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.  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!

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

"When Westboro Was Used Car Alley"

I contributed to a CBC piece this week that was a follow-up to a popular, if not somewhat contentious article they ran back in February, in which they called Bells Corners the "next Westboro". CBC wanted to do a follow-up, discussing the Westboro of 20-30 years ago (before the real estate explosion occurred, and the village changed so much). So a reporter reached out to me for my thoughts on the Bells Corners comparison, and to ask for some 1970s-80s vintage Westboro photos.

The article was published yesterday, you can view it here:

I love the 'slider' feature they did with some of the photos I provided, many of these I've never shared before. It gives a great picture of the not-too-distant past of Westboro, one which many current residents can still relate to.

As for the comparison to Bells Corners, I think its a bit of a stretch to try to compare Westboro (of any era) with Bells Corners. There is obviously little similarity in terms of the layout, the history, the types of homes, etc. The author of the article focused on a couple specific areas which I guess does align a bit with Bells Corners, namely the used car shops and service stations. Not that Westboro was really ever known for that in some major way, but just that there always were an abundance of them along the strip from Golden all the way to Holland. By the 1980s, there were still quite a few of them, and the area indeed did have the moniker "used car alley" for a time.

In the interview I did with the writer, my main point of comparison (which unfortunately she glossed over a little and only chose to include a small part of it) is that Westboro used to be a relatively inexpensive place to live. When the area exploded in the 1910s and 1920s, it was the start of two or three generations that chose to live and remain in Westboro. And why not... a person could live, work, shop and enjoy recreational activities all within the "village". There were shops, there was a movie theatre, a lawn bowling club, bowling alleys, a golf course... there was a sense of pride in community, because the people who lived in Westboro generally stayed in Westboro. A good reason for that is that they could afford to. A young adult in their 20s could afford to buy their first home in Westboro, and often they did. They raised their kids there, and so on. But you can't see that as much now, because property values are astronomical. Most 25 year olds can't buy a $800,000 house - they have no choice but to look to the suburbs, the Barrhavens, Stittsville, Kanatas. So that continuity, that multi-generation pride in Westboro is lost. To me, that has what changed the most in the area, and that is sad. And I would fear the same for Bells Corners. Many of the residents there have grown up and lived there as their parents did, and grandparents. There is a LOT of pride in Bells Corners. Just check out any of the huge Bells Corners facebook groups, and the very-active community associations. So you'd hate to see a similar fate happen there. And it could happen. With DND moving to Carling Campus on Moodie, the increased demand for housing, and larger family homes, will inevitably drive up the market. A first step in a neighbourhood change maybe. Many will welcome it, as many Westboroians did when Superstore came long for instance, and certainly there are a lot of changes "for the better" in Westboro in the last 20 years. Hard to complain when your house value has gone up x3, right?

Anyhow, I just felt I should explain the naked quote left at the bottom of the article about the lack of pride in Westboro, and clarify where that comment came from!

Hope you enjoy the walk down memory lane in Westboro with these old photos!

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Gladstone approaching Preston in 1957

This post started off with the intention of sharing a single photograph, just for the sake of putting out there what I thought to be a pretty interesting photograph. But as any historian knows, it's easy to get lost down the rabbit hole when trying to find out a little more, or add a couple of details.

Gladstone Avenue looking east at the CP and CNR tracks,
just west of Preston Street.
(Source: CA-43162 City of Ottawa Archives)

At first the above photograph from February 6, 1957 isn't all that exciting. It's a photo capturing a rather random and routine moment from 62 years ago. What makes it a notable though is that it's a scene that is not really recognizable today, because of where the photo was taken. The train tracks pictured are the old CP Rail and CN Rail tracks that ran parallel to Preston Street for many, many years (the CP Rail lines are now buried in a trench; the CN Rail tracks are of course long gone, and the right-of-way is now the bike path on the east side of the trench).

This is a view of the same location today:

Google Streetview 2018

And this photo is the same view, but taken a little further east on Gladstone, just to get the detail of the first houses, which are evident in the 1957 photo, especially the one on the left with the slightly smaller rear portion.

Google Streetview 2018

I found the photo was actually used a few days later in the Ottawa Citizen, in an article discussing the safety challenges at a crossing like this. The article below is from February 11th, 1957:

Ottawa Citizen, February 11, 1957

Pretty interesting to think about how different life would have been around these tracks for the near-century they ran above ground (the CP line opened in 1871 as a track for the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway, the CN line opened in 1883 as a track for the Canada Atlantic Railway) (thanks as always to Colin Churcher's amazing blog and detailed maps at for these specific details).

Anyways, it made me wonder when did the trench actually get put in... I had never actually done any research on it. From searching through old papers, I discovered the first plans were announced in June of 1961, and was surprised to read that they very nearly built an elevated track instead, that would have been 2 miles long, built of steel and stone, creating a "Great Wall of China" across the city! Obviously there is so much more that could be researched and written about this entire topic, but in the interests of trying to keep this post short and focused, I'll leave it at that!

Ottawa Journal, June 13 1961

Anyways, construction was delayed repeatedly, and it was not until August 1st, 1967 that the first train went through the new tunnel/trench. Here is a photo of it in the news coverage below:

Ottawa Citizen, August 1, 1967

So there is a little bit of local history, with a few key dates and interesting tidbits, all of which I learned tonight thanks to one simple photo.

Monday, April 1, 2019

Neighbourhood Icon: Glen's Chip Wagon

No question about it, Glen's chip wagon (or chip truck, fry truck, etc.) is an icon of the neighbourhood. It has been parked in roughly the same area since the early 1980s. It is popular, and has seen the streetscape around it change so significantly, yet it has remained anchored in the community.

The most obvious question to most would be - well, who is Glen? The answer to that is easy. "Glen" is Glen Sheskay, a third-generation chip-wagonist, who started the chip wagon on Richmond Road back in 1982. But sadly he is no longer involved in it, and as far as I know sold his ownership many years ago. But we'll get to that...

The story of Glen's actually goes back to the early 20th century, so to tell the story of Glen's, one must tell the story of the origination of chip wagons in Ottawa, which was a bit of a fun project to try to research (and definitely not easy!). 

French Fries and Chip Wagons in Ottawa

The history of chip wagons is essentially an unwritten one. 

A 2009 Toronto Star article wrote: "Chip trucks are an iconic culinary tradition in Ontario, yet their place in culinary history is a mystery. Queen's University English professor Heather Evans suspects they are descendants of 19th-century baked potato street vendors in London and Paris. She found a sketch of one of these Parisian carts in an 1893 article in Canadian Magazine. After hitting Google, Evans discovered there's a dearth of scholarly papers and solid research. Chip trucks are "so ubiquitous, so familiar, that people just don't see the historical aspects," laments the Canadian culinary history expert. "There's probably cultural funding for this."

French fries themselves date back well into the 19th century (when they were known as "french friend potatoes"), and the first reference to them in an Ottawa newspaper is found in 1894, in the Ottawa Journal page oddly enough dedicated to "Dress and Fashion":

Ottawa Journal - April 16, 1894

Finding the first chip wagon proves to be an impossibility. Hunting through old newspaper archives to try to uncover the first one has proven too difficult. Certainly it is conclusive the chip wagon vendor was born out of what was originally a street vendor business that focused on peanuts and popcorn. These early vendors, from the handful of relevant articles I could track down from the era, appear to have been all Greek men. And it appears even they weren't welcome for all that long either...

June 9, 1908

Stock photo of a vintage popcorn and peanut vendor
(not in Ottawa)

In 1912, a new bylaw was passed allowing for wagons selling peanuts and popcorn. And it seems even then, the popcorn/peanut sellers weren't that beloved either...

March 25, 1920

The vendors would not park in one place as they do today, but rather would travel the streets, constantly moving, like an ice cream truck might do. They were largely push carts, or more elaborate wagons that were horse-drawn, eventually leading to some motorized wagons. The vendors alerted the households to their presence through an obnoxious whistle. This was a well-known alert that became synonymous with the peanut man's cart. In 1935, City council created a bylaw prohibiting noises, specifically "unnecessary noises". Included in the bylaw was what was termed "unusual noise", which was vague and left open to interpretation. But a Judge ruled that "unusual noise" included the peanut man's whistle, described as "a high and penetrating note that stands out from the mixed clamor of noisy motors, tooting horns, flat car wheels, yelling children, and if the wagon stands long on one spot of a warm day weary nerves magnify the whistle to a piercing and almost unbearable shreik."

The Citizen editorial noted that it was unfortunate for the vendors, and hoped they would be able to find another way of self-promoting. The editorial noted: "Whatever the peanut vendors have to do, no child or grown-up would want to see peanuts driven out of business. The vans of peanuts, popcorn and the latest addition to the trade, the cone of chipped potatoes, are a picturesque part of life in our cities, even though the "unusual noise" of the whistle can very well be dispensed with." This reference to the 'new' potato chip dealer seems then to point to 1935 being the year of the arrival in Ottawa of what would become the chip wagon.

The chip wagon became a bit of local phenomenon, and even though it was the depression, followed by the break-out of WWII, and in general people had very little extra disposable money, they became a raging success. By 1944, there were 14 vendors operating more than 25 chip wagons in the city of Ottawa. The motor vehicle wagons paid an annual fee of $50, while horse-drawn ones paid $30. Licenses were issued by the police department, and estimates from August 1945 stated that wagons were serving 8,000 people daily.

Vendors were also not allowed to sell on 'business streets' but rather residential streets, with a limit of 10 minutes per stop, or else face a fine. For the horse-drawn wagons, they were required to always keep the horse tied to their cart, in case they were required to be moved immediately. 

In the summer of 1943, after complaints were received, the Chief of Police, Sanitary Inspector and Board of Health inspected the premises of the vendors (where their potatoes were peeled and sliced), as well as their wagons and equipment. Ottawa's medical officer of health, Dr. T. A. Lomer agreed to approve the licenses for one year, on the condition that issues related to cleanliness and sanitation were carried out. 

The summer of 1944 saw WW2 raging overseas, but back in Ottawa, the lead headlines were shared for a few months over the topic of chip wagon vendors. By May 1944, Dr. Lomer said he did not believe that any chip wagons were sanitary enough, and refused approval of the renewal of all licenses. He stated primarily concerns around the fact that the chips were being cooked in boiling fat as the wagons were being driven through the streets. Dust would get into the wagons, and thus there was a significant risk of contamination.

Classic Headline - July 4, 1945

It became political, what the newspapers called the "Battle of the Potato Chips" and eventually Council refused to listen to Dr. Lomer's advice (the city's own officer of health!) and instead Mayor Lewis and Council went over his head and advised the Police Commission to issue licenses as per usual. 

Lomer spoke out against chip wagons, noting that, though they should, the health department had no jurisdiction over them. He said that the potatoes were "subject to contamination from the dust of the street", and that "improper handling in some cases and the use of stale chips, made them unhealthy for consumption." He also cited that most had unsanitary conditions due to a lack of running water. Meanwhile the public seemed most concerned about the whistles still used by some vendors, as well as the "trail of empty bags and discarded chips" left behind when they vacated.

A few chip trucks parked in the Byward Market that August (of 1944) were ordered away by the chief food inspector of the city's Department of Health, citing that "their operators, young boys, slept in the machines" while parked on York. "For this and other reasons, they were not in a sanitary condition for the storing, cooking and dispensing of food."

It was the spring of 1945 that the issue came to a head once again. That May, at license-issuing time, the Police Commission, admitted their error in judgment the year prior, and instructed the police department to cancel the licenses until approval certificates were received from the local Board of Health.  Later that week the Board of Health announced it would not approve any permit applications, thus bringing a (temporary) end to the potato chip vendor.

The issue did not end there, however. The media, and some members of council and the general public were not happy at potato chip vendors being singled out. The Citizen editorialized that if chip wagons were being banned due to the wagons being dirty and dusty, that the local board of health should then "follow its decision to a logical conclusion and now recommend that farmers displaying foods on the market" should also be shut down. 

The topic was brought up for debate throughout the summer of 1945. Arguments poured in on the side of the vendors, who were being unjustly banned. It was argued that if was just a few who were unsanitary, why were they all banned? Why was Ottawa justified in banning them when most neighbouring villages and counties allowed them? And furthermore, that it was unfair to these people whose livelihoods were at stake, who continued to be left hanging in 1945 as they had in 1944.  

Mayor Lewis argued that a definite set of regulations could be drawn up to govern chip wagons (no other similar regulations could be found anywhere). Suggested rules would be that only covered wagons could be used, that vendors would have running hot water to wash their hands after each batch, and possibly even banning horse-drawn vehicles. 

"It's nonsense to say you cannot draw up regulations to take care of these men" said one Alderman. Particularly as during the Central Exhibition and other public events, vendors would sell meat and hot dogs in the street without regulation. In fact at the time, the board of health only minimally inspected restaurants, and councillors argued the horror stories of what was being found at restaurants was far worse than what was being found in chip trucks. In fact, no evidence was provided at any time to show any illness or problem had been  found originating from any chip truck. 

Alderman McCann added "no one has been poisoned by potato chips, but there are other things being sold that make people roll in the street. It would be better if a person came along and cut off the licenses of some hotels (bars) whose customers roll in the street. It is a shame the way drunken people are coming out on street and driving cars."

The public was largely behind the vendors, with letter writers to the newspapers noting that "I will always feel that potato chip vendors and their wagons, like the organ man in some larger cities where I have been, add spice and variety to the life of any city... I like my French friend potatoes and got many a thrill buying them in the evenings on the way home from a show, dance or swim. Now the wagons are off the streets and Ottawa looks more desolate than ever."

Finally, in September of 1945, city council voted 12-9 to shelve the motion to issue licenses, essentially to put the issue to bed after months of arguing over it. Alderman McCann, who fought intensely on behalf of the chip wagons all year said: "Mark my words, there will come a day when foods will be sold from vehicles in the streets of Ottawa for that is the trend of future years. It will come in Ottawa as well as in other centers."

Ottawa residents from that point forward had to travel to the suburbs to enjoy chip wagons, as villages such as Eastview (aka Vanier) and Westboro still had them. Hull briefly followed Ottawa's lead and banned chip wagons in 1947 (Montreal did as well).  Vanier eventually banned them in 1967. Nepean never banned them, nor did Gloucester Township. Quebec as a Province had actually banned them in 1935, but never enforced it. However, Montreal began to aggressively enforce the ban in 1965, to clear the city of the pesky fry trucks leading up to Expo 67 (which led to the relocation of many of the huge numbers of chip trucks that had been in the city, dotting the route between Montreal and Ottawa).

Until the late 1970s, for Ottawa residents, the chip wagon remained a special treat worthy of a road trip into the Ottawa Valley to places like Perth, Smiths Falls, Pembroke or Arnprior. It was sometime around 1978-1979 that chip wagons began to be permitted in Ottawa, and they exploded in number between 1980-1981, resulting in a reported 95 wagons in Ottawa by mid-1981. Their popularity led to council looking to increase fees quickly. In 1980, vendors selling pre-cooked food from vehicles parked on private property paid $75 per year (which was to jump to $300 in 1981), while chip wagon owners who cooked food in their trucks had to pay $250 per year (which was to jump to $1,000 per year if parked on private property, and up to $2,000 if they parked on city streets). The bylaw also prohibited owners from parking the wagons less than 46 meters from a restaurant, or within 91 meters of public markets or Super Ex. They were also prohibited in residential areas, except where construction was occurring. Chip wagons fought to survive by parking on downtown streets in no-parking or 1-hour zones, and absorbing the $10 parking tickets they would receive each day. Police threatened to have licenses revoked for those that continually defied the parking rules. It was a bit of a wild west that would take over a decade to sort out properly.

Sheskay family tradition

Glen Sheskay's grandfather was a depression-era chip wagon operator, who operated a horse drawn wagon on the streets of Hull. "Sheskay's" as it was known, sold chips and popcorn. It was a way for his family to make ends meet. He outfitted his wagon for $300 and was successful in his endeavour. Glen's father Joe helped his father, and in fact already had experience working on a wagon when he was 8.

Glen's father was Joe Sheskay, or as he was better known, "King of Patates Frites". A profile on Joe from 1969 began: "Almost every day he starts work, Joe Sheskay tells himself he'll quit his 17-hour-a-day, seven-days a week job running a chip wagon. But the next day he's back, thinking the same way and still doing the same thing."

1969 newspaper photo of Joe Sheskay

Joe went into business for himself after WWII, and in 1949 built his first chip truck at age 28. By 1969, he had three trucks in operation in Hull (at the time there were 7 chip wagons in total in Hull in the summer, and 5 in the fall, so Joe had a big piece of the 'market' at the time). 

Joe operated his trucks from March until Christmas. and then during the winter repaired and updated his trucks. A typical day for him started at 6 a..m with the peeling of potatoes and cleaning of equipment. His son Frank then took one truck around to construction sites, while Joe continued to cut potatoes, while also keeping an eye on the coin laundry business they also ran nearby. At 4 p.m. Joe took over the main truck and parked at a gas station lot on Principale between the Ottawa House and Standish Hall, where he worked until 11 p.m. During peak season, he reportedly used 7,500 pounds of potatoes and 900 pounds of peanut oil each week

Joe, like seemingly every chip wagon operator throughout the 20th century, was constantly battling local government. In 1968, Hull bylaw changed that said he could not set up on the street, so he had to rent off-street space. In 1969, regulations changed further allowing mobile canteens to sell prepared foods that would not be cooked in the truck (thankfully chip wagons were exempted under a special clause). And back in 1957, he had been told to make the advertising on his wagon bilingual, so he had "patates frites" written on the curb site of his truck, and "french fries" on the three other sides.

Joe Sheskay's trucks were blue and yellow, just like Glen would eventually use. Joe stayed in the business into the 1980s, and sadly died in a car crash in 1986.

Glen's on Richmond Road

Glen Sheskay had spent his entire life around chip wagons, so it is no surprise that the then-34 year old opened a chip wagon in 1982 at the Canadian Tire on Richmond Road, at the corner of Patricia.  Initially Glen's was located in the parking lot, but soon after relocated onto Richmond Road in front of the main doors. 

Mid-1980s photo of Glen's parked in front of Canadian Tire
on Richmond Road (from a July 1995 article)

The iconic blue and yellow truck became a mainstay outside the Canadian Tire.

Glen's became successful right away, and rocketed to the top of many people's lists as the best in Ottawa (apparently because they are cooked in Tenderflake lard, one of the few wagons to do so, even to this day - or at least, I assume they still do). By the late 1980s, the Citizen was running annual "best chip wagon in Ottawa" surveys, and Glen's was always at or near the top. (I suspect that would still be the case in 2019.)

Meanwhile, Glen's older brother Frank operated Frank's Fabulous French Fries on Gloucester Street behind L'Esplanade Laurier. He too had a blue and yellow truck, which was still in operation a few years ago (I don't know if it still is). 

2009 photo of Frank's Fabulous Fries, operated by Frank Sheskay

By 1986, street food vendors had become quite popular. Where there had been 500 in 1975, the number had increased to 1,300, including more than 150 chipwagons. A newspaper article detailed that though french fries contain necessary thiamine and vitamin C, it comes at the high price of calories. "A baked potato contains 93 calories per 100 grams; a boiled potato 86; 106 for mashed potatoes thanks to the added milk or margarine; while 100 grams of fries contains 315 calories thanks to the oil they're cooked in. An impromptu Agriculture Canada survey for the Citizen revealed that the average box of fries from a local wagon contained 27 chips (185 grams) with almost 600 calories per box. Noted that's the equivalent of 6 glasses of Coca Cola or 12 Oreo cookies." 

In October 1986, Glen spoke at city hall committee defending chip wagons, when council was considering putting restrictions on street vendors, citing that they were an "eyesore, block sidewalks, create litter and present unfair opposition to stores selling the same merchandise." 

In December of 1989, pressure began to mount against Glen's, as it was perceived his truck was a safety hazard for both cars and school children crossing to get to Hilson School. Alderman Mark Maloney made it a pet project to force Glen out. Apparently there was a resident who had "pulled out of the Canadian Tire parking lot and was hit by an oncoming car he couldn't see because of the chipwagon." And reportedly there were multiple residents who complained that the truck was parked too close to the crosswalk and to the Canadian Tire lot.

March 1990 Ottawa CItizen photo

At first Maloney had signs put in on the north side of Richmond turning the block into a no-stopping zone. The president of the Hilson PTA asked for enforcement as well, so Maloney asked parking control to enforce the bylaw. "Parents are really concerned about their children's safety. I'm not going to let the City of Ottawa have the blood of some kid on its hands.", said Maloney. Glen began receiving tickets, but continued to park there. Meanwhile Gerry Burtt, Ottawa's chief transportation engineer had harsher words, "He's flagrantly disobeying the law. He acts like he owns the spot". The City threatened to revoke his vendor's license if he didn't move.

In early 1990, Glen began a petition, which had more than 1000 signatures from customers. He also wrote a well-written Letter to the Editor which ran in the Ottawa Citizen in late March.

Glen's letter to the Citizen - March 28, 1990

By the end of March, police had come by and threatened a $500 fine and towing away the truck if he didn't move. So Glen had no choice but to move across the street to a legal spot. "What I lose is the impulse buyer from Canadian Tire, the customer who comes out with money still in his hand", said Glen at the time. "I have a family to support, and employees, things might happen where I have to drop people. It's going to be tough."

Though Glen's likely experienced a drop in business, this spot is where Glen's remains to this day, 29 years later!

Here's a shot of old Richmond Road, a way a lot of us miss it to be, with the Canadian Tire, lush fields of Hilson, and no condo canyon.

Familiar old view - September 2007
(Google StreetView)

In 1993, the City was once again getting involved with food trucks, and was considering options to better formalize their locations by designating locations to specific trucks. The growth of street trucks had been unrestricted, and had grown from 260 in 1987 to 340 in 1993. There were issues with crowding of sidewalks and roads, as well as even fistfights between competing vendors. The economic affairs committee were looking at how they would allocate locations - by either auction, lottery, seniority or "a bid for the location of the vendor's choice." Most of the long-time wagons wanted the seniority option, as there was concern that Glen could use his prime location that he had spent over ten years building up. "I've spent years building up the business in this location, making personal contacts and gaining customers that trust me and my product, and now they want me to move?", he told the media. "People don't spend years of their life building a business so that the next day someone else can come along and take it away". Vendors were also worried about auctions for locations, as they felt that big chains such as McDonalds or Burger King would bid on the spots just to get rid of the chip wagons. Thankfully, the city went with a solution involving seniority to drive where the trucks could park, and Glen's remained in his spot.

At some point in the late 1990s, Glen opened up a seasonal truck that was briefly parked on Carling Avenue near Clyde Avenue I think. It was there only for a year or two, until it was relocated to the Canadian Tire parking lot in Kanata, where it stayed for many years. It has the same blue and yellow colour scheme. I'm not sure it's still there, or if Glen himself has any involvement in it.

2012 photo (courtesy of Yelp)

Glen himself retired sometime in the mid-90s. My Dad was a regular client of the truck, he was there probably weekly for lunch during the week, and I have lots of memories of going with my Dad to Canadian Tire on a Saturday morning, and bringing home fries for the family for lunch. Glen was very kind and generous, super nice to me as a kid. Every year around Christmas, he'd give us our order for free, and I'm sure he probably did that for dozens of customers as well. Though admittedly, my Dad probably single-handedly put Glen's kids through University :)  I recall Glen telling my Dad that he was having severe back issues and couldn't keep up the daily grind of running the truck. I believe at first he had employees take over most days (I remember Francine was his assistant in the truck for many years), and later his brother Frank ran things for a while, with Glen taking the occasional shift. But by around 2001 Glen was out of the business, and I believe sold the truck to the current operators. I still go to Glen's a few times a year, but I'm sorry to say I don't know the current owners well enough to even say I know their names! 

November 2007 photo courtesy of FoodiePrints blog. The
truck is still unchanged in 2019.

The old sitting area, also from November 2007. It's a lot more
overgrown these days. (Photo courtesy of FoodiePrints blog)

I think it's cool that the truck is still called Glen's, and that something as simple as a chip wagon can become a key part of the fabric of the community. Nearing 40 years in the location, I think a lot of people in our community would agree that hopefully it never disappears. I sure hope Glen is doing well these days, and enjoying the legacy that he created... he certainly is not forgotten in the neighbourhood, and it's awesome that his name lives on!