Saturday, June 29, 2019

A final remnant of eras gone by: 388 Albert Street

I'm stepping outside of Kitchissippi for a moment, to do a quick article on a house that I've been curious about for years. It sticks out like a sore thumb in downtown Ottawa as being the last vestige of old Ottawa, a residential house in the heart of downtown Ottawa that has somehow survived all of the massive development that has occurred (and continues to occur) around it. This house was at one time just one of a thousand houses like it that lined the central streets like Albert, Slater and Laurier Avenue, but now remains as one of the last still standing (certainly the last in the central blocks between Bay and Elgin, north of Laurier).

July 2018 Google Streetview - the last house standing

The house is located at 388 Albert Street, and is probably best-known in recent history as the original and somewhat long-time location of Scone Witch, which moved a few years ago down to Elgin Street. It was recently 'Good Eats', though they have moved out, and it may well be vacant right now. I couldn't find any history on it anywhere on the net, and felt it deserved a bit of a story. Little did I know how connected it would be to two prominent Ottawa families of the 19th century...

The history of the house ties directly to Nicholas Sparks. THE Nicholas Sparks, original Bytown settler and unexpected downtown Ottawa real estate mogul of the mid-19th century. In fact, though the house at 388 Albert Street is actually the second house to exist on this spot, it was built by Nicholas's nephew!

* * *

388 Albert Street stands in the original Nicholas Sparks land holdings, aka lot C concession C of Nepean Township, which he acquired in 1821 with his savings of £95. At the time, it was swampy, wild, uninhabited land, but today is the land between Wellington and Laurier, from Bronson to east of the Canal. (A good write-up on Sparks can be found at:

Sparks gradually sold portions of the property over time. He died in 1862, and following his death, in 1863, City of Ottawa plan 3922 was registered by his heirs, laying out a large portion of the property that had not already been sold.

Scan of original Plan 3922 (was originally done in two
separate maps I've quickly mashed them together)

Registry records are unclear as to how the 388 Albert lot ended up in the hands of his nephew. But here is some of the background: In 1853, Nicholas Sparks apparently encouraged his brother Abraham Sparks Sr. to bring his family to Bytown from Wexford, Ireland. So Abraham and his wife Frances came with their four children Mary, George, Margaret and Abraham Jr., and lived in a stone house at the southeast corner of Sparks and Bay, not too far from where Nicholas lived. Mary was the oldest at 20, but Abraham Jr. was only a year and a half old. Abraham Sr. was 70 years old at the time! (His wife Frances was 42).

Anyhow, it was in 1874 that the first, original house at 388 Albert was built by Abraham Jr. (and possibly also by his brother George). This old house would have been a simple 1 1/2 storey wood-frame home, that actually was located quite a bit further out than the current house does, likely to where the sidewalk now ends (Albert Street has been widened over time of course, since the earliest days of horse and buggy).

Abraham Jr. grew up in Ottawa, and became one of the first contractors for hire in Ottawa, a trade in which he would have a long and distinguished career, recognized as one of Ottawa's best. He built, among others, the Lauder Memorial Hall at Christ Church, the old Dominion Fruit Exchange building, a wing of the old Russell Hotel, and part of the Rideau Club on Wellington. On Canada Day 1874 in the village of Hazeldean, he married Mary Jane Patterson of Perth, and it was likely for his wife and soon-to-be family that he built the house on his late uncle's former land. Abraham Jr. and his wife would have their first of six children in 1875.

February 1873 photo of what I believe to be
Abraham Sparks (LAC MIKAN 3451849).
Labelled only in the Topley Studio archive
as "A.G. Sparks".

1874 seems to be the milestone date for a lot of key pieces of info related to the house... It was in late 1874 that the City Engineer's Office decided on the official numbering for houses in Ottawa, and thus Abraham Sparks Jr.'s house was given the number 388 Albert Street, the same civic address is maintains today. (Read more on the history of house numbering in Ottawa at:

The 1878 fire insurance plan for Ottawa shows the house and the handful of others on the block between Bay and Sally (later renamed Lyon):

June 1878 fire insurance plan showing 388 Albert Street.
(Albert along top, Bay at left, Lyon (Sally) at right, Slater
at bottom). Yellow is wood, pink is brick, grey are outbuildings
such as stables or sheds. 388 shown as a 1 1/2 storey wood
house, with a small rear kitchen and attached long shed.

The 2-storey wood double at 382-384 Albert was built on the Sparks' lot and would also have been built by Abraham Sparks Jr. sometime between 1875-1878, to rent to tenants as a source of income. Impressively, this double stood until the 1950s, when it was likely the Urban Renewal Project that got rid of what was likely a decrepit old building at the time. Unfortunately I was not able to find a photo of either original 388 Albert Street house, nor the 382-384 double, though I'm sure the city archives must have some hidden somewhere, I just have never put too much time in researching properties outside of the Kitchissippi area!

1883 fire insurance plan updated to 1901. Original
388 Albert Street house still shown.

May 1897 view of Albert Street looking west from Kent
Street. Unfortunately this is photo is taken one block to the
east too far, but shows a good (and rare) representation of
what Albert Street looked like 122 years ago. That's the old
Ottawa Car Company shops and wood piles at left.
(LAC MIKAN 3325995)

* * *

The "old" 388 Albert Street was demolished sometime around 1906. Abraham Sparks Jr. had built a three-unit brick row house at 334-336-338 Slater Street (just east of Lyon) in 1902, and so he and his family moved into the unit at 338 Slater at this time. The family would later operate the building as a large boarding house.

Abraham then built the "new" 388 Albert Street, likely in 1907 (by virtue of a $1,000 mortgage he took out against the property on December 11, 1906). The new house was brick veneered, larger than the previous house, and set further back from Albert Street. Plus it was 2 1/2 storeys, versus the original 1 1/2 storey (which at one point had been modified to 2 storeys).

(July 12/19: Additional research indicates that the date of the demolishing of the old house and construction of the new house may have been in 1903-1904; the house sat vacant for all of 1902 and 1903, and then the address was listed with a tenant in 1904 - likely the 'new' house. The December 1906 mortgage would more likely indicate the work happened then, but since Sparks owned multiple properties and was constantly building and selling, it's not impossible the 1906 mortgage was just his way of borrowing money for some other project. Unfortunately I'm not sure we'll ever be able to turn back the clock to know the exact date when the house was built, but it definitely is at least within the range of 1903-1907).

The Sparks remained at 338 Slater for the next 10 years, and rented out the new 388 Albert to tenants.

The first occupant of the new 388 Albert Street was Mrs. Mary Anne Heney (formerly McCourt), who would have been in her early 70s. Born in Dungannon, County Tyrone, Ireland, she had spent most of her adult life in Stonecliffe, Ontario, halfway between Chalk River and Mattawa, but ended up in Ottawa sometime after losing her husband Thomas Heney in 1892.

The important Ottawa connections continue, as Thomas Heney was brother of Chevalier John Heney, one of Ottawa's most well-known citizens of the 19th century, and the patriarch of the well-known Heney family in Ottawa (though unrelated to the John Heney who had a history on Richmond Road in Kitchissippi).

May 1912 fire plan, showing the new 388 Albert Street.
It is now aligned at the same setback as the houses to its west
and is brick veneered. Notably, there are no windows on
the west side of the house ("none none" noted on the plan).

Mary Heney lived at 388 Albert with her adult children George and Annie from 1907 until her death at home on September 18th, 1911. Other tenants moved in to the house over the next few years: William J. Phillips (1912-1914), Superintendent of agents with the Union Life Assurance Company; and George M. Donaldson (1915). The house was advertised for rent in March of 1916 (oddly as a "cottage"!) but remained vacant through the summer.

March 18 1916 - "Cottage"!

By the fall of 1916, it appears the Sparks family decided to move in to the house at 388 Albert. Abraham Sparks Jr. had retired from contracting in 1912, and so he and his wife Mary were to enjoy their retirement years living with their daughter Ada and her husband William H. Smyth, who had three young children, with a fourth on the way. The Smyths would remain here into the 1950s.

Abraham Sparks meanwhile lived to a great old age of 81, passing away at 1:30 a.m. the morning of October 30th, 1933. Along with being a top builder in Ottawa, he was a member of Christ Church Cathedral for 75 years (from 1858 to 1933), a close friend of Sir Charles Tupper (who holds the distinction of being Prime Minister of Canada for the shortest period, 10 weeks in 1896), and Abraham was also a member of No. 2 Battalion of the Ottawa Volunteer Fire Brigade, before the Ottawa Fire Department was established. He was also notably the last surviving nephew of Nicholas Sparks, at the time of his death.

In 1927, he shared his early memories of downtown Ottawa for the history page in the Citizen:

Ottawa Citizen February 5, 1927
Abraham Sparks shared memories
for the weekly history page.

Ada's husband William Smyth died in 1927 at the age of 42, leaving his widow with six children, the youngest only 11 months old. After Abraham died, his widow Mary Jane survived him until she passed in 1938. Ada continued to live in the house raising her family, until her own passing in February of 1953.

1937 view of Albert looking west from Bank Street. Again
another block too far to the east, but included to show
what Albert looked like pre-WWII.
(LAC MIKAN 3325995)

* * *

388 Albert left left the Sparks family for the first time, well, ever in 1954, when Ada's heirs (son Charles and daughter Vera), sold 388 Albert to Harry Benovoy for $16,000.

Benovoy and his family lived upstairs, but converted the ground floor of the house to commercial.

The first business to move into the ground floor was the Uniform Cap Manufacturing Company, who had relocated from their location at the corner of Bank and Albert. Unfortunately I can't find a good ad for them while at 388 Albert, but here is an ad from their Bank Street location from just a few months prior to their move up Albert:

Ottawa Citizen March 19, 1954

Uniform Cap remained in the house until the mid-60s. In 1965, the property was sold to Bruno Kaczmark for $26,000, who maintained ownership (his widow Irene took over in 1981) until at least 2009, when City records noted that acquiring the property from them would be a requirement for a potential new central library location that was considered for the block. So I can't speak to its current/recent ownership.

But from the 60s onwards it went through a variety of different stores and uses. Elgin Shoe Service moved in from 1968 to about 1975, then became Bruno Shoe Service at some point, until the very late 1980s.

March 10, 1973

It was converted to a restaurant in 1990, when it was Frank's Cafe, then Le Maroc, then Andrew's Cafe (operated by Andrew Coghlin) around the turn of the millennium. 

Scone Witch opened in September of 2004 by Heather Matthews, who had operated Domus in Ottawa from 1970 to 1988. Scone Witch moved in 2014 to Elgin and has since also opened in at least two other locations. As mentioned at the top, Good Eats moved in recently, but is no longer there.

May 2012 view of Scone Witch and the old R.A. Hydeclarke
building (former CS Coop and Alterna Bank) which was
demolished in 2016.

As with any property downtown, so much history...  I love all the historical connections this place have, and the impressive fact that it has survived longer than all others in the area. And who would have thought that the house would have been built by Nicholas Sparks' nephew??


  1. Canada Day 1874?! DOMINION DAY, surely! Great read. Thank you for your posts.

    1. Lol good catch! Just in the "Canada Day" zone this weekend I guess! Thanks.

  2. Hey Dave great read. I lived in the house with my husband when it was Bruno’s Shoe Store. Did you know it was haunted and probably still is.

  3. Great post! As of this past Saturday, July 20th, the house is no more. It came down within an hour. They are removing the last of the rubble as I write this!


  5. There were 4 identical houses, this house was the 3rd from the corner. My great aunt's house was the 4th from the corner, next to this one. She ran a beauty parlor out of the front rooms for decades until her death.

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