Wednesday, July 8, 2020

The McKellar Golf Course - Part One (McKellar Park, Early Beginning and General History)

Throughout Kitchissippi, each neighbourhood has gone through a series of transitions throughout its history. Many of us own or reside on a small patch of land, maybe 50 or 33 feet wide and 100 feet deep. A tiny rectangle of fabric in the large quilt that makes up Kitchissippi. Yet, each little fragment of land has its own unique history. And some of those McKellar Park fragments have a particularly interesting story.

We can only guess and imagine at what was happening on this land hundreds and even thousands of years ago, as Algonquins inhabited and traveled alongside the Ottawa River (the 'Kitcisìpi' as it was called). By the 17th and 18th centuries, fur traders and voyageurs made their way through, and by the start of the 19th century, modern history allows us a more recorded story of the development of the land, through official records, maps and photographs. Most of Kitchissippi in its earliest days of 'modern' history was farmland, virtually given away by the government as a way of drawing in new residents to the remote areas of Upper Canada.

The lumber trade (and its mills) and the railway led to a gradual (or sometimes quick) change to the farms of rural Nepean Township, at certain periods farmers couldn't subdivide their farms up fast enough. In many cases lots were sold in large sizes at low prices, where a family could earn a good wage on a piece of land several acres in size, featuring an orchard and fertile grounds for gardening. The Richmond Road was the lifeline of Kitchissippi to Bytown (eventually Ottawa), and also to the towns, villages and hamlets to the west. The streetcar's arrival expedited things even further, opening up the west end to possibilities never considered before. Once cars arrived and a network of roads created, the streets of our neighbourhoods began to fill in, with unique houses built one at a time, over the decades of the 20th century.

The story of the McKellar Park neighbourhood is this same story, but with a twist.

Now I've covered the history of McKellar Park already in a couple of articles, most notably my history of Fraser Avenue ( which explored the McKellar family and the start of the subdivsion, as well as the history of Wavell Avenue ( and the history of McKellar-Bingham House ( So I don't want to rehash too much of the same details. However it is worthwhile to tell the full story of the land, as it fits with the above narrative.

Nepean Township Lot 28 in Concession I, Ottawa Front (which makes up most of the McKellar Park neighbourhood) was first issued as a Crown land grant in 1808 to Elizabeth Moshier, daughter of a United Empire Loyalist, Jacob Van Camp. Elizabeth and her parents had been living near Albany, New York, but moved to Canada after the Revolutionary War. Jacob had been a member of the King’s Royal Regiment of New York (“King’s Royal Yorkers”), one of the first Loyalist regiments raised in Canada during the war. They were one of the most active Loyalist regiments, launching raids and relief missions into the Mohawk Valley of upper New York.

Moshier never lived on lot 28, and probably never even saw it. The Honeywells were the areas first settlers, arriving a little to the west in 1809. Meanwhile, Moshier sold her lot in 1816 to George McConnell who had come to Nepean by way of P.E.I. McConnell became McKellar Park's first 'modern day' resident around 1818, when Nepean Township as a whole had less than 10 families in its population. He built a homestead on the river road that existed at the north end of the property.

On an 1822 Nepean Township assessment, McConnell was listed as having cultivated 20 acres of the lot, owned 2 horses, 3 milch cows, and 1 horned cattle, and had constructed 2 buildings, both of them “framed, under 2 story”. The entire property was valued at £152.

By 1828, McConnell moved to Hull, and sold to the Thomsons who owned most of the land in the vicinity (builders of Maplelawn, aka the Keg Manor). In 1873, Archibald McKellar came along and bought the entire lot 28 for $32,000 and he and his family farmed it for the next 37 years.

"Moving Stones" at McKellar Farm. Circa 1890.
From the Topley Collection at LAC (PA-009899)

By 1910, Archibald's son John would have been 66 years old. He was living with his sister Margaret and another relative, as well as three servants. Neither sibling had married, nor had any children. With the Westboro and Woodroffe subdivisions exploding in popularity thanks largely to the Britannia-bound streetcar line, the land had become too valuable to sit as largely vacant farmland. Thus, it entered it's next phase of existence: residential building lots.

Ottawa Citizen, December 13, 1910

The McKellar Townsite Company was formed and in 1911 laid out the farm in to 15 streets and 1,092 building lots. An aggressive advertising campaign began right away.

Ottawa Citizen, January 21, 1911

Ottawa Citizen, April 29, 1911

Now you would think that lot sales exploded right away, and that dozens of houses were being built each year. But in 1911, only 45 lots were sold, and that number began to dwindle. The roaring twenties were anything but roaring for the McKellar Townsite people, who were selling only a handful of lots per year.

Chart showing lot sales of the McKellar Townsite
lots, with a cumulative total at right. Note that the
total subdivision plan had 1,092 lots.

Most of the lots being sold were naturally at the north end, closest to the River, Richmond Road, and the streetcar. Virtually all of the lots south of today's Keenan Avenue were unsold. On top of this, lots sold did not equate to houses built. In fact by mid-1912 there were only 6 houses built, and only 28 by the spring of 1914. By 1927, there were still only 62 structures in all of McKellar Park, which included several small cottages.

By 1926, the McKellar Townsite Company was considering all options for what to do with their land. Though the discussions have likely been lost to history, the end result by the spring of 1926 was that the principals on the board of  the company had decided on a unique idea - the idea of establishing a golf course on the McKellar Townsite property!

1926: The initial golf course plans are announced

The news first broke in May of 1926, when the local papers first reported that a golf course was to be built at McKellar Park.

Ottawa Citizen - May 5, 1926

The idea had to be passed through the local community association, the Westboro Ratepayers’ Association, which it did on the evening of May 4th. (At that same evening, the board also approved the resolution to have a traffic light installed at the corner of Richmond and Churchill, called a “silent policeman”).

At the meeting, it was discussed that 85 acres of land in McKellar Park, suitable for a golf course were available. Mr. W. H. Dwyer of the McKellar Townsite Company spoke to the Association, and stated that a good golf course could be established at an approximate cost of $10,000. He suggested also that a membership fee of $25 would be set, which would “be productive of a large membership”, and also added that tennis courts would be operated along with the golf course. Rather than purchase the property, Dwyer presented that leasing the land might be best for the short-term at least. Local businessmen also spoke at the meeting in support of the golf course.

One of the drivers of the golf course idea was likely Mr. James Ernest Caldwell, a member of the Townsite board, and a major golf enthusiast in the Ottawa area. He himself had opened a short-lived nine-hole course on his 300-acre Caldwell Dairy Farm off Merivale Road in City View, called the City View Golf Club, back in 1923.

Caldwell spoke at the Westboro Ratepayers meeting, stating that “the natural location, good pure air, the wonderful scenery, etc. would all tend to be important factors in the successful formation and operation of such a club.” Also speaking were members of the Cole family, Alderman P. J. Nolan (whose contributions to social life in Kitchissippi were numerous over the years, including the opening of the Nola Theatre in Hintonburg), and others. Mrs. Bert Cole “pointed out the great opportunities that the ladies would have to participate in the life and activities of such a club.”

It was decided that a provisional committee would be appointed by the Westboro Ratepayers Association to hold a meeting, where a permanent committee would be elected. Dwyer, speaking for the McKellar Townsite Company, said that they would be “ready to enter into any agreement which the committee might put forward and suggested that the members of the committee meet with the directors of the company on the proposed site. Experts on building golf courses could also be present, and ways and means as to the erection of the course discussed.”

The (large) provisional committee was a who’s-who of early Westboro: John Bingham, Fred A. Heney, W. Edgar, John E. Cole, H.S. Taylor, A.B. Ullett, M. N. Cummings, S. Bell, G. Poulin, B.J. Roberts, Charles Ogilvy, Hiram Crain, Reeve J. W. Arnott, J.E. Jones, T. Bert Cole, Dr. J.H. Grisdale, Dr J.S. Nelson, George Rothwell, F. Byshe, W. Guertin, W.F. Bingham and J.A. Glen, with T. Bert Cole chairman and W.F. Bingham secretary.

To give an idea of how McKellar appeared prior to the arrival of the golf course, this aerial photo from 1920 (the earliest known aerial photo of the area) shows McKellar Park and its relatively few structures:

That is Carling Avenue along the left, and Byron/CPR line/Ottawa River along the right. The small original Broadview School can be seen in the center near the bottom, right above the bright spot on the photo which is actually the sun hitting a large pond or marsh on the east side of Broadview. Windermere Avenue (Fourth Avenue) is the other street running left to right that can be seen, as it was finished all the way to Carling. Large lines of trees and ditches dot the land at its most westerly points, remnants of the McKellar Farm era.

The golf course boundaries were imperfect, and some lots had already been sold and built on within the boundaries. Rather than bother with trying to buy them back, the owners of these properties simply now owned land within the course. Luckily none were really in the middle of the playing area, just on the fringes, so it worked well. However, certain elements were not changeable, such as the streets which still ran through the course. So for instance Dovercourt Avenue (then known as Balmoral Avenue) still existed as a navigable roadway (though it was unpaved), as did Windermere Avenue (which as seen above, was finished). It must have been interesting playing around these roads and any passing cars!

1927: The McKellar Golf Club begins to take shape

In February of 1927, the first word spread in Ottawa about the proposed golf course, as the McKellar Townsite Co. owners offered shares in the proposed McKellar Golf Club. These funds would then go towards the construction of a club house and the layout of the course. One share of “treasury stock” in the Golf Club actually meant one share in the Townsite Company. Treasury stock, the way I understand it, was issued by the company against the full stock of the company, and allowed for dividends on profit, but did not allow voting rights. The shares thus would have increased in value dependent on the overall profits of the McKellar Park subdivision, not the golf course itself (though a successful golf course likely would lead to an increase in value in the area lots). Sparks Street real estate agent Charles E. Compton was hired to conduct the sales.

Ottawa Citizen, February 19, 1927

Evidently the campaign went well, as on March 24th, the newly formed club published its architectural drawing for the club house that it had agreed to have constructed. The architect firm of Richards and Abra (who also had designed Broadview School, Nepean High School, and several other buildings in the community) did up the plans, which was for a “building of about 50’ x 65’ of cinder block and stucco construction…equipped with large verandahs and balconies”. The club was to be built on Fourth Avenue in McKellar (now Windermere Avenue).

This drawing and more info on the clubhouse itself will be found in "Part Three" of this series.

Construction on the clubhouse was not expected until later in the summer of 1927 (and in fact eventually stretched in to the spring of 1928 due to several delays), thus the owners set up a temporary clubhouse was in a rented home at the corner of Westminster and Crossfield, now known as 541 Westminster Avenue.

541 Westminster Avenue on Google Streetview
The original McKellar Golf Course Clubhouse

The Golf Club likely did not have good odds in finding an available house for rent (recall I mentioned above there were only 62 built in McKellar Park as of the spring of 1927), but lucky for them a 1913-built 1.5 storey wood-frame house halfway between the streetcar line and the golf course entrance was available. This house had been surrendered in 1923 by its original owner for financial reasons to the mortgage-holder, a Mrs. Maud Klotz, a widow from Toronto, and she had been renting it to tenants.

An exact date of the first golf played at McKellar Golf Course cannot be found, but it appears to be roughly on or about Wednesday May 4th. On that date, an ad was published in the Citizen announcing that the McKellar Golf Course “Is Now Ready for Playing”, with ten temporary holes ready to go, and that temporary club house facilities had been arranged.

Ottawa Citizen, May 4, 1927

By May 21st, it appears the course was up to 18 holes, described as “rapidly rounding into form”, the course “situated on a plateau overlooking the Ottawa river.” The McKellar course opened as a par 68.

Alfred “Freddie” Rogers, former assistant pro at Rivermead Golf Club was hired as the first club pro, and Harry Grayshon was appointed the first club manager.

Unfortunately, there are no photos of McKellar Golf Course from 1927 (or hardly any year, for that matter), but I thought it would be cool to add some photos/ads from the same time period to show what golf was like in 1927. All of the following are taken from the May 1927 issue of Canadian Golfer Magazine - the same month that golf was first played at McKellar Park:

By early June the course was in full swing, advertised as “A private club at municipal club rates”, offering season fees of $35 for men and $25 for women, or down to monthly ($8/$7), weekly ($2.50/$2) or daily fees ($0.50).

Ottawa Journal, June 10, 1927.

The addition of the golf course was a boon to the local real estate market. Immediately, even home and cottage owners began advertising their home’s proximity to the course as a selling point:

Ottawa Citizen, June 8, 1927

A meeting of the directors of the Golf Club was held on June 10th in the temporary club house. Plans for the new clubhouse were viewed and the building committee was instructed to proceed with the work. The estimate on the building was now up to $20,000.

The first election of officers in the Club was held. W. H. Dwyer was elected President, George F. Hodgins 1st Vice-President, J. E. Caldwell 2nd Vice-President, and Alex McKechnie as Secretary-Treasurer.

W.H. Dwyer, the first President
of the McKellar Golf Club.

There were also a series of sub-committees formed, including those for Grounds (G. F. Hodgins, J. E. Caldwell, T. Bert Cole and W. J. Glober), Building (G. F. Hodgins, M. N. Cummings, P. J. Nolan and G. C. Morrison), Membership (Douglas Dewar, Fred Bingham, George Carson and T. Bert Cole), and Finance (W. H. Dwyer, G. C. Morrison, K. P. McDonald and M. N. Cummings).

The Golf Club appealed to Ottawans because, of course it was a new course, but also because it was open to the public, offered affordable rates to play, was well situated next to the street car line so it was accessible to everyone, and also was a fairly short/simple course to play (especially when it first opened; years of adjusting and grooming would both lengthen and significantly improve the course).

Many also liked that it offered partial season rates, or even a weekly rate. Early on, a large number of members were younger. The newspapers mentioned that McKellar had more of a youthful feel than the established clubs. That meshed well with the general feeling of Westboro and McKellar as being new, young up-and-coming neighbourhoods.

The golf course operators advertised extensively in the local papers and around town. A larger ad from mid-summer 1927 promoted some of these same highlights:

Ottawa Citizen, June 28, 1927

1927 was a notable year for golf in the Capital, as the Hull Golf Club on Aylmer Road (which is I believe now the Gatineau Golf Club) also began operating.

The first tournament to be held at McKellar was on Dominion Day, Friday July 1st, the Confederation Jubilee. The Men’s Trophy was won by Walter A. Richardson, with a score of 76, while the Women’s trophy was won by Miss E. Hopper with a 104. Richardson’s 76 ended up being the top recorded score of the club in 1927.

Ottawa Citizen, July 6, 1927.

By the fall of 1927, the McKellar Golf Club grown considerably, and had enjoyed a successful summer. The Journal noted that 225 people had golfed on Labour Day Monday. Ottawa Senators hockey star and NHL hall-of-famer Cy Denneny was noted as being one of the regulars of the club in its opening year.

Ottawa Journal
September 6, 1927.

The 1927 closed in early October, with the final event being the Dwyer Cup competition, which pitted individual golfers competing against each other straight-up in a playdown format. The finals were held the week of October 10th, but unfortunately no results seem to have survived.

Worth mentioning as part of this history is the McKellar streetcar "station" and "loop", a significant highlight of the neighbourhood, and key stop on the Ottawa Electric Railway streetcar line. Of course the streetcar line used to run where the Byron Linear Park is now, between Richmond and Byron. Just past Westminster Avenue going west, was a small covered "station" and platform where residents could wait for their car. There was also a loop, where streetcars on a "short run" ending at McKellar could turn and return east towards Holland Avenue (the cars that didn't end here proceeded out to Britannia Park). These streetcars would bring many Ottawa citizens out to McKellar to golf over it's 26 years of play!

May 1933 aerial of McKellar loop.
River at top, Richmond Road running L to R
through center. Windermere at left, Westminster
in middle, then Mansfield at right. The loop
is clearly seen, going around the little McKellar
streetcar station. Byron Avenue is an unpaved lane
at this point. Sidewalks appear as fine white lines.

Same aerial shot from 2017. Note that the River
does not come as close to Richmond Road
as it was filled in during the 1950s as part
of the building of the Parkway.

Streetcar in McKellar Loop January 1952

Same angle in 2017 as 1952 (best I could do to try to get an
equivalent in present day). That's 780 Byron that appears
at the top right of both photos. 

And another great view, looking east (thanks to the
Transit Toronto website for the photo), with more detail
shown of the little platform and covering.

Slightly different view, looking east (thanks to the
Transit Toronto website for the photo). Note the passengers
have gotten off the streetcar and are waiting for the next
one to take them beyond McKellar towards Britannia.

1928: The McKellar Golf Club grows

The big news for the start of the 1928 golf season was that the much-anticipated clubhouse was finally ready to go. Workers were putting in the final touches in late April, and the doors were open to members and visitors by early May.

I won't go into too much detail on the clubhouse here as I've dedicated an entire section to the clubhouse in part three.

The other notable item from 1928 was the incorporation of the McKellar Golf Club as a separate entity from the McKellar Townsite operation. The key directors met on January 3rd, and elected their board, chose to continue using the same name, and officially offering stock at $150,000, 1,500 units at $100 each. A prospectus was filed in March of 1928.

Also noteworthy was that the McKellar Townsite Company took out a mortgage of $60,000 from Miss Margaret McKellar, the daughter of Alexander McKellar, against the (many) remaining unsold lots in the subdivision. I'm not exactly sure why that specific amount was chosen, nor what the funds would have been used for, perhaps other investments, and likely to also help fund the clubhouse construction and other improvements on the golf course.

In 1928, a few changes were made to the course layout (detailed a bit more in part two), and the course thus became a par 70 for 1928.

Shareholder membership was again offered in early 1928, at $125 for a share, which included the first season’s playing. In 1928, membership rates had increased a little, up to $35 for women and $40 for men. You could even purchase a "clubhouse membership" which gave you access to the clubhouse and its social events and facilities, but not the golf course. That membership was offered at $15 for the year. The course operators also offered an “early bird” rate of 75 cents per round for anyone starting from the No. 1 tee before 1:30 p.m. on weekdays (holidays excluded).

Organizers still discussed plans to create tennis courts, but those would never come to fruition.

Play began in early May, with a few holes opening at first, the full 18 available by May 11th. The greenskeeper hired extra men early on to help get the course ready and in ideal playing shape. The pressure was on the grounds crew to get the course in playing condition as quickly as possible once spring weather arrived, a push that still happens the same 100 years later. McKellar's course was relatively flat, but had several low-lying areas which suffered from a lot of flooding in the spring. This would both damage the course a bit, but also cause delays in opening certain holes.

The earliest photos I could find of McKellar Golf Club come from the distant background of some spring 1928 photos taken by the RCAF of the flooding conditions along the Ottawa River. Though the Woodroffe resort community along the River suffered greatly, and was photographed for this purpose, fortunately the background of the photo picks up the McKellar course in its infancy. The detail is not fantastic, but at least it provides a good glimpse to the vastness of the McKellar Park subdivision at the time, and the condition of the course and its trees and elevations and such.

What I've done is included two photos, which are really just from one much larger photo, but which could not be shown in good detail if kept as one thin rectangle.

The first photo below I've labelled with notes to show streets and recognizable landmarks. The clubhouse can be seen at the right under construction, dating the photo to about early April 1928.

McKellar Park in April 1928

The second photo below shows the area to the south of the clubhouse, essentially the entirety of the golf course. Carling Avenue can be seen at the right side of the photo (any houses/structures that appear in the distance on the right would be on the south side of Carling).

McKellar Golf Course in April 1928

The club announced at the start of the golf season that they would be holding inter-club competitions throughout the year, as well as weekly club competitions, the first of which was held on Victoria Day May 24. Other new trophies and competitions were added during the year, including the new "Hodgins Cup" donated by Club Vice-President G.F. Hodgins for the men's champion (to be awarded in an annual tournament) and the new "Ahearn Cup" donated by T.F. Ahearn.

In June of 1928, new club pro Rube Mullen shot a 71, the new record for the course (beating Richardson’s 76 from a year prior). He bettered that mark in August, shooting an even-par 70.

In July, some McKellar Park residents complained to Nepean Township Council about the location of one of the tees being on Balmoral Avenue (Dovercourt). Since the roadway was owned by the Township, the tee's location was not allowed, and Council told McKellar to move the tee. I can't imagine why the golf course managers would have wanted the tee to be so close to roadway, perhaps to maximize the length of a hole, but still bizarre. I found no other details as to the specifics of the tee, but it appears the issue was finally fixed. The Nepean Township Council minutebook includes notes on the complaint, as well as another complaint lodged about the golf course creating drainage of a parking lot down one of the streets, affecting two of the home-owners whose homes pre-dated the golf course, but who now living within its borders. (The Swimmings family will be discussed more in part two, including some great photos).

Nepean Township Council minutes for July 19, 1928

By the end of the 1928 season, membership was over 400, and during the full season, over 2,000 different individuals had played the course. The club actually ran a profit in essentially its first full year of operation.

Ottawa Citizen. September 1, 1928.

1929: The McKellar Golf Club adds more features

1929 saw a few additional changes and additions to the course, based primarily off suggestions made by President W.H. Dwyer and member William Cochrane, who had taken a trip to the southern states in March to observe golf in that part of the continent. “They saw many of the leading golf stars and many of the foremost clubs, had many suggestions to offer for the improvement of their own club”, reported the local papers.

A few changes and "innovations" were made to the course itself to increase its difficulty. The Greens Committee was told in April to continue the work of “terracing and developing the grounds at the north of the clubhouse where a green is being constructed for putting and driving practice.” As well, an experienced chef was hired for food preparation in the clubhouse dining room (Mr. Thomas Joy was hired in April), while new lounge quarters for the men were proposed.

The social-only memberships for clubhouse privileges program was so successful in 1928, that in 1929 it was announced that it would be limited to 50 memberships only. Monthly dances had also been extremely popular the year before, and were brought back again for 1929.

Notably as well, a new pro shop was constructed right by the first hole tee. This allowed club pro Rube Mullen to have a small work shop and store to sell equipment and provide training and coaching services.  This original pro shop was on about where 629 Windermere now stands. It was later replaced and relocated. (More on the pro shop in part three!).

37 new memberships were sold during the off-season of 1928-1929, showing the increasing popularity in the golf course. Unfortunately, 1929 would mark a negative milestone, as the global economic depression commenced that fall. The golf course would experience difficult times in the 1930s, and some significant events occurred that would later shape the future of the property.

The 1930s: The McKellar Golf Club endures hard times & changes hands

Before times got too tough, and when optimism still ran high, the golf course owners added an underground water supply system, which was completed in June 1930. Through a series of pipes and pumps, water was piped in from the Ottawa River at a point on the shore directly in line with Wavell Avenue. A small pumphouse was constructed to house the equipment and electric motors. The pipes then were installed up along Wavell Avenue to the golf course, supplying the greens and fairways with much-needed water. Recall at the time there were no services to the golf course area at all; water and sewage was years away; residents got by using wells which were dug on virtually every occupied property in McKellar Park. It's a wonder to think how McKellar was able to feature a quality playing surface with only minimal access to water.

The club also began applying a layer of oil to Balmoral Avenue (Dovercourt) in 1930 to help keep the dust down. When cars would whip through the course, it would leave behind a "dust nuisance".

The quality playing conditions was in large part (or perhaps fully because of) the efforts of Thomas Unsworth, the long-time greenskeeper at McKellar. Of course this article would be incomplete without dedicating a section to him. He was considered one of the top men in the business, a business which "requires a man to be part scientist, part mechanic and honest workman to assure any measure of success" (wrote the Journal in 1954).

Tom Unsworth was born in England in 1887, and in his early teens began doing landscape work for large estates and castles in England, and built a nine-hole golf course. He came to Canada in 1927, and was hired by the McKellar Golf Course soon after his arrival. His exact start date conflicts in old reports and documents. In some stories, he is cited as being the original landscaper who built the McKellar course; others mention he did not arrive until 1929 or 1930.

A photo of Tom Unsworth later in his life.
Ottawa Citizen, March 14, 1953.

Unsworth had his son Thomas Jr. help him from a young age, eventually becoming the only father-and-son greenskeepers in Canada. The pair remained at McKellar until 1938, moving on to the Chaudiere Golf Club in 1939. The operators of the club built a house for Unsworth in 1930 right on the course, just to the south of the 1st hole green on what is now Fraser.

When I interviewed early and long-time Fraser Avenue resident George Bond a few years ago, he shared a story of Unsworth giving him a few seedlings 18" high, and advised him that if he planted them with a handful of oats that it would help them grow. All of the trees George planted grew in to what he called "whopping big poplar trees", several of which still surround the house at 623 Fraser. Many others which Tom had planted still survive, and George could point them out. The Bond house sat right next to the 1st hole green (to the north) and George told of sitting on the porch and watching the balls land all around the house. I was fortunate to be able to chat with George a few years ago while researching Fraser Avenue and I've always wished I'd made a second visit. (George passed away in June 2019 at the age of 98).

As mentioned above, McKellar had a youthful feel to its membership. But also notably it had a high number of female players, a fact highlighted in an article in Canadian Golfer Magazine in 1930. It was mentioned that McKellar had 200 female members, which would have been almost half of the total membership.

Canadian Golfer Magazine, July 1930.

A notable event occurred in the fall of 1930 when Norman Kilby Hodgins and Irene Slattery Hodgins took Edward D. Watson to court for the sum of $500 over an incident at McKellar on June 28th. The first case of its kind ever to be taken to the courts, Irene alleged that Edward had teed off on the first tee before she was sufficiently out of the line of flight of his ball. His ball struck her, inflicting serious injury, which she argued constituted “negligence and recklessness”.

Canadian Golfer Magazine - December 1930

A three-and-a-half hour hearing was held in April 1931 in Ottawa in front of a Judge Colin O’Brian. Both counsels agreed there was no direct precedent which could be found in law. According to the evidence presented, Irene had been 160 yards out on the fairway from the tee when Watson teed off. His ball struck her on the chest, causing injuries which she claimed had necessitated an operation a few months later. Meanwhile the defence claimed there was no negligence “as Mr. Watson had given the required warning, the call of ‘fore’ prior to hitting the ball”. The defence also stated that that in participation in the game of golf one also took the risks inherent to the game.  The Judge dismissed the case June 19th.

Willam Henry Dwyer passed away on December 12th, 1930, while still holding the title of President of the McKellar Golf Club, which he had since inception. He was an active member of Ottawa business, political and social life, one of his most significant accomplishments being a key part of the committee of the Board of Trade for Ottawa that pushed for Lemieux Island as the home of Ottawa's filtration plant, versus one far outside town at 31-Mile-Lake.

In the early 1930s, membership appeared to decline a little, but the operators of the course continued to operate the course despite the financial hardships most in Ottawa and the rural west end were facing. A popular feature continued to be the 75 cent round for anyone starting a round before 2 p.m. on weekdays.

Also popular was the social life of the club, which included regular dinners, dances and concerts. Members experienced the benefits of regular golf, but also an active social life with their friends and fellow members. During a time where entertainment was increasingly difficult to find or afford, the McKellar Golf Club would have provided ample opportunity to stay busy and connected, for a relatively low cost.

May 1933 aerial photo of the entire course with some
key landmarks labeled

The golf club owners began taking out loans as early as 1932 on the property. Financial losses were beginning to be felt. In 1932 and 1933, the golf course owners did not pay their municipal taxes to the Township of Nepean. Warnings were issued (as they were for thousands of other property owners in the Township who were unable to keep up with the relatively small tax payments, particularly when it involved small vacant lots that at one time was an investment, or part of their dream to one day build a home of their own; neither of which was sustainable year after year with the economy floundering with no sign of recovery), but the company was unable to come up with the funds. In addition, lenders began to get weary, and by 1934 the issue was full-blown.

The late winter of 1934 appears to be the first time that the club's financial issues were made public. With the Canadian economy suffering through the financial depression, the real estate market was dead, growing unrest in Europe cast concern of another potential world war, and the number of Ottawans with expendable money for pastimes such as golf was declining. On the eve of their annual general meeting in February of 1934, the McKellar Golf Club directors were considering to suspend operations.

With the closure of McKellar looming, some golfers in the City of Ottawa began pushing for the City to acquire the course to become Ottawa’s first municipal course (publicly controlled and city supervised). It was estimated that $30-35k would buy the club, not including the club house and its accessories. P.J. Nolan who had helped campaign for the McKellar Club back in 1926 when he was a City Alderman was now Mayor of Ottawa, and he was supportive of a municipal course, but was non-committal to the McKellar site (likely for the obvious reasons of what could be pending negotiations for the purchase). He felt that municipal golf was a good idea, that “public patronage would repay the city for its investment”. Special legislation from the provincial government would have been required for the city to operate a municipal club outside the city limits (as McKellar would not be part of Ottawa for another 16 years), if public interest was sufficient.

Following the McKellar Golf Club AGM, all talk of financial difficulties were played down, and it was “authoritatively stated that the club will function in 1934 as usual, a prosperous summer being anticipated this coming summer.” Yet, just days later the Journal ran a small blurb noting that Laura Carmichael was filing for an unpaid debt of $1,000 from McKellar, from a promissory note from August 1932 that was now 6 months overdue.

The shareholders of McKellar Golf Club met several times in the spring of 1934 to discuss the issues, and a “reorganization of the club” was made, “it is understood that the co-operation of all shareholders will be required in order to bring those arrangements to a successful issue”, wrote the Citizen. By May, the group was still meeting and negotiating on the way forward, but had great difficulty in solving the issues.

Then in early April, Dwyer Investments Ltd., the company holding the name of McKellar’s original leading booster, the late W.H. Dwyer, sought foreclosure of a mortgage held by the McKellar Townsite, from June 1928, of the $10,000 principal and $496 of interest owing, on the club house and other property (though not the golf course). A week later, Dwyer's heirs filed a writ suing for another $5,190.52, claiming the McKellar Golf Club owed this sum as the amount paid by the group of investors to the Canadian Bank of Commerce as surety on a promissory note. The estate of Margaret McKellar also held a mortgage on the club property, and it too was pushing for a plan.

Unfortunately, the Ottawa newspapers of the day did not publish the full story, but however it was done, the directors survived the spring of 1934.

However, it was not to be, and by later in the year, it was known that the golf course was in significant trouble. Dwyer Investments foreclosed on the mortgage and took over ownership of the clubhouse and the 4 lots it sat on, on November 28th 1934.

Three months later, on February 21st, 1935, virtually the entirety of the unsold McKellar Townsite lots were surrendered to Nepean Township for unpaid taxes. This included all of the golf course! The figure owing to Nepean for the 251 golf course lots south of Balmoral (Dovercourt) Avenue was $3,808.86 (they also owed $5,048.72 for 249 lots north of Balmoral throughout the rest of McKellar Park). A grand total of exactly 500 lots in McKellar Park handed over to Nepean Township for less than $9,000 of tax debt. Amazing to consider 85 years later.

The golf course lots south of Balmoral were sold directly and immediately on the same date (February 21st, 1935 - which must have been arranged in advance, with the Township knowing they were imminent to claim ownership of the lots) to John Herbert Ralph, a law student at Osgoode Hall, and just 24 years old. Ralph merely had to pay the taxes owing ($3,808) and the lots were his.

The registration of the sale took most of 1935 for administrative reasons, becoming official on December 4th. Ralph then sold them 3 weeks later to John E. Cole and Alexander McKechnie. Cole was a long-time Westboro figure, whose family had operated the Highland Park Dairy Farm. McKechnie was one of the principals in the Westboro Townsite Company, and had been the secretary/treasurer of the McKellar Golf Club! Surely a little fishy that he was able to acquire all of the lots in his own name right away, and perhaps that was why a 24-year old law student was used as an intermediary. It is worth mentioning that Ralph tragically died suddenly the following November at the young age of 25 from an infection following a tooth extraction.

McKechnie bought out Cole of his half in July 1938 to become the sole owner of most of the golf course lots.

Ottawa Citizen photo of McKechnie,
who with his large acquisitions in
1935, 1938 and 1941 became the sole
owner and operator of the McKellar
Golf Course property. 

As for the lots north of Balmoral (Dovercourt), Nepean Township sold those off gradually (mostly after WWII), but McKechnie waited until December of 1941 to acquire a large chunk of them just on the north side of Dovercourt, a total of 81 lots. During the period Nepean owned these lots (1935-1941) the McKellar Golf Club had still been using these lots anyways, perhaps under a side deal or arrangement. McKechnie purchased all of these lots, and now owned the entirety of the golf course property.

He continued to add to his collection by acquiring single lots as they became available (or as he could convince the owners perhaps) along the border of the property. He surely knew what he was doing in building his holdings as much as he could. McKechnie's investment would pay off in the 1950s (more on that in part five).


Back to the Golf Club history...

The Club had hired well-respected club pro Ernie Wakelam away from the Brockville Country Club for the 1931 season. He stayed with McKellar through the 1933 season, but perhaps owing to the uncertainty of the club in 1934, he left for the Gatineau Country Club.

By 1934, fees were $40 for men, $35 ladies, or $55 for a family of two. Juniors could obtain a golf membership for just $20, and a special "morning only" membership was offered at $25.

Ottawa Citizen, April 25, 1934.

In September 1934, the Citizen published what may well have been the first public article about the idea of a western parkway, a "scenic driveway as a westerly entrance to the city". The Ottawa Town Planning Commission, Nepean Township and Ontario government officials had been in extensive discussions about the plan, and the Ontario Highways Department had engineers on the ground examining the proposal. The initial plans called for the parkway to follow the route it currently does from Bayview on west past Island Park Drive, along the river past Westboro, but then it was to "swing south through the Cole farm (aka Rochester Field) to the Richmond road and on south west through the neighbourhood of the McKellar Golf Club grounds to Carling avenue" (rather than at Lincoln Fields as it does now). This project was also considered to be an employment tool to bring desperately needed employment to Nepean Township and Ottawa, as it would employ hundreds of men for months. The plan had some wheels, but ultimately would not see the light for 20 years, and instead a mix of the parkway and Queensway would eventually serve the intended purpose.

Headline from the Ottawa Citizen, September 28, 1934

Here is an ad offering membership for the "last half" of the season. It also lists daily rates as well:

Ottawa Citizen, July 27, 1935

A few more interesting tidbits from the late-1930s:

* In 1937, it was decided to change the greenskeeping approach. Prior to 1937, most of the attention was on the greens, but it was decided to focus instead more on the fairways.

* In May of 1937, an unusual event occurred when an “enthusiast” played a round on McKellar with a bow and arrow. “He shot the arrow as one would a golf ball, a handkerchief indicating the hole. His score (with the arrow) for the round was 66”, reported the newspapers.

* A day following the bow and arrow round, it was reported that a deer was seen trotting across two fairways and headed in the direction of the city. “The animal appeared to be in no hurry but did not stop to sample the greens or the fairways”

* In June 1939, the McKellar Clubhouse was broken into and robbed. Someone entered on a Sunday night and stole $35 in cigarettes and tobacco from the restaurant, and also broke into the garage and stole an old truck with no license plates. The Royal Ottawa and Ottawa Hunt and Golf were also broken into that week – a string of thefts at golf clubs.

* Later that same month, 22-year old Edward Norman Shaver of Maitland Avenue pled guilty to stealing four golf balls from the vicinity of McKellar, and sentenced to seven days in jail! Nepean Constable Borden Conley had no evidence, but went off complaints from golfers that youths were hiding in the bushes and stealing the balls from the fairways before the players could retrieve them. Shaver claimed his family was destitute and their only income was from the few dollars he made selling lost golf balls. He had been warned twice previously. Similar thefts were reported at the Hunt Club as well. Seems a little harsh!

* There was also a story from 1939 about golfer Bill Shore hitting a “birdie” teeing off from the 290-yard fourth hole. "His ball went about 100 yards when it struck a robin in mid air, knocking the bird senseless to the ground.”

* The big "Beef and greens" dinner which annually marked the end of the golf season was held September 30th, 1939. Trophies and awards were handed out, and the speaker of honour at the dinner was club member Harry Bramah, who survived the torpedoing of the SS Athenia earlier that month. The Athenia was the first UK ship to be sunk by the Germans in WWII.

The 1940s: The McKellar Golf Club gains in popularity as the neighbourhood fills in around it

There is little to be written of note on the McKellar Golf Club in the 1940s. The club continued on successfully, and the real estate market in the area boomed. By the end of the decade, the streets had filled in quite well throughout McKellar Park, and Westboro, and the golf course gradually became one of the last large open spaces close to the city (McKellar Park would not become part of the City of Ottawa until 1950). By that time, it became clear that despite the popularity of the course, the land was becoming valuable, and its days were likely numbered.

The highlight of this section for me, is this amazing photograph provided by Miss Catherine Swimmings, daughter of Edwin K. Swimmings, who took a series of photos around his Windermere Avenue home as a teen in the summer of 1942. Several of his photos will be featured in part two, but for now, this amazing photograph captures the north end of the golf course in wonderful detail.

He was likely standing in front of his house at 622 Windermere when he took this photograph, and as you can see, there is almost nothing to the east. Visible in the photograph in the distance are Broadview School at left, and the Bond family home at what is now 623 Fraser Avenue in the center.  To the right of the Bond house is a rough, and then the green of the 1st hole. The flag appears to be visible as well. Just an amazing photograph.

McKellar Golf  Course - Summer 1942
Looking east from Windermere Avenue
(Courtesy of Catherine Swimmings)

As the neighbourhood built up, the McKellar Golf Course was of course widely played in the summer, but the land was also popularly used in the winter for skiing and tobogganing. Many long-time residents of McKellar Park have shared great memories of cross-country skiing all over the course. Eventually Alex McKechnie had to put up barriers around the greens, to provide extra protection for them from potential damage. In 1948, it was reported that many of the barriers had been ripped down, and the greens trampled on. “These ski marks go into the turf and remain there until late Spring” McKechnie said to the Citizen. “Any place on the course except near the greens we do not mind, but if skiers persist in breaking down the fences and damaging property, we will have to keep them off. The foreman at the course has his orders to keep persons away from the greens. This measure is merely to protect the course."

Below are a few additional photos taken at the McKellar club in the 1940s. They were used by Flagstick Magazine in their 2008 article on the club, and I thank Joe McLean for sharing with me his copies of the photo. They originate from a member's personal collection. (Others will appear in part three of this series). I'm afraid I don't have names or captions. The top two appear to be taken out on the course, while the bottom two were taken in front of the clubhouse.

McKellar Golf Course 1940s
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

McKellar Golf Course 1940s
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

McKellar Golf Course 1940s
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

McKellar Golf Course 1940s
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

The following two photos were also from Flagstick Magazine, and were from the collection of Ken Robertson, who was a caddy at McKellar Golf Course, and was interviewed by Joe McLean for his article. They were both taken in front of the clubhouse:

Ken Robertson 1940-41
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

Ken Robertson and Bob Miller on
Clubhouse verandah. Circa 1940.
(Courtesy of Flagstick Magazine)

The beginning of the end for McKellar Golf Club came in April of 1948, when Nepean Township released its tax assessments, and had increased the golf course’s assessment substantially once again. In an interview with the Journal on the morning of Saturday May 1st, owner Alex McKechnie said “there is nothing else we can do. The new assessment is putting us out of business. The people can not be expected to pay higher fees. At present the club amounts to a public club, and fees are only sufficient for its upkeep.” McKellar was acting basically as a public course, with non-members being allowed to play at their leisure, for $1 a day during the week, and $1.50 on weekends and holidays.

“This will be the last season for the club. It will be impossible to permit low priced golf playing. The revenue for the Summer season is not sufficient to carry on when the course is assessed on a building lot basis”, he added.

Recall that the golf course sat on the originally laid out McKellar Townsite plan lots, numbering about 500 lots. Yet the Township historically charged taxes based on acreage of vacant land. Now they were attempting to charge the club owner for taxes based on the lot value of each individual lot, as they would all of the homes in the neighbourhood.

“From 1933 the golf course seemed to be an asset to the community, and assessment was within operations. In 1946, the assessment increase was almost $50,000”, McKechnie stated. “Now this year a further increase of $110,000 in the assessment was made by Nepean Township. The daily playing fees can not be raised to take care of this escalator plan of assessment, and whether beautification schemes are wanted or merely talked about, the result is that this area will be offered for sale as building lots.”

Assessment had been fixed at $10,300 in 1933. In 1946, that figure jumped by $46,500 to $56,800, and then by another $11,500 in 1947 to $68,300, and then $110,000 more in 1948 to a total of $178,300. The increases were further difficult to accept, as no sewage, water or additional services had been provided by the Township.

McKechnie may not have been all that sad about the increase. Though he was one of the original principals in the club, acting as secretary/treasurer for its first decade, his investment in the 1930s to buy the club's land outright was a wise one. With the post-WWII housing boom in full swing, there was potential for a hefty profit. He was now 59 years old, and though I’m sure he loved the McKellar Golf Club, it probably was a difficult decision.

On Nepean Township's side, their strategy was intriguing. They stood to earn substantially more tax proceeds if the club was converted to residential lots and built on. So the huge tax increases may have been strategic to try to force the sale. They knew the value of the land too, and they could not continue on taxing it at such a low assessment regardless.

McKechnie succeeded in fending off the increases and won reductions at the Court of Revision for several years, but eventually his hand would be forced. (The complete story of the sale of the McKellar course and all of its rumoured future uses makes up the very interesting 'part five' of this series).

Below is a photo taken on the McKellar course in June of 1949, and features former Ottawa Rough Rider great Rick Perley:

Ottawa Citizen, June 23, 1949

The 1950s: The end of McKellar Golf Club

As the calendar turned to 1950, a large swath of Nepean Township was added to the City of Ottawa. The McKellar Park neighbourhood and golf club was included in this annexation. This change expedited the situation, as the club was now paying city taxes, which included business assessments, and a more rigid structure of assessing.

Once 1950 hit, no seasons of golf were ever assured at McKellar Park. Often right up until April or May, it was unknown whether the club would operate and the course would open. Ownership was non-committal on long-term plans, and so announcements were typically made in late winter to confirm the club would operate. Complicating things was that Alex McKechnie passed away May 17th, 1950. His family would continue to operate the course.

Despite all of this, the McKellar Club did operate for three final seasons in 1950, 1951 and 1952.

There was a curious water incident in May of 1951. On Monday morning May 21st, staff arrived at the course to discover that no water was coming in. An inspection was made at the river end, and the pump was working fine, the intake was working, and the water was going in to the pipe perfectly normally. Club officials frantically searched the pipeline route up to Wavell from the river, and found the pipeline had been cut. And not just cut but removed. A long ditch appeared instead “A big ditch, almost canal-size”. 500 feet of 3” iron pipe had vanished.

The club officials called police. The police referred them to the City Complains Bureau. Who forwarded them to the Water Works Department, who forwarded them back to the Complains Bureau. As the newspaper reported it: “Finally the Complaints Bureau telephoned the clubhouse and in darkly confidential tones imparted the information: The Water Works took it.” (In fact the next day the paper ran a retraction, stating it was not the Water Works that took it but the Works Department). The City explained that the pipe was in the way of a drainage ditch. The City workmen had turned it up while digging and knew there was no city pipe there, so they simply took it away.

Ottawa Citizen, July 5, 1951.

Ottawa Journal, March 27, 1952.

Below is the schedule of events for McKellar for the last year it operated (1952):

Ottawa Journal, May 28, 1952

In April of 1952, Donald McKechnie stated that it was “very likely” the course would not operate in 1953, as taxes had become so heavy. He said instead consideration was being given to an elaborate sub-division which would make a “miniature Rockliffe” in the West End, which would require the services of water and sewage be added by the city (water was already at the boundary, with sewage planned for 1954).

1952 and 1953 were filled with rumour and intrigue as to the future of the club. Potential sales were reported but never made, over a dozen different outcomes were presented for the property in the media over time. (All of this to be detailed in part five).

On one of the final days of operation for the club, an amazing story occurred. On Wednesday September 17th, 1952, an Ottawa policeman caught a criminal on the course while golfing! Detective Lester Routliffe “policeman-turned-king-of-the-links”, scored his “arrest-in-one” on the fifth hole, when he arrested 20-year-old Charles Paul Gregoire for theft of more than $900 worth of golf balls and equipment from the Ottawa Hunt and Golf Club’s pro shop (616 balls on 4 separate occasions ranging from Aug 14 to Sep 13, four pairs of golf socks, a windbreaker a golf bag and 10 clubs). Gregoire had stolen the equipment and was attempting to sell the balls at low prices to McKellar members along the course.

The Citizen ran a couple of photos of Routliffe the next day, which also provides a rare shot of the 4th hole tee and little wooden sign. (The 4th tee was just south of Dovercourt on the east side of Fraser. I believe that house in the background would be 544 Dovercourt Avenue at the corner of Denbury as it originally was built, but I'm not sure. It's the only house that would make sense based on the location of the tee and what would have been built at the time.

Ottawa Citizen, September 18, 1952

Though presented as somewhat of an accidental arrest in the paper, the story was followed up on by Win Mills in the Citizen in 1969 when marking Routliffe's 40 years on the force. As the story went, Routliffe was driving along on Carling when he spotted a suspect lurking in the wooded rough of the McKellar course. Parking his car, he got some clubs from the club house, and approached a nearby tee. He sliced a couple of shots into the rough and moved towards the buses.

“P-s-s-s-t” hissed the suspect from the bushes. “Wanna buy a few golf balls. Only 50 cents each?”

“Sure” said the detective, “bring ‘em over”.

“I gotta whole pailful” said the suspect.

“Let’s have a look” said Routliffe. He did, found the balls bore the markings of some that were missing from the Hunt and Golf Club and placed Gregoire under arrest. The police recovered most of the equipment except for one club and 600 balls which he had been selling for 50 cents a ball.

“I shoulda suspected he was a cop” the thief told Magistrate Glenn Strike later in court. “He was heading around the course the wrong way.” Gregoire pled guilty and was held in jail for a week until his sentencing, which was one year in an Ontario Reformatory definite and one month indeterminate.

The McKellar Golf Club had its last golf played on the weekend of November 1st and 2nd 1952. The Citizen even ran a short article about the closure of the club.

Headline from the Ottawa Citizen, November 1, 1952

In the early spring of 1953, there were some rumblings of a possible additional year of golf at McKellar. Demand was high from golfers in the west end. The course appeared to be in good shape in early April, except that a couple of greens had been deliberately damaged over the winter. Club officials continued to protect the facilities, in the small chance the course did operate.

However, the final nail in the coffin came on April 10th 1953 with the confirmed sale of the property. The McKellar Golf Club was no more.


Lots more to come! Check out Parts 2, 3, 4 and 5 coming soon!

(As I mentioned in the intro post, if anyone reading this has ANY old photos, artifacts or stories about the McKellar Park Golf Club, I encourage you to contact me at; still plenty of time to get them in to the next 4 parts! Thank you!)  

Please feel free to add comments/memories as well to this post. Thanks!

An original McKellar Park Golf Club sign.
(Photo by Joe McLean, since I can't find the ones I took
a few years ago). It now hangs in the bar area of the
Pine Lodge course in Bristol, Quebec.


  1. Really enjoyed your post on McKellar Park!!

  2. Thank you for this wonderful account of the McKellar Golf Course. Some questions have been answered and I have learned more about my family history, as well as that of the whole area. Walks in McKellar are now even more meaningful now. Thanks again.

  3. I grew up on Mansfield Ave.(purchased in 1955). My dad used to dig up golf balls in the garden...evidence of some errant shots from golfers years before.
    Bill Edwards

  4. Dave, I have some names of past champions if you need them.

  5. I just searhed real estate lawyer toronto on google and got your blog. Amazing blog, keep up the great work.

  6. I definitely remember digging up a golf ball as a kid at my dad's house on Mansfield Ave.

  7. Does anyone recall an article in one of the golf magazines where I believe Ken Robertson was interviewed on the history of McKellar when golf balls were being found during construction in Westboro?