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
Part three (The Clubhouse and other buildings) can be read: HERE
Part four (The Hall of Fame) 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 email@example.com. Thank you!
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This final part deals with a significant story unto itself - the end of the golf course and its sale. So many "what ifs", so many "what could have beens", and such a debacle all around; by the City, the property owners, Nepean Township, the NCC, and even the eventual buyers of the property.
What I've done is written a brief summary at the top, for those who just want a quick capsule of how the golf course era came to an end. Then as a teaser I've listed a "top 10 list" of what McKellar could have become, based on published reports of proposals and potential buyers. Then I have a really long chronology of events that tells the full story over time of how and why the golf course came to an end, the sale process, and the politics behind the scenes. I then close the article (and this five-part series) with a few photos of the last vestiges of the McKellar Golf Club in 2020.
The McKellar Golf Course came to an end for one primary reason: money. At the end of the 1940s, three factors collided: the post-WWII housing boom was creating substantial demand all over Ottawa, and the former villages on the outskirts were now considered prime building areas; the annexation of a large piece of Nepean Township to the City of Ottawa was changing the rural make-up of McKellar Park, no longer was it an isolated property in the heart of Nepean Township, it was now part of Canada's quickly-growing Capital city; and thirdly, that both Nepean and inevitably Ottawa as well, changed how the golf course was treated, in the eyes of the municipality, and rather than taxing it based on it being a large piece of contiguous, isolated land in the middle of nowhere, with little need for building on it, it was taxed as if it was prime building real estate (which it basically was by that time).
The owner of the golf course was Alex McKechnie, who had lucked out in acquiring the property for next to nothing in the mid-30s, and within a decade, knew he was sitting on as prime a piece of real estate as there was in the city. Eventually his family inherited the property, and it was only a matter of time, calculating for the optimal time to sell.
With the increased taxes, the McKechnies were almost forced into selling, even if they good-heartedly wished to continue operating the course. For its final few years, it operated at a loss, one that was being easily made up for in the skyrocketing value of the course.
Unfortunately for everyone, the sale of the property was a mess from start to finish. Over a period of basically five years, there was constant speculation as to the future of the land, and the owners received a constant flurry of proposals and offers. It was a divisive issue, one which occupied the worry and thoughts of most McKellar Park and Westboro residents for a long time. Adding fuel to the fire was the local media (the Journal and Citizen) who had their own agendas which they frequently pushed. As you'll read in the extensive history below, each ran numerous editorials trying to nudge City and federal officials in a particular way, and to rally support from the Ottawa citizenry at large.
It was a series of errors which saw the property fall through the fingers of the City. The feds made it clear early on that they weren't interested in it, even if it would have been arguably a good fit for the FDC (early NCC) to maintain. The City could have acquired it for a variety of reasons (the main two considerations being for a municipal golf course or a large green space, akin to Central Park in New York City) but after years of internal dithering, did nothing, largely under the watch of Mayor Charlotte Whitton, who made it her mission to see to it that the property would become commercial and residential.
As the years passed, the estimated value of the land grew and grew to the point where, when it finally was put for sale in 1953, the City didn't even both putting in an offer, under the belief the land would sell for upwards of $1 million dollars or more. It is likely the McKechnie family believed it would fetch that much as well. But when the final bids came in, the family accepted an incredibly low offer of $300,000. On top of that, it was, for the neighbourhood, a worst-case scenario: a Toronto-based developer looking to build Canada's largest shopping mall. Suddenly, residents and some politicians were in a panic, looking for any means necessary to acquire the property for the City, even via expropriation. The City had made a mistake, and whatever the outcome you were cheering for (golf course, park space, or other use) the final result was that it was going to be none of those things. Not even close.
The issue became hotly political, and unfortunately for westenders, the damage was done, and there was no way all of the politicians of the city, particularly those from distant areas in the east and south, were going to come together to support a significant purchase for something to benefit mostly west-end residents. On top of this, it would be a grand admission of the mistake made.
As much as the City had erred in not acquiring the land sooner, or even entering a bid in 1953, the sellers had screwed up the sale, balking at potential sales to Carleton University, the Ottawa Hospital, DND and other groups, to try to get the best possible sale. Agreeing to a sale price of $300,000 was a huge mistake, clearly evident when the new buyers sold off just a small chunk of the golf course a few months later for $250,000.
In the end, it was a stroke of luck that Carlingwood and Simpson-Sears got a slight jump (by weeks, not even months) on building a large mall just a few blocks to the west, and ultimately caused the buyers (Principal Investments) to rethink their plan, and simply make the entire development housing. A few minor squabbles over the size of lots and houses, and the inclusion of a few apartment blocks results; but ultimately, the final result for the neighbourhood was the best it could have hoped for, in lieu of government acquisition.
It was this series of steps that led to the McKellar Park we know and love today. But it sure is interesting to wonder about how different it could be at present, depending on who those McKechnie heirs could have chosen to sell to (or if the City or NCC had jumped in and expropriated). Obviously the end result is a beautiful subdivision, with well-laid out lots and pretty homes on tree-lined streets. Yet, one wonders how the west end would look now if we did have a "Central Park" of our own in Ottawa... or even a municipally-run McKellar Park golf course!
The Top 10 List of what McKellar could have become
(All details explained in the timeline below!)
1. The site of Carleton University
2. A municipally run golf course
3. A massive greenbelt parkland (including an option as a War memorial park)
4. The site of Ottawa's new City Hall
5. The site of DND's new Headquarters
6. The new Queensway-Carleton Hospital
7. A new provincial "Normal School" for the training of new teachers
8. The headquarters for the National Film Board
9. A privately-run sports complex
10. A massive sports stadium to be shared by Ottawa's post-secondary institutions
The story through a timeline:
The best way to tell the detailed history of the close of the golf course I find to be a historical timeline, showing how it came to be. It's long and detailed, but I think very interesting in telling the story of how the subdivision came about, and how so many other options kept rising up and cancelling out. I hope you enjoy the approach.
Spring 1946: In the spring of 1946, Nepean Township issued its property tax bills with assessed property values. From 1933 onwards, the assessed value of the golf course had been fixed at $10,300. However, with the great depression and WWII now over with, and the economy enjoying a boom, Township officials felt justified in increasing the assessed value to $56,800 (an increase of $46,500 or 550%!). Alex McKechnie, owner of the golf course, kept the course open, and the large increase did not actually get discussed in the newspapers.
Spring 1947: Nepean Township again increased assessment by $11,500, now up to $68,300.
November 21 1947: News broke that Carleton College (the future Carleton University) located on First Avenue in the Glebe, was looking for a location for their new campus, and were in negotiations with Nepean Township for land options (there being few vast open areas that the College was seeking). The leading candidate was a stretch along Carling Avenue, which included a 70-acre section of the golf course which “commands a sweeping vista along the Ottawa river”. Alex McKechnie when asked by the newspapers, said he would be happy to sell the 70 acre section to the College. Most of the course already has been divided up for building lots, and said he “would be most happy to meet Carleton College and Nepean Township officials to discuss terms of sale of the land for erection of a school or university.”
November 21, 1947
(Clipped from a longer article)
April 1948: The true beginning of the end for McKellar Golf Course arrived in April of 1948 when Nepean Township increased the golf course’s assessment substantially once again. The assessment had been raised by a whopping $110,000 to now $178,300 (or 17 times what it had been just three years prior!). Simply put the Township had decided to begin taxing the golf course based on the old building lots that had been drawn up in 1912, rather than as acreage of non-residential land.
May 1 1948: In an interview with the Journal on the morning of Saturday May 1st, 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, as though there were a sizable number of members, non-members were allowed to play 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", said McKechnie. "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. 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.”
The increases were particularly difficult to accept, as no sewage, water or additional services had been provided by the Township. It was still the same piece of land it had always been.
In retrospect, 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 from 1927 to 1934, his investment in 1935 to buy the club’s land outright was a wise one, and with the housing boom in full swing, he had substantial money to make, personally. He was also now 59 years old, was likely faced with a difficult decision, as he surely loved the McKellar Golf Club.
May 1948: McKechnie's interview re-fanned the flames of Carleton University and their hunt for a new campus location. Nepean Township council supported the Carleton proposal, as it preferred to see the open land, the “green belt” maintained in some part. “It might even be possible to expropriate the land and turn it over to the college” suggested Nepean Councillor Howard Henry.
At the same time, some Nepean residents felt that the site would be ideal for the new Carleton County hospital, which had been under discussion for years (the future Queensway-Carleton). There was also a big push to preserve the green space and fit it into Nepean’s development.
June 1948: In early June, McKechnie appealed his assessment to the Nepean Court of Revision. “I was paying taxes on this property when it would not have provided revenue for the township in any other way”, said McKechnie. “It was a good deal for me, and also a good one for Nepean.” As the golf club made minimal profit, if the assessment were to stand, McKechnie would clearly be out of business.
Reeve Parslow, chairman of the revision court, said the property would be worth much more to McKechnie next year when water was brought in to the area up to Woodroffe. “There’s also a possibility that sewage will be put in and we certainly couldn’t afford to pay water costs. A golf course has to be economically run”, McKechnie noted.
“I’m not foolish enough to think that by this time next year the McKellar property will be worth so much money that Mr. McKechnie will not be able to resist selling lots”, said Parslow. "If the assessment should be re-considered in his favour, I would want him to promise that he would continue to operate the golf club for 10 years.” McKechnie did not agree, stating there was no assurance he would live to fulfill such a promise and “my estate wouldn’t be allowed to run the golf course.”
Councillor Jones suggested that the Township was intentionally “forcing it out” by increasing the assessment, but the assessors replied that all taxpayers had been affected by re-assessments, and that other lots in McKellar had been judged on a comparable basis. It was suggested to even put the question of the golf course’s assessment to a vote of Nepean Township residents. Councillor Henry said that McKellar had enjoyed very reasonable assessments at the expense of the Nepean Taxpayers. His property was near the golf club, and said if McKellar got a cut he vowed “I’ll appeal my own next year.”
Many on the board though acknowledged that the golf course did add to the Township, and that it should have some special consideration. They agreed that having a golf course in the community was an attraction to tourists, but Councillor Henry added “most of those tourists are from Ottawa.”
At the end of the debate, the board asked McKechnie to offer a compromise figure that he could pay and still operated. He would not provide one right away. The board took the case away, and promised to consider the request carefully. The board heard a total of 36 cases that day, mostly from small property, house and cottage owners appealing their assessed value.
Later in June, the Court of Revision announced the increase would stand, but McKechnie took it to the Appeal Court in July and after more debate, won his case, and the old assessed value stood.
June 25 1948: A significant date, as the first of what would turn out to be dozens of editorials was run by an Ottawa newspaper. Early on both the Citizen and Journal would become entrenched in their vision for the golf course, and would run competing editorials over the next five years in an attempt to sway Ottawa residents and multiple levels of government.
The Citizen ran an editorial discussing the need for the City to buy the McKellar course if and when the city annexed Nepean (the annexation talk was growing, but nothing concrete was set yet). The Citizen noted that west of Bronson Avenue, the city possessed practically no large-sized parks or playing spaces, the only sizable park being Rockliffe Park, which even it was overcrowded and encircled by motor traffic. They argued the golf course would make an ideal “Green belt in an area that is being rapidly built up.”
The editorial argued that either the City should buy the course, or if a reasonable price could not be agreed upon, that the Federal District Commission (the FDC, forerunner of the NCC) should jump in and expropriate the course based on adjoining land values, and then lease it to the city. The fact that Nepean Township could not afford to purchase and protect the golf course was yet another reason in favour of annexation of the area by Ottawa.
The Citizen then suggests that the City could operate a municipal golf course, as were becoming increasingly popular in other North American cities at the time, to benefit local players who cannot afford to join expensive private clubs. Or, at minimum, to keep it as park space.
July 1948: Talk of the future of McKellar Golf Course slows at this point, though the Citizen was successful in planting the seed, and getting residents to talk about its future. A letter writer to the Citizen suggested that a public golf course would be the best plan for the site, and that Ottawa, Nepean, R.A. and other service clubs get together to make it happen. When annexation was confirmed by the winter of 1949, the same letter writer (A.C. Chadwick) wrote another published letter, further pushing the idea. “All the private clubs have all the members they can accommodate, but what is more to the point, there are a large number of people who wish to play golf but cannot afford the initiation and annual fees of a private club or who have not the means of transportation to these clubs.” He felt the location of the course along the streetcar tracks to be a worthwhile angle in preserving it.
He further cited an article in the Citizen that noted that 75,000 games of golf had been played on two municipal courses in Winnipeg in 1948, and at green fees of 60 cents, the courses break even. “Not only would the acquisition of this golf course provide cheap and healthy recreation for thousands of people, but it would be an asset in the FDC scheme of things.”
May 1949: Promotion begins for a new subdivision, borrowing on name recognition, calling itself the 'McKellar Homesite Company', selling lots for $1,200 apiece on the south side of Carling Avenue, opposite the golf club.
Summer 1949: The assessment value came in for 1949 at $184,700 for the land and $7,500 for the buildings in 1949. All appeals failed, and the assessment stuck. With annexation to Ottawa coming in 1950, it was further assumed that taxes would be even higher as part of the City of Ottawa. The writing was on the wall for the course.
October 1949: For a week in October 1949, the McKellar golf Course question exploded in the two local papers, with lead headlines and editorials helping fill a week’s worth of papers. This was all likely fueled by the loss of appeals on the assessment, and McKechnie's resulting stance that the golf course would have to be sold. An editorial by the Journal on October 20 set off a massive public debate.
October 20 1949: The Journal must have heard whispers of the potential sale of the property, and thus ran their lead editorial arguing “it is imperative that the City of Ottawa acquire this McKellar property for a public park, or at least a large part of the 98 acres. If we fail we shall see presently the whole area from Bronson Avenue to Britannia, save for the Experimental Farm, build solidly with no chances left for a park of any size…No city ever has enough park land and certainly areas in Ottawa are conspicuously lacking in this respect. McKellar gives us a chance of which we should take advantage, and without delay." It continued: “Property is well wooded – clumps of tall trees, grassy slopes and shaded hollows give it variety, and it could be transformed into an extremely attractive public park with a minimum of effort and cost. The soil is a deep clay-loam, and wells have been drilled to 90 feet without encountering much rock. Trees grow well, as anyone can see, and the grass is green and lush.”
The Journal also included 4 photographs in the newspaper (all of which sadly have been preserved poorly through the microfilming of old newspapers in the past):
|Ottawa Journal, October 20, 1949|
|Ottawa Journal, October 20, 1949|
October 21 1949: The next day, the Citizen made the McKellar Golf Course their lead headline and story. They noted that the Board of Control was to discuss the idea, but Mayor E.A. Bourque was hesitant about the concept, as Ottawa had already committed to large expenditures in developing the National Capital post-annexation, and that the acquisition of the course would be expensive (it was rumoured the price tag would be $300,000 or more), and Ottawa did not have excess funds to throw around. The FDC appeared uninterested, Chairman F. E. Bronson telling the Citizen “Our policy is the development of parkways along the water routes in the capital”, and noted that the FDC had its hands full with other NCR plans and the driveways elsewhere in the city, but thought “McKellar would make an ideal city park”. It seemed the City wanted the FDC to take care of it, and the FDC felt the City ought to.
|Front Page, Ottawa Citizen, October 21, 1949|
The same day, the Journal ran a follow-up editorial, no doubt in response to the debate that was waging, arguing against the idea of a municipal golf course. “It is the Journal’s view that such an expenditure hardly could be justified, for such a purpose...if we spent the money for a public park, it would available to all the people, men, women and children. Nor do we think the McKellar property could be made to serve both purposes. The golf course occupies, naturally, the finest part of the 98 acres, and to use the fringes as a public park would not be very satisfactory – for one thing, there would be some danger from driven golf balls. For its part the Journal does not believe there is any obligation upon this or any community to provide its citizens with municipal golf – any more than to provide bowling alleys at the public expense. But we do believe the McKellar property should be secured, while it is still available, as a permanent open space in the heart of our expanding West End and for the use of all the people.”
The Journal also ran an article on the 21st revealing that Carleton University was out of the bidding for the property. President Dr. M. M. MacOdrum stated that “it had been discussed at length some years ago, but because of the price asked by the owner, it had been dropped...As far as I know it has not been revived and there is no indication at this time that it will be.”
October 22 1949: Still the top news story in the city, the Journal lead headline the following day was that City lawyer Medcalf had ruled that the City would be well within its rights to expropriate for park purposes, adding that proceedings would not necessarily have to await the annexation on January 1st, and could be instituted immediately. Meanwhile McKechnie publicly committed that the property would not be sold as building lots in the near future (biding his time until a big sale).
|Front Page, Ottawa Journal, October 22, 1949|
October 24 1949: The Citizen ran an editorial again pushing the municipal golf course idea, and disagreeing with the argument of making McKellar a public park. They cited Britannia Park, the Experiment Farm (for green space at least), the accessibility of Rockliffe Park and the more than 20 small parks scattered throughout the city as sufficient parkland. They also argued that the number of golfers could be expected to grow with the new five-day work week established during summer months in the civil service (which launched across most departments the week after Dominion Day 1949), and thus "there may be no need for a subsidy of any kind; McKellar as a municipal golf course, might pay for itself.”
October 25 1949: The Journal ran yet another editorial, amused at how their editorial sparked the debate, a useful and democratic process, but that “almost certainly this property’s ultimate fate will be for a building sub-division unless the city steps in.” The Journal was the first to blink in the battle between golf course (Citizen) and park (Journal), by stating that “our preference still would be for a park, but if those who are plugging for golf could show figures to prove that as a municipal golf course McKellar could pay its debt and its way we might settle for that disposition. We think that should be a condition of making McKellar a golf course owned and maintained by the city – it must be able to retire any debt incurred in the purchase of the property and satisfy all costs of operation. If it could not do that then we should be in the untenable position of subsidizing golf at the expense of the taxpayers, of imposing taxes for the benefit of a small class who might or might not be taxpayers themselves.”
November 1949: The Ottawa Playgrounds Committee established a special committee to study the need for parks and golf courses. A report presented by Chairman Ald. John Powers and Commissioner J.A. Dulude, recommended two new parks with golf courses, one each for the east and west ends, including the McKellar Golf Club. Ald. Powers warned: “It would be a grave mistake and an expensive one if, in the years to come, our civic authorities do not take advantage of the new conditions as to available land after Jan. 1”. He added that with the continuous demand for better and greater public services “municipal parks, with golf courses, will be in a few years as important to our adults as our indoor pools are now to our school children and youth organizations” and cited the US where municipal golf courses are abundantly operated, often running a profit which help to provide other rec facilities. The report also pointed out that Ottawa operated three municipal lawn-bowling clubs.
The next day, both newspapers ran editorials on the subject. The Citizen, not surprisingly, were happy with Dulude's proposal of two municipal courses, but agreed that at absolute minimum, the city should buy the land now, and decide later. The Journal meanwhile refuted several of the arguments made by the Playgrounds Committee. They noted that as for municipal courses in the States, that in most cases the cities did not have to bear the cost of the land; that lawn bowling clubs were not a fair comparison as those clubs are smaller, have lighter maintenance costs, and can have more players active at a time. They again pushed for a public park, but agreed that regardless, the land had to be acquired by the City.
Mayor Bourque again reminded citizens that the costs would be high. “I am always in favour of progressive measures. But when you talk of such proposals, you’ve got to remember the tax rate.” He stated though that the Board of Control would give it “serious consideration.”
The last word (For 1949 at least) came from the Journal in one final editorial Nov 5, which cited examples in Vancouver and Edmonton of the costs of creating golf courses, even on “free” land. That not only would Ottawa be paying to acquire land, but then (at least in the case of the second new east end golf course) would need to build the course. It reminded readers that Ottawa had many projects underway, and the golf course scheme would cost “hundreds of thousands of the taxpayers’ money to provide cheaper golf for a comparatively few adults.”
March 1950: After annexation in January, the golf course was now located within the City of Ottawa. The Journal wrote a brief editorial March 8th on the discussion of the need to potentially build a new city hall now that the city had grown so substantially, and that they should consider the McKellar golf course.
The golf course's future was again fired up as a hot topic in the spring of 1950. Residents of McKellar Park who lived next to the course were surveyed for their opinion, and almost all agreed that they would oppose any move to sell the course as building lots. However, they were split on the question of establishing a municipal course to replace the current one. Resident Nick Cheney said “As long as it remains a landscaped green spot, we’re very happy. It’s nicely landscaped now and could easily be made into a park. What we’d oppose is any move to chop it up. It would spoil McKellar.” The Citizen ran the comments of 4-5 residents, all of whom said to keep it as it was, or at worst to convert it to park space.
March 16, 1950
On Monday March 20th, City Aldermen Jones and Ellis filed a notice of motion with the city clerk, seeking to have Ottawa buy out the golf club for “municipal purposes”, calling for the club to be “retained as at present”, and for steps to be taken to provide for purchase “in its entirety”. The topic was debated at City Council that evening. The Civic Parks and Trees Committee again visited the property, agreeing to its potential integration into the Capital’s “green belt”, and later recommending that the land be purchased for the park/golf course combination.
The Board of Control's proposed solution a few days later was to advise the FDC to buy the golf course and maintain it as a public park. However, the Journal reasonably editorialized that “for the taxpayers of Ottawa, would be a comfortable and painless solution of the problem", but would have no benefit for Canadians outside Ottawa. They surmised that the FDC would likely feel that “the people of Ottawa were evading their own responsibilities and were saddling the Government with charges they should meet for themselves.” It cited bigger projects that obviously the Federal Government should be covering (adding downtown buildings, bridging the canal, removal of tracks etc.) in Canada's capital city, but that asking the feds to provide the city with more parks, not even linked to the driveway system, was a mistake. “It would be a mistake for Ottawa to lean too heavily on the Federal treasury, to expect the Government to do for us the things we should be doing for ourselves if this was an ordinary municipality.”
The Journal editorial finished by roughly calculating could the City even afford McKellar. At 600 lots of 50x100 feet, and current lot prices averaging $1,500 in the area, it was a $1M land value, and that the $300k price tag that had been thrown around previously was no longer realistic for the owner to sell for, with an expropriation cost even higher if the city or FDC attempted this, and the price were to be set by an arbitrator. As land values had exploded in Ottawa year by year following WWII, the year or two of dithering on the McKellar property had hurt the City, for if their interest in the land had been genuine, the value had likely skyrocketed too high.
April 1950: The Board of Control decided to go ahead and ask the FDC about their interest in the golf course, before making a decision on what the City should do. The FDC committed to looking at expropriation at their next Commission meeting.
May 17 1950: The McKellar question was thrown for a loop when owner Alex McKechnie passed away on May 17th, at the age of 61, leaving behind an estate valued at $305,000 for his wife and four daughters to split (though the golf club was assessed at just $109,880, far less than its true market value).
June 1 1950: The Citizen ran yet another editorial pushing for a municipal golf course at McKellar, and suggesting that the City should instead develop a 22-acre tract at Britannia Heights (south of Carling to the west), an “acceptable alternative to McKellar as a park, for the time being at least. But there is no alternative to McKellar as a golf course.” With the cost of McKellar estimated at as much as 400k, there was no point in paying that when park space could be established at Britannia Heights for “next to nothing”. The Citizen urged the Parks Committee that “a survey should be made as soon as possible to avoid any possibility of McKellar being developed as a housing development.”
June 2 1950: The Journal the next day refuted the Citizen's editorial, on the grounds that their estimates were too low, and predicated that with water mains being extended to the property boundaries in 1950, the cost could be as high as $700,000. Though the Journal initially pushed for park space, they now felt it was not justifiable at that cost, and even less defendable as a golf course, citing that due to its size and general flatness, could never be a "first -rate course", and that revenue would only ever at best cover operating costs, thus taxpayers would carry burden of the purchase, for the benefit of the comparative few who would use it. The Journal was resigned to its fate as a housing development.
The Journal's new angle was that the City should convince the McKechnie Estate of “discarding the old plan for sub-dividing the property in 50-foot lots in favour of a new plan with larger lots and more open space. This land, well-treed, facing on Carling Avenue could be made one of our choicest residential areas and steps ought to be taken by the planning authorities to see that the best possible use is made of it.”
July 1950: The subject died off for the rest of 1950, as the golf season continued in full swing. The Citizen added one more short editorial on July 21, noting that Mayor Bourque had announced that the City would not make any purchase in 1950 due to the costs, and there was no room in the budget. The Citizen though continued to state the case for a municipal course, writing “there is a good possibility that the golf course, operated by the city, would realize enough from green fees to pay off the debenture issue necessary for its purchase”, and urged Council to appoint a “fact-finding committee” to see whether McKellar could work as a municipal course.
February 1951: The year started off in a familiar way, with McKechnie family members stating the club would likely not operate in 1951 due to increased taxes. On top of the previous land assessment, a new "business assessment" value was added for 1951, for $45,806.
Ottawa had elected a new mayor at the December 1950 election, Mayor Grenville Goodwin. Goodwin did not have an affinity to acquiring the land, either as a park or rec space, and in the first months of his role would not commit to even having it brought up at City Council. Sadly Goodwin suffered a heart attack just a few months after becoming Mayor and died that August. Charlotte Whitton would move in to the chair as acting mayor, paving the way for her election that December. She would have much stronger opinions on the McKellar Park question.
The Journal made a brief editorial February 6th restating that the City cannot afford to acquire the property, even if it meant losing the green space for a housing development.
April 1951: By late April, there was still uncertainty as to whether the Golf Club would open for the season, as an assessment appeal was still ongoing. The McKechnie's felt they had an even stronger reason than ever to oppose the high rates. As the club was being assessed based on being a culmination of building lots (versus acreage of land), they cited the serious shortage of building materials, particularly steel, and the banks new higher down-payment requirements as evidence that new construction was slowing to a crawl. To assess the golf course as building lots was wrong, in their eyes, because the lots couldn't get built on in 1951 even if they wanted them to! I'm uncertain if the McKechnies won their appeal, but either way, the golf course did operate in 1951, the McKechnies announcing on May 7th that operation was only a "temporary measure" as the property was destined for development.
June 29 1951: it was reported that the Department of National Defence had identified McKellar as a targeted location for the new DND headquarters. The article noted that some of the current facilities at Cartier Square built during WWII had been constructed as "semi-permanent" and still had life left in it. What concerned government officials was the estimate of the value of the golf course which could be “as high as $1,500,000”. The government was considering expropriation to acquire it. Meanwhile the McKechnies told the Journal they had no idea about the plan, but admitted that many groups and individuals had contacted them and visited the course to enquire about its purchase. Ironically, DND was looking at sites west of Britannia for much cheaper real estate; it would only take them another 65+ years to get there.
|Headline in Ottawa Journal, June 29, 1951|
July 1951: Just like in previous years, talk of the sale of the golf course died down over the summer. The Citizen ran another editorial on July 30th again pushing for a municipal course, and urging, almost pleading, for the City to have a survey done, get a cost price on the course, and study revenue projections. They also suggested the FDC could consider buying it and leasing it to the City. This was the last mention of the course's sale until the summer of 1952.
|Ottawa Citizen, July 30, 1951|
Spring of 1952: The golf course operators announced in April that it would operate for the year once again, but it seemed certain that this would be its last season. That would prove to be the case.
August 26 1952: The Citizen announced that construction of a new hospital was under consideration for the McKellar golf course site (the future Queensway-Carleton Hospital). A new city-county 400 bed general hospital was needed, and Mayor Whitton was strongly opposed to a large expansion of the Civic, instead pushing for the "decentralizing" of the hospital, and having something constructed more towards the suburbs. Hospital officials felt the McKellar course was an ideal setting.
|Ottawa Citizen front page headlines - August 26, 1952|
Meanwhile in interviews at the same time, Donald McKechnie was stating 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 that would be like a “miniature Rockliffe” in the West End, which would require the services of water and sewage be added by the city. (Water services were already at the boundary of the course, with sewage planned for 1954).
September 3 1952: News broke of a rumoured sale of the course by the McKechnie family to a building syndicate. In an interview for the evening edition, Donald McKechnie said that no deal was completed, nor were any negotiations underway. He believed the possibility of the city taking over the site for the new hospital was still “very much alive” but had no official word from civic authorities. C.E. Pickering, chair of the Civic Hospital Board, stated the he personally did not favour building on the McKellar site, though he was not in favour of splitting up the Civic and branching out elsewhere, and felt the expansion of the Civic was the best plan, and most economical.
With the rumours of the pending sale, the Citizen ran a desperate editorial on September 5th, a last ditch attempt to rouse the City to preserve McKellar as an open space. “Whether as a municipal golf course or as some other kind of playground, the McKellar land should be preserved for the public’s enjoyment. If it is not, the day will surely come when Ottawa will regret that in the scramble for residential and other building sites, the recreational needs of its citizens were largely sacrificed. The danger is that one of the most rapidly growing areas of the city will be left without any parkland.”
"Every city possesses land which, like McKellar, is a realtor’s dream” wrote the Citizen, and compared the opportunity to how New York had preserved Central Park, London with St. James Park, Hyde Park, etc.
September 1952: The newspapers published stories in late September based on rumours that indeed McKellar had been selected as the site for the new hospital, but officials of the Carleton County Hospital Association announced it was not the case yet, and no location had been decided on. A debenture referendum in December was to be pivotal to this decision.
November 1 1952: The Citizen published the article "Swan song for McKellar Golf Club”, when the club was closed for what was presumed to be the last time. Donald McKechnie spoke to the media, indicating that while no sale was imminent, the club had been losing money due to the tax system. McKechnie revealed that a Toronto firm had been inspecting the property and said “There is a possibility that it will become a residential and shopping center such as are being developed in suburban sections of other large cities.” (note the plans for construction of Westgate had just been announced that fall; Ottawa had no malls yet and the race was on to see who could build the first, not to mention it was assumed Ottawa could easily handle having more than one).
Meanwhile City Hall officials, in an unfortunate running theme, stated the acquisition of McKellar had not even been discussed in months, and no money was available for such a purchase.
November 26 1952: It was announced that an 80-acre portion of the old Honeywell farm, next to the McKellar course to the west was sold in a significant real estate deal. The block of land running west to Woodroffe, the last un-subdivided block of land along Carling in the west end, was sold for $200,000. (It was later modified into a $250,000 sale for 110 acres).
No doubt seeing how the stars were aligning, on the same day as the Honeywell sale, the Citizen ran a piece by Austin F. Cross, in his column "Cross Town", which stated that McKellar should be kept as a park before it is too late. “Every single park we have rescued from the realtor we are grateful to have today. Whoever grabbed off that square on Somerset Street between Lyon and Bay deserves our gratitude” he wrote. Cross further claimed that “a park as McKellar in 50 years would be just as important to the people of Ottawa as Central Park is to New York. McKellar would be a bargain at any price.”
January 1953: Mayor Whitton stated that she was hopeful to convince provincial or federal government to preserve a large portion of the golf club. The FDC again re-stated that it would be up to the city itself to preserve the land. The mayor in turn said she would seek federal cooperation to persuade the provincial government to acquire some of the land for “educational buildings” which was believed to refer to a new provincial Normal School (a post-secondary school to train teachers).
Whitton made a lengthy report to council at the start of her term with proposed projects, one of which was to explore the idea of purchasing the McKellar course for park purposes. Of course the Citizen jumped all over that with another editorial on Jan 7th, suggesting that if the whole course couldn’t be bought, at least 15 acres should be and converted to playground. Naturally, the Journal disagreed with her proposal.
January 9 1953: Front page news was the announcement of a $7,000,000 housing development and shopping centre planned at Woodroffe on the former Honeywell Farm. The residential section was to include 700 families. (By May the estimate on the project was already up to $9M). In the same article, the McKechnie family was quoted that a sale was close for McKellar, and that development plans would be announced in March or April.
March 1953: The newspapers announced the newest proposal being considered for McKellar, "a private financed sports centre, including a large swimming pool, tennis courts and other attractions”. Fishing the story to the media, I suppose looking for better offers to come forward, the McKechnies said they would decide within a few weeks whether to accept the sports centre proposal or another that might come along.
March 25, 1953
April 1953: Into early April, there was still some hope golf might return to McKellar in 1953, but the sale was too close, and so no golf was had. However, 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 and minimally maintain the facilities, in the small chance the course did operate.
April 10 1953: The lead headline confirmed it: “Convert McKellar Course Into 570 Building Sites”. Don McKechnie formally announced the family was selling the golf course for real estate development. A legal firm was hired and sent out a formal notice that “tenders will be received until Tuesday April 21” for the property. Essentially, the highest bid would win the entire property. McKechnie noted the land still had not been serviced with water or sewer “You might note, that in wartime the city could dig ditches pretty fast and do property servicing quickly”, and hoped that in peace time the city could get the sewage facilities in quickly. “This land has got to be developed as the city moves west. This seems to be the year to do it.”
|Ottawa Citizen front page headlines - April 10, 1953|
|Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1953|
The battle between the newspapers continued, as the Citizen ran another short editorial on April 11th stating the City should buy at least some property for park purposes, McKellar being the only large tract between the experimental farm and Britannia Bay.
The Journal responded with an editorial April 16th, “Better for Housing Than as a Park”, calling the idea a “piece of folly and extravagance for the city to spend a million on a park with no water frontage, a park only a couple of miles from the Britannia Park which has bathing and picnic facilities.” The Journal further refuted any last wishes of maintaining it as a municipal course. The argued that “Ottawa is not badly off for open spaces”, and that “the McKellar property can best serve the public interest as a housing development. The city should encourage its sale for this purpose, subject only to the provision that the sub-dividing is skillfully done to make the best of the area’s trees and contours, and that building restrictions are maintained closely...After all, a city cannot live on its open spaces, and we must not push the people farther out so that we can have parks close in...It could be the home of some hundreds of families – the city getting a substantial tax revenue – and that, we are convinced, would be a happier fate for these fine acres than to turn them into a park for which there is no great need and which few would use.”
April 21 1953: The bidding closed for purchase of the golf course. On that day, Mayor Whitton announced the City did not submit a bid for tender for the property, and instead would allow the sale to go through and draw tax revenues from the property instead (an estimated assessment of $6,000,000 based on 500 homes at $12,000 average cost). As would come out over time, the City believed that the sale price would be well what they could afford, though not that Council ever had serious discussions about how much they could afford. They simply believed the price tag would be close to a million or beyond. Certainly anything over half a million was untouchable.
Tenders closed at midnight that night, and the following day it was reported that “many tenders” were received. Heirs of the McKechnie estate met the following week to begin reviewing the offers. The family and their reps would not discuss the bids, including whether some came from out of town. For the next month, local residents were left in the dark as to the future of the property.
Austin Cross wrote on April 28th: “I took a last look at the McKellar Golf Links. I say last look, because I have a feeling that next time I am out there – no matter how soon – the song of the bulldozer will be heard in the land. You can hardly turn your back on Carling avenue these days but what somebody is subdividing it.”
May 22 1953: Finally the announcement came - the land had been sold. But the news (for local residents) was not good, and it was also shocking (to everyone). The McKechnies had sold the land to an out-of-town group, who announced plans for a $1,500,000 shopping centre and housing and apartment project, the potential outlay of which may run to $7,000,000, proposing to “make the McKellar property one of the best shopping centres in the Dominion”. Essentially a worst-case scenario for local residents. The shocking part came in the price tag - the winning bid from the syndicate was an astonishingly low $300,000!
|Ottawa Citizen, May 22, 1953|
“National chain stores, one or two leading department stores, 10 apartment buildings and 300 houses are envisaged” reported the newspapers, creating a "modern housing area of the planned community type". Recreational projects like tennis courts, softball parks and “parkettes” would also be included, as well as an open-air theatre! Construction was to begin in 1953. The specific buyers were not identified right away, only their lawyer Samuel Berger, QC spoke as a rep for the group.
The sale was handled by Jack Aaron, Ottawa realtor, and Alastair MacDonald, for the McKechnie estate.
June 11 1953: The Citizen ran an interesting editorial “Not Too Late To Buy McKellar”. Growing equal parts desperate and angry, the Citizen criticized the City that they did not make a move on the assumption it would cost $1,000,000 and refused to consider the purchase. Now that the land was sold for just $300,000, “municipal interest in proposals to buy the golf course should be revived.” The paper argued that housing and a shopping centre could be built elsewhere in the West End. “No public harm would be done if a housing development were not permitted on McKellar Golf Course.” The editorial suggested buying the property from the new owners or even expropriating, paying even “a few thousand dollars more than the $300,000 for which the golf course was sold”, which of course was dreaming on the Citizen's part.
Meanwhile the McKellar Park Community Association had to assemble quickly, and get to action. They put together a petition, signed by 500 residents, urging the Board of Control to establish building restrictions (permit only single-unit houses of a caliber similar to those built in the past five years in the surrounding area), and to ensure a “considerable portion be used as a park.” The Board of Control agreed with the MPCA, and referred the issue to the city’s director of planning and development, advising him to talk to the buyers, to inform them of the “very strong representation” from McKellar, and request clarifying info from them.
July 1 1953: The Citizen ran yet another editorial, titled "Town Planning”, expressing more frustration with the city for making no movement to acquire the property.
Meanwhile the McKellar Community Association continued to petition the Board of Control over the proposed shopping centre, and also objecting to having multiple housing units (apartment blocks) on the site.
August 10 1953: The developer announced that plans were complete for a $4,000,000 housing development, with 200 single dwelling homes (costing $20,000 each), and a shopping centre. No multiple unit houses were included in the new August plan (a great success of the community association). The groups lawyer Samuel Berger stated that a shopping centre was “very much a part of the present plan. It would face on Carling avenue and would have an extensive green belt in front and behind it, and would be thoroughly modern.” Berger hoped to meet with McKellar Community Association and hoped things could be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
That month, all of the local community associations (from McKellar Park, Highland Park, Glabar Park, and McKellar Heights) as well as the Westboro Board of Trade banded together to take up the fight against the development. They had been informed that the plans for the shopping centre were at "an advanced stage". Their message to the Board of Control and City Council was clear: they were "firmly opposed to the sacrifice of this park area to commercial purposes”.
The Citizen ran two more editorials “A Precious Green Area May vanish” and “The Fight Against the McKellar Plan” in late August, pushing for the site to be retained as a “green breathing space” between developments. “To let bulldozers erase it at one stroke would be an irretrievable error", they wrote. The paper published a letter to the editor on September 1st suggesting the City acquire the land and establish a park as a War Memorial to the dead in WWII. Other letters published soon after supported the idea.
September 5 1953: A letter to the editor was published in the Journal raised some concerning figures. An upset local resident was upset with the size of the parking lot (1,350 spaces) and its location at the rear of the shopping centre, in the heart of the residential area. At maximum capacity, he calculated it might mean as many as 8,000 cars an hour, from three entrances (all from the residential streets in back), meaning 40 cars per minute on each street. Though the numbers are unrealistic, it did highlight the massive change in traffic to the previously quiet McKellar streets in behind.
The plan also included widening Windermere into four lanes to be the main approach to the shopping centre. The letter writer was upset it would slice lawns to a fraction of their size, and put traffic alongside a playground. “The shopping centre ensures that the character of this district will be completely destroyed and irrevocably.”
Formal completion of sale occurred September 5th. Final sale price of $300,000, the buyers were finally announced as Principal Investments Limited of Toronto, then Canada's largest commercial landlords, with holdings across the country.
Meanwhile, the Citizen continued to run editorial content regularly pushing for the City (or some government body) to acquire it, pointing out that with a population of 250,000 citizens, it would cost barely $1 per person to acquire it. They suggested it might be an ideal location for the new home of the National Film Board.
The community association lobby group pushed on. City Council, essentially acknowledging their mistake in not partaking in the bidding, began exploring options that fall.
September 8 1953: Things got messy between the community groups and the developer. At a Board of Control meeting, the lawyer for the developer (Samuel Berger) accused the community group spokesmen of speaking for themselves, accusing there had been no meetings of members of associations (“I don’t think they represent many people at all. I don’t believe they held meetings of their association”, stated Berger). He charged that when residents signed the original petition, that plans had not yet been made public, and now that they had seen it they (the local residents) were actually in favour of it. He further threatened he would take legal steps to secure the building permit. All of this of course enraged the community groups. Young future MPP Lloyd Francis was the representative of the joint community associations group, and he requested a postponement of the hearing before the board reported to City Council. The associations argued that residents had been “shocked and dismayed” that it was through the press that they'd learned of the shopping centre plans. Meanwhile, the Westboro Board of Trade was not in favour of commercial development at McKellar, nor on the Honeywell Farm (for obvious reasons, of course).
The developers from their side, argued that they had set aside 25 acres as “green” areas (including 13 acres facing Carling, to be maintained by the developers or the city), with trees and shrubs placed around the parking areas. These 25 acres, they pointed out, was six times what the planning act called for. They noted that they would close Windermere to traffic and make Broadview and Ninth Avenue (Redwood Avenue) the through streets. They argued that no theaters would be built, but that they were “prepared to erect a public recreation hall and maintain it.”
Col. J. A. Ready was another spokesman for local residents, and stated the neighbourhood's worries of “a downtown volume of traffic”, that would see significant numbers of cars on the streets, including heavy supply trucks, creating a hazard for children at Broadview and Nepean. The result of which would minimize the usefulness of the new playground (McKellar Park) between Gainsborough and Windermere, as parents would not want their kids crossing heavily-traveled streets. Their main argument was that, at minimum, and barring city expropriation of the property, for the new McKellar subdivision, the city should step in and regulate that only single dwellings could be built. No apartment units, and especially no commercial.
City Aldermen were now seriously discussing expropriation options, sharing that expropriate was reasonable at the $300,000 price tag, when it was originally believed the cost was going to be $700,000 or more.
Meanwhile Charlotte Whitton seemed lost in the middle of all of it, now supporting the idea of expropriation, but with the idea that a sports stadium could be built for Ottawa's six post-secondary schools!
One area she was unwavering on was that the golf course would not be acquired and retained as a municipal course, at a potential cost of $500,000 to all taxpayers. “What would the ratepayers east of the canal think of that?” she said.
She further added insult to injury of local residents by stating that residents of McKellar Heights, Highland Park and Glabar Park could save the park space if they were willing to pay the $300-500k expropriation cost themselves. That this cost could be charged directly to the property owners in the adjacent neighbourhoods (similar to a local improvement charge for a new road or sidewalk). Basically calling their bluff in feeling they wouldn’t want to pay for it. She stated that for anything to happen (expropriation or a purchase) a city-wide vote would have to happen on the acquisition. “I can’t see us going into a purchase of this kind without a money bylaw” she argued, again, safe in yet another bluff knowing that residents outside the west end would not support directly paying for a distant park if the question was put to them.
Whitton argued that maintaining the park space would only benefit the West End, and thus the city as a whole should not have to pay the cost. She felt the Principal Investments proposal had many excellent features, and preferred the modern shopping centre, set back from Carling, situated behind landscaped parkland, versus the small commercial that was allowed fronting Carling anyways.
|Front page, Ottawa Citizen|
September 9, 1953
September 10 1953: The Citizen ran an editorial (and an accompanying editorial cartoon) blasting the development, and mocking the developers in their glowing about the green spaces they were retaining at the fringes and in the midst of a major commercial development (“tantamount to growing ecstatic about the green lawn at the edge of Britannia Park or Strathcona Park once the remainder had been chopped up for houses” it wrote). The editorial also cited other areas of issue-dodging, beginning with Mayor Whitton, and her suggestion of the city-wide vote on financing, or asking local residents to pay the full costs. “The need is pressing. The method to be employed is clear-cut. The city should act now”, it stated firmly.
|Ottawa Citizen, September 10, 1953|
September 1953: Both newspapers ran a series of letters through the mid-late month pushing for the City to acquire the property. One in the Citizen (on September 12th) wrote “How is it that only the Mayor and some of the aldermen are unable to see that this is a golden opportunity to add something to Ottawa which it so badly needs...something to be enjoyed now and for as long as the city lasts? How can they sleep at night when they have it within their power to preserve an area of beauty in their city forever? Yet they do nothing. And all the ordinary people can do is write letters. I wrote to the Mayor and City Council last April but her reply was discouraging. She thought the city could not afford to buy the property. But most of us know it can’t afford not to buy it. And in a few years, with open country farther and farther away from us all, will anyone care if the council saved a few dollars in 1953?”
Meanwhile the McKellar Park Community Association spent the rest of the month and into October fundraising to hire a lawyer to assist.
The City began installing sewer and water pipes through the golf course.
October 1953: At the McKellar Park Community Association AGM, the residents had a significant question to vote on, to determine their formal approach going forward. Residents were asked to pick from three options: (1) zone the entire property as single residence area; (2) expropriate the property for use as a park or for single residents or both; or (3) permit the recent purchasers to develop the property as a commercial shopping centre. 127 votes were cast. The overwhelming majority went with option 2 (expropriation), with 90 votes. 33 voted for option 1, and just 4 voted for option 3.
The general feel from residents was one of unease with the City, particularly with Mayor Whitton and her threat of putting the costs to local residents only. “It is my impression” said Dr. D.G. Chapman, president of the McKellar community association, “that the mayor made that statement only to hold it over us like a big stick.”
October 19 1953: A pivotal day in the future of McKellar Park. An important city council meeting was held on the fate of the McKellar property. 160 residents attended what the Journal called a ”verbally violent, two-and-one-half-hour City Council donnybrook.”
Mayor Whitton had begun the meeting my attempting to rule out of order a motion for the purchase or expropriation. Heated debate saw the Mayor arguing with Alderman Henry, who when Mayor Whitton interrupted him to "correct" him, the Alderman shouted repeatedly "I have the floor! I won't let the mayor speak!", while the mayor tried in vain to make herself heard above him. Later, "the mayor chided the spectators who appeared to be vocally supporting the opposition to her, telling them "The mayor is entitled to a little respect from the gallery, and not to this ribaldry - a respect due to the mayor, if not to the present incumbent of this office."
Whitton’s motion was voted down 12-10 by Council, and Whitton withdrew from her chair, let the Deputy Mayor take over, and left.
Council then held the full intense debate and discussion over the issue, and eventually voted to support referring the proposal to Board of Control for further consideration, which also ended 12 to 10 in favour. The meeting ended with the tired local residents jubilant that the matter was going to go to the Board of Control to look at options.
However just after the meeting ended, Mayor Whitton approached the city clerk's desk, and challenged the vote count. Sure enough it was recounted, and somehow the recorded result was actually 11 to 10 against the motion to send to Board of Control! An apparent "counting error" had been made. This was after the residents had left, and the meeting well adjourned. The official close of the meeting saw a final decision that the issue would not go to the Board of Control, it was dead.
A heated argument ensued amongst the remaining council members. “Confused by motions, amendments, miscounting of ballots and hours of debate, the aldermen and controllers left last night’s meeting in profound disagreement as to who had won the “save McKellar” battle”, wrote the newspaper. Several councillors argued that a vote cannot be changed after Council adjourned, and that Council should have been reconvened to investigate the miscount.
October 20 1953: Residents woke up to the morning newspapers stunned to read the news that the vote result had actually been changed!
The next morning, Deputy Mayor Daniel McCann discovered that in fact his vote had been counted on the wrong side of the ledger Monday night. He had been marked as voting against the motion, but only when he read the Citizen did he discover that they had his vote wrong! Thus the vote should have carried. However (for reasons unknown) the City Clerk stuck to his original count, and made the official final verdict 11-10 defeated, but said that the issue could be discussed at the next Council session. It was noted that two aldermen were also absent for the vote (as well as the Mayor, who had left her chair).
The City was up in arms, largely at how Whitton had handled the whole process. Whitton refused to take responsibility for what happened, noting that the original 12-10 count couldn’t be correct on the second vote because there were only 21 sitting at the time (since she had stepped down after the first motion). She also pointed out that the meeting was never formally adjourned “it may still be going on for all I know” she said.
October 21 1953: The Citizen ran yet another editorial on the subject, slamming City Council's handling of the matter, and focusing on the missing two aldermen's votes. They pushed for the issue to be reconsidered at the next meeting, again restating “expropriation for park purposes seems the only true solution.”
October 28 1953: Simpson-Sears announced it was buying at least 12 acres on Carling at Woodroffe for erection of a large retail store, to form the keystone of a major regional shopping centre. This made the long-rumoured Honeywell Farm development plans real. Perhaps Principal Investments felt they could beat the other development to it and have the shopping centre on McKellar. However with Simpson-Sears announcement, it was felt unrealistic that another large mall could be built a kilometre up the road. In an editorial in the Journal, even this newspaper was pushing for the City to acquire and protect the park space, and that this news might be the City's best opportunity.
October 31 1953: Principal Investments responded quickly, and took out a full page ad in both Ottawa newspapers to defend their project to local residents. Their goal was to sway local residents prior to the city council meeting on November 2nd. And, as they put it, to provide "facts; not rumours, not yarns".
They listed 18 points to convince readers, largely focused on the advantages of the park space ("as large as Major Hill Park") and how great the mall and development would be. Interestingly, in their 14 "features", the noted the Sears development as a positive, that since Principal had announced their shopping centre first, that the other developers felt the area could accommodate both.
|The full page ad in the Ottawa Journal|
October 31, 1953
|The bottom portion of the above ad cropped for easier viewing|
The Journal ran their lead editorial that day, and was practically flip-flopping from their recent editorial, now almost in support of the plan. They highlighted the positive of the compromise of the “free” 15 acre park along Carling, versus the cost of expropriation, which would be much higher they felt, than the $300k “bargain” the developers bought it for, and pushed for how the proposed Parkway (the future Sherbourne essentially) would help disperse traffic.
November 2 1953: At the City Council meeting on November 2nd, the proposal was rejected again 11-10. The local aldermen and local community associations refused to give up. Council agreed to reconsider again at the next meeting in two weeks time. However it was pointed out that a 1923 bylaw prohibits a third debate, and could only allow a vote; if new information were to emerge over those two weeks, it could not be taken in to account at the meeting. This brought to light (in the Citizen’s view) the inadequacy of the law. That the public interest would be best served if new information was made available, it should be discussed in public at the meeting, not privately with Council members. They pushed for amendment to the bylaw.
The community groups were upset. “They told us, in writing, that they concurred with our ideas, yet they took no action”, said Dr. D.G. Chapman. He was upset with the Board of Control and their lack of support they originally had the previous summer. The CAs were looking into more legal help to fight. They cited the full page ads as being misleading. Local residents had contacted Dr. E.G. Faludi, a planner referred to in Principal Investment's ad. Faludi said he had been hired to plan the development from a commercial standpoint. But it was not in his opinion, the best use of the land. And in a recent article in “Saturday Night” magazine, had said that this sort of commercial development “should not be done’”.
Chapman also argued that the ad referred to a need for a shopping centre. And while residents agreed generally, one was already approved and in the works just up Carling on Honeywell Farm. Chapman also pointed out that a survey had shown Ottawa to have 800 acres in parkland (600 belonging to the FDC). That was only 3.4 acres per 1,000 of population. Town planning authorities had recommended 10 acres per 1,000, or three times what is being provided. Chapman also challenged that Berger originally stated the plan would have 25 acres of parks, but the new plan showed only 14 acres.
November 16 1953: The morning of the next City Council meeting, it was announced that a Toronto home construction company had purchased 100 of the 200 lots on Principal Investment's plan, for $250,000. Houses were to be 1.5 and 2 stories design, and would be in the $14,000-$16,000 range. “They will be of masonry and stone exterior designs to avoid monotony of appearance. Equipment will include steel beams, steel windows, steel kitchen cabinets, ceramic tile in bathrooms and oak floors.” The purchaser was Louis Charles and David Vanek’s company Community Housing Projects.
The sale price was not a surprise. In just a few months time, Principal Investments had recouped nearly all of their original cost price of the golf course in the sale of just 100 lots.
The company also announced they were applying immediately for water and sewage services to the lots, and that the first 30 homes would be finished by spring. Principal Investments also announced the remaining 100 lots from their plan were available for sale to individuals at $2,500 each.
The timing of these announcements was obviously strategic, as it complicated any attempt the city might make to purchase the McKellar property following the last-ditch City Council meeting later that day.
At the meeting that evening, the McKellar vote came and went quickly. With no debate allowed, just a quick vote occurred, which ended 11-8 against. The City officially would do nothing to acquire the land, and Principal Investments was fee to proceed with their development.
March 1954: With the development underway, the community associations had turned their attention to protecting promises made by Principal Investments. An amendment was being sought by the developer to be allowed to build some 1-storey houses of 850 feet, rather than the required 1.5 and 2 storey houses in the bylaw. A rumoured 200 to 250 single storey homes were to be built on the 50 foot lots, and the community association was concerned it would lower property values of the entire area. The CA was also arguing that they had been promised that no amendments would be allowed to the building restrictions, and that if they were to be considered, they would be allowed to provide input, yet in this case they had not been consulted nor alerted.
Kind of the opposite of present problems where homes are being designed to maximize floor space on a lot to the greatest extent!
A compromise was later reached when the developer was allowed to build bungalows as long as they had a minimum floor area of 1,050 square feet, aren’t adjacent and identical, and have a 50x100 lot size. CA and developer agreed and the bylaw amendment went to Board of Control.
At the same time, the first houses on the golf course development were first advertised for sale. Jack Aaron & Co. were hired as the realtors for the sale. Below is the first ad run for the new McKellar houses, using the old 1912 name that had been pulled out of the mothballs, "McKellar Townsite".
|Ottawa Journal, March 30 1954|
|Original photo on the old golf course from 1954|
Summer of 1954: 8-9 months had passed since the City Council battle, and everything on the elaborate plans for the development had gone quiet. Residents were wondering if they had abandoned their plans for the shopping centre. By May, suggestions again were being made in the newspapers that the City ought to purchase the land.
By June, the first four sample homes were built and on display on the premises. They were priced from $14,950. The ad below details these original houses:
June 12 1954
In July, it was revealed by City Planning Director Cecil Wight to the Board of Control that Principal Investments had decided to drop their shopping centre plans, and, much to the happiness of virtually everyone in the neighborhood, instead would register a new sub-division plan which would be almost exclusively residential. Principal Investments instead got involved with the Carlingwood development.
The new plan included some buildings with multiple units, and the community association fought for single homes only, which they lost (the result being the apartment homes on Tillbury, for example).
The first permits were issued at City Hall on July 23rd, for 33 homes, to be built on Westminster, Mansfield and Gainsborough. Excavations had already been completed, and it was estimated that the homes would be ready by fall. A total of 200 houses were to be built within the next year, and a total of 500 by the fall of 1956.
|Ottawa Citizen, July 23, 1954|
Fall of 1954: Most of the water and sewer pipes in McKellar were laid in the fall of 1954. The Citizen included some photos of this development, including one photo showing a bulldozer near the entrance to the old club. The top photo shows 630 Windermere Avenue, while the photo at the bottom shows 630 and 628 Windermere:
|Ottawa Citizen, September 24, 1954|
Lots on the golf course continued to be sold one or a couple a time until the last were sold in August of 1956.
Spring of 1955: The first families occupying the new houses on the former golf course were now occupying their homes. By early April there were 38 homes finished on the golf course, 22 of them occupied. Families had begun to move in between mid-December and mid-January.
These early families though had a frustrating spring of 1955, upset because roads had not been built yet, and with the spring thaw they had become “marooned by knee-deep mud and water”. A few boards had been placed on high ground by construction workers to aid residents to move between a few houses, but not to the roads.
“There is no semblance of a roadway and no sidewalks – not even duckboards to take them to streets where they have parked their cars”, said G.J. “Gerry” Diamond of 661 Mansfield. “We have to park our cars four blocks from the house. No trucks will come into the place…We can’t live this way. We just can’t live. Something’s got to be done about those conditions. You can’t go beyond Windermere by car. Even the workmen can’t get into to work on the project.” He also noted one expectant mother may have to be moved out in a hurry during the night “any day now” but no ambulance could get within blocks. The city deflected responsibility to Principal Developments.
|Ottawa Citizen, April 6, 1955|
|View on Windermere looking south, April 6, 1955|
(City of Ottawa Archives, CA-32000)
By the end of May, the issue of the isolated 22 home-owners was still raging. The McKellar Community Association President C.A. Greenleaf argued that the homes had been cut off from fire protection, garbage collection, fuel and other deliveries. The homeowners signed an arrangement with the city’s engineering dept to have gravel roads put in to the area if everyone signed a guarantee of financial responsibility, but Principal Developments refused to sign. The CA argued the City could just “throw in six or seven loads of gravel regardless of legal quibbling if anyone at city hall was interested enough or if there was any shadow of goodwill there.”
By November, the developer had put in a petition for paved roads. He was told all that could be supplied would be gravel access roads, and suggested they put in a different petition but never did. Then the residents negotiated for the gravel road, but Principal did not cooperate.
The roads continued to be a problem through the next few years. It was still an issue by the fall of 1958, when Mayor Nelms put pressure on city works officials to improve the streets. In August of 1959, nine streets (Tillbury, Fraser, Windermere, Courtenay, McKellar and Wembley, Sherbourne and Bromley and Lauder) were recommended to be taken over by the city. It was the responsibility of the developer to put them in “good and proper fashion” for the city to take them over. Alderman Lloyd Francis claimed they were “a disgrace” and said there was “no semblance whatsoever of drainage on them”. Another Alderman argued that the City would need to spend over $5,000 to repair them if the City took them over, blaming in improper material used in their construction (a silty sand). Eventually there were improved and the city took them over, ending the developer's obligation to the subdivision land.
|April 9, 1956 - Wavell Avenue looking north in front|
of 621 Wavell (City of Ottawa Archives, CA-19415)
|April 16, 1956 - Wavell Avenue at Dovercourt looking south|
(City of Ottawa Archives, CA-19404)
|1956 photo of Mansfield at Tillbury|
(Photo shared by Wayne Cooper to the Nepean High School
Facebook group in June of 2020).
This great full page ad shows a few McKellar houses, but also lists all of the contractors used in the construction of the houses:
|Ottawa Citizen, March 23, 1956|
|Ottawa Citizen, November 6, 1958|
In November of 1964, the Citizen wrote an editorial summarizing the career of Mayor Charlotte Whitton as the end of her term neared. She had held office from 1951 to 1956 and from 1960 to 1964. One of their chief criticisms was her handling of the McKellar Gold property. “During her first term of office, the city could have bought McKellar Golf Course, a ready-made park of 80 acres in the heart of the burgeoning west end, for $330,000, the course having been sold to a sub-divider for $300.000. Miss Whitton bitterly opposed expropriation, although the park would look like a great bargain today. She won her battle, but it was a Pyrrhic victory for the community. Was Miss Whitton clever to deny this economical municipal golf course to the community? Was she for the people? We think she was merely incompetent, and for nobody.”
Remnants of the Golf Course
Other than golf balls showing up in the gardens of homes throughout McKellar Park, there are a dwindling few physical remnants of the McKellar Golf Course.
In part four I showed a couple photos of some trophies that still hang around from the McKellar era (there may be others out there in attics and basements across the west end). The odd scorecard pops up from time to time, and recently on Kijiji someone was offering for sale an alleged front desk from the clubhouse. Dave McClure, whose father Bob was the last men's champ from 1952 shared a photo of his member's bag tag from 1952:
|Bob McClure's 1952 McKellar member's tag|
(Photo courtesy of Dave McClure)
|Allegedly the front desk of McKellar Golf Course|
advertised for sale on Kijiji summer of 2020
Though the clubhouse, pro shop, greenskeeper's house and other buildings are gone, the original clubhouse from 1927 that was rented and used for a year still remains, at 541 Westminster Avenue.
When the club closed, Charlie Russell who operated the Pine Lodge course in Bristol, Quebec acquired many of the assets of McKellar course and brought them to Bristol. Many of these items remain today, and I had been shared rumours for years of different pieces still existing. I'd heard of a possible tractor, ball-washing stations, and more.
I stopped in a few weeks ago on a trip up to Shawville, and was kindly toured on the site and shown a few of the final McKellar items on display and in use at Pine Lodge.
This photo I've shared previously, is of an old McKellar sign that used to hang over the bar at Pine Lodge they've since removed everything off the wall while doing a little painting and refresh work, but I expect it will be rehung again soon.
This is an original playing ticket that would have been attached to a golf bag at McKellar:
These two next photos are of equipment from McKellar's at-the-time advanced sprinkler system, which I believe Pine Lodge displays in their clubhouse (and may even have been using somewhat recently):
This last photo is of a rake that was from McKellar and still in regular use at Pine Lodge:
Unfortunately, it appears a few of the other items like the 1930s tractor and the ball-washing stations are long gone. But still pretty cool that a few items still remain.
* * *
Thanks so much for reading this series! And thank you to everyone who helped in making this happen, sharing photos, stories and their time. I'm glad to have been able to publish the complete (exhaustive!) story of the golf course, so that the story of it is preserved and can be read by current and future McKellar Park residents, as well as those interested in this unique piece of local history!