope was the industrial employment hub for Hintonburg. The employees just lost their jobs and as a pension plan had only just recently been made available to employees, they left with close to nothing. My father foresaw that the closure was inevitable and after 28 years left in early 1979 and moved to Toronto to try to find employment in his line of work. He moved around 5 or 6 jobs in Toronto and Brockville over the next 10 years, coming back to the Ottawa area in 1988. "

Citizen - September 15, 1981
The demolishing of the property took place in 1981. I even found a little classified ad placed by the wreckers who were offering for sale all the components of the great Beach Foundry. The first phase of Holland Cross was built in its place in 1986.
No doubt, the Beach Foundry was an important part of west Ottawa, and particularly Hintonburg and Mechanicsville for many, many years. Rarely have I done one of my house history projects for a client where at least one former occupant of a home in the area did not work at Beach. In researching for this article, I put up a posting on a great Facebook group dedicated to all things Mechanicsville, looking to find someone who had worked there. Within minutes, several readers had replied listing off family who had worked there, and over the next few days many more chimed in noting that their dad, or grandfather, and/or brothers had worked there as well. It was an institution in Kitchissippi, and sadly another proud part of the history of our community that has been lost.
1979 aerial view of the foundry in its final days.
(Borrowed from Paul Johanis' great blog post - see link below)

I am indebted to Paul Johanis for his contributions to this article (and for adding to my growing knowledge of the Beach Foundry). Thanks so much Paul!
For additional detail, with some great interviews and first-hand accounts, particularly about the workers of the plant, you should check out the locally-produced documentary "Made In Ottawa". I found a copy posted (to Facebook) at

You should also check out Paul Johanis's web page on his time at the Foundry at

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hintonburg & The Great Ottawa-Hull Fire of 1900

Thursday April 26th, 1900 was one of the most significant days in Ottawa's history. On that day, the entire city was nearly wiped out by fire. What began as a small fire in a chimney in Hull resulted in an inferno that quickly caused devastation on both sides of the River. Devastation which could have been way worse, especially for Hintonburg, had it not been for a little luck. Actually a lot of luck.

The fire began in the late morning, as a chilled resident of a flimsy wooden shack on the outskirts of Hull stoked a fire for his home. Within minutes the stovepipes became overheated and set fire to the roof of the tiny dwelling.  Fanned intro an uncontrollable fury by extreme winds which had picked up suddenly, the fire ignited an adjacent home. Before noon the entire business district of Hull was engulfed. Citizens and firefighters fought the flames, but to no avail. By 1 p.m. the E.B. Eddy plant and Hull Lumber Company were ablaze, and the fire had leaped the Ottawa River at the Chaudiere Falls to ignite a stable on the Ottawa side of the river. Within seconds two lumber yards were alight and the entire City of Ottawa was severely threatened. The battle to save Hull was abandoned, and all available hands fought to control the blaze in Ottawa. Emergency calls for assistance had been sent out to all points as far as Toronto, Montreal and Brockville, but with the numerous lumber piles situated throughout LeBreton Flats and Rochesterville, the fire could not be stopped, and in fact grew to monstrous proportions. The fire moved so quickly, citizens were unable to save any belongings. Virtually the entirety of the LeBreton Flats and Preston Street neighbourhoods areas were completely burnt out all the way south to Carling Avenue by dusk.

Speaking of the Preston Street community specifically (then known as "Rochesterville"), the Journal wrote: "The fire broke out in different sections of this district, almost at the same time, early in the afternoon, and swept with great rapidity in a south-westerly direction. Once it got into the entirely wooded district, lying south of Somerset street, the clean sweep was made with awful rapidity. Once the fire appeared to be coming in that direction, nearly all the residents tried to pack their effects. The streets soon became a confused mass of household effects, rigs of all kinds and goods of every description. Many farmers had come in from the country to assist in drawing effects away, but numerous and all as the rigs were the percent of those who got their stuff removed to places of safety was very small. In most cases it appeared to be either that effects must be burned in the house or in the street and not strangely it was in the latter that the great quantity of effects was destroyed. Residents who knew that there was not a shadow of a chance to get their goods removed to a place of safety, hurriedly packed up everything they had and dumped it into the street. Their work simply meant that they were kept busy and had something to do. Not to stand around idly seemed to be the main idea, even if the work done counted for naught."

The Citizen added "in the section lying south of Somerset and west of Division Street (Booth) an entirely frame district, the flames cleaned everything out until it presents the appearance of a barren field. There is actually not a stick standing in this whole latter area extending three-quarters of a mile southerly and half a mile westerly."

A view south of Somerset, looking towards Hull
(source: Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN  3363983)

Queen Street looking west during the fire
(source: LAC, MIKAN 3193237)

View of the fire from downtown  
(Source: LAC, MIKAN 3246703)

In the end, there were miraculously only seven deaths reported due to the fire (though others would pass away due to illness and disease from their homelessness and crude accommodations after the fire), A total of 15,000 were left homeless, and there was a total of $6.2M in property losses in Ottawa, plus an additional $3.3M in Hull. Aid from throughout the world poured in, resulting in $957,000 received. Both Ottawa and Hull were left smoking and scarred, the scene which must have compared to a world war bombing.

A plan showing the entire burnt-out area of Hull and Ottawa can be seen below. (For a better look, you can view it at the LAC website at

Source: LAC website

For weeks following the fire, temporary homeless shelters were established in the Cartier Square Drill Hall and at Lansdowne Park. These shelters were organized operations, serving meals and providing a safe place to stay while new accommodations could be found (or constructed).

While the story of the Great Ottawa-Hull Fire is well documented, and I have just covered the basics here to introduce the story, I chose a couple of notes from the newspapers the week of the fire, which really illustrated the horror of the event:

"Last night presented scenes of desolation and pathetic pictures that are simply indescribable. Old men and women, young men and women and children sat alone, or perhaps in hundreds of small groups, with a few chairs, bundles and a scanty lot of household goods around them. It was all they had in the world. One white-haired old lady in widow's clothes with a fine face sat in a chair beside a few little bundles of goods. She might have been sitting in church for all the story that her face told. There was a look on that old lady's face that caused a dozen people to stop, gaze at her and pass, within the minutes that a Journal representative was near. Another old woman sat alone on the sidewalk with a quilt wrapped around her and a man's hat pulled down over her eyes. She was the picture of despair."

"The waterworks lot on the south side of Somerset street, between Lyon and Bay streets furnished a camping ground for a great many last night. There were hundreds who moved their effects to this spot, and it was simply littered with goods. Scores camped out on the lot last night to watch their effects."

"Sleep, which is generally a temporary relief to all ills, always has an end, and morning found the homeless face to face again with their troubles. There was a general rising shortly after six o'clock, a scramble for the wash basins, and faces in a short time looking as much brighter as plenty of soap and water would make them. Everybody lent a hand to help carry the mattresses and blankets outside, where they were left during the day to air. Mothers hurried about trying to separate their children from the general throng in order that the family might have breakfast together if possible. There were many touching scenes among the little groups around the tables, and there were many eyes that showed traces of tears, both among fathers and mothers, as they thought possibly of the last Sunday morning breakfast, when they had a home. There were plenty of willing hands to help wait on tables, wash dishes, and make tea and coffee. The needy ones appear to help themselves as far as possible. Like the all day restaurant, it was very much a case of meals at all hours. There were those who were not averse to spending the night with poor friends, but those who did not want to saddle them with their keep and who dropped into one or the other of the relief stations for meals."

While central Ottawa escaped disaster thanks to the natural cliffs and ridges east of Booth Street (Nannygoat Hill, etc.), Hintonburg on the west escaped for two reasons. Firstly, the direction of the wind had changed by late afternoon, and did not blow to the west. It's intensity had also died down. But perhaps most importantly, the Canadian Pacific and Canadian Atlantic Railway tracks which ran where the O-Train route runs now, created a fire break which prevented the flames from easily jumping along.

It is likely that day that Hintonburg residents were out in full force near the edge of the train tracks, ready with water pails in hand to control any flying embers or cinders which may land on any of the primarily wood-framed houses along the eastern border of the village. The residents for the most part were successful.

Lost in the fire that day was the wooden Somerset Street bridge, which existed where it does now. Everything on the east side of the bridge was burnt and it was likely unavoidable that the fire would latch on to the bridge as well. It is impressive that the fire which came over did not spread.

J.R. Booth kept large lumber piles alongside the east side of the CP Rail tracks as far south as the Ottawa & Parry Sound Railway tracks (now the Queensway), while the west side of the tracks (the Hintonburg side) was more or less vacant ground to Bayswater or beyond. While this would prove to be positive for the Hintonburg neighbourhood, Booth's wood piles (the enormity is best demonstrated through this fire insurance plan from 1895 shown below) helped fuel the fire in Rochesterville.

1895 Fire Insurance Plan showing the Booth wood piles on the east
side of the CPR tracks (Preston running along the bottom, and
"Cedar" at right is now better known as Somerset). Everything
shown in this plan was lost to the fire.

Initial rumors that circulated in Ottawa held it that Hintonburg had been burned to the ground. The thick smoke that blanketed the City throughout the evening into the darkness of the night, combined with the loss of all electricity and electrical light meant that Hintonburg's status was a question mark until the morning. The village was even cut off from Ottawa with the loss of the Somerset bridge!

Here is a bit of the (limited) newspaper coverage related to Hintonburg from the local papers the following day:

Ottawa Journal - April 27, 1900

Ottawa Citizen - April 27, 1900

Ottawa Citizen - April 27, 1900

Ottawa Citizen - April 27, 1900

The rumor mill was rampant that day, in all the confusion, and in fact Hintonburg was not lost altogether, the Oliver & Son furniture factory was saved, and even the Mason mill on Fourth Street (Bayswater) did not lose any lumber to the fire.

In all, only four houses in Hintonburg were lost, all at the south end of the subdivision on Fourth Street (now Bayswater). It was likely due to burning timbers being blown through the air from Booth's piles which resulted in these isolated fires. These were the only houses on Bayswater in the area of what is now Gladstone. The houses were owned and occupied by yeoman George Rochester (lot 27, now the site of 142-144 Bayswater), builder David Cuthbertson (lot 28, now the site of 146 Bayswater), culler John F. Kennedy (lot 34, now 168 Bayswater), and shipper James Campbell (lot 38, now the site of the slow lanes of the westbound 417). See the map I labelled below for more info on the Hintonburg homes lost during the Great Fire of 1900:

1912 Fire Insurance Plan view of the Oliver & Sons factory
site on the south-east corner of Gladstone & Loretta (at this
time the Oliver factory was the east end of Gladstone, it was
 cut off at the tracks, while it ran no further than Bayswater
to the west)

Hintonburg was thankfully spared, and other than some relatively minor inconveniences for a few weeks following the fire, the village was preserved.

Ottawa Citizen - May 5, 1900

George Mason's lumber mill was located at the north-west corner of what is now Bayswater and Somerset Street. He did a fantastic business following the fire, for many Ottawans wished to rebuild as quickly as possible. Within days new homes were springing up in the fire swept neighbourhoods.

Ottawa Journal - May 1, 1900

Ottawa Journal - May 2, 1900

The affect of the fire to Hintonburg was less felt during the fire itself, but more so in how the village developed afterwards. Following the fire the Somerset Street bridge was rebuilt as one of the top priorities for the city. Not only was it really the only access to the west from central Ottawa, but street car service to Holland Avenue relied on this access point; the new Britannia line extension down what is now Byron Avenue was scheduled to open in May (indeed the first car to Britannia ran on May 24th, less than a month after the fire).

Hintonburg grew in population substantially as many of the displaced Rochesterville citizens took up residency in Hintonburg, sharing accommodations with existing villagers, or building new houses of their own with the insurance payouts. Businesses also prospered in light of the lost commerce in the Flats and Preston areas.

The fire also showed Ottawa that a second access point to the west was required, and immediately it planned construction of the new bridge over the Railway yards. This is better known now as the Bayview Bridge or Scott Street Bridge. (Editing this for posterity's sake... This was known as the Wellington Viaduct, completed in 1909, which directly extended Wellington Street east. See the photo below, but to get an idea of it's positioning, the City Centre tower was constructed immediately next to it. The viaduct remained in place until 1969, when it was demolished in favour of the new bridge connecting with Scott Street over Bayview - the bridge which we know today.) Below is the first evidence of the discussion towards this end, which did indeed soon after result in the construction of this bridge, in exactly where it was originally proposed in 1900. A second entrance point into Ottawa from the west! A positive development and legacy from a horrific event which came so very close to destroying Hintonburg and probably Mechanicsville as well, if the wind had just been blowing a little harder to the west, or if the railway tracks property had been less wide. A lucky day for Hintonburg for sure.

Ottawa Journal, June 1, 1900

The bridge over the rail yards years later.