Saturday, July 25, 2020

The McKellar Golf Course - Part Three (The clubhouse and other buildings)

This is part three of a five part series on the history of the McKellar Golf Club/Course. 
Part one (McKellar Park, club beginnings and the general history) can be read: HERE
Part two (The course layout and club boundaries) can be read: HERE

Another reminder, for anyone reading this, if you have any old photos, artifacts or anecdotes about the McKellar Golf Course, I would love to hear from you. Please email me at Thank you!

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This third part is specifically related to the clubhouse itself. I left this part out of Part One intentionally, in part to make part one a little shorter, but also because the building had an interesting history of its own. So this section will look at the history of the clubhouse, and a couple of the other buildings that existed on the course.

The McKellar Golf Clubhouse


A clubhouse for a golf course is of course, a necessity. At bare minimum, it is where golfers check in, obtain their tee time, and/or pay their green fees. Typically a locker room and washroom facilities will be located here as well, so that members can store their equipment, clothes and shoes, or so daily or one-time players can change. Most clubhouses also are sure to include a canteen or bar, so that golfers can enjoy a drink or two before or after their round. McKellar had all of these features, and more. The clubhouse built between Wavell and Gainsborough Avenues was quite large, and had many of the amenities of a country club. Members attended McKellar to play golf, but there was also a larger social element to the club, involving dinners, dances, meetings and other social events.

When McKellar Golf Club first opened in the spring of 1927, a big clubhouse was only planned for. Thus the directors of the club found a nearby house to rent, and use as a temporary clubhouse. As mentioned in part one, this house was located at the corner of Westminster and Crossfield, at what is now 541 Westminster Avenue.

The first glimpse the public had of the permanent clubhouse came before the first golf was even played at McKellar. The directors released an architectural drawing of the proposed building, which ran in the newspaper on March 24th, 1927. The plans were prepared by the firm of Richards and Abra (who had also designed Broadview School, Nepean High School, and several other prominent buildings in the area).

Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1927

As mentioned in the caption, the building was to be completed "early in the summer" (they would be off by about a year on that), and that it would be a 50' x 65' building, constructed of cinder block and stucco, and "equipped with large verandahs and balconies", and "two large club rooms, which may be used for dining, or other purposes."

It appears original plans called for the clubhouse to be built on Windermere (Fourth Avenue), but that was later changed. Windermere would have been a tricky location for it, as it would have had to be built essentially right next to the Swimmings houses one way or another. I wonder if way back when the Swimmings discussed the issue with the club, and convinced them to build a block over.

The directors met at the temporary clubhouse on June 10th, 1927, where they viewed (and approved) the final plans for construction. The estimate for the building was now up to $20,000.


Construction took time, and the builders worked on it throughout 1927, likely took some or most of the winter off, and kept going well into 1928.

The photo below is a slightly different view from photos I included in part one, which shows the clubhouse in March or April of 1928.

Spring 1928 photo of the clubhouse (white building
in center) under final construction. 

In February of 1928, the Club ran large ads in the local papers showing an illustration of the clubhouse (updated from the one ran in 1927, with some modifications to the design), using the new clubhouse as a promotional tool to bring in new members.

Ottawa Citizen, February 18, 1928

On Saturday April 28th, 1928, the McKellar Golf Club took out a full page ad in the Ottawa Citizen to announce the opening of the new clubhouse, and to promote the local businesses who had contributed to its construction. They took out a similar one a week later in the Ottawa Journal. Both are shown below:

Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1928

Ottawa Journal, May 5, 1928

The new clubhouse opened in late April, with workmen continuing to put on the final touches throughout May. The interior was essentially complete at opening, it was some exterior work that was completed during the summer.

Much of the material and labour for the project was sourced locally. Beginning with Richards & Abra the architects, of course. Lumber and finishing trim was supplied by M. N. Cummings of Westboro. Painting was completed by A. J. Liddiard of Highland Park. The electrical work and appliances were provided by Paul Sanders of 114 Richmond in Westboro. Plumbing and heating systems were installed by D.J. Currie of Highland Avenue in Westboro. Even the Standard Bread Company on Hilson Avenue advertised that “Of Course! Standard Bread and Rolls will be served at the new McKellar Golf Club”.

One other detail pulled from these ads was that it appears a Mason & Risch piano was acquired from the John Raper Piano Company on Sparks Street. An article that ran later that season also noted that the Club had acquired an electric Orthophonic Victrola, which, according to Wikipedia, "first demonstrated publicly in 1925, was the first consumer phonograph designed specifically to play electrically recorded phonograph records."

The write-up noted that the final building was a “lofty building" 62' by 42' (scaled back slightly from the originally proposed 65' by 50'), with a ground floor featuring "a large living room, with fireplace; large dining room, with fireplace; reception hall; cloak room; office and kitchen. From the dining room looking north opens a spacious balcony.”

“The view from the spacious dining room to the Laurentian Mountains is unsurpassed”, wrote other copy, and “the locker room with showers on the second floor allows sunshine and exhilarating air in abundance. A large southern balcony facing Carling Avenue, also one on the north overlooking the Ottawa, and one on the east viewing No. 1 tee, will admit of leisure.”

“The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th holes, laid out at the west side, are ideal, and the natural beauty of this particular part of the field is the only mental hazard to encounter.”

The clubhouse was “situated on a bluff opposite Fifth avenue…offering an excellent view of the Ottawa river and the Gatineau Hills in the distance.”  The clubhouse faced the 18th green.

“The most desirable spot was chosen for the building, having in mind the great conveniences of using the street carline, and the decision was made for Fifth Avenue. The consensus of opinion is that no more advantageous spot could be found.”

The Clubhouse remained virtually the same over the years, experiencing an occasional renovation, including a fairly significant one in 1950, which was a little odd as the club at the time was rumoured to be sold for development any day.

The Final Years & Demolition

When golf was officially cancelled in the spring of 1953 with the sale of the property (more on that in part five!), the clubhouse sat unused.

In November 1954, it was announced the City of Ottawa had made a deal with the developer who purchased the golf course land, to sell the clubhouse to the City, who would then convert it into a west end library branch. The developer offered the site as a 100'x100' lot at $1 per year for ten years with an option to purchase after the ten years. Mayor Charlotte Whitton had championed the idea.

It was said the clubhouse was too big for the current library needs, but that the rest of the space could be used for an adult art class.

Ottawa Citizen, November 30, 1954

At the 1955 budget review in April, the city approved $11,400 for the opening of the library in the clubhouse. The library would be set to open in July.

However in May of 1955, the Ottawa Public Library Board rejected the proposal that the new branch be located in the clubhouse. The Board would have had to pay for operating costs including heating and janitorial services. It said operations costs could be not be repaid by the service it would render. “In addition to being difficult to reach, the proposed branch was in an area of only some 3,500 residents. Such a branch should be in a locality where it could serve 25,000 to 35,000 persons”. Mayor Whitton’s idea was scratched, and the building continued to sit unused.

Two years later Carlingwood mall would open, and the west end branch would be located in the mall (the Carlingwood library building which still is in use today, would not come until 1966).

When a large enticing building like a golf clubhouse sits for years at a time, vacant and unmaintained, in a fully developed neighbourhood, it was inevitable that local kids would begin to explore it.

Sure enough, by the spring of 1958, it had become a big problem in the neighbourhood. Residents had been complaining for years about the situation, and the complaints of the community association finally reached Ottawa's Board of Control and Mayor George H. Nelms.

Mayor Nelms visited the site and spoke to residents, and reported back that some of the “teenage goings-on” in the building were “disgraceful”.

The Journal reported: “The mayor said that even though the building was boarded up, teenagers were breaking in and lights, probably candles, could be seen at night. The building was definitely contributing to juvenile delinquency, he added, and the morality squad of the Police Department would be notified.”

The City was discussing with the lawyer on how the developers who bought the golf course and clubhouse could be made to tear it down immediately.

On April 9th, 1958 they ran a photo of the clubhouse, with the hilarious headline “Scene of orgies by candlelight?”.

Ottawa Citizen, April 9, 1958

If the City of Ottawa Archives were open, I would have access to an original negative of this photo, however, due to Coronavirus measures, I'm not able to obtain it. However this would definitely be the best quality photo of the old clubhouse (even though it came when the building was at its worst!)

The Board of Control planned to send a “fairly strong letter” written complaint to the owners that it was causing “aggravation” to the neighbourhood. However they were advised by the city lawyer that the premises were neither a menace to health, nor a fire hazard, so neither the city’s medical officer of health nor the Ontario fire marshal could do anything. And since it was not a 'dwelling', the housing standards bylaw did not apply. It was a bit of a political pickle.

Interestingly, in another newspaper interview, Ottawa Police Chief Duncan MacDonell said that though the building was “a distasteful eyesore”, he felt it was more of a playground for children, disputing the mayor's claims that it was a “rendezvous for teenagers”. He said residents were more concerned with the safety of youngsters than “immoral practices” of teenagers.

The Board of Control did eventually send a letter later in April, which the developers ignored. In early May, the City decided to seek more legal options. The city’s works director was told by Mayor Nelms to call Toronto, reversing the charges, to notify the developers that they city was going to take legal steps to have them repair or demolish the clubhouse. The Journal wrote that “residents have complained that the ramshackle building has become the scene of nefarious activities by groups of juveniles of both sexes”

The City also considered the idea of withholding building permits in the area until the clubhouse was dealt with, however this was a no-go, as the developer itself was not building houses, they were selling lots to local builders, who were taking out the permits.

In the end, Mayor Nelms announced on May 14th, that the developers had agreed to demolish the clubhouse. The clubhouse was torn down sometime that summer. The beautiful old building would only have been 30 years old at the time.

Exact Location

The exact location of the clubhouse was where 614 and 618 Gainsborough Avenue now stand, and a little bit into the backyards of 613 and 617 Wavell Avenue.

This aerial below from 1953 shows Wavell at the top, Gainsborough through the center and Windermere at the bottom, with Keenan running top to bottom along the right. The houses have begun to fill in around the golf course property. The clubhouse is the larger structure in the very center of the photo, where Gainsborough basically ends as a paved street.

October 1953 aerial

Here is a view from 1958, and the clubhouse property is literally the last two lots not built on, leaving just a vacant square. This aerial photo must have been taken within weeks of the demolition. Some of the old foundation can still be seen:

Fall 1958 aerial

Here are the two houses on that property today, 618 and 614 Gainsborough Avenue:

618 and 614 Gainsborough Avenue in 2019

In 2013, Lost Ottawa featured a photo taken by Kent Peddie showing foundations revealed next to a house on Gainsborough Avenue. The post did not list a specific address, but I would believe that was likely the old clubhouse foundations

Gainsborough Avenue - old foundations discovered
(Source: Lost Ottawa, Kent Peddie, July 2013)

Additional photographs

Finding a photo of the clubhouse has always proven difficult. For years this was one of my primary local history photo pursuits. As you can see, the above photos have bits of it, but not a nice clear photo of it. One day I will obtain the 1958 photo at the Archives. Fortunately Joe McLean in his Flagstick article a few years ago found a former member with a handful of photos with the clubhouse in the background. Two of these are shown below. I am not aware of the names of the people photographed, unfortunately.

McKellar Park Golf Clubhouse
(Source: Joe McLean, Flagstick Magazine)

McKellar Park Golf Clubhouse
(Source: Joe McLean, Flagstick Magazine)

And finally, here is a photo of another house (Stafford Salmon's home) at 608 Windermere Avenue, a few lots to the north of the Swimmings, by the entrance to the course, with the clubhouse visible in behind.

608 Windermere Avenue, winter of 1941-42
(Courtesy of Catherine Swimmings)

The Pro Shop

In 1929, the golf course opened its first pro shop. It was opened for then-pro Rube Mullen as a location to buy and sell equipment, balls, clubs, etc., but also as an office for the club pro. Each year a pro (or occasionally two) were hired by the golf club to give lessons, provide expert advice to golfers, and keep an eye on the design and maintenance of the course. In part four I'll provide a full list of all of the club pros in McKellar's history.

The first shop was located by the first hole tee. It was later rebuilt, or very likely relocated.  It first appeared at about where 629 Windermere now stands.

It was (partially) captured in its earliest existence by the Swimmings family, who took a photo of young Edwin in 1929, on the sidewalk of Windermere, just north of Dovercourt (looking north). The pro shop can be seen in behind. The sidewalks by the way, came in during prior to 1920, and only on Windermere did they go as far south as Tillbury (I can't explain why). Most streets had no sidewalks at all.

Windermere Avenue, 1929
Courtesy of Catherine Swimmings

At some point in the 1930s or 1940s, the pro shop moved, and was located just by the clubhouse. Again, I'm not sure if it was rebuilt, or just picked up and moved. The new location was where 609 Gainsborough Avenue stands today. It shows up on the 1948 fire insurance plan on this spot:

Clipping from the 1948 fire insurance plan, showing the
pro shop very close to the clubhouse, just on the other
side of Gainsborough. 

The front of the pro shop was captured in two photos that Joe McLean acquired. Again, not sure who the pictured golfers are, but it provides a rare view of the pro shop, from the 1940s!

McKellar Golf Course pro shop, 1940s
(Source: Joe McLean, Flagstick Magazine)

McKellar Golf Course pro shop, 1940s
(Source: Joe McLean, Flagstick Magazine)

The Hot Dog stand

The hot dog stand was located on the course at the half-way point, by the 10th tee. It was located adjacent to the Thomas Curtis house at 650 Windermere, by the 10th tee. In Joe McLean's Flagstick Magazine article, he interviewed former caddy Ken Robertson, who noted in the interview that "most golfers bought their caddies a coke and a hot dog at the hot dog stand, located by the tenth tee."

I have no photos or really any other stories about the stand!

The Greenskeeper's House

This is another point of contention for many. Along with the many rumours of people's houses being the McKellar golf clubhouse, I've heard several reports of people claiming their home was the former greenskeeper's house.

As described in detail in part two, when the McKellar Park directors decided to open the golf course, a few houses within the boundaries of the course were marooned inside. One other such house was a little house on the east side of Fraser, just on the south side of Dovercourt.

It was a small house, just 1-storey high and wood-framed, constructed in 1923 by Thomas L. Brown, a car cleaner with Canadian National Railways. He and his wife Lola and their two young children resided in the home, until the golf course opened. This house was at where 651 Fraser Avenue stands today.

In 1929, the McKellar Golf Course directors bought the house from Brown, and offered it to their greenskeepers for their family. It was a smart strategy, to ensure their greenskeeper would always be around, and would be able to keep an eye on the property over the winter.

The house fell directly between the 1st and 3rd hole greens.

Thomas Unsworth and his wife Ethel were the first to move in, as Unsworth was the greenskeeper from about 1929 until 1938. The final groundskeeper, was Frank H. Brooks from 1947 to 1952, and he too remained in the house at this time.

I have no photo of the greenskeeper's house from the golf course era. Below is a photo of the house that stands on the site of 651 Fraser Avenue today. I am highly skeptical that this house is the same that stood on the golf course. The roof is pitched the opposite way (east/west, instead of north/south as it used to be, from aerial photos), and even by 1948, it was still shown on the fire insurance plan as a 1-storey house. It certainly is possible that the original house was kept and added on to, to become the house it is today, and if anyone has any evidence towards that, I would love to be able to share it.

651 Fraser Avenue in 2019 - the site of the Greenskeeper's house

Thus, it appears no original buildings directly associated with the golf course still exist today. Again, if there is evidence out there to the contrary, that a structure was moved or significantly added on to, I would love to hear it so as to correct this history.

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Thanks for reading part three!

Next up Part Four - the hall of fame - key names/characters/trophy winners

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