Monday, April 27, 2020

The end of an era: Goodbye 210 Cowley Avenue

Here on the Museum, I've recently mourned the loss of the O'Neil House (formerly Bella's) on Richmond Road near Island Park Drive, and just this week 89 Richmond a little further to the west. But there is one pending demolition in the neighbourhood which is going to hit a million times harder.

This is an issue facing many of us, and sadly increasingly so with the growing number of fine old homes in our neighbourhood being torn down for typically no reason other than the financial greed of developers. Streets are changing so quickly, that it almost feels out of control, and I get the sense from many that they wish so much to be able to stop it, but feel helpless to do so. The recent overturning of the City's ruling on infill on Roosevelt Avenue in Westboro by the LPAT (former OMB) makes things even worse. Neighbourhood planning studies are out the window, and anyone is afraid to even ask the question - can it get worse? Because I think we all fear that it even can. Yet many of us yearn to take a step back from where things are at now - and sadly there is little optimism to be felt. This can almost make you feel like you're watching a relative suffering and dying, while the antidote sits on the bedside table ignored. We want so badly to grab it and quickly cure our pained family member, but it's impossible. And maybe this is a bit of an extreme analogy, but I know there are a lot of people sad to see the charm and character of Westboro, Hintonburg, Mechanicsville, Champlain Park, etc. slowing slipping away, with no one with influence seemingly willing or able to stop it. It hurts.

The house I'm writing about today will leave me with the feelings of loss when it is torn down. However it doesn't actually quite fit into the scenario described above. My grandparents old home on Cowley Avenue has probably lived its full life. It's still a well-built and beautiful house, at least on the inside for sure (and beautiful on the outside, at least to me!). But it's old, and small, and with the property values in Champlain Park sky high, I understand why it needs to go. I can't say for sure who the developer is, or what their intention is. It doesn't really matter to me in this case, because it's my grandparents house. My second home for almost my entire life. My mind's eye mental picture of Cowley Avenue, of Champlain Park, immediately conjures up an image of this house. And probably always will.

This house at 210 Cowley Avenue, as many of our parents and grandparents homes are, was a happy place for me, in a childhood that was so fortunately full of happy places. When I was a tot, we lived just two doors down, so I basically lived in three backyards (with apologies to the Lecompte family in between!). My parents never once in my life had to hire a neighbourhood babysitter. My grandparents were always happy to have me, and I loved being at their house too. Particularly when they had an above-ground pool installed around the time I was starting kindergarten!

My grandparents, Ted and Jean Sauve, were well-known in the neighbourhood. Characters of the "old" Champlain Park that is slowly disappearing. My grandma was known for her kind heart and generosity to all in the neighbourhood; there were many kids on the street who thought of her as a bonus grandma I think. But my grandpa was the real character of 210 Cowley Avenue. He retired too early (so said my parents) and so he had many years of strolling the street, usually with his dog Dinah, chatting to anyone and everyone, always willing to help with anything he could. If he wasn't walking the streets, he was sitting on the small front porch, watching the neighbourhood pass by. He called himself the "neighbourhood watch", but I'm not sure how effective he was - my family loves to joke about the time he watched the aforementioned Lecompte family's home get emptied out by burglars while my grandpa sat and watched, assuming it was a hired moving or junk removal company.

My grandparents arrived on Cowley Avenue in the era where you purchased your home, moved in, and that was it. That was your home for life, where the kids grew up and left, where you spent your retirement. And it truly was that home for them. They never knew any other home, not even (thankfully) a long term care or senior home for them. 210 Cowley was it, for 48 years (1962 to 2010).

The house stands out now as a small old house in a vastly changing neighbourhood of massive singles and semis, a complete change over the last 20-30 years, the likes of which I doubt any other neighbourhood in the city has experienced. It makes sense, I get it. The proximity to central Ottawa, to the River, to the NCC lands and bike/ski paths, the transitway/LRT, Tunneys, etc. It's very appealing. Super walkable, gorgeous features, very friendly people. You can see why land values exploded and demand went sky high.

The history of Champlain Park is very unique (to be told in detail someday), but essentially, it started life as a resort village for residents of Ottawa, with seasonal cottages and camp grounds that were very popular as a summer escape from the city. Almost all of the first structures built on its streets were small cottages, which later had to be converted to accommodate electricity, then water, and finally year-round living. There are still some of these early cottages left. 10 years ago there were many. Soon there won't be any.

My grandparents house doesn't quite fit into that category. It doesn't date back to the cottage era. It was, however, built to fit in to the area at the time it was constructed, in 1947.

Herbert and Edith Williams were a couple in their mid-50s who acquired the vacant lot on Cowley in February of 1946 for $300 from Nepean Township (it had previously been surrendered due to unpaid taxes), took out a mortgage for $3,400 in June of 1947, and had 210 Cowley Avenue built.

Herbert was employed as a letter carrier with the Post Office. They lived in the house with their son James, who was a draftsman with the Alex Fleck Company, and eventually his wife, the former Marion June Spence who he married in April of 1950. The couple then had a daughter in January of 1951, making it a pretty busy house, being just a small 2 bedroom.

Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1950

The Williams family remained in the house until about the Spring of 1962, when Herbert and Edith moved out to Victoria, BC, where their daughter Betty was living.

The house was put up for sale, and my grandparents purchased the house for $12,500 on April 27th, 1962. Amazingly, my grandfather kept the original real estate listing sheet from way back then!

210 Cowley was the first (and only) house they ever owned. My grandparents raised their two children here, my Mom and Uncle, who were of course just kids when the family moved in. Being just a two bedroom provided a challenge once they got a little older, so my grandfather walled off the dining room (essentially about half the downstairs) and created a third bedroom.

My grandfather and a neighbour circa 1970?

The location of the house was ideal for my grandpa, who worked at the CPR yards and Roundhouse at Bayview, just down Scott Street. However, it closed in the mid-60s, and instead he was transferred out to work on trains at the National Research Council at Uplands.

My grandfather Ted Sauve, circa early-1970s

One of the life highlights my grandparents used to always talk about was when MP for Ottawa West, Lloyd Francis, attended their 25th Anniversary party, held in the basement, in 1974. Here is a photo from that event:

And of course, here are some photos of how I best remember 210 Cowley, and my grandparents (and Dinah), sitting on the front porch in the early 1990s:

My grandpa died back just before Christmas of 2009 (sadly just a month before my first son was born), and my Grandma a year later in November of 2010 (so happy she got to meet him, and shared the first year of his life), and then the house was sold out of the family.

It was occupied by tenants over the last 8-9 years, until it was sold last fall (2019). The owner Jim Cocks, very kindly gave me the opportunity to have one final walk through in November before it transferred to the new buyers. It was kind of neat to walk through the house I'd spent so much time in through my life, but it sure felt different than it used to. It was definitely not as as sad as my final walk-through back in 2011 when it was sold. That was a tough day. Last fall, there were a few remnants of my grandparents in the house, most notably my grandpa's workbench!

Basement of 210 Cowley, November 3, 2019

I can't find any permits or plans posted on the internet yet, so I don't know what the future holds. The house has been vacant since the tenants moved out in the fall (obviously so, with no curtains up, and clearly nothing inside).

[Edit 4pm 28 April 2020: I was informed this afternoon that indeed there indeed is a redevelopment proposal that involves two semis that was distributed to immediate neighbours recently. As it is just at the pre-application phase, and the developers are just preparing plans and the Committee of Adjustment application, I wouldn't feel right posting any further details, but suffice to say, the demolition I expected seems to be imminent. Thanks to those of you who wrote offering optimism that this small, but beautiful home might survive. Appears not to be the case]

Certainly, it will be sad to see the house demolished, and I'm pretty sure I don't actually want to be there on the day it gets pulled down. Driving by and seeing the empty space, or whatever is built in its place will be sad too. Though we thankfully of course have our great memories of the house, it just isn't the same when the house is gone. And neither is Champlain Park, as each piece of the old neighbourhood is lost. I still love Champlain Park of course, but I will miss 210 Cowley a lot.


  1. Lovely story, Dave! My kids went to a babysitter on Cowley (corner of Sunnymede, I think), so I know the area well, or I did back in the early 1980s.

  2. I grew up on Northwestern, the house I grew up in was torn down in 2018 and semis fill the yard that encompassed my youth. Although it was sold out of the family in 2004 (1978 -2004), it is surreal to drive through Champlain Park now.

  3. We were so lucky to have rented this house for (sadly) its last three years. We will be so sad to see it torn down also :( Thanks for this post; was so interesting to read the house's history!