Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Wellington Village's 100-Year Old Houses - North of Wellington edition!

Back in 2018, I wrote an article for the Museum (https://kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.com/2018/07/wellington-villages-100-year-old-houses.html) that looked at the first batch of houses built in Wellington Village in 1919, following the initial auction of all the Wellington Village lots by the Ottawa Land Association. (More on that here: https://kitchissippi.com/2015/04/17/history-of-wellington-village-ottawa/). At the time I thought it would be cool to find the original houses from Wellington Village that still exist today, and profile them. The article turned out to be a hit, and I got a lot of great feedback from it.

Since that 1919 auction saw the sale of just the lots south of Wellington Street, I had the idea last year to do a similar article, but cover the lots north of Wellington, on the lots sold in the second Ottawa Land Association auction, in June of 1920. This would thus be the 100th anniversary of these original houses in the neighbourhood.

(I always have to add this caveat that technically, Wellington Village includes some houses that pre-date those 1919/1920 auctions. The little community that runs off Carleton Avenue dates actually back to 1895, a subdivision called "Ottawa West" laid out by R.H. Cowley. As well there were a handful of houses fronting Wellington Street that were built prior to the auction, as well as a handful on Holland Avenue. So technically some of those houses that still exist pre-date the 1919/1920 auctions, and thus the 100th Anniversary stuff that was done last year, but for 99% of the neighbourhood, this has been the 100th Anniversary of Wellington Village.)

So anyhow, a while back I got started writing this article, and lost a bit of momentum on it due to other priorities, but also just the fact that I didn't have any vintage photos of the houses really, nor were there that many definitively built in 1920.

So today I take a look back at the first 7 houses that were built (or were well advanced) during the first year that Wellington Village (north of Wellington Street) was subdivided for building. In a way it's surprising that so few houses were commenced after the auction. However, this portion of Wellington Village was a geographical disaster at the time. It was heavily treed, hilly, with substantial bedrock close to the surface. It featured ditches and trenches to carry the water of the farms and lands south of Wellington and well past Carling Avenue down to the River. Even still, it flooded extensively every spring with upwards of 6-8 feet of water in some locations (many of the houses built prior to the sewage system installation in 1928, particularly north of Spencer Street, were built with 8+ foot high foundations; keep an eye next time you walk down Huron, Caroline, Smirle, etc in this area). Even a year after the auction, in April of 1920, a resident of Kenora Avenue pushing for Fisher Park to be established alongside Harmer Avenue (where of course it eventually would be) discounted Wellington Village north of Wellington as a possible Fisher Park location in a letter to the editor, calling it "without question only fit for industrial purposes and will never be a strictly residential section of the city.”

Ottawa Citizen, April 6, 1920

However, construction gradually took place in this part of Wellington Village. The trees were cleared, the flooding and sewage issues were taken care of, and now one would never have known that at a time, this area was considered, at least by some, to be an impossibility for residential housing.


99 Huron Avenue
The first house built in the new subdivision following the auction was the home at 99 Huron Avenue. It was constructed by a 24-year old contractor and WWI-veteran named Alexander Peacock.

Peacock had enlisted in March 1917, and was sent overseas right away.  By the fall he was engaged as a stretcher barer on the battlefield, as a member of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. In late October he was gassed and wounded, and sent to a hospital in France. Records available did not reveal if he came home right away or remained overseas.

Alexander Peacock, builder of 99 (and 89) Huron
Avenue, as photographed while in military.

Regardless, after the war, Peacock was back in Ottawa and living with his wife and two young children, with a third on the way (and three more to come later). At the auction, Peacock purchased three lots. He bought two side-by-side on the east side of Smirle, north of Spencer, for $170 (which he later sold). And he also purchased a lot on Huron Avenue, south of Spencer, for $100.

It was on this lot that Peacock immediately began construction of 99 Huron Avenue, a 2-storey wood-frame house, with 7 rooms. He possibly completed it in stages, as he took out a total of four mortgages between July 1920 and June 1922. However a good-sized house was completed by the fall of 1920, as it was captured in the aerial photo seen at the bottom of this article.

99 Huron Avenue in 2019
For reasons that are lost to history, in July of 1922, Peacock acquired the lot just down the street at the corner of Huron and Spencer for $250, and had plans to build a duplex on the lot. He took out a building permit for a duplex, but by August, had changed his plans and instead constructed a single, the home which is now 89 Huron Avenue. Upon completion in late 1922 he sold 99 Huron, and the family moved in to 89 Huron.

The Peacocks would remain at 89 Huron for only a year and a half, selling to George Blyth in May of 1924, and moving to Trenton, New Jersey.

The Blyth family remain in the home today, in what I have to believe is the longest single-family occupation of a house in Wellington Village (96 years!). George kindly provided me a photo of his house at 89 Huron from what is estimated to be the late 1920s.

89 Huron Avenue circa-late 1920s, also showing 91 & 95
Huron, as well as 71 Holland in background. Not the vintage
street light, and ditches along Spencer Street.
(photo courtesy of Don Blyth)

100 Huron Avenue
John Bruce was a 53-year old carpenter with the Ottawa Stair Works company, who were "stair builders and cabinet makers" located at 989 Somerset Street. He had also been a long-time building contractor in Ottawa. He lived downtown with his wife, but must have found the idea of building in the new Wellington Village community appealing. He bought two adjoining lots on Huron at the big auction sale, and that fall began construction on the house that is now numbered 100 Huron Avenue, for him and his wife Margaret to retire to.

John had a neat date of birth (he was born on New Year's Day on the year of Confederation, 1867), but even more neat was the fact that his brother George married Margaret's sister Violet. Kind of unique double-sibling marriages. But perhaps even more interesting was that George and Violet had a son, Morley Bruce (John and Margaret's nephew) who was on the original Ottawa Senators team, playing in 71 career NHL games, and winning the Stanley Cup with the early Sens in 1920 and 1921.

Morley Bruce 1920

However, this story takes a sad turn, as either just as the house at 100 Huron was completed, or in the final stages of construction, Margaret Bruce passed away on March 31st, 1921 at age 52. She may never have gotten to live in the home.

A month after her passing, John Bruce's other nephew, Bower R. Bruce, also a home builder, acquired the lots next door to the Bruces and constructed 102 Huron. George Bruce had passed away, so the home was built for his widow Violet, and her son Morley, the hockey player (as well as their daughter Lydia). Morley Bruce retired from the Sens that spring at the age of 28, and began working with the Ottawa Fire Department. So while 102 Huron doesn't qualify as one of the houses built in 1920, it was one of the earliest houses and has the many notable connection to John Bruce of 100 next door.

John Bruce remained in 100 Huron until 1940, when he sadly lost it due to mortgage foreclosure (the depression and WWII hit everyone hard, of course).

143 Caroline Avenue
Mrs. Alice Fisher was a 36-year old Scottish-born widow with four kids (John 15, Alice 10, Katie 9 and Frederick 3) when she purchased the lot for $250 at the auction. Her husband John W. Fisher had died in action during WWI at Passchendaele in October of 1917, and she was raising the family on her own. The military pension was supplemented by a job she took as a "charwoman", cleaning government offices. It appears the Fisher family built a small shack on the lot right away to live in; at Census-taking time in early 1921, the family was listed on the lot, in a wood house that was just a single room!

143 Caroline in 2019

It was later in 1921 that Alice Fisher obtained a mortgage for $2,000 and had the complete 143 Caroline Avenue built, with its brick finish, as it still stands today. Further to this, it appears she had to do a bit of negotiating to even get the building permit. At the time she was applying, in April 1921, the City hesitated to issue the permit as Caroline Avenue did not have water service installed yet. However, it was agreed to approve the permit, on the understanding that water might not be available in time.

The house was likely completed by early 1922, and records show that perhaps the cost had been more than anticipated for Mrs. Fisher, as that summer, she had the house up for sale, and later even the family car.

Ottawa Citizen, June 9, 1922.

Ottawa Citizen, September 14, 1922.

But they clearly rebounded, with Mrs. Fisher offering rooms for rent the following year (with use of telephone and piano included!). The Fishers would end up staying in the house until 1943.

Ottawa Citizen, September 29, 1923.

While glancing through the old newspapers, I noticed that in 1925, her daughter Alice, then 15, barely escaped death while riding her bicycle on Wellington Street near Garland. A truck driven by Hintonburg fruit dealer Anthony Ferone heading in the same direction, hit Alice when she swerved in the road in front of him. She was in serious condition in the hospital, but survived. The driver was charged with reckless driving, but no follow-up was ever given in the paper.

So 143 Caroline is included in this list with an asterix, as the current house is as 1921-built home, however there was another, temporary house (though quite possibly part of the current house) that was built in 1920.

103 Caroline Avenue
This house was built by Angus Lawrence McDonald, who had paid $200 for the lot at the auction, and spent most of 1920-1921 building the home. The 33-year old McDonald was a carpenter by trade, and was a small-time contractor building houses in the area. He and his wife Elisabeth had five children (with two more to come), ranging in age from 2 to 10 at the time. Sadly just a month after the auction, his four year old son Lawrence died.

103 Caroline Avenue in 2019

McDonald built the house and while he did, the family resided in it, as they were captured here on the 1921 census. However upon completion, the house was rented out to the family of Frank C. Rickey, who was employed as a butcher. The McDonalds later did move in to the house from about 1926-1931, before later selling and relocating to Cornwall.

I couldn't find anything notable in the history of 103 Caroline, except for this funny little story from 1927 about a lost boy spending the night in the house.

Ottawa Citizen, September 8, 1927.

55 Grange Avenue

James Helmer was a 45-year old stationary engineer with the Ottawa Water Works department, and father of 7, who purchased his lot on Grange north of Spencer for $100. He immediately began clearing the lot and constructing his home. It appears it was a gradual build, as in June 1921, when the Census-takers arrived, Helmer and his family were listed as living in a home that was just two room large. Evidence on the 1920 aerial photograph does show clearing work underway, and the house was likely finished until the spring of 1922, when Helmer took out a sizeable mortgage towards its completion.

Present-day photo of 55 Grange Avenue

The Helmers remained in the home for only a short time, moving in 1925. The Liston family resided there the next three decades. I can't too quickly find anything too interesting about the history of the house or the families, other than that John F. Liston, the son of Joseph Liston, spent the war overseas as an air bomber, and his photo appeared in Ottawa newspapers on several occasions.

Ottawa Citizen
December 30, 1941

60 Smirle Avenue

The house at 60 Smirle was certainly not completed in 1920, and may not have even been commenced until early 1921. It was still under construction in June of 1921 when the Census takers came by, but the family was living on the lot (or in the very raw house), to the point that the Census takers put question marks in the categories of single/duplex, material type and number of rooms. However, there is evidence of clearing and/or foundational work on the lot from the 1920 aerial photo, so I've included it in this list.

60 Smirle Avenue in 2019

The lot was purchased by Richard Cornwall, an Ottawa house painter, for $85. Cornwall held the lot only briefly, selling in March of 1921 to Michael Cain, a 25-year old salesman, and his wife Kathleen. The couple had two young children, 3-year old Michael and 1-year of Margaret. Vague records makes it difficult to tell the story of the first year of the house. Cain sold it as a finished house in February of 1922, so it is possible he built the home only for the purposes of selling it. Or perhaps there were financial reasons. It's also possible Cain himself did not build the house but had hired a builder to do it, as he was a salesman by profession, and quite young. (Details that would take a lot more time than it's worth to dig up for this article)

"50/52" Ross Avenue

This was a house, or more likely a shack that only existed briefly in the 1920s. 47-year old sheet metal worker John D. Morris operated a small sheet metal shop at 361 Somerset Street West. He purchased two lots at the 1920 auction for a total of $300, the lots on which 50 and 52 Ross now stand.

Both the 1921 Census and Ottawa City Directory list Morris and his wife Anna as occupying a small 1-room house on Ross Avenue. So some kind of house was constructed there in late 1920.

However by 1922, there is no record of an occupant of any kind of house/shack on either of the lots, and Morris is listed as living elsewhere. Registry records show Morris sold the two lots for $700 in 1923 (a fair price considering the initial uptick in land value between 1920-1923), and had never taken out a mortgage on the property to build. There are also no stories of any house fires happening on Ross around that time that would also explain the loss of a house.

Aerial photos from 1927 and 1928 appear to confirm the existence of a tiny house set at the very back of lot 820 (52 Ross), along the rear lot line. It must have been a primitive shack, and even the Census lists simply an "X" in place of his earnings, indicating he made very little.

May 1927 aerial photo, showing Gilchrist at top,
Ross at bottom, and Spencer running top to bottom.
54 Ross is built at the corner, and at the rear of the
lot for the future 52 Ross is a small building,
presumably the Morris "shack" from 1920-1921.

November 1928 aerial photo of the same view. 52 Ross
has now been built, and a small garage appears behind it,
seemingly smaller and a bit more to the north than the
shack that's there in 1927.
So best research efforts seem to indicate that a shack did exist on that spot for some years, occupied at minimum for a year or two by John and Anna Morris, who then moved out (perhaps not even by choice; recall the OLA had put in very specific building conditions to ensure a higher-class neighbourhood), and the shack stood for 6-7 more years, seemingly without any occupants until removed in 1928 when 52 Ross was built. Tragically, Morris died in his shop in May of 1925 when the gasoline tank of a car exploded while he was using a blow torch.


The photo below is from the earliest set of aerial photos taken of the neighhourhood, in late summer of 1920. It shows only the two houses on Huron, some clearing work on others (including the Grange and Smirle houses), plus the established subdivision west of Western, and a few individual houses fronting Wellington and Holland which pre-dated the auction. (Click on the photo to see it larger, or right-click and select to save it to view it in even greater detail).

Aerial photo of the north half of Wellington Village from
the summer of 1920, the earliest known aerial photo of WV.

So happy 100th anniversary to these seven houses (of which five, with possibly a portion of a sixth still stand)! But more importantly, cheers to the unique and colorful history that every single house in Wellington Village has! So much history here!


  1. Thanks Dave! All around my house at 134 Caroline!

  2. Dave - so interesting! We live at 92 Huron in the "Morley Bruce" house. Love learning the history and stories. The 3 year old that wandered off and spent the night 2 miles away!

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