Saturday, May 29, 2021

Explore the working-class roots of Mechanicsville

I was happy to have been asked by CBC to contribute to their series 'Walk this Way', profiling the past and present highlights of neighbourhoods in Ottawa, in kind of a walking tour format. When CBC first came to me, I immediately thought of Mechanicsville as an ideal location. The neighbourhood is turning 150 years old next year (2022), but piece by piece the original, vintage character of the streets of Mechanicsville are being lost as each house is demolished and replaced by a modern structure. While that's the bad news, the good news is there are still plenty of highlights that remain, and I was happy to go over some of them with CBC producer Trevor Pritchard.

CBC posted the article yesterday (Friday) morning, and in the afternoon I joined Alan Neal on All in a Day on CBC radio to discuss the article. 

The links to both are below. Of course not everything I would have liked to include was in there, but at least it includes a couple of the most interesting tidbits from Mechanicsville's past. It barely scratches the surface on all the stories that could be told, but it's a good overview. (I am tentatively working on a book on Mechanicsville's history, which I would love to see finished in time for the 150th next year, but my schedule is such that I hate to publicly commit to anything.. but it is in the works at least!). And I genuinely do encourage anyone from within Kitchissippi or the outside to take a walking tour through Mechanicsville. It's a unique area just in how the streets and houses are laid out, and there are so many houses that date to the 1870s/1880s still standing (though likely not for much longer; in fact, one of the first couple of houses from Mechanicsville's first year, 1872, at 134 Forward Avenue is gated off and boarded up, and will tragically be demolished any day no). It's a quick walk up and down the historic Parkdale, Forward, Hinchey, Carruthers and Stonehurst streets, and there is a lot to see. 

Thanks to CBC and Trevor Pritchard for the opportunity to be a part of this series. I'm always happy to share the love of Mechanicsville!

The article:

The radio spot:

Thursday, May 6, 2021

A new home: Kitchissippi's first Jewish residents

The May issue of the Kitchissippi Times has just come out, and in it is my "Early Days" column for the month, which is a particularly special one. It's Part 1 of a 2-part series, looking at the stories of the first Jewish residents in Kitchissippi.

This was a research-heavy article, but an important one to write. Census and survey data indicates that Kitchissippi is home to one of the largest populations of Jewish residents in the City, and their history in this neighbourhood is both long and substantial.

First I wanted to try to identify who the first family/residents in Kitchissippi were, and then tell their story as best I could. I lucked out in that the second Jewish family to arrive in our area are one of the most prominent, and the young son who spent a large part of his childhood in the old shop on Wellington in Hintonburg went on to an illustrious legal career, and wrote an autobiography. When I was able to get my hands on a copy of the book (no easy task during this pandemic lock-down!), I was amazed to see he had written quite a bit about his experiences in Hintonburg. Some good, some bad, but that I think is a very fair representation for the experiences of a Jewish person living here in the first decades of the 20th century. 

Part 2 will be printed in the June issue of the Kitchissippi Times, and I'm excited for it to come out too (I've already written and submitted it to the Editor). In that article, I talk about the overnight arrival and establishment of almost a mini-Jewish village on Wellington in Hintonburg all around 1920, and the first Jews to live in the Hampton-Iona, Westboro and Woodroffe neighbourhoods as well. I also go into the larger history of immigration of Jewish people to Canada, and how after a few decades of reasonable support and aid to the growing number of refugees, the government failed them when they needed the help the most.

For now though, I hope you will enjoy Part 1, and particularly the stories of the Golt, Lieff, Widder, Rosenthal and Blushinsky families. 

What I've enjoyed most about the research for these articles, is discovering that though it was by no means a perfect existence for the Jewish residents of Kitchissippi, for the most part it seems that our neighbourhoods were relatively safe, comfortable areas to live, where Jewish citizens were able to prosper, and run businesses, sit on boards and hold political office at a time where that was barely possible most anywhere in the western world, even in the rest of Canada. To me, this is a proud moment in Kitchissippi's history, and definitely worth highlighting in these two articles.