Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Video Knight: Wellington Village nostalgia + the history of movie rentals in Ottawa!

(Be sure not to miss the link at the very bottom of this post for a special video experience!)

Valentine's Day 1987 is a day I'll always remember. How do I remember that specific date, from when I was 7 years old? Why has February 14th 1987 remained stuck in my brain 34 years later? That's easy... that was the day my parents brought home our first ever VCR. 

It seems crazy to explain to my kids now, or anyone born anytime beyond the 1980s really, but the acquisition of a VCR was a big deal at the time. It opened up two worlds to families: the ability to watch a movie of your choice, at the time you choose it (and the ability to pause it midway through); but also the ability to record whatever you wanted off of TV. This was a huge difference maker to a 7-year old kid back in 1987 (and also to his movie-loving 37-year old Dad). 

Prior to the wide-spread availability of VCRs, movies could only be seen at the theatre, or when they happened to come on TV. Now at the time, I remember we subscribed to First Choice Superchannel, which was a decent option - By the way, thanks to Retro Ontario they have some clips of the station's old graphics and ads, which I still remember. Here is one, for example: I remember always looked forward to reading through the new monthly program guide for what was on the schedule (I'd love to see one of those original guides again!). 

But the idea of owning a VCR and owning movies, and being able to go to a store and pick just about any movie you wanted was an exciting prospect. Yet, in the mid-80s, it was still a pretty expensive proposition. My Mom was a stay-at-home Mom, and my Dad had a decent government job, but money was fairly tight for us growing up. A VCR was a major luxury. 

However, on that fateful day in February 1987, the VCR arrived. With a few quick Google image searches, I was able to find a photo of the exact one we had! (Which we'd continue to use for the next dozen years or so).

The RCA VMT-385!

For kicks I took a quick keyword search through the Ottawa Citizen from around that time, and somewhat surprisingly found a couple stores selling that model in flyers that week: J.M. Saucier on Baseline Road in the Fisher Heights Plaza, and a place called Krazy Krazy Electronics and Furniture Warehouse (on Stafford Road in Nepean, and also on Industrial Avenue). I called my Mom with the ultimate memory test to see if she could recall where they'd bought the VCR, and she could not remember, nor did either store name ring a bell. She did confirm that it was a major purchase for the family though, recalling that it was more than $500. Here is part of the Saucier ad that week, which also shows the costs of TVs, camcorders and monitors at the same time:

Ottawa Citizen, February 17, 1987

Anyhow, it was a big day for our family, and instantly we became regulars at the three local places that rented videos: Video Knight on Wellington Street across from Carvers' Drug Store, the Winks gas bar on Richmond Road at Tweedsmuir, and the Quickie convenience store on Wellington at Carleton. From my memory, I recalled that for selection, quality, and convenience we'd go to Video Knight; for a cheaper price, we'd go to Winks; and for a small selection, but ultra-low price (under $1 per rental), we'd to to Quickie (they had some awful "B" and "C" movies at Quickie, but my Dad loved that 99 cent rental fee!) 

Video Knight though was the place to go. And it was cool to have that experience of going in and seeing the long walls of colourful boxes lining the wall, and the tiny little tabs that would be there if the movie was in, and which you'd pull off to take to the counter to rent the movie. For a kid it was pretty exciting, that feeling of instant gratification of picking a movie, and being able to take it home and watch it right away. Or watching it a few times. Or pausing it mid-way through and going back to it. All novel concepts, and a pretty cool thing. Something my kids will never appreciate, as they've grown up being able to turn the TV on and have the choice of literally millions of movies and video clips built right into the TV basically. It's too easy.

I recently watched the two new-ish documentaries "Netflix Versus the World" and "The Last Blockbuster" (which also contributed to my inspiration to finally write an article on Video Knight and research the history of movie rentals) and they covered the story of how the video stores grew and then disappeared. I recommend both if you like this subject like I do.


Though this article is the story of Video Knight, I confess to not knowing much of the story, aside largely from my personal experience.

I can tell you that the store opened sometime between mid-1985 and early 1987 by Mike Renaud, who saw a need in Wellington Village. 

The front entrance to Video Knight in 1998

But let's rewind just a little bit here... The video rental boom came in the early 1980s, just a few years after video cassettes became a new technology offered to consumers.

It was in the mid-1970s that rumours of video cassettes began to circulate. One of the first stories to appear in Canadian mainstream media was a story based around comments made by Knowlton Nash of the CBC, who spoke of how one day Canadians would "build personal libraries of video cassettes as it does with books and records."

Ottawa Citizen, March 21, 1975

The first demonstrations of video cassettes began as novelty items in the occasional bar or event, including notably the 1976 Conservative leadership convention when some candidates had rented VCRs and connected them to televisions to "provide a constant barrage of the campaign ads, interviews and other reports", with the Mulroney camp renting the hotel club room for the youth delegates where they could go "watch taped rock shows when the politics become too tedious."

The Betamax arrives in Ottawa!
Ottawa Citizen  July 5, 1976

In 1976 Sony had released the Betamax videocassette player-recorder. Their advertising pushed that owners could record shows to keep. "Even if you’re not there, it records TV programs you don’t want to miss — builds a priceless videotape library in no time" promoted Sony. However, executives at Disney and Universal were concerned, arguing that people recording shows and movies were violating copyright laws, and sued Sony, alleging that Sony was liable for the copyright infringement its customers were partaking. The lower court sided with Sony, on appeal the appellate court agreed with the studios, but the case went to the Supreme Court, where Sony won, essentially saving the VCR, and forever changing copyright law. It took 8 years to figure out the mess, and by that time, Sony was in trouble anyways, as unfortunately for their business, they had emphasized quality over cost. The VHS system would prove cheaper, eventually conquering Beta in short order.

Ottawa Citizen - November 11, 1978
VHS arrives in Ottawa!

Typically, Canada was a bit behind their American counterpart in the absorption of new technology. 

When movies on Beta and VHS first came out, they cost in the range of $65-$100 each! The studios calculated their prices based on how many times a video would be watched and by how many people (versus the cost of say a $5 ticket at the cinema). But this, along with the introductory prices of the players in the $1,500-$2,000 range, made it inaccessible to most people.

Though a limited client base existed for video ownership, some ingenious entrepreneurs thought of a a way around it - movie rentals. The $100 price tag was manageable when the movie could be rented out many times over. Conversely, VCR ownership became a reasonable proposition when movies (which in most cases would only be watched once or twice anyways) could be acquired for a couple of bucks, and then returned. It was a perfect solution, however the studios didn't see it that way. The studios sued the early video stores, but the courts sided on the side of the shops. The Copyright Act of 1976 - also known as the First Sale Doctrine - said that once the copyright owner sold a copy of their work, they cannot control what the user does with it afterwards (for instance libraries could lend books, and individuals were allowed to sell their old records - and movies). However, as it turned out for the studios, this would become huge for them. In fact, in just a short period of time, proceeds from the video rentals became their largest source of revenue. 

So that was the story of the beginning of video rentals in the U.S. Canada, however, was a little behind. By 1980, it was still illegal to "rent" movies in Canada (tapes were issued with a "not for rental" sticker). Instead, the first rental stores to open were allowing "previewing" of movies. A $6 or $6.50 service charge was administered to someone who came into a store and took home a movie. If they chose to keep the tape, the $6 would come off the purchase price. Or they could return it, and "preview" another movie! Alternatively, some stores would sell an initial movie for $100, but then allow it to be exchanged for another tape within three days, with a service charge of $7 charged for the exchange. Stores were very nervous of copyright laws, and the early shops also had extensive agreements in place to ensure customers were not duplicating the tape or using it for commercial purposes. 

So the boom was on, and Ottawa saw its first stores offering video rentals around the summer of 1980. I can't figure out through research which store was officially the first, as the whole movie rental thing seems to have been pretty underground. Certainly none were advertising before the summer of 1980,

By December of 1980, there were three stores in Ottawa where you could "rent" movies: Captain Video (281 Bank Street), Video Warehouse (2901 Riverside Drive), and Videoland (1154 Bank Street). Video Warehouse led the way with 900 available movies at the time, with the three stores charging in the range of $6-$7 each for a three-day rental.

Captain Video's video "previewing" shelf at 281 Bank Street
Ottawa Citizen, December 12, 1980

In May of 1981, Mooney's Bay TV and Stereo were charged by the RCMP on a complaint from the Motion Picture Association of America of renting movies. The owners pleaded guilty and were fined the maximum penalty of $300. The case was considered a test case by the RCMP, the first of its kind in Canada for movie rentals, who apparently hoped the owners would not plead guilty, so that it would force a review of the out of date Copyright Act. 

I did a bit of digging but couldn't find when the Act was changed, but clearly the laws were clarified for the new video cassette technology, and it led to a massive craze across Canada starting in late 1981 or early 1982. A surge in production in VCRs (both VHS and Beta, as well as the upstarts but short-lived Videodiscs), an increase in the availability of blank cassettes for recording, and the wider availability of movies for purchase led the craze, which saw video stores established in virtually every neighbourhood across the country. In 1982 more than 175,000 VCRs were sold in Canada. 

Shops were also able to offer VCRs for rental, further enabling more Canadians to try out the new technology, even if they couldn't afford the huge price tag to purchase one.

The next issue that arose was video piracy. Slick entrepreneurs with two VCRs discovered that they could make copies of VHS tapes, and sell the pirated tapes to the upstart rental shops (who were more than happy to purchase copies at a fraction of the full price). This was more trouble for the RCMP and the Copyright Act to figure out. Check out this clip (once again Knowlton Nash is the one to report on it!) from the CBC in 1982 talking about the video piracy:

By mid-1983, the Ottawa Citizen reported there were "more than 35 outlets in the Ottawa area" with video rentals, ranging from specialty shops to supermarkets! The chain stores like IGA that had gotten into the business were able to offer low prices, driving down the costs across the city. Thus many locations began offering annual memberships, which included a certain number of rentals, in order to compete. Captain Video on Bank Street offered a $80 annual fee which included 24 rentals. The Video Station had 7 locations in Ottawa, and offered a yearly membership for $50, which allowed for a $3/day rental (or $6.95 for the weekend), with non-members paying $8 for a 2-day rental and $9 weekend. At the Greenbank IGA, there was no membership fee, but video rentals were $3/day or $8/weekend, and a VCR could be rented for $12.95 overnight, which included two movies (or $35 for a weekend with three movies). Even Simpsons-Sears got in the rental business, further driving down the costs offering $1.88 movies during the summer and $9.95 overnight VCR rentals, for members.

In most cases, stores had to offer both Beta and VHS options, and the average store carried a total of 400 different titles, though the specialty stores such as Captain Video and Video Warehouse offered more than 1,000 movies. All the stores surveyed by the Citizen in July of 1983 responded that they had adult sections - including the supermarkets! Come rent your pornography while grabbing your milk and bread at the IGA!

By 1984, video rental shops filled an impressive six pages in the yellow pages!

Thus it was only a matter of time before Wellington Village got their store. Video Knight filled that void, opening as I mentioned above sometime between late 1985 and early 1987 at 1327 Wellington Street West. It was a long, thin shop, with I'd say barely 10 feet between the 2 walls. The shop has now been incorporated in to the store next door, which is now Massage Addict. 

Unfortunately, attempts to locate Mike Renaud proved difficult, as that would have a been a great interview to add to this story. So my details on the early years are limited. 

Video Knight didn't advertise. They didn't have to. They weren't competing for any business outside of the immediate neighbourhood, making them a fairly unique business in that regard. Every neighbourhood had a video rental store, and even if someone from outside the 'hood found themselves passing through Wellington Village and considered popping in to rent a movie, they'd then recall the need to drive back the next day to return the video, likely making it just too much of a hassle.

Thus in the entirety of the Ottawa Citizen pages during this period, there existed just ONE advertisement of Video Knight...that in early 1987 for the film Ruthless People. 

Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1987

From the limited research I was able to do, I discovered there were apparently three different owners: Mike Renaud (from opening until about 1991), Lucie Perron (short period only, 1991-1992ish), and then Spawn Gusdal (from 1993 to its close in 1998). 

The shop stayed mostly the same over the years. I still remember when the Beta section was removed (which I recall was on your left when first entering the store), and when video games made their first appearance (also on your left, just above the radiator). My brother and I spent many summer vacations in the early '90s renting various SNES games a week at a time. I think we played the entire MegaMan series that way.

Here is a blurry photo (taken from a screenshot) of the old Video Knight rental slips, which may be familiar to those of you who used to rent videos as much as we did!

And here are a few photos of the video walls, taken just before its closing in 1998:


Finally, here is a photo of the length of the store just before its final day when the last of the stock was being sold off: 

Video Knight closed, like so many of the local shops did, when Blockbuster came in and ran everyone out of business. They offered huge stores, cheaper rates, massive selection, and finally guaranteed availability of hugely popular new releases. When a movie like Titanic was released, a shop like Video Knight could afford to have only a handful of copies available; Blockbuster was able to put 100 or more in a store through rental sharing agreements with the distributors, giving a percentage of rental proceeds to the studios, rather than just paying outright for a certain number of copies. 

Blockbuster of course went from top of the world to bankruptcy in epic fashion (see those documentaries mentioned above for more on that). Left in its wake are still a couple of shops in Ottawa that rent movies, most notably Hintonburg's Audiovideo Centre at 1097 Wellington West!

Video Knight's final day open was on Friday October 30th, 1998.

I've saved the best for last here... a couple of years ago, someone posted a photo to Lost Ottawa of the front of Video Knight. I contacted the poster, Jeff Connolly, and it turns out his photo was actually a screen capture from a lengthy video he and some friends took in the store during its final days. Not only that, but Jeff's video actually caught me and my girlfriend in the store buying two of the shelving units on the final day (which I kept through my University years for all my videos, CDs, etc.). 

Anyways, I've put together a 5-minute video of clips from Jeff's video, showing Video Knight in its final state, no longer renting movies but selling off their stock. The best bits and pieces from the video show the inside of the store and some of its customers (including the line-up of movie buyers on the last day). The video clip has no audio, as the original tape was largely Jeff and his friends joking around so I removed the audio track, but still a great opportunity to flashback in time and walk into Video Knight and see the old familiar walls and shelves and faces. The final owner Spawn is seen in a few shots.

Again a huge thanks to Jeff Connolly for digitizing this, sharing it with me, and for making it possible to be shared on the Kitchissippi Museum!

View the Video Knight video on Youtube here:


So thanks for reading and taking this trip back in time with me! I hope this was a fun piece of local nostalgia! I encourage anyone with memories of Video Knight to post a comment!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Street Profile: The History of Warren Avenue

I love Warren Avenue, one of the quiet dead-end streets off Wellington West in Wellington Village. It's the street I most often choose to walk up with the kids when heading to Fisher Park, because I love looking at the old original houses, almost all of which are original and untouched dating back to the 1920s. Warren is one of the few streets that was almost fully filled in by the close of the 1920s, which makes it a great snapshot of those early years of Wellington Village. Sadly, the house with the most history on Warren is the one house that has been lost. But there is still a lot of history on this little street that measures just over 700 feet in length.

It's been a little while since I've done a "Street Profile", but I really enjoy doing these things, and I'm happy to share this history of one of my favourite streets today.

[Edit: Note 5 days after publishing the original article, I've come back on to add a bit more info, including several great photos and a great image of an old painting taken at Warren and Byron]

Current Street Name: Warren Avenue
Former Street Names: None
First established: 1914

Name meaning: Warren Avenue is named for Warren Young Soper, who was one of Ottawa's most prominent and entrepreneurial citizens in the late 19th and early 20th century. 

Warren Young Soper in September 1913
(LAC, B-125201)
Warren Soper was born on March 9th, 1854 in Old  Town, Maine, but was brought to Ottawa by his parents at the age of two.

His first job was as a telegraph operator, but he would go on to become the head of largest and most important industrial and financial concerns in Canada. After ascending to manager of the Dominion Telegraph Company and later superintendent of the Canada Mutual Telegraph Company (all during his twenties), Soper partnered with his life-long friend and colleague Thomas Ahearn in 1882, forming Ahearn & Soper Ltd. It was through this firm that the pair would be credited with introducing the electric railway system into Canada (Ottawa had electric streetcars before Toronto or Montreal), and of solving the problem of running streetcars during the winter. Soper and Ahearn had been childhood friends together, telegraph operators together, electrical contractors together, and became millionaires together.

A long list of firms he was President or Vice-President of would double the length of this article. However a few of those firms included the Ottawa Car Company, the Ottawa Street Railway Company, the Ottawa Light, Heat and Power Company, and the Ottawa Electric Company. In 1884, Soper and Ahearn introduced electric lights into the House of Commons, a year before the milestone was achieved in Washington DC. In 1890, Soper and Ahearn secured the contract to construct the tracks on which the first electric streetcars ran in 1891, much to the marvel of the citizens of Ottawa. 

Locally, Ahearn and Soper were also at the helm of the Ottawa Land Association syndicate, which bought up all the farms in Kitchissippi, in anticipation of extending the streetcar lines west to Britannia. When they did in 1900, the land values soared alongside the tracks, allowing the OLA to lay out popular subdivisions in the west end, in particular the entirety of Wellington Village.

How named: Warren Avenue was selected in 1914 as one of the street names in the Ottawa Land Association's new sub-division of  the former Stewart family farm (which years later would be known as Wellington Village, but then was known as the western end of Hintonburg). The new plan laid out streets in a previously empty field of land, many of which were named for the principals of the Ottawa Land Association. 

1914 Plan of Ottawa-Hull published by the Ottawa
Improvement Commission. The final map that would
show no streets on the south side of Wellington in
the future Wellington Village neighbourhood.

Warren Avenue, along with Julian Avenue and Hampton Avenue, became the new streets next to Harmer, Clarendon and Granville, which had already been laid out on a previous subdivision a year or two prior.

Plan M-47 filed in 1914 by the Ottawa Land Association,
subdividing the lots between Byron and Wellington

For reasons unknown to me, each of the sections of streets were allocated different lot depths! The lots on the east side of Clarendon and west side of Warren had depths of 96'. Meanwhile the lots on the east side of Warren and west side of Julian had depths of 113'. And then the lots on the east side of Julian and west side of Harmer had depths of 104'. My only guess was that the streets had to align with the previous subdivisions which included Clarendon and Harmer, and then in order to maintain the original Stewart stone farmhouse on Julian, had to run Julian in a specific spot. But that still doesn't make sense to me why the Clarendon/Warren block had 96' depths and the Warren/Julian block had 113' depths, and could have all been in a uniform 104' depth. Kind of interesting to consider.

Warren Avenue was laid out with the same roadway width (66 feet) as all of the other streets in the new subdivision (except for this segment of Harmer Avenue, which was slightly narrower at 60 feet). Though maps and fire insurance plans never indicated it, Warren always dead-ended at the Ottawa Electric Railway tracks (which of course ran where the Byron Linear Pathway runs today!). The streetcars ran just 20 feet from the walls of 50 and 51 Warren at the south end!

The original Warren Avenue house

The first house on Warren Avenue actually pre-dated Warren Avenue! Extensive research I did years ago on the Stewart farm, showed evidence that all three of the original farmhouses survived well after the Stewart family sold to the OLA in 1893. I had originally written about the family and their farm back in 2015 in one of the first articles in the Kitchissippi Museum (see

However, what has changed since I wrote that article is that I discovered that in fact two of the farmhouses survived until recently, and even one remains to this day!

The large stone house from the 1830s (located on the east side of Julian just set back from Wellington) tragically was demolished in 1961. It would be a landmark of Kitchissippi had it been saved (and the NCC had its chance!). The Ranald Stewart home on Granville was saved, and moved up the hill on Granville, onto a new foundation where it remains today at 32 Granville. However, the third house, the Alex Stewart wood-frame house, was the one located in the vicinity of Warren Avenue, and survived until 2007. 

Alex Stewart was Roderick Stewart's son, who had married Constance Anna Pinhey (granddaughter of Hamnett Pinhey, who established Horaceville at Pinhey's Point) in 1873. The house was built around this time (1873-1874), in time for the birth of their first child, son Horace in 1874. Horace sadly would pass away at the age of 9, but Alex and Constance would have six daughters between 1877-1892.

Alexander Stewart, portrait

The Alex and Constance Stewart house stood about 300 feet to the west of the stone farmhouse, in what was then a vast open farmers field. When the OLA purchased the farm in 1893, the Stewarts kept the stone mansion where Alex's sister Wilhelmina Sparks remained for many years. However the two old farmhouses were vacated when Ranald and Alex moved away, and both were part of of the land taken over by the OLA. The OLA soon found tenants for both. The Alex Stewart house, however, would have just one occupant family for the next 40 years: Robert and Ellen Hill, and their five children.

Robert Hill was a Carleton County Constable based in Nepean Township, a career he held for 25 years until approx. 1911. During the same period he lived in the old Alex Stewart house, records show he also continued to farm the former Stewart farm, or at least part of it (the 1901 census indicates he was tenanting 100 acres of farm, which included four "barns, stables or outbuildings"), including at minimum the dairy portion of it. He ran milk production and delivery off the land that would have encompassed the streets probably from about Julian to Clarendon or even as far as Granville. 

As I wrote in 2018 about Wellington Village's 100-year-old houses as we approached the 100th Anniversary in 2019, the house which was at 41 Warren Avenue was the original Alex Stewart/Robert Hill house. ( Thankfully a photograph of it was captured by the City around 1989. It was torn down in 2007, and a new, larger home has taken its place. A comment on my 2018 post from a neighbour noted that it had structural issues and couldn't be preserved. Too bad, as it would be nearly 150 years old, and a cool sister landmark house to the other Stewart home on Granville.

41 Warren Avenue, circa 1991
(former Stewart/Hill home)
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-25175)

[Edit 29 March 2021: Just five days after publishing this article, I obtained a second photo of the old Stewart family home, as it was in 1940, and looking more like it originally would have when the Stewarts and Hills occupied it. Thanks to Norma Brown and Graham Brown, part of the extended Snowdon family of 40 Warren Avenue for this great photograph).

41 Warren and 43-45 Warren Avenue, 1940.
Pictured is David Brown, son of John Nicol Brown,
on cousin Bob Snowdon's motorcyle parked in
front of 40 Warren Avenue.
(Source: Norma Brown and Graham Brown)

When the OLA subdivided the former farm in 1919 and offered it up for sale, Hill was working for the OLA in some kind of role related to the new Wellington Village subdivisions (perhaps in showing prospective buyers the land, helping new occupants find their proper plot, and working with early infrastructure needs on the property). By this time, he was just shy of 70 years old and decided to retire from the milk business in July of 1920. 

The next summer he had an ad in the paper advertising some of his farm equipment. Perhaps some of it even dated back to the Stewart farm days.

Ottawa Citizen, July 4, 1921

Also around this time, evidence from the earliest area aerial photos, and details pieced together from the land registry records and sales from the 1919 lot auction, suggest that Hill had to move his house. It is my belief that the house was originally located in what is now the middle of Warren Avenue, between 6 and 7 Warren Avenue, in line with where the stone family home was located on Julian (set back about 75-100 feet from Wellington Street). It had the civic address 1320 Wellington Street (well prior to the OLA subdivisions, which places it close to the 1298 civic address the stone house had at the corner of Julian). An 1879 map which placed black squares on the approximate locations of houses in Nepean Township had a square in virtually this exact spot also.

Markings on an aerial photo taken in the summer of 1920 (the earliest available aerial photos of the area) show considerable ground activity in the still-dirt roadway of Warren Avenue at the time at this location (and the house in place at 41 Warren), which are not found in the roadway of any other street, lending further evidence that this was its likely original location. (You can view this 1920 aerial photo a little lower in this article).

The story of how it ended up being retained by Hill and moved up the street is lost to history, however records show Hill purchased lot 2855 on December 15th, 1919 (not even at the auction, but from one of the auction buyers), for $600, took out a mortgage for just $1,000 for costs, and then took out a City permit in April 1920 for a $1,800 job for the foundation and move. The house itself was likely gifted to him by the OLA, as it would have had to be demolished otherwise as it was in the roadway. (Similarly the Ranald Stewart house on Granville was sold privately to a lot buyer, who had to move it in early 1920 to his lot up the street).

Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1920.
I love that the Citizen and Journal used to list most
every construction permit issued in the City monthly.

Just as the Granville house was moved by horses on logs, it can be assumed that was how Hill moved his house up Warren Avenue in May or June of 1920, setting it on to a new foundation.

At this time, Robert was residing in the home as a widow (his wife Ellen had died in 1905), living with his daughter Helen, wife of Arthur E. Ironside, and their 5-year old daughter Vera. The family sold the home in September 1930 when Arthur became manager of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company in Sudbury.  Robert passed away a year in 1931, while spending the winter at his daughter (Mrs. Welland Byron) in Maryland, Quebec. 

I wish I had realized the house had this history years ago, I would have loved to have seen it! It's also kind of sad that there is no trace or neighbourhood recognition left behind of Mr. Robert Hill, who was a 40-year fixture here, and tied the two eras of the neighbourhood together.

The First Five Houses:

The big Wellington Village lot auction under a circus tent (more on that here, in case you missed it before: was held on May 31st, 1919, and soon after the first lots were prepared, and houses began being built. But since all the lots were sold one or two to a person, construction was slow, and each house was built uniquely. Though there were some small-time home builders who purchased a series of lots over time and constructed similar houses, it wasn't like today where one developer came in and put in a block of 50 or 100 houses in an area. I love that Wellington Village (and Warren Avenue being a perfect example) was built in such a unique way. Below I cover the stories of the first five houses built on Warren, all of which remain today.

28 Warren Avenue

Aside for the Stewart-Hill house, the first "new" house to be built on Warren Avenue, and the oldest still standing, is 28 Warren Avenue. It was constructed in late 1919 or early 1920 by James Thomas Milks and his wife Katherine. James was a 31-year old electrical foreman with the E. B. Eddy Company (a position he held for 38 years until his death in 1950) who it appears may have built the house himself for his growing family. The couple had a 2-year old son Harold, and Katherine's mother also lived with them in early years. Milks had bought the lot at the big circus tent auction, paying $425.

28 Warren Avenue in 2020 (Google Streetview)

Though the Milks would reside in the house 25 years, theirs is a story of tragedy. Harold Milks was just 7 years old on a Sunday morning in November of 1925 when he and his Mom set out for church just a little to west, at St. George's Church on Mayfair. Typically they would walk up Wellington Street, but were running a little behind that day, so Katherine and Harold met up with a Julian Avenue neighbour and her two sons to walk along the streetcar tracks instead. 

It was at a point two-thirds of the way between Clarendon and Granville Avenue where the three boys were walking a short distance behind the two Moms. All were walking between the two tracks, on what was called the "devil strip" (which I take it was fairly common in those days to do. The tracks were spaced fairly wide apart, but I assume when an approaching streetcar was seen, pedestrians would still need to move aside a little extra). The westbound streetcar No. 312 was approaching at a slow pace, and when Katherine heard it coming, she turned around, just in time to see Harold on the fender of the streetcar. The two other boys later told police that without looking where he was going, Harold suddenly ran towards the westbound tracks calling after his friends to accompany him.

The streetcar motorman immediately applied the brakes and brought the car to a stop within a few feet. Harold was unconscious, and he was picked up and taken on to the streetcar, which quickly backed up to Holland Avenue where he was transferred to another streetcar and taken to the Civic Hospital. He never regained consciousness and died at the Civic a short time later from a fractured skull.

The awful tragedy cast a pall over the neighbourhood, and the funeral was held at St. George's, attended by many of the children of the neighbourhood, including his classmates at St. George's School. The Journal called Harold an "exceedingly bright and lovable little chap", and the newspapers made it sound as if it was all the more tragic as Harold had no siblings. The Journal headline even highlighted this fact: "An Only Child Fatally Hurt by Street Car". 

James and Katherine never had another child, and remained on Warren until selling in 1945. 

28 Warren would later, for a few years, be home to a unique business, an accordion studio operated by Karl Kadisch. 

Ottawa Journal, September 12, 1964.

6 Warren Avenue

The next oldest house was constructed commencing in late 1920 or early 1921, this being at 6 Warren Avenue. A $4,500 permit was taken out from the City in November of 1920 by John H. Hayes, and a $3,000 mortgage in February 1921. It was likely completed sometime in early summer, too late to have been captured by the June 1st census. Hayes was employed as a solicitor with the taxation branch of the Finance Department. 

6 Warren Avenue in 2020 (Google Streetview)

The Hayes only resided in the home for two years, selling in 1923 to George and Mary Clarke, who had retired from farming in western Canada and come into the city. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in the home in October of 1944, though sadly both passed away by the following spring.

The old newspapers did yield a pretty cool classified ad when Hayes listed 6 Warren  for sale in February of 1923!

Ottawa Citizen, February 14, 1923

35 Warren Avenue

John Webber acquired the lot for $500 in the fall of 1919, took out a mortgage in November of 1920, and chipped away at 35 Warren Avenue until it was ready in the fall of 1921. 

John was in his early 60s at the time. He was an electrician by trade, but by 1922 was working as a switchboard operator with Ottawa Hydro. His wife Isobel passed away in 1936, he died in 1943. Their daughter Martha moved in briefly afterwards.

35 Warren Avenue in 2020 (Google Streetview)
South addition added between 2009-2012.

27 Warren Avenue

At the original lot auction in 1919, Sarah A. Donaghy purchased two lots side-by-side on Warren Avenue (2852 and 2853) for $950. In May of 1921, she sold both lots to Harvey H. MacArtney, a 39-year old carpenter, for $1800 (not a bad profit!). 

MacArtney, who had just moved to Ottawa from Malakoff with his family, immediately took out a permit and a $3,500 mortgage towards construction of 27 Warren Avenue. (Later that year he sold the second lot, on which 31 Warren would soon after be built, for $650, meaning he paid a heck of a premium to get the lot he wanted for 27 Warren). MacArtney, his wife Margaret, and 12-year old daughter Elsie moved in.

27 Warren Avenue in 2014 (Google Steetview)

The MacArtneys would only remain until April 1923, and later this house would be the Moses family home from 1928 until the mid-1950s. 

7 Warren Avenue

In October of 1921, 28-year old Estella M. O'Neill purchased the lot for $750 and 5 days before Christmas took out a mortgage for $2,700 towards the construction of a house. It was finished in the Spring of 1922.

7 Warren Avenue in 2020 (Google Streetview)

It appears the house was the home to Estella, who was employed as a clerk with the Post Office, and not married, her 65-year old father Hugh (a retired postal clerk of 48 years with the Post Office Department), and several of her 8 siblings, including youngest sister Eileen, and her oldest brother Michael. The O'Neills were one of Ottawa's original families, Hugh having been born here in 1856 to Irish immigrant parents.

Ottawa Citizen, June 27, 1923, Estella's youngest
sister Eileen, then 18 years old hosted a dance and
party at the home at 7 Warren Avenue. The local
newspapers of the era reported several parties the
O'Neill family hosted in the home.

The home was the scene of a sad event in April of 1934, a double funeral for her father Hugh and brother Michael, who died just hours apart. Michael O'Neill, just 47 years old, and a telegraph operator, died of a sudden illness late on April 3rd. Then just five hours after his son died, 78-year old Hugh O'Neill passed away in hospital after a three-week long hospitalization with a serious illness. 

The home would next be owned and occupied for nearly 30 years by George Mennie Ritchie, who co-owned Red Line Taxi in Ottawa, until his passing in 1966.

Ottawa Citizen, February 1, 1956

Early Days

This photo obviously pre-dates Warren Avenue, but I love it for showing the vastness of the future Wellington Village. The little waiting station at the Holland Avenue turn at Byron Avenue can be seen at right, and the farm fields of the OLA can be seen in the background. The tennis club today would be just at the left. Warren Avenue would be out of view, but still a great shot of this area.

Byron Avenue looking west from Holland Avenue,
circa 1900-1905.

The May 31st 1919 auction saw all of the lots on Warren Avenue get sold. As you might expect, the lots at the corner of Wellington sold for the highest amounts (the future Won Ton House lot went for $750), while the cheapest lot sold was the future 51 Warren lot, which sold for just $275 (understandable, as it was not only the last lot on the street adjoining the streetcar line, but is only 31' wide, while most of the other lots on the street are 50' wide). No one buyer purchased more than two lots, and interestingly out of the 22 unique buyers who purchased lots fronting Warren Avenue, only 4 ever built on Warren: Milks, Hayes, Robert Card (who co-built the 9-11 Warren double), and William Burke (who built the Won Ton House building).

Two months after the auction, one of the lots on the east side of Warren was already for sale! Perhaps this was the lot that Hill purchased later that year. 

Ottawa Citizen, July 30, 1919

It was noted in the Citizen of October 9th, 1919, that Warren Avenue was receiving 9" tile pipe sewers from Wellington to Byron. The bulk of the cost would be paid by the lot owners.

Ottawa Citizen, October 9, 1919

A great capture of the earliest days of Warren Avenue can be seen in one of the earliest sets of aerial photos ever taken in Ottawa. In the late summer or fall of 1920, a low flying RCAF plane took high resolution shots of several Ottawa neighbourhods, and thankfully Wellington Village was part of the flight line. Though sometimes the details are a strain to see, the mere existence of a snapshot in time of the street in its infancy tells so much. For positioning, keep in mind Wellington is at top, and the streetcar (Byron Avenue) can be seen just at the bottom. The three visible streets from left to right are Clarendon, Warren and Julian. For instance you can see that Warren still is just a dirt road, with just the Hill house at the bottom, and the Milks house on the west side. You can see some foundation work on two places on Clarendon, and 4 houses side by side on Julian (Julian also has a sidewalk on the west side). Also important from this photo is the distressed ground up towards Wellington on Warren, which is where the Alex Stewart house was located. 

Aerial photo of Warren Avenue in 1920

Also capturing Warren Avenue in time is the 1922 Fire Insurance Plan for Ottawa shown below. Pink indicates brick, yellow is wood-frame, grey are sheds/outbuildings, and blue is stone. The blue circles indicate fire hydrants. The notation on each house indicate number of floors and other information about roof materials, windows, etc. I love these fire insurance plans because it shows the makeup of a street at any given time, with approximate house sizes, locations, etc. Note the civic addresses were often recorded incorrectly during these primitive days of civic addressing. But on the west side are two houses, 6 (the Hayes house) and 14 (which is actually 28, the Milks house), and on the east side are 4 (which is really the future Won Ton House restaurant, noted as "under construction" at that point appearing as if it would front Warren Avenue), 14 (actually 7, the O'Neill house), 13 (actually 27, the MacArtney house), 42 (actually 35, the Webber house), and 52 (actually 41, the Hill/Ironside house).

1922 Fire Insurance Plan map of Warren Avenue

Here is one of the earliest house for sale ads for a Warren Avenue home. I think it's the Hayes house at 6 Warren Avenue that is being advertised here:

Ottawa Journal, January 27, 1922

In 1925, Warren Avenue almost had it's name changed! The local community association, the Elmdale Municipal Association, contacted the Board of Control looking to have a decision made regarding the confusion over Warren Avenue and Warren Drive, a street I can't find any information on where it existed at the time. The City considered several similar cases involving duplicate street names, and the Commissioner of Works made the decision which of the two would be kept. In this case, Warren Avenue was allowed to remain, and Warren Drive had to change.

Ottawa Citizen, June 19, 1925

In a 1927 meeting at City Hall, before storm sewers were finally installed for the neighbourhood, and Cave Creek was still a problem for area residents (read more about Cave Creek here:, Robert Hill told the session about the history of Cave Creek in the future Warren Avenue area. The Citizen reported he was "telling of the days when the whole area was flooded so that they could go over fields in canoes, when they caught fish in the creek, and boys used to swim in the ponds. (He) also told how Cave Creek got its name by disappearing into a cave nearly opposite the present Connaught school, to reappear some distance away in different streams." 

Notable families and names

The Cunliffe family resided at 19 Warren from its construction in 1923-1924 until the 1950s. Bernard J. Cunliffe rose through the ranks in the post office in Ottawa, becoming a superintendent in 1940. His wife Ida passed away in 1943 at the young age of 55, a year after going overseas during the war as a V.A.D. in the Red Cross. Their son John and daughter Eileen also served in WWII with the RCAF. A quick search for Cunliffe family details yielded this great photo of Bernard Cunliffe in 1915 (just a few years before building his home on Warren Avenue) at an unknown Ottawa post office.

Bernard J. Cunliffe (on far right), 1915 in front of an
unknown Ottawa telegraph and post office
(photo credit Stephen Cunliffe, Ancestry 2010)

Ottawa Citizen, February 17, 1925
A light story about a Valentines Party at 19 Warren for
little Jack Cunliffe. A random little article, but I love
how the Citizen up until the 1930s was basically a
small town newspaper. It makes anecdote-hunting
a lot easier for 100-year old houses.

The Ancestry search also yielded this great photograph of 19 Warren Avenue from the late 1940s or early 1950s (vintage car buffs might be able to confirm better based on that old car parked in the street).

[Edit on 29 March 2021: Local historian and vintage car enthusiast Dave Truemner kindly emailed me after I published this article with information to help date the photo below. He wrote: "The vehicle appears to be a 1937 Willys sedan, from the same company which later became better known as the manufacturer of the more famous Jeep. Willys offered this same style of car from 1937 – 1941.    The telltale feature of the 37 models is the drip-rail that runs along over the two side windows. Only on the 1937 models does it follow downward behind the rear door. From 1938 onward, the drip-rail sloped backward over the rear of the body.  In 1940-41, the headlights were integrated into the front fenders, rather than being  mounted on top as they were in 37-38-39. That doesn’t exactly date the picture, of course, but it cannot be before 1937, and likely not after the war, because the car appears to be in better condition than an 8+ year-old vehicle in those pre-undercoating days. But if the car had been put away during the war years, because of gas-rationing, then it might appear in better-than expected condition after 1945."  Thanks very much Dave!) 

19 Warren Avenue (and part of #23), circa 1937-early 1940s
(Photo credit Stephen Cunliffe, Ancestry 2008)

19 and 23 Warren Avenue in 2020
(Google Streetview)

The Read family of 23 Warren became notorious in the 1950s for travelling with their large family in a converted bus! The Citizen did a neat profile of the family and their bus in 1956. Dr. Frank Read was a veterinary surgeon with the Department of Agriculture. He and his wife Ursula had eight children ranging in ages from 1 to 13, and acquired a 10-year old former Atomic Energy bus that was used to shuttle workers between Pembroke and Chalk River. They removed the seats, and installed two folding double beds on the right side with a 50-pound refrigerator between them and two seven-foot bunk beds across the rear. A propane gas stove was installed on top of an old buffet, and an army table folded against the wall behind the driver's seat. "While the bus rolls along, the children play with their toys on the floor and move about as though in their own living room. The wee ones sleep on their bunks during the afternoon...", wrote the Citizen in their article. Dr. Read painted the bus in its original green colour and added the name "Ottawa Clipper" on its side. 

23 Warren Avenue. Ottawa Citizen, July 19, 1956

The Snowdon family would be, by my rough count, the family to live on Warren Avenue for the most consecutive years. Reginald Vivian Snowdon purchased his lot in June 1923, took out a $3,500 mortgage that October, and by mid-1924 had completed the home at 40 Warren Avenue. He and his wife Mary raised their family in the home, remaining in the home for the next 58 years until 1982. (Reginald passed away in 1988 at the impressive age of 96).

Their two sons were recognized for heroism during WWII, both appearing multiple times in photographs and stories in the local newspapers during the war. Two such examples are shown below:

Ottawa Citizen, April 16, 1943. Donald Snowdon in center.

Ottawa Journal, June 13. 1944.
Robert Snowdon of 40 Warren Avenue.

Attempts to track down a descendant of the Snowdon family proved frustratingly impossible, as I would have enjoyed having a chance to speak with one of them, and perhaps obtaining a few old photos, as the family saw Warren Avenue from its beginning, through so many eras. 

[Note a few days after publishing this article, I did reach an extended family member, who shared with me a couple of photos including the one above of 41 and 43-45 Warren. They are included below]

This is Mary Snowdon with her brothers David and John
Circa 1923. The sender had labelled this photo as 40 Warren
but it doesn't match the current view, and David died in Oct
1923, just prior to 40 Warren being completed.
(Photo courtesy of Norma Brown and Graham Brown)

This is Vivian Snowdon, playing his
coronet, likely inside 40 Warren in the 1920s
(Photo courtesy of Norma Brown and Graham Brown)

Snowdon family. Back row: Helen Brown, Mary Snowdon,
Vivian Snowdon. Bottom row: Bob Snowdon and wife Mary,
Ricky Snowdon, and Betty and Don Snowdon.
(Photo courtesy of Norma Brown and Graham Brown)

The Fayder family also had longevity on Warren Avenue, and were one of its first residents. The double at 9-11 Warren was constructed by Alvy Allen Fayder over the years 1924-1925. Fayder took out a $6,500 permit in October of 1923, and built the impressive yellow-brick home along with son-in-law Robert J. Card, husband of Hattie Fayder, who occupied the opposite half (Card originally purchased the lot at the tent auction in 1919). Alvy had been a long-time millwright at the E.B. Eddy mills, and would have been 55 years old when he took out the permit (he retired from the Eddy mill in 1938 at age 70!).

Alex Allen and Catherine Fayder resided here from their arrival in 1925, until Catherine's death in 1933 and Alex's death in 1948. Their son Harry and his wife Elizabeth resided in the home at different points, and in 1957, the property was sold to Harry and Elizabeth's 21-year old son Victor Fayder of the RCAF. Victor and his wife Denise remained in the home until it was sold in 1974, ending 50 years of the Fayders at 9 Warren Avenue.

The following photos are of 9-11 Warren Avenue, and of the Fayder family in the 1950s and 1960s:

Elizabeth and Harry Fayder
(photo credit dc262, Ancestry 2016)

Jim, Elizabeth, Harry and David Fayder
(photo credit dc262, Ancestry 2016)

Elizabeth, Victor and Harry Fayder
(photo credit dc262, Ancestry 2016)

Victor Fayder
(photo credit dc262, Ancestry 2016)

The Mouloughney family of 43 and 45 Warren Avenue were also long-time residents (and may even still be resident today, records are hard to find for the last 10+ years of occupants). They may well even have surpassed the Snowdons for longevity on Warren. In June of 1955, William L. Moloughney purchased this double home, and his family occupied both sides. Son Desmond J. Moloughney and his wife Noreen were married in Ottawa that same month, and following the wedding moved into 45 Warren, while W. Donald Moloughney and his wife Theresa occupied the 43 Warren half for many years.

I see from a fairly recent obituary that Desmond Moloughney was a Justice of the Peace with the Ontario Provincial Court, and he passed away in 2015 at the age of 83.

I'm sure the Moloughney family deserved much more than these three small paragraphs of this article, however most of the research I do when writing these things tends to look at the early days of streets and neighbourhoods. Once the 1950s and 1960s arrive, records change and fewer details are available, newspapers no longer write as much about local residents and day-to-day life, etc., and when putting an article like this together I spend a lot of time as it is on the research, and don't typically have the time to seek out interviews, etc. So my apologies to the Moloughney family who would be able to add a lot more to the history of Warren Avenue in the last 50+ years than I possibly could.

Businesses on Warren Avenue

Other than the Accordion studio, there were not historically any commerical businesses on Warren Avenue that I came across. Obviously the corner at Wellington Street is a different story.

I've well-documented the history of the southeast corner, the Won Ton House building a few years ago (see:

However I've written little about the southwest corner (now better known as the Superette building). 

That entire block along Wellington West was empty until after WWII - the entire stretch of the south side of Wellington from Warren to Clarendon. It was home to a couple of huge billboards (the strip on Wellington actually had many such billboards during the 1920s, 30s and 40s, as commercial buildings began to fill in). 

The corner lot was for sale (for $25 per frontage foot) in 1923, but interestingly, it was for the first 25 years or so kept as a parcel of land attached to the house at 6 Warren Avenue (Hayes, who built 6 Warren, had actually purchased the Wellington-fronted lot at the May 1919 auction first). He sold 6 Warren to the Clarkes in May 1923, but then in November 1923, the Clarkes bought the Wellington lot from him too. They let it sit vacant for 1944! Perhaps Clarke purchased the lot for no other reason than to ensure no building would be constructed between his house and Wellington Street. Sure enough, if you see the building that exists there today, it is a massive wall just a few feet next to the house at 6 Warren.

Ottawa Citizen, July 12, 1923
Hayes advertising the lot at the corner of Wellington
and Warren for sale. Somehow he would find no
buyer, and in November sell to Clarke for $1,200.

The billboards later became a bit of a political debate:

Ottawa Citizen, November 4, 1947

Anyhow, back to the Wellington block. Starting in mid-1945, the building that is now Watson's Pharmacy at 1308 Wellington Street West was built, and first opened in late 1946 or early 1947 as the home of Champion Shoe Repair, operated by Peter Sweety. In 1951, it was split into two apartments upstairs, with E.H. Petry's real estate and insurance taking over on the main floor. It would then be the location of the Boot Shop (1952-1954), before becoming Howard Darwin jewelers (1955-1991). Meanwhile, Carver's Drug Store would open in 1947 in their new building at the corner of Clarendon (now Parma Ravioli), and Brewer's Retail would open in 1949 in what is now Herb & Spice.

The final piece was the last lot at the corner of Warren, and it actually remained an empty lot until the spring of 1949 when Budget Motor Sales opened a new and used car lot at 1306 Wellington Street. It operated until 1965, later under the name Ed Wilkie Car Sales (1959) and Bel Air Motors (1960-1964). 

Ottawa Journal, April 19, 1949

Here's another ad for Budget Motor Sales, just because I liked their advertising slogans in it:

Ottawa Journal
May 20, 1950

In 1964, Howard Darwin purchased the vacant lot next to his jewellery shop for $36,000. The following year, he and partner Earl Montagano constructed a new 5-storey commercial building on the lot, for which they borrowed $285,000 do to so. Taplen Construction were the contractors. It was open for rent in July 1965.

The highlight of the building, when Darwin was speaking of it in February 1965 before construction began, was that it would be "completely electrically heated". 

By 1966 it featured tenants such as Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, storage for the National Gallery of Canada, an office of the Privy Council Office, and others. 

Darwin and Montagano sold the building in 1989 for just under $2 million.

Other Miscellaneous Stories and Photos

Here is a fire insurance plan of 1948 showing all the houses of Warren Avenue at the time. Again, pink indicates brick, yellow is wood, blue is stone or concrete block. The blue circles indicate fire hydrants, and the pink diamonds indicate fire alarm boxes:

1948 Fire Insurance Plan map of Warren Avenue

I could not find a streetcar photo with a car going by Warren Avenue, but found two that come close!

Streetcars going down Byron in both directions, Spring 1951.
(Photo credit William Bailey, published in the Ottawa
Streetcar calendar a few years ago)

Similar shot, from August 1958, showing the east-bound
streetcar at Harmer. One year later, the streetcars would
cease running, the tracks would be pulled up, and that
era of history would be left behind.

[Edit 29 March 2021: A couple of days after I published this article, Bob Ferguson passed along this great photo of an incredible painting he received from his wife on his birthday back in 1978. It depicts the old dog races down Byron Avenue, going by Warren Avenue. That's 50 Warren pictured on the right. The talented painter was Inge Franz-Claussen. More on the history of those dog races can be found at: Thanks again for sharing this, Bob!]

Painting by Inge Franz-Claussen. Courtesy of Bob Ferguson.

In January 1953, Mrs. Kenneth Burn at 28 Warren and her husband were pictured in the newspaper for winning a CFRA-Citizen content. Though it doesn't show much of the house at 28 Warren, it does show their vintage radio, lamp and ashtray!

Ottawa Citizen, January 15, 1953

The final house to fill out Warren Avenue was 49 Warren Avenue. It was constructed I believe around 1955-1956, and its first occupant had an interesting story. Letitia Ormrod's husband Thomas James Ormrod died in April 1956 in Smiths Falls, as one of the town's (if not the) oldest resident, at 94 years of age. Letitia herself was 91. She purchased the new house at 49 Warren in May 1956, and moved in along with her unmarried daughter. Sadly she passed away a little over a year later.

Otherwise, the street has remained virtually unchanged since that time, other than the new build of 41 Warren Avenue replacing the Stewart/Hill house, with a few houses experiencing an addition or a few exterior alterations.

Believe it or not, Warren Avenue was nearly extended in 1962 after the last streetcars ran in 1959 and the tracks were pulled up the following year. If Mayor Charlotte Whitton had her way, there would have been no Byron Linear Park, and Warren Avenue (along with most of the streets all along Byron all the way to Woodroffe) would have been extended to meet Byron Avenue. Whitton was pushing to convert all of the old streetcar lands to building lots, but ran into a "hurricane of opposition at City Council" in a meeting in June of 1962. Councillors presented an "almost solid front against selling any section of the right away" and, in a "bitter two-and-a-half hour closed session, battled the plan at every turn and finally sidelined it completely." Ironically, it was from a lesson learned in the selling of McKellar Park before the City realized what they had (also a Whitton decision that the City will always regret) that prompted most on Council to fight the proposal to quickly sell the old OTC right-of-way for building lots. Thankfully City Council of 1962 was forward-thinking enough to retain one of the best features of our ward. 

I hope you enjoyed my detailed profile of the history of Warren Avenue, one of the best (and most history-filled) streets of Wellington Village!