Thursday, May 16, 2019

49-51 Gilchrist Avenue - Gorgeous vintage Wellington Village double

Across the street from my house on Gilchrist Avenue (which my family has called home since 1986), stands an impressive brick double that dates back to the earliest days of Wellington Village. Doubles such as this one are rare in this neighbourhood, likely due to the 33' lots that make up the original subdivision. They would be more commonly found in other older areas like Centretown or the Glebe. So I love that this building exists on Gilchrist, as unique as all of the other houses are on the street, if not a little more so. And with that uniqueness, comes a story about its history which is unique in its own way as well.

Photo courtesy of remax.ca

This past week, the double at 49-51 Gilchrist Avenue was put up for sale, and already a lot of worry has surfaced amongst neighbours about the future of the house. At its asking price ($1.15M), it seems likely that developers would be the largest contingent amongst potential buyers. It sadly looks like the days are gone where this house could be owner-occupied, a perfect way for a savvy young family could live in one half, and rent out the other side to help pay the mortgage. Now, as an aging building on a corner lot in one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in town, it seems to be potential fodder for the wrecking ball, and the inevitable application at city hall for 4 units. Or 6. Or 8. Or who knows. That corner lot location means the opportunities are theoretically endless. Throw in the "bonus" opportunity space the abandoned city back-lane provides, and it seems like a development is likely. If I sound pessimistic, consider that the sellers did not even bother to include a single interior photo in their listing, despite how nice I know the units are.

My fingers are crossed that we aren't headed that way, and that a buyer will be found who will keep the building just as it is, and appreciate the history and quality of the house.

I thought then it might be interesting to share the history of this proud brick double, and bring to life its 90 year history a little bit.

* * *

The lot was sold in the second Ottawa Land Association auction, held in June 1920. However, the initial lot buyer did not build right away, and it was not until the summer of 1928 when things got moving.

67-year old real estate investor William J. Riley came to an agreement in early July 1928 to acquire the lot, and took out the building permit in mid-July in his name (sandwiched between the permits issued for St. Giles Church on Bank Street and Elmdale School all within a week). He officially purchased the lot (along with a second lot a few blocks away) on August 6th, 1928, immediately took out a mortgage against the land for $2,500.

Ottawa Citizen listing of monthly building permits issued,
for the month of July. Listing ran August 3, 1928

Construction would have taken place throughout the fall of 1928, and into early 1929. He took out a second mortgage on April 12th, 1929 for an additional $1,500, like to complete the final stages of construction.

William Riley was born in Prospect, Ontario in 1861, and came to Ottawa in 1902, where he worked with the Office Specialty Manufacturing Company for years. Riley never married, nor had any kids.

An old ad for Riley's employer for most of his career
(from Google Images)

He had been living in the Battleford, Saskatchewan area during the 1890s, and apparently owned several properties there. He may have owned one or two other properties in Ottawa in the 1920s, but nothing in large numbers. The Gilchrist Avenue double was likely just an investment in his retirement, perhaps as a way to keep busy with managing it.

Being 67 years old at the time, and with little evidence of having been a tradesman, I suspect Riley had hired out for the construction of the house. The mortgages in 1928 and 1929 were both from a man named Albert Edwin James, who was listed on the real estate documents as a carpenter. Research shows James was also from the Prospect, Ontario region, who had been a farmer there until retiring from farming in 1922 and relocating to Ottawa. In the era, banks and loan companies weren't as essential as  they are today. Many mortgages (more than half on average) were taken out from individuals. It was also not uncommon for a builder to build a house for a lot owner and charge it to the owner by way of a mortgage, which would be guaranteed against the value of the property (foreclosure would be a solution if the owner became unable to pay back the loan). So James may very well have been the builder of 49-51 Gilchrist Avenue. Otherwise, due to Riley taking out the permit in his name, and his being the only name on title, there is no way to definitively determine who the builder was.

The house seems to have been ready in mid-March or early-April 1929, as a classified ad advertising the house for rent ran on March 15th, 1929, described simply as "New double, cor. Gilchrist, Spencer, complete electric wiring."

49-51 Gilchrist is first advertised for rent.
Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1929

Riley never lived in the house; he lived downtown on James Street, and instead had tenants move into both sides of the house. The first occupants were Reginald J. Shaw and his wife Ellen in the 49 Gilchrist half (Reginald was 27 years old, with the Air Force) and William and Annie Chapman in the 51 Gilchrist half (William was a 36-year old salesman). Each couple had one child.

Sadly, Riley passed away just a few months after the building was compelted, on August 13th, 1929. On his death, an article about his life in the Journal noted: "Though not a public man, he took a deep interest in affairs pertaining to both church and state. Honest in his dealings and respected by all with whom he came in contact, Mr. Riley leaves a vacant place in both family and community circles."

March 1946 view of the double at 49-51 Gilchrist
(courtesy of Bruce Chapman)

After Riley passed away, ownership of the house transferred to his widowed sister Emmeline Jane McRorie, and his brother-in-law Dugald Robert Ferguson, as trustees of his estate. Perhaps unfortunately for them, with the great depression underway, selling the big double house would likely have proved impossible. I'm not sure if they even tried, but regardless, they retained ownership for 13 years, renting it out to tenants along the way.

In November of 1942, the William Riley estate sold the house to civil servant Ernest Brault, and his wife Edmée. The Braults would become long-time owner-occupants. They lived in the 49 Gilchrist half for the next 34 years, where they raised their four children (sadly, one of their children, Andrée, passed away in November of 1946 at the age of 12).

Notably, Edmée Brault made the news in 1950, when she led a campaign to have shorts banned in Ottawa! The topic was heavily debated in the media over several weeks that summer, and was rehashed in 1983 by the Ottawa Citizen (see article below):

June 25, 1983 Citizen article

While the Brault family lived on the north half, tenants resided on the south half. The longest tenants to live in the house were Cedric and Beatrice Dunning, who lived in the #51 half from 1940 until 1950, and Delbert F. and Madeline Carter who lived at 51 from 1958 to 1968.

April 1949 view, with a nice look down the south half of
Gilchrist Avenue.
(courtesy of Bruce Chapman)

Interestingly, in December of 1950, the OMB heard a case from Brault, looking for an amendment to city bylaw 6839 which limited the density of buildings within the ward. Brault was attempting to convert the building into a triplex. No newspaper reports tell the story of what happened at the OMB, but of course we know that it did not succeed. The house remained two units.

The golden age - paperboy Bob Boucher of 51 Gilchrist
helps donate $100 to the Ottawa Boys' Club.
Ottawa Journal, February 7, 1955

Ernest Brault passed away on January 24, 1976, and a few months later his widow Edmée sold the home (she ended up living to the great old age of 96, passing away in 2006). It changed hands twice more in 1979 and 1981, and remained under the same owner I believe until about ten years ago, when it was sold to the current owner.

49 & 51 Gilchrist Avenue will always be one my favourite houses on Gilchrist, and I sure hope the right buyer is found, and it remains standing for years to come. It would be a sad thing if this article becomes a eulogy for one of Wellington Village's oldest and most impressive structures.

(source: realtor.ca)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Education and Schools in Kitchissippi in the 19th century

This month's new issue of the Kitchissippi Times features my monthly "Early Days" column, which for May covers the story of the early days of education and schools in Kitchissippi. It is a deeply-researched story that in about 1,000 words tells of the days when kids really would walk many miles through snowstorms and bear-and-wolf covered terrain, to get to their early primitive schoolhouse. 

I love this column and really it is years of bits and pieces of research put into one story that tells the background of all of Kitchissippi's schools, and how they developed and/or came to be.

The story has a particular focus on the Hintonburg Public School, which over time became Connaught School. I'm particularly happy to share two rare photos of the original Hintonburg P.S. on Rosemount Avenue. 

You can read the full article at the Kitchissippi Times website at: 

October 1889 photo of Hintonburg Public School

Postcards from Juno

In the news this week is the very cool initiative of the Juno Beach Centre, where they will be sending out postcards to 400 households in Canada, the last home of fallen soldiers before they went off to war. The postcards will contain information about the soldier and about their death.

https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2019/05/07/75-years-after-d-day-we-visited-the-homes-that-fallen-canadian-soldiers-left-behind.html

For those receiving the card, I would think it would help hit home the reality of the war and how so many young men and women from our neighbourhood went away and never came back. It is impossible for our present-day era to understand any of the emotions felt back in WWI or WWII - by the soldiers themselves, or the families they left behind. But a project like this helps bring a little of it to life, and helps connect the present day to our past, an increasingly difficult challenge as fewer veterans from WWII remain.

The Juno Beach Centre released the locations of the 400 households through a mapping tool, and I was impressed to see that 2 of them are in Kitchissippi. The article above shows the map from junobeach.org which geolocates the two addresses.

Unfortunately, both cards are going to hit dead ends...

* * *

My first concern came when I saw that one of the two addresses is pointed to "Alonzo Street", which is the Hintonburg 'ghost street' I wrote about a couple of years ago (http://kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.com/2015/03/long-lost-hintonburg-alonzo-section.html). This street only existed in actuality from 1875 to 1910. I don't even think it still exists on paper, though somewhat impressively, the Juno Beach Centre located soldier Oscar Joseph Beaudoin to it on their map. Alonzo was lost when the CPR roundhouse was built on that spot, just to the east of Bayview.

I was curious how it could be possible, that Beaudoin could be listed at an address on that street, in the early 1940s when he enlisted, when the street hadn't existed since 1910. And then I realized... Alonzo Avenue is what Byron Avenue was called west of Island Park Drive until 1949 (it was renamed to give Byron a single, continuous name from Holland to out past Woodroffe).

A quick search in an old newspaper confirmed it, the Beaudoin family lived at 152 Alonzo Avenue in Laurentian View (aka Hampton-Iona).

And to better place the house, since there were so many re-namings and re-numberings in the 1940s, a quick look at a fire insurance plan from the era would confirm exactly what house it was:

1948 fire insurance plan showing the south side of Byron
(Alonzo) between Kirkwood and Hilson. #152 is the all-
yellow house (indicating wood construction) in the center.

And then GeoOttawa for 2019:



GeoOttawa confirms it as the present-day 302 Byron, and even shows the outline of the Beaudoin house there... but unfortunately it's just an illusion. The original 302 Byron was demolished in 2012, and replaced by a huge double.

Oscar Joseph Beaudoin's home at 302 Byron - in 2009

Two semis in 2015 at 302-304 Byron

When I read they'd only sent out 400 postcards, I assumed it was because they'd been selected at least in part because of the addresses being still current. But I see now the challenges the Juno Beach Centre faces in trying to use addresses from 1939 today. Ottawa/Nepean went through a lot of address changes between 1940-1950 so I'm sure a lot of the addresses they are mailing to will no longer be valid. It will be unfortunate for them to receive back a lot of "return to sender" cards.

The Oscar Beaudoin one will most definitely be returned to them, though I plan on contacting the Juno Beach Centre to let them know. I'm not sure if they'll mail it back out to the new house or not. In a way, it seems a touch sadder that the postcard would arrive at the geographic location where the Beaudoin family resided, but not their actual home. Just one more reminder of how far away WWII, Juno Beach, and the sacrifices made by brave soldiers like Oscar Beaudoin are sadly quickly becoming.

For more information on Oscar Beaudoin, this is a great link: http://www.fallenheroesofnormandy.org/Servicemen/Detail/5968

Private Oscar Joseph Beaudoin
(source; Fallen Heroes of Normandy)

* * *

The second soldier from Kitchissippi that is part of the postcard project is Orphila Beauchamp on Merton Street. His profile (http://www.fallenheroesofnormandy.org/Servicemen/Detail/5966) sadly has far less detail.

An old newspaper lookup shows the Beauchamp family lived at 7 Merton Street, and the first newspaper notice I could find about Orphila noted that he was survived only by his Mom Mrs. Armanda Beauchamp, indicating that she had lost her husband at some point as well.

Citizen June 29, 1944

A little bit of extra digging revealed almost nothing in the usual places on the Beauchamp family. I could find practically nothing on Ancestry, in the newspapers, and in a few other places. The family originated in Rockland, and may have only been in Ottawa a brief time.

Though addressing in Hintonburg has been a little more consistent over time, and Merton Street has retained its name, the Orphila Beauchamp card won't be getting through either. 7 Merton Street was destroyed by a fire on June 15th, 2004. Somewhat eerily, the concrete front steps and stoop still remain 15 years later, a ghost entrance to nowhere....

Google Streetview of what is left of 7 Merton Street

The 'Postcards from Juno' project is a wonderful program, but I worry about how many of the 400 postcards will actually get through. Hopefully in the next phase (if they do pursue it, and I hope they do!), a few more Kitchissippi addresses will make it on the list again. It's certainly a great concept, and I look forward to reading the follow-up articles on how this first run of cards were received across Canada. Though the two Kitchissippi postcards may not reach their destination, I think a part of the goal has been reached by the Juno Beach Centre, in that 75 years later, Oscar Beaudoin and Orphila Beauchamp haven't been forgotten about, and by writing about them today on this website, it keeps their memory and sacrifice alive, at least in a small way.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Jane's Walk - Wellington Village Local History - Saturday 2-4 p.m.

I'm happy to announce that this Saturday (May 4th) I will be co-leading a Jane's Walk, on the history of Wellington Village.

The tour will leave Thyme & Again on Wellington Street West at Huron Avenue North at 2 p.m., and largely occur on Wellington between Holland and Island Park Drive. I'll be co-leading the walk with Wellington West BIA Executive Director Dennis Van Staalduinen. 

We'll be pointing out sites of historical significance, and sharing stories related to the 100 years of Wellington Village (and the 100 years before WV, when it was suburban farm land!). This tour is close to the heart for me, as I've spent most of my life in Wellington Village, and my family nearly 70 years.

More information can be found at the official link: https://janes-walk.herokuapp.com/en/walks/jane-s-walk-ottawa-gatineau-2019/20621

Hope to meet a lot of new and familiar faces Saturday afternoon!


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Nepean High School : Timeline 1922 (From concept to classes in one year!)

1922 was a big year in the history of Nepean High School. Obviously the biggest, since that was the year that the idea of building the school was pitched, plans drawn up, a site found and most of the the construction completed. Quite impressive to all occur in a year's time. With the 100th anniversary of the building coming up in just four years, I thought it would be neat to go through a timeline of the year 1922, to show just how the school construction developed and evolved. As a proud alumnus of Nepean High, I find myself wanting to write about NHS all the time! And this one is a great story.

You may recall that back in the fall of 2016, I wrote about how Nepean High School as an institution was technically turning 100 years old that month. https://kitchissippi.com/2016/09/15/kitchissippi-school-100-years-old/  I won't rehash that story, but just to say that Nepean did exist for several years as a continuation class operating out of Churchill and Broadview public schools, until it became clear that a high school for the suburban kids in the exceedingly-popular Britannia streetcar line neighbourhoods was a necessity.

***

Monday January 9 - Nepean Township council holds its first meeting of the new regime to kick off 1922 (back then most municipal elections were still annual events, held around January 1st). The council meeting is held at Nepean Town Hall on Richmond Road in Westboro. The main topic for the meeting is the need to put into motion a building project to erect a high school for children of Nepean. The thrust for this is the distance students need to travel to get to city high schools, the fees they are required to pay being from outside the city, and the fact that the city schools were becoming severely overcrowded. It is decided to hold a town hall for the council, school trustees and ratepayers of Nepean on January 23rd to discuss further with public input, particularly on the location of this proposed high school. Nepean Council in 1922 was: Reeve Fred Bell; 1st deputy Reeve Fred Graham; 2nd deputy Reeve A.B. Ullett; 3rd deputy Reeve J.W. Arnott; and Councillor J.H. Slack.

Just one simple sentence in the Nepean Township Council
minutebook for January 9, 1922, but it's a significant one.

The big headline! Ottawa
Citizen, January 9, 1922

Monday January 23 - A public meeting is held for the Councillors, school trustees and citizens of Nepean to discuss the need for a high school. Over 100 people are present. At the meeting, Dr. F.W. Merchant of the Department of Education, presents a report (which was not produced by the Department, but rather by inspectors of the Department) with numbers showing that 67% of Nepean's student population was located in Westboro (8.5% in Woodroffe and 3% at Britannia). Thus it followed that the high school should be located in the eastern end of the township, and the report presented further specifies the recommendation that "As Westboro has the largest population and furnishes 67 per cent of the attendance at the continuation school, the high school should be placed in Westboro, in forming a new high school district." It also points out that Westboro is growing rapidly, has a large percentage of the overall population and bores a large share of the township's tax assessment. 9 of 14 Nepean school sections are represented at the meeting (the other 5 being at the western end of the township, closer to Richmond, and thus would have minimal use of the high school), with 8 of the 9 agreeing that the high school should be built in the vicinity of Westboro. The report notes that the high school "should provide accommodation for at least five classes, and furnish facilities for typewriting, manual training, domestic science, an assembly hall, and gymnasium." Each of the members of Nepean Council, as well as the representatives of the school sections spoke in support of the plan.

1879 Carleton County map showing the borders of what
was Nepean Township, in relation to neighbouring
townships. Note all of Ottawa west of the Rideau River
was originally part of Nepean Township.

Wednesday January 25 - Nepean Council meets and agrees to proceed to Carleton County Council for approval for the project. Council also debates and officially decides upon the portions of Nepean Township to be included in the high school district. It is decided to include school sections 1 to 5 (from Westboro to Bells Corners and the March Road school house), 11 (Greenbank), 12 (City View), 13 (Merivale) and the new section 15 (a more northwesterly part of the township). Council to present the plan to Carleton County Council the following day.

Thursday January 26 - A bylaw to create a high school area in Nepean Township i0s presented at Carleton County Council, and passes through first, second and final reading without any objection or discussion. The plan is presented by Nepean Councillors A.H. Ullett and J.W. Arnott.

Tuesday February 21 - Carleton County Council gives final approval of the creation of the high school district, and appoints the first three members of the high school board of trustees: J. Ernest Caldwell of City View, Elijah Dawson of Bells Corners, and Ralph Hodgson of Woodroffe. This trustee board is now fully empowered to act on behalf of the County in matters pertaining to the high school going forward. "The way is now well paved for the erection of a new high school to serve most of the Township of Nepean" writes the Journal.

Thursday February 23 - Nepean Council appoints three trustees to represent the Council on the six-person board. Selected were John E. Cole of Westboro (who owned much of the land in Westboro, and operated the Highland Park Dairy Farm, one of if not the first electrified farms in Canada), George Spencer of Westboro (a high-ranking public servant, Chief Operating Officer of the Board of Railway Commissioners), and a young Cecil Morrison, just a few years after opening his Standard Bread Company with Richard Lamothe on Hilson Avenue.

John E. Cole in 1913

Cecil Morrison in 1919

March and early April - A brief reprise from developments as Nepean deals with new fire and building bylaws, a proposed cemetery at Britannia Heights (the area south of Carling now including Frank Ryan Park), spring road repairs, as well as a split of the City View school section (where the existing school is up near Meadowlands Drive, requiring students residing near Carling Avenue walk 2-3 miles. A house by Carling is to be used while plans to build a proper schoolhouse are made). In an important move, the architect firm of Richards and Abra (Hugh Richards and William James Abra) is secured by the trustee board to design the high school. Early blueprint plans are drawn up during the Spring.

Ad for Richards and Abra from April 1922

Meanwhile the board of trustees are narrowing down a list of possible locations for the school; a list of eight different sites around Westboro are initially considered. Also during this time frame, John E. Cole was selected as Chairman of the trustee board. There is no individual more instrumental in the establishment of Nepean High School than Cole.


Friday April 14 - This afternoon, the members of the high school board take a road trip out to visit the leading four sites which are under consideration for the school. The sites are located in McKellar Townsite (now McKellar Park), Main Street (now Churchill Avenue), Broadway Avenue in Highland Park (now Broadview Avenue) and on Richmond Road. Unfortunately, no records seem to exist of what sites exactly were being considered. However the map below provides potential likely guesses as to what was being considered, based on open space at the time.

Potential locations for NHS considered by the board in 1922

Following the field visit, no decision is made, but the list is narrowed down to three: McKellar Townsite, Broadway Avenue and Main Street. The plans for the school (by Richards and Abra) are nearly complete by this date.

Tuesday April 25 - The location of the high school is announced! Of course it is the site that is just north of Broadway Avenue public school, at the corner of what was then called Princess Avenue (Princeton). The five-acre spot is said to be the highest elevation between Ottawa and Britannia. Conflict of interest? The site chosen is owned by board chairman John E Cole (who owned most of the land in the neighbourhood), who not only benefits from the land sale to the school board (for $13,000) but also in the increase in value of his properties surrounding the school. Surely that must have helped the Broadview site gain the edge over McKellar Park and Churchill Avenue! The announcement also notes that the school will cost over $50,000, and will be a ten room school (these projections will grow two or three times over the coming months).

Announcement in the evening edition of the
Ottawa Citizen, April 25, 1922.

Thursday May 11 - Architects Richards and Abra publish newspaper advertisements calling for tenders for the excavation of the property on Broadway Avenue to commence construction of the high school. Bids accepted up until May 17th.

Thursday May 18 - It is announced that Ottawa firm Bate, McMahon & Company are awarded the contract for excavating the property. 13 bids are received by the board, the lowest offer being that of Bate, McMahon & Co. for $2,000. The work is to be completed by the first week of June. The land would have been largely flat and likely grass covered, with few or no trees visible in the rare aerial photos of the era (see below for an aerial photo from 1920). The land is still only 11 years removed from being farmland (the McKellar family sold to a real estate syndicate who established the McKellar Townsite in 1911).

An ad for Bate, McMahon & Co. from
the period (July 13, 1918)

Late May and early June - Excavation work on the site performed by Bate, McMahon & Co. On June 3rd it is reported that "excavation work is almost completed".

Friday May 26 - Architects Richards and Abra publish ads calling for tenders for construction of the high school. Bids accepted until Saturday June 10th at noon, at their Sparks Street office.

Ottawa Journal, May 26, 1922

Friday June 2 - At a meeting of the high school board, held at the offices of Richards and Abra, the name of the new school is selected: Nepean Collegiate Institute. The name of the board is also to change from the Nepean High School Board to the Nepean Collegiate Board. (The primary difference in a "Collegiate" versus a "High School" is that traditionally, collegiate institutes focused on arts and humanities for students intending to attend university, whereas high schools focused on vocational and science programs for those planning to enter the workplace upon graduation. Over time the roles blurred and eventually they merged in a single secondary school system. The term ‘Collegiate Institute’ largely has disappeared, remaining only for the oldest and most established secondary schools). Though the plan as of June 2nd was to go the "Collegiate" route, this plan was clearly short-lived, as not long after, the terminology would revert back to "High School".

Also at this meeting on June 2nd, the final plans and specifications for the building are approved. "The building is to be two storeys in height, with ten class rooms, an assembly hall, gymnasium, domestic science room, and chemical laboratory. It is to be entirely fire proof and will be built of reinforced concrete and brick. It will cover a space measuring 170 feet by 90 feet."

Concurrently, Richards and Abra, as well as Nepean Township, were focused on the planning and construction of the new schoolhouse at Merivale and Coldrey, for the new SS 16. Built at the same time as Nepean High, it is now the old section of the Carlington Community Health Centre.

Thursday June 15 - Nepean Township council grants the Nepean Collegiate board's application for the issuance of 30-year debentures for $200,000 towards the construction of the high school. (Over $2.9 million in 2019 money, using the Bank of Canada inflation calculator). This money will go towards the purchase of the site, building of the school, and its fit-up.

To fund the construction of the school, I suppose Nepean Township had a few options: they could spend their own money to do it (which they didn't have); they could levy the entire Township, and even set higher levies for residents in school sections closest to the school (not a popular move, and likely not even financially possible); they could borrow from a bank or lender (potentially high interest rates and restrictive clauses); or they could issue debentures (which is what school boards commonly did in the era for building projects). Debentures are still a bit confusing to me how they worked, but essentially they were like bonds, in that lenders could bid for the right to loan the money essentially, at terms the board set out. In the case of NHS, the debentures were set at 30 years at 5.5% interest per annum. Bidders would bid at how much they would be willing to discount on the nominal value (usually in the 2% range) in order to win the loan essentially. Typically a debenture from a school board or a municipality was a safe investment.

Mid-June to late-July - Construction begins on Nepean High School. The contractors who won the bid process were Taylor and Lackey.

Robert Taylor and James Lackey were both Irish-born, Taylor 60 and Lackey 51. Their firm had been one of Ottawa's top builders dating back to the 1890s. They took on many large projects, and had a large contingent of top tradesmen in Ottawa at their disposal. They would also win the contract to build Elmdale Public School a few years later.

Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 1922. Taylor and Lackey,
contractors for the construction of Nepean High invite
bricklayers to apply to help build the school.

30 to 40 workers work on construction of the foundation of Nepean High, which is complete in mid-July. Construction on the brickwork begins around August 1st, and the crew of 30 to 40 workers grows by "many more" once the team begins work on the structure of the school.

Monday July 24 - John Cole speaks to the media this evening and announces that the new high school will be the finest high school in the province of Ontario. Though original estimates were $80,000, the costs now appear to be over $100,000. The school will provide classes for over 400 students, in 12 classrooms, with a gymnasium and auditorium. The debentures for $200,000 will be ready to be issued in late August. Nepean Township council has also made backup plans to secure funding if there are delays in funding.

Wednesday August 2 - Nepean Council approves the issue of $235,000 debentures total for the high school and the public school on Merivale. Tenders for the debentures due by August 17.

Friday August 11 - The first classified advertisement is run in the Ottawa Citizen looking for teachers for Nepean High School. Annual salary of $1,800. The ad would run daily for two weeks.

Ottawa Citizen, August 11, 1922

Thursday August 18 - The bid of R.A. Daly & Company of Toronto on the $235,000 debentures was accepted by Nepean Council this evening at 98.69% with interest at 5.5%. An impressive 14 other tenders had been received. Meanwhile construction continued on the school itself.

This oblique aerial photo from the summer of 1922 captures
Nepean High School mid-construction. Unfortunately it was
taken from quite a distance away, so the quality is as good as
it can be. The Ottawa River is at left, Richmond Road running
parallel to it. Broadview Avenue is the most clear street going
left to right, and Broadview School is the larger building in
front of a bright reflective area. Nepean HS is to the left of
Broadview PS, with its main floor under construction. 

Monday September 11 - A big day in the construction of Nepean High. The corner stone is laid today by Hon. R.H. Grant, Ontario Minister of Education, at 4 p.m. A large ceremony is held at the site, which includes all six members of the high school board, the full Nepean Township council, and large numbers of the public including hundreds of school children, all excited for the arrival of the school.

Laying of the cornerstone of Nepean High. September 11, 1922.
(Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-18367)

John Cole presides over the ceremony, which starts with an invocation (prayer) by Rev. A.E. Kelly of Westboro Methodist Church. Cole then began "with an introduction eulogizing the ideals which the school would represent" (reported the Citizen), and details an outline of how the school had gotten to this point. Cole then introduces Hon. Grant for the cornerstone ceremony. Mr. W.J. Abra of Richards and Abra present Hon. Grant with a silver trowel for the job. After the stone is laid, Hon. Grant makes "an inspirational summary of the benefits of good schools, congratulated the local councils and school boards on the fact of being able to erect the fine building he now saw in process of construction. He made reference to the many invitations which he received asking him to perform similar functions. In many of these cases, he regretted having to send some one to represent him. In the county of Carleton, he said, this would not do. No such thought had struck him. He considered it an honor to be able to perform such a ceremony in his own constituency."

"In speaking to the children he reminded them that one or more of them might some day find themselves in the same position he was in, minister of education. That although there was nothing sensational in the laying of a cornerstone, there was a great significance in it. He remembered that when going to the old high school in Ottawa, which used to be situated where the Russell theater now stands, the students were called out to attend the laying of the cornerstone of the present Ottawa Collegiate (Lisgar) by Lord Dufferin. He had never forgotten that day and hoped that they, the children, would not forget the present one."

Grant closes by stating: "Even if you are not my supporters politically, I will forgive your remissness in that respect if you will support me in my endeavors to improve the educational facilities in the province of Ontario."

Following Hon. Grant's address, the school children present sing "O Canada" and the official National Anthem at the time (God Save the Queen). On the platform (in the photo above) are the members of the Nepean Council (J.H. Slack, M.N. Cummings and A.B. Ullett), Rev. W.H. Cramm of the Westboro Presbyterian Church, Rev. A.N. Frith of Westboro Baptist Church, Col. (Rev.) R.H. Steacy of All Saints' Anglican Church, T. Saunders and John Shouldis, school trustees of Woodroffe, John Gamble, Nepean Township clerk, and key local figures Percy Halpenny, Jack Ashfield, E.H. Stewart, W.C. Harnett, M.Honeywell, Dr. J.S. Nelson, S. Bradley, Dave Mowat, and many others.

At the time, the school is projected to be ready for January 1st, 1923. It will have eight teachers under the principalship of Miss Anita (Annie) J. Stewart (currently the principal of Broadview Avenue School). The plan at this point has changed again, to now 15 classrooms, plus a science room, manual training room, chemistry and physics labs, biology lab, auditorium with seating for 400, and a gym. The school will be built to accommodate 600 students.

September to December 1922 - Construction continues on Nepean High School, but it will not be ready by January 1st as hoped, so a decision is made to postpone opening until the fall of 1923. The bulk of the the construction was likely completed by the Spring of 1923, barely a year after the initial steps were taken to have the school built.

May 1920 aerial photograph showing Broadview
Avenue with just the original Broadview School.
Future NHS site is just vacant space, though there
is some kind of larger-sized depression or hole.
Richmond Road would be at top, Carling at bottom.
Odd shape across from Broadview is light reflecting
off the old swamp. 

May 1933 aerial photo of the same area (I've never seen
an aerial photo of Westboro/NHS for any period between
1920 and 1933). Princeton and Denbury now appear.

2017 GeoOttawa photo of Nepean & Broadview

***

Nepean High School opened in September 1923 with 195 students in attendance. There were a total of six classes: two Form I's (grade 9), two Form II's (grade 10), one Form III (grade 11), and one Form IV and V (grades 12 and 13). Just prior to the school opening, Mr. H. Loucks was appointed principal in the summer of 1923, and the first staff at opening were Mr. Loucks, Miss Annie J. Stewart, Mrs. Kathleen H. Crain, Miss Lena L. MacNeill, Miss Jean McIntosh, and Mr. W.R.M. Scott. Later in the year, when the auditorium was completed, the official opening took place. The Journal and Citizen both dedicated large articles and a photograph of the school to celebrate the official opening, and the successful project that impressively had gone from concept to classes in barely over a year!

Nepean High School at opening, fall 1923
(from Ottawa Journal, December 15, 1923)

The original Nepean High School as it was in the
early 1920s (and with a little snow)

Friday, April 19, 2019

Three stages of history of the Il Negozio Nicastro building and property

The Il Negozio Nicastro building at the corner of Wellington West and Gilchrist Avenue is a little over 60 years old, and blends into the Wellington streetscape seamlessly. An exclusively commercial building since it was built, I wondered how the property evolved, as 1950s-built buildings are rare in the neighbourhood, particularly on a prime corner lot such as this one. I decided to delve into the history of the lot, to find out more about the building itself, but also what was there prior to it. My research uncovered a couple of interesting tidbits, including an NHL-hall of famer.


Il Negozio Nicastro is in its 15th year in the location and its longevity is due to, of course name recognition, as the Nicastro name is well-respected in Ottawa, but it is also established as one of Wellington Village's most popular businesses due to its quality foods and ever-evolving cafe and bar amenities. As a kid who grew up in the 80s and 90s, I remembered it being the home of "Electrolux", which admittedly until I wrote this article, I didn't know what kind of company that even was. So this article looks at the history of the property in three sections: the history of the building itself (including its bet-you-didn't-know-it-was-called-this name); the brief but interesting history of the previous structure on the lot; and the original dream that never was in its earliest beginnings.


What could have been - The Massads and the original land parcel

The history of the property of course dates back to when it was part of the Stewart family farm. The lot would always have been adjacent to the original Richmond Road, used by farmers and travellers on horse. It was likely the Stewarts had an old fence that ran alongside Richmond Road, to protect their groves that were on the north side of the property. Gilchrist Avenue has a notable hill at the top of the street, and one can only imagine that back in the 19th century, it would have been a bit of a drop down from Richmond Road.

Aerial photos from as late as the 1940s show the lot to be thickly covered in trees. Both this lot and the one on the opposite side of Gilchrist (the Lauzon parking lot) both had a lot of large, mature trees covering the lot. And I can only guess that this is why the Nicastro lot was sold at auction for somewhat less than most of the Wellington Street-fronting lots did. For the tidy sum of $700 John McMahon, owner of an Ottawa shipping/cartage company Federal Transfer, picked up both lots 864 (Nicastro's) and 865 (John's Quick Lunch) at the big 1920 auction of Wellington Village lots (recall that there were two auctions: one in 1919 for the lots south of Wellington, and one in 1920 for the lots to the north). For McMahon, the purchase was purely an investment, one which paid off. Eight years later, in July of 1928, McMahon sold the two lots (still vacant) on the exploding Wellington Street strip to Salim and Rosie Massad for $2,150, triple what he had paid.

Salim Massad was 40 years old, and was an immigrant from Mount Lebanon, Syria, who records show had left Syria in 1912, arriving in New Orleans, with a final destination of St. Louis, Missouri. His journey must have taken unexpected twists and turns, as he was in Montreal by 1920 where he married his wise Rose Ieems. The couple were then in Hull by the mid-1920s, where Salim operated a store at the corner of Du Pont (now Eddy Street) and Frontenac. His shop was actually two stores in one. Part of the store (fronting on Frontenac) sold gentleman's furnishings, while the other half, with a door on Du Pont, sold boots and shoes.

Present-day view of what was Salim Massad's shop in the
1920s at the corner of Frontenac and Eddy (then Du Pont)

It seems likely that Salim dreamt of building a commercial building on the growing Wellington strip in Ottawa's west end, and moving his business into the Elmdale neighbourhood. Undoubtedly, his $2,150 purchase was a significant investment, and unfortunately for Salim, his timing could not have been worse. The great depression began mere months later, the commercial and real estate markets collapsed, and the Massads never had the chance to build their store. In fact, within a couple of years, the Massads had closed their store in Hull and moved over to St. Francis Street in Hintonburg. Salim earned a wage by working at the Cartier Tea Room in Hull.

They held onto the double lot on Wellington for 11 years, but by 1938, with no end to the economic depression in sight, and WWII on the horizon, the Massads gave up on their dream. There was no market whatsoever for lots in the west end, and so the Massads had no choice but to surrender their lots to the City of Ottawa giving up on the endless upkeep of expensive property taxes during a difficult time. Over a balance owing of $84.66, the city took over ownership of the lots in 1939.

However, Massad still was able to get back into business. In April of 1938, Louis Ellis, the proprietor of the Hamilton Lunch and confectionery store at the corner of Wellington and Hamilton (now Pizza Pizza) passed away. Louis had also been born in Syria, and perhaps was a friend of Salim Massad. Upon his death, Salim took over the shop, and likely building on what he liked at the Cartier Tea Room in Hull, converted the Hamilton Lunch into the "Elmdale Tea Room". It was open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m., and had a 14-foot lunch counter and 17-foot back bar, with 6 double and 4 single booths.

Ad for the Elmdale Tea Room - 1948

Sadly, Salim Massad passed away in May of 1940, at the age of 52. His widow and kids would continue to operate the Elmdale Tea Room well into the 1960s, and expanded into the other half of the building in 1949, operating Massad Sports and Cycle until the mid-1980s. Members of the Massad family still live and do business in the neighbourhood today.

Had the depression not hit so suddenly and so drastically in 1929, who knows what Salim Massad may have built at the corner of Wellington and Gilchrist on his double-lot. Either way, he and his family certainly maintained a legacy of admirable business in the community for many years.


The short-lived house - and NHL hall-of-famer Syd Howe

The city collected so many vacant properties during the 1930s due to unpaid taxes, that by the time WWII was ending, they (as well as neighbouring Nepean Township) had a major glut of them. The good news was that many soldiers were beginning to return home, and many needed a place to live. The economy rebounded incredibly quickly following the end of the war, and times were good. The City was happy to practically give away lots to individuals who were committed to building on them, and thereby creating much-needed property taxes for the city. Lots sold for $50 or $100 regularly, primarily to small-time contractors, who could not keep up with the demand in the late 1940s.

One such builder was Donald Lloyd Campbell whose name comes up frequently when researching this area, as he built many of the unique homes in the Wellington Village area in the 1920s (including the Smirle Avenue murder house that I wrote about a couple years ago). Campbell acquired lot 864 at the corner of Gilchrist Avenue in the fall of 1947, and immediately built a small one-and-a-half storey wood-frame house that fronted Gilchrist, and sided along Wellington Street. In retrospect it was an extremely odd choice to build a small house on a prime lot like this, made odder when a few months later, in the Spring of 1948, the John's Family Diner (aka John's Quick Lunch) building was constructed, with three apartments upstairs, and initially Bruce's Gift Shop (selling "toys, chinaware, cards, novelties") on the main floor. The back door of the Campbell house at 108 Gilchrist Avenue would have opened directly onto the side wall of the John's Quick Lunch building.

Campbell built the house quickly, and it sold immediately, to Percy Wood Halloway and Beatrice Gertude Wood. The couple clearly had plans to also use their home for a business, opening the "Gilchrist Avenue Beauty Salon" in it on November 24th, 1947.

November 22, 1947

I would love to have tracked down the Woods or a descendant as they might be my best shot to find a photo of the old house, but no luck. The Woods lasted less than a year in the home, selling in November 1948, and apparently leaving the city.  The new owners Lorenzo and Jeanne Lavigne stayed only 9 months, and they sold in July 1949 to Major Charles M. and Margaret Bygate, who would go on to own the house for the next 7 years. The Bygates resided there until 1953, but rented it out in late 1953.

The tenants of the house provide one of the most interesting tidbits in the history of the property. From 1953 until mid-1956, Sydney and Frances Howe resided at 108 Gilchrist Avenue. Sydney, better known as Syd, was a former NHL hockey star. He broke into the NHL as an 18-year old in 1929 with the original Ottawa Senators, but it was his 12 seasons with the Detroit Red Wings from 1934 to 1946 that made him a star. His best season was in 1943-44 (the second year of original six hockey) when he scored 32 goals and 60 points in 46 games. In a February 3, 1944 game against the New York Rangers, Howe scored six goals (a feat which has only been accomplished twice in the 75 years since). He was voted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1965. (You can read more about his career by clicking here).

Syd Howe with the Red Wings

Syd was playing in various leagues and "old-timer" games in the early 1950s, and opened a sporting goods store on Bank Street in 1950. He was also coaching the Hawkesbury Richports in the semi-pro Quebec-Ontario Hockey League at the time. The cliché that old-time hockey players made no money during their careers seems to fit Syd Howe's story, as it is almost a shame that one of the best hockey players of his era was renting a small house just a few years after retirement.

The Bygates sold the house in April of 1956, and the Howes had to move out.

In spite of some modest effort, I was unable to track down a photo of this house. As it was in place for less than ten years, the odds of catching it in a photo are slim. The best I can do is show it on the 1948 fire insurance plan, and on an aerial photograph below.

1948 fire insurance plan (partially updated to April 1951),
showing the north side of Wellington Street, between
Western and Gilchrist. The Campbell-built house is shown
in yellow at 108 Gilchrist.

May 1950 aerial photo showing Wellington Street running
top to bottom through the centre, with Western at the very
top, and Gilchrist going right towards the bottom. The house
at 108 Gilchrist is in the center of the photo, surrounded by
a lawn, with a path to Gilchrist. Notable in this photo are
the amount of trees surrounding 108 Gilchrist, and also
in the lot across the street (the future Lauzon parking lot)


The commercial building (aka Cole Building, aka Sun Life Building, aka Nicastro's)

In April of 1956, 36-year old Lorne P. Cole purchased the property, and he immediately set about plans to construct a commercial building. He took out an $82,000 mortgage, and had the wood-frame house at 108 Gilchrist (which was not even nine years old) either demolished or moved. I'd have to imagine it must have been moved, but no records exist as to where it may have gone.

Lorne Cole's background was a family business known as Ringrose-Coles, and the Polly Ann Hat Shoppe. His parents George R. Cole and the former Bertha Ringrose had spent years in the millinery business, and opened their first store on Bank Street in 1933, and by 1937 had three stores open in Ottawa. Lorne worked in these shops as a teenager, and by the 1950s was managing the Polly Ann store himself. Lorne was also a veteran of WWII serving with the Canadian Armoured Corps.

The construction of 1355 Wellington Street West was likely an investment opportunity for him. In December of 1956, before construction was completed, Cole had signed an agreement with the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada on a 10-year lease to begin May 1st, 1957 (at roughly $9,700 per year).

The building opened in May, though it was later that summer when a large nearly full-page ad appeared in the newspaper in August 1957 announced the grand opening of the building, called "The Cole Building - Another Fine Addition to Ottawa's West End Business District".

Ottawa Citizen, August 24, 1957

Close-up of the new Cole Building - August 24, 1957

There must be some symbolic meaning to the puzzle
piece men walking along Wellington Street?
August 24, 1957

At initial opening, the Sun Life company occupied the entire main floor. The basement was occupied by Nash & Harrison Ltd. (an electronic engineering firm).  The 2nd floor was split into four units, with the Canadian Automotive Wholesalers occupying unit 201, while the rest of the floor was initially vacant. Within a few months, the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, Bepco Canada Ltd. (electric appliances) and B P Canada Ltd. oil company opened an Ottawa office (under the management of D.C. Van Alstine) on the 2nd floor as well.

Nash & Harrison (originally known as Computing Devices of Canada) primarily supplied equipment to the pulp and paper industry. They stayed in the building until 1969, when their company was growing substantially, and their 30-man team had outgrown the basement office. A 2003 Citizen article notes that Nash & Harrison became Kanata's first high-tech firm when they relocated there in 1969.

Sun Life stayed until 1971, as did Canadian Automotive Wholesalers (who had been renamed the Automotive Industries Association). From 1960-1966 Kevin Mullin real estate had an office here, and other firms over time included Artistic Creations, 'Nationwide Computer Match' (offering matchmaking services through the mail), and Ecodomus, who promoted solar energy-run homes.

The next big company to arrive was Electrolux, a Canadian vacuum cleaner company who set up an offices and a sales branch in the building around 1973, and remained until the late 1990s.

Sherwood Studios was also a longtime tenant, operating from 1979 until about 1990. I had forgotten about this company, but recognized their logo instantly after seeing it for the first time in thirty years when I found this ad (I walked by the building twice a day for years on my way to school, so the logo had found a place in the depths of my brain!).

February 13, 1986 ad

Back to Lorne Cole... He lost his young wife Jean suddenly in 1960 at the young age of 36. The couple had two young children at the time. Ringrose-Coles closed around this time as well.  In 1963, Lorne advertised that Ringrose-Coles was coming back to life, and re-opening at 109 Sparks Street. However the project was short-lived, as I suppose the hat business was on the decline, and by 1965, Lorne had found work in a new career as a salesman for Turpin Pontiac Buick at 424 Richmond Road in Westboro.

Cole kept the building until May of 1968, when he sold to well-known Ottawa pawn shop owner Bertram Bronsther and his wife Sylvia, who owned the building until 1978. It would change hands a few times before ending up with its more long-term owner, Viceroy Holdings in 1984.

The building at 1355 Wellington retained Cole's name, at least in some reference books, into the 1980s, but seemingly there is no trace of it now.

Lorne Cole, namesake of the Cole Building
at 1355 Wellington Street. From the Ottawa
Citizen, February 27, 1965.

Il Negozio opened in November 2004 and remains today, along with Desjardins Insurance upstairs (after a corporate renaming from State Farm Insurance).

So there it is, the detailed history of this building and property. As with every address on Wellington Street West, always an interesting story to tell...

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Chicken coops and double-decker buses - amazing history at Granville and Wellington

This month's Kitchissippi Times features my Early Days column about the house at 1350 Wellington Street West, now occupied by Architects DCA. It's a fantastic old brick house built in the 1920s when Wellington still had as many houses as it did businesses. The family that had the house built occupied it for over 60 years, and it now stands with a couple of "claims to fame" that are pretty unique, and pretty cool.

Check out the link below to read more about the house and the Showler family. The story itself is pretty cool, but the photos are even better. A owe a big amount of thanks to Jane Showler Doyle, who shared with me a few stories and all the great photographs.

So much history and character in Wellington Village!

https://kitchissippi.com/2019/04/09/showler-family-ottawa-wellington-west/

Arthur F. Showler by the earliest backyard
coops, posing with his fish catch! Circa 1930.
(Courtesy of Jane Showler Doyle)