Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Westboro Legacy of Mrs. Shirley Shorter

The article below ran as the cover story for the final Newswest issue of 2017. Mrs. Shirley Shorter was THE original historian for the Westboro area, and it was a true pleasure to speak to her on a number of occasions. Shirley was doing work on local history research and heritage preservation years before anyone else was. Her efforts contributed to several heritage buildings in Westboro being saved. She was also one of the key leaders in the establishment of Newswest itself. The online edition of the article can be found at, but the full text of the article is reprinted below:

"Shirley Shorter, 1921-2017. Historian, Activist, Citizen"

2017 was a year of celebration and ceremony, with many important anniversaries of historical significance. However, 2017 also will hold importance for the loss of one of Westboro’s most dedicated residents, whose contributions to the community live on today.

Shirley Shorter passed away May 4th at the age of 96. Shirley was an early advocate for history and heritage recognition in an era when it was almost unheard of. She was years ahead of her time in recognizing the value of protecting the character of a neighbourhood, but also the elements of a community which made it so much better. She was instrumental in the establishment of Newswest and for many years gave so much not only to the development of the newspaper, but to Westboro itself.

Born in Ottawa in 1921 as Shirley Geldert, she clearly was never destined to live a quiet, unassuming life. Shirley was involved in acting as a young child, and later became one of Ottawa’s top badminton and tennis players as a teenager, while attending Elmwood School. 

Her father Dr. George McKinley Geldert, an anesthetist at the Civic Hospital, in 1924 converted the dining room of their home at 282 Somerset Street West into a studio for Canada’s first private radio station CKCO (later renamed CKOY, now better known as CIWW, aka 1310News) A transmitter was located inside the living room, and each night, furniture would be moved, radio equipment set up, and broadcasting would begin. Shirley’s family home became a venue for musicians, celebrities, political debates and important newscasts. Mackenzie King made the first Prime Minster broadcast steps from her childhood bedroom. 

Shirley attended Havergal College, and then the University of Toronto, where she continued winning championships on the court, while also achieving her B.A. in 1943. She married her husband Gord, then a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy, in September of 1944. The couple had three children, Sandy, Gord and Bill. 

While raising her family, Shirley continued to play tennis out of the Rideau Tennis Club, and later became an avid curler out of the Granite Curling Club. She also began a new hobby, antique bottle collecting (milks, sodas, beers, medicines, etc.); a passion she would continue for the remainder of her life. Her collection would eventually become the pinnacle of the Ottawa area.

By the early 1970s, Shirley also turned her attention on community affairs, and became actively involved in the Westboro neighbourhood. She contributed to the Village Voice, then Westboro’s community newspaper which ceased publishing around 1976. 

In 1978, Shirley was part of a group of residents who initiated the return of a much-needed community newspaper. The first issue of Newswest came out in November of 1978, featuring a full-page article written by Shirley on the history of Maplelawn. For more than ten years she would contribute regular heritage columns, profiling the personalities and places of historic Westboro. This was long before the internet or digitized newspapers; Shirley’s research was all done through interviews and personal recollections, capturing the true stories of early Westboro. 

Shirley also contributed the monthly "Neighbourly News" column, with updates and tidbits on the people, shops and sites of the west end. There was seemingly no one better connected during this era than Shirley Shorter.

She established a group known as “Heritage Westboro” which worked with the city on the establishment of the original heritage register, and published a reprint of the 1927 “History of Westboro: The Town of Possibilities” booklet. Most importantly was the protection of Westboro’s threatened historic structures, notably the preservation of the McKellar-Bingham House (then the headquarters of CKOY). It is thanks to the efforts of Shirley and others she helped coordinate that several area heritage buildings still stand today.

Shirley gradually began to focus on different activities over the last 20 years of her life, but she still assisted many an author writing on local history. A trip down memory lane with Shirley was a remarkable experience, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity on several occasions. Shirley was still passionate in her love of Westboro, and her memories still strong right to the end. With gracious thanks to her family, many of her files, notes, interviews and photos were recently passed along to me, and I will be proud to carry on her legacy as best I can. 

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Shirley Shorter, after a life well and thoroughly lived.

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