Sunday, February 20, 2022

The St. Hubert's Gun Club: Renowned early-20th century Westboro club

The February 2022 issue of the Kitchissippi Times includes an article I wrote on the history of the St. Hubert's Gun Club, which had developed in central Ottawa in the late 1800s, but eventually found a long-time home within Westboro more or less from 1901 to 1939. 

Gun clubs were extremely popular in the early 1900s, and not only was the St. Hubert's Club successful in Ottawa, but in fact was one of the top North American clubs with some of the continent's best shooters; many of whom lived in Kitchissippi.

You can read the full story at:

1912 tournament at St. Hubert's Club
Rod and Gun Magazine

1915 tournament at St. Hubert's Club
Rod and Gun Magazine

5-trap system illustrated
Dominion Trap Shooting Association
Constitution 1903

Sunday, February 13, 2022

The detailed history of Hilson Avenue Public School

The history of Hilson Avenue Public School goes back over a century, and the growth of the school has mirrored the neighbourhood around it. From its earliest days as the schoolhouse for old Nepean Township School Section 2, through its many additions and alterations, finally leading to the construction of an entirely new school in 1999, Hilson has seen tens of thousands of neighbourhood kids walk its halls. The neighbourhood has had a variety of names over the years - alternatively called Westboro, Ottawa West, Laurentian View, or Hampton-Iona, but what hasn't changed is the community focus the school has had, and the key role it has played in so many lives.

I'm the proud parent of two current Hilson students, and realized not long ago that there really isn't a record of the original Hilson School online. In fact, there wasn't a single photo I could find anywhere of the original school exterior. I thought that was a bit unfortunate, as the school is such an important part of the childhoods of so many, and I knew many would enjoy seeing some photos of the old building. But more than that, the building had such an interesting history, that I felt publishing its full story was important, so that it was just more 'lost' local history. 

Just as I did a few years ago for Elmdale School (, I started out a few months ago researching and pulling together the complete history of the school. Even with a ton of editing and selecting some photos from batches of many, it still ends up being a long article. It is thorough in each stage of the school's life, starting with bringing to life just who "Hilson" was, attaching a name (and photos) to the school for the first time in a century or more.

So with that, I hope you enjoy this history of Hilson Avenue Public School.

Who was Hilson? - The origins of Hilson Avenue

The story of Hilson Avenue begins back in May of 1899 when the neighbourhood was still open county and old farmland. Alison ("Alice") Hilson Holland and her husband George C. Holland owned a large piece of land, and filed a joint subdivision plan with fellow-land owner Frederick Heney called Carleton County Plan 186. This subdivision laid out former farmland located between Richmond Road and Carling Avenue (on the north and south), and approximately Bevan Avenue to the west and Kensington Avenue to the east. Through the middle of this new plan, the group created a long street running north to south which they called Hilson Avenue. 

Alison Hilson Holland - February 1888

George and Alice Holland - September 1905

Alice Holland was born on September 8th, 1856 in Kirkintilloch, Scotland. She married George Clarke Holland in 1874 in Toronto, but the couple soon after moved to Ottawa. They had 7 children between 1875 and 1886. In 1888, they acquired a large property along Richmond Road from the widow of Hon. James Skead, which was known as "The Elms", later as the Soeurs de la Visitation Convent, which still stands (tragically neglected) behind the condo towers on Richmond Road, next to Hilson School.

Hilson was Alice's middle name, and there was likely a familial significance to the name, but in digging through family tree records on Ancestry, I could not make any definite connection. The name did get carried down to her first-born daughter Clara Hilson Holland (1879-1967), who incidentally married John Alexander MacDonald ("Jack") Hinton, the youngest child of Hintonburg pioneer Robert Hinton, in 1898. Clara and Jack did not have a daughter to further pass the name down to, but they did have a son who they named Lyman (another neighbourhood street name connection!). 

From 1899 onwards, Hilson Avenue began to develop quickly as a residential section, particularly with the arrival of the streetcar line down what is now Byron Avenue in 1900. The neighbourhood grew around Hilson as its main street.

Planning and Construction

As the neighbourhood grew, so did the need for educational facilities closer by. Prior to Hilson School being built, local children would attend school at the Westboro Public elementary school on Main Street (now Churchill Avenue). The distance was a little far for younger children, but beyond that, the Main Street School had seen its student population rise to 375 in 1913, which was an increase of nearly 100 students from the previous year. In fact, the student population had risen from just 75 students in 1908!

Thus the history of Hilson School begins with a short blurb hidden within the pages of the Ottawa Citizen on Saturday November 29th, 1913. In the paper that day, it was mentioned that the Westboro school trustee board was soon to hold a public meeting proposing to build a new four-room school, in the vicinity of Hilson Avenue. 

Ottawa Citizen - November 29, 1913

In fact the population of Westboro itself had nearly doubled in a year, which meant that homes were being built at a frantic pace. The Journal noted in early 1914 that "the majority of those who are choosing Westboro as a future place of residence are all young people with families, and as a result the public school is filled to overflowing." 

By end of January 1914, it was noted that the student count was at about 400 with "the seating accommodation fully occupied". It was agreed that work on the new Hilson Avenue school would need to be rushed. What follows here is a case study on how to plan for, build and populate a school in under a year!

First off, the architect firm of Richards and Abra (who also notably later designed Nepean High School and Broadview School, among many other buildings) was hired to produce plans and specifications in late January 1914. It was one of the first jobs for the new business, as Hugh A. Richards and William J. Abra had just opened their new firm three months earlier, out of offices in the new Booth Building on Sparks Street. 

On February 25th, it was announced that the school to be built would in fact be eight rooms, not four, and would cost approximately $25,000 to build.

Ottawa Journal - February 25, 1914

At some point in time in early 1914, the school trustees acquired the land on Hilson Avenue on which to build the school. The land had been part of the vast holdings of Frederick A. Heney, who had a mansion home on the north side of Richmond Road where the Canadian Bank Note Company exists today (more on Heney and his house can be found at:

Heney sold to the Nepean Township School Section 2 public school board a total of seven lots in Alison Holland's 1909 subdivision plan (a second plan, further subdividing the original Holland property, which was known as Carleton County Plan 286) for a total of $3,500. The sale was not registered until August 21st, but it was common in that era that real estate deals would be made but not registered for some time. 

Note these seven lots represented only about a third of the land that Hilson currently occupies; it would be years later through multiple acquisitions that the remaining property was acquired.

Below is a rough drawing to show the original property lines of the Hilson property in 1914, on top of a present-day aerial view of the school.

Red marks indicate 1914 property boundary

Meanwhile throughout the winter of 1914, the student count at the Westboro Main Street School continued to steadily climb, to the point where trustees announced they would need to rent rooms in another building within Westboro to house additional classroom space. "The trustees believe that they can make the present accommodation hold out until the Easter holidays," wrote the Citizen, "and after that a room or rooms in another building in the police village will be rented The trustees after this expect to have to rent more rooms about the first of May." 

The trustees also mentioned that two new teachers would also need to be hired. 

Sure enough a cottage was rented by the trustees that was used by the junior pupils for the balance of the 1913-14 school year. As it became clear that the new Hilson School would not be built in time for September, the trustee board continued to explore more satellite classroom space options in Westboro.

By March 24th, Richards and Abra were putting their "finishing touches" on the plans, and once completed, allowed for the call for tenders towards the construction.

A week later, on March 31st, advertisements for the call for tenders for both the excavation and well drilling work, as well as the actual construction of Hilson School were both published.

Ottawa Citizen - March 31, 1914

On April 17th, it was announced that Robert E. Ralphs of Highland Park won the contract to build Hilson School, at the amount of $25,000. (There was no word on who won the contract for the excavation work, though it is likely that Ralph was selected for that work as well).

Robert E. Ralphs was a 27-year old contractor, who was born in Westhoughton, England and had come to Canada in 1905. He met his future wife Eva Thorne in Ottawa, where the couple married in 1908. They would have all four of their children (Gladys, Tolar, Lola and Earl) within five years (three survived infancy). Ralphs and his family lived at the time in the house Robert had built at 481 Broadview Avenue. 

From documentation, Robert was tall and slender, with light blue eyes and brown hair. I could not locate a photograph of him unfortunately. He was a bricklayer by trade, and he was a small-time house builder in Westboro, building a couple of houses at a time, selling them and then using the funds to acquire more building lots, etc. The Hilson Public School job was a major coup for him. According to all the searching I can do, this was by far his biggest job he had ever undertaken. And in fact, he would not remain in the area long. In 1916, he relocated with his family to Decatur, Illinois, where he continued to build houses. (The family history gets a little squirrelly later on; by 1930 his wife and three kids had moved to St. Louis, while Robert remained in Decatur, remarried, and had another son. He died in the Decatur area in 1952). 

But back to building of Hilson.... Things moved quickly back in this era - by the time the trustees had announced their decision, work had immediately begun by Ralphs' men on the foundation. Ralphs had been asked to rush the job, with the hopes that the school might be ready by the fall start of the school year after all.

Ottawa Citizen - April 17, 1914

Four days later, the Ottawa Journal reported that excavation work had been completed, and that "concrete work was started yesterday morning" (the morning of Monday April 20th). 

Nepean Council met on May 21st, and discussed the issue of debentures for the $25,000 cost of the construction of the school. Debentures were early forms of loans taken out by a board which did not have the funds on hand to build with. Bylaw 810 was passed, providing for the issue of debentures to a total of $40,121.20. 

A photo from the actual original Nepean Council minute
book approving the debentures for Hilson School on
May 21st, 1914.

Ottawa Citizen - May 30, 1914

At the Nepean Council meeting on June 30th, it would be put into the record that the offer of the Dominion Securities Corporation to purchase the debentures for the new school would be accepted, and that the Reeve and Clerk were to take the next steps to complete the sale. 

The structure of Hilson School appears to have been completed by early-mid June, as on June 8th, Robert Ralphs ran a classified ad looking for six "first class bricklayers" for Hilson School. 

Ottawa Citizen - June 8, 1914

Two weeks later, John E. Cole of the Westboro school trustee board put out a classified ad as well, looking for six new teachers for Hilson School:

Ottawa Citizen - June 20, 1914

Meanwhile, Ralphs continued to oversee his house construction business. While Hilson's construction was in full flight in June of 1914, he also was building three houses on River road (now Roosevelt) north of Richmond Road. He also built a house in the summer-fall of 1914 at 540 Highland Avenue, where his family would move in to upon completion. 

By the end of June, the Westboro trustee board had also decided that the Main Street School needed to be enlarged, and so tenders for $5,000 of work to expand the school were put out.

On July 18th, it was reported that the new Hilson School was "rapidly nearing completion".

Ottawa Citizen - July 18, 1914

The School Opening & Early Years

Frustratingly, despite publishing regular updates about the planning and construction phases of Hilson School, there was no mention made of its opening once construction was finished in either Ottawa newspaper that fall. The first mention of the school operating comes in mid-November. However, based on the evidence, it appears the school was indeed ready for opening at the start of the school year in September of 1914. Perhaps part of the reason for the omission from the local papers was that the opening of Hilson School fell at the same time Canada had entered WWI, declaring war on Germany on August 4th.

Stone S.S. No 2. sign above the entryway on the
 front fa├žade of the original Hilson School

When the new school opened, Mr. Charles Salathiel Mattice was appointed its first principal. He was 40 years old, and had lived his entire life in Lunenburg, Ontario, coming to Westboro specifically for the principal job. He and his wife Grace were parents to four children, ranging in age from 1 to 13. The family moved into a house on what was known as Francis Street in Mansfield Park (now just known as Athlone Avenue between Richmond and Scott). 

On the inaugural teaching staff (or at least on the staff within the first year of operation) were the following teachers: Mary Fraser, Lucy Grant, Mamie Groves, Elizabeth Mackey, Rose Stapledon, Irene Vessot and Irene Kelley.  

Stapledon and Vessot would both go on to become long-time teachers at Hilson. Both had recently graduated from Ottawa Collegiate in 1912 and attended the Normal School the following year. Stapledon remained at Hilson until at least the mid 1940s, retiring in 1957 from Broadview School. Vessot died in 1993 at the age of 98.

Ottawa Citizen - June 4, 1957

Mamie Groves was 24, and was born in Fitzroy Township. She only remained at Hilson for a few years. 

Elizabeth Mackey was likely the veteran on the staff. She had taught in Kemptville and North Gower before moving to Hilson, where she retired from sometime in the 1930s or 1940s. She passed away in 1947.

Irene Kelley graduated from Ottawa Collegiate in June 1914 as the top student, winning the gold medal for overall general proficiency. After a year at the Normal School, she would have begun teaching at Hilson in the fall of 1915.

A 1989 article in Newswest provided a few anecdotal memories of the opening of Hilson, which likely had been shared by a former student: "In the school yard were outdoor lavatories and a water pump. Each class had 20 double seat desks in five rows, four deep. Radiators were installed along the ceiling and it was not an uncommon sight to have the janitor, Mr. Cox climb a ladder in class to turn up the heat. The school had grades 1-8 (called Junior 1-4 and Senior 1-4) with "Senior 4th" requiring finals to enter High School."

Mr. Cox described in that story was Henry G. Cox, the hired caretaker for the school, who lived just up the street from Hilson on the east side, and worked at the school for its first ten years or so.  

This article below is a fantastic, lengthy list of students at Hilson from the 1915-1916 school year (Hilson's second year of existence). Unfortunately, a similar list was not published in 1915 that would have listed the students from the first year of the school, but I'm sure many of the names in this list were indeed part of Hilson's first students in the fall of 1914.

Ottawa Citizen - July 7, 1916

By November of 1914, just two months after Hilson's opening, it was reported that there were now 700 students attending Main Street and Hilson schools in total, and was increasing at a rate of one student a day. This ad below shows that the schools could barely keep up, hiring four new teachers to start in January of 1915:

Ottawa Citizen - December 14, 1914

Almost unbelievably, less than a year after the idea of Hilson School was conceived, it was discovered that Westboro was "taxed to their capacity" at both schools, and now needed even more, permanent school space! At a special meeting of the school trustees in February of 1915, it was decided that a school would be constructed in the western part of Westboro, within Highland Park.  Once again, the firm of Richards and Abra was hired, who designed what was known as the Main Street school "Annex" (eventually it became part of the full original Churchill School). The original plan was for a four-room school (which seems short-sighted when considering how Westboro's population was exploding at the time; sure enough just one more year later, a completely new school - Broadview - was to be built!).

By April, the Bylaw was passed issuing the debentures for the construction of the annex, but included in the Bylaw was also an inclusion of "the improvement of the school house on the Hilson Avenue School site." However, no record exists of what work this entailed, or how the school was modified in 1915. (It would not have been a significant amount of work, as the debentures issued was mostly for the construction of the new school). The population of the two schools had increased by another 100, up to 800 by mid-April 1915.

The annex opened later that year, then Broadview School (then known as Broadway Avenue) was finished in 1916, an eight-room school built at a cost of $30,000. That original school was destroyed by fire in December 1926, and a new building built the following year for $75,000 (the original 1916 foundation still stands under the sadly boarded up original Broadview School that the Board apparently has no plans to do anything with - an obvious case of demolition by neglect in a community that could benefit significantly from the extra community use space). 

March 1915 also saw another key step, when Nepean Council put out a call for a truant officer and constable for the west end. Out of 21 applications received, Council hired J. R. Cooke, to be paid "two dollars per diem", and he would start work on April 1st, 1915. For the next 15 years, he would keep watch of the village of Westboro, and was most remembered for ensuring kids were in school during the day, and at home at night after curfew.

Sadly, Hilson's first Principal Charles Mattice died November 29th, 1915 after being in the job for only a little over a year. He passed from typhoid at just 42 years of age, leaving behind his widow and four children aged 2 to 14. He had worked up until the 22nd of November, but his illness worsened, and he died after a few days in hospital.

Ottawa Journal - December 2, 1915

Gertrude Reddington Macpherson was appointed the new principal of Hilson.  She was 36 years old, born in Arnprior in August 1883 and had taught school in Pembroke and Arnprior before coming to Hilson in early 1916.

The ongoing World War I certainly led to a slowdown in Westboro construction, and the student population counts leveled off at this time. Attention began to focus on the war efforts, and it was reported in June of 1916 that Hilson students had purchased two bugles for soldiers of the local 207th Battalion.

Ottawa Citizen - June 12, 1916

1918 saw the arrival of the deadly influenza epidemic, which caused the closure of the school for most of October. 

Ottawa Citizen - October 5, 1918

At the beginning of the school year in September 1919, there were 1,100 students between Hilson, Churchill and Broadview. Hilson had 8 teachers, Churchill 12, and Broadview 5.

The 1920s

By the fall of 1920 Hilson had 364 students. As reported in Newswest in 1989: "(By 1920) there were 8 teachers, a music supervisor and the district nurse Miss Aris. The schoolyard was divided by a high fence so that boys and girls had separate play areas. In winter and when it rained recess and gym were held in a very dusty basement."

Below is a photo of one class of students from Hilson in 1920:

Hilson Avenue School - class photo from 1920
(Published in Newswest April 1989)

Another neat rare photo from this time... Below is an aerial photo from the first set of aerial photos available of our area, taken in 1920 when the original school was only six years old:

As you can see, there is no Island Park Drive yet, and no Kirkwood Avenue either. The convent property is encircled by a fence. The old stone Aylen-Heney house appears on Richmond Road, a little west of Hilson Avenue (the only finished street running north-south in the photo). The original Hilson School is set well back from Richmond Road, next to the Convent, and you'll note that the large space between the school and Richmond, which today makes up the school yard and field, was not even used by the school then, as all the well-used land area is all around the school, particularly to the south and east. Hilson occupies an L-shape of land, which is encircled as well by fencing, sectioning off the residential houses to the south. Hilson even to this day still has a bit of an L-shape to the property, though it is now smaller and less pronounced.

Macpherson would remain principal until about 1921. It is uncertain why she left the school, but it may have been due to illness. Sadly in July of 1924, Gertrude Macpherson passed away at the young age of 40 from "pernicious anemia". Her obituary described her as having "in very large measure the gift of making and keeping friends, and whose patience and courage through months of ill health were an example and incentive to all who knew her", adding "she leaves a name and memory that will be cherished by a wide circle of friends whom she had greatly influenced for good by her sunny outlook on life, her buoyant faith and her unwavering devotion to all that was pure and lovely." 

Hilson would then go through a series of different principals to close out the 1920s: John G. Hamilton, a Westboro resident. (1921-1924), Ray D. Mallen (1925-1927), E. F. Casse (1927-1928), and John W. Sterling (1928-1944). 

February 1922 saw the start-up of what essentially was the first parent-teacher council, then called the Hilson Avenue School and Home Club. 150 attendees were in the school on Monday February 20th, 1922 for the inaugural meeting, which included a story on this history of local schooling, and a local teacher Miss Pettitt (who lived on Hilson but taught at a downtown school) who spoke of the advantages of a parent-teacher organization, and new opportunities for students to stay active and occupied.

Ottawa Citizen
February 21, 1922

This is a great photo below, taken of the graduating class exactly 100 years ago, in the spring of 1922, of the "entrance class" of students moving on to local high schools. Nepean High School was under construction at the time, with classes being held on the top floor of Broadview School until Nepean opened in 1923, where many of these kids would have gone. The students are posing in front of the Soeurs de la Visitation Convent. 

Hilson Avenue Public School "Entrance Class" of 1922.
Taken in the eastern section of the school yard, by
the side of the Convent/former Holland home.

The spring of 1924 saw the start of an important new tradition, the annual school concert. On the evening of Thursday March 20th, 1924, virtually the entire school community (numbering 400 staff, students and family) piled into the auditorium of the new Nepean High School for the show.

Ottawa Citizen
March 21, 1924

(The 1925 show was held in the new parish hall of All Saints Church on Richmond Road in Westboro)

Yet another tradition began in June of 1926 when the school community held their first annual Picnic and Sports Day, at Riverside Park (which is today known as Champlain Park). Back in 1926, long before the Parkway was built through the neighbourhood, Riverside Park was one of the top destinations in the city for its recreational facilities, cottages, and its beach at the north end of Carleton Avenue. Many groups and organizations held large events on the grounds, and certainly it would have been a fun day for the kids of Hilson. What I love about this article is the large number of student names listed from 1926!

Ottawa Citizen - June 26, 1926

Taking over from Henry Cox, during the 1920s, John Henry Meers became the long-time janitor of Hilson School. Meers was born in Birmingham, England in 1876, and was a resident of Hilson Avenue as well. In May of 1929, Meers was unexpectedly let go as janitor by the school board, and the brother of board trustee George L. Hill was given Meers' job. The school community came together and signed a petition and fought for his reinstatement (as well as the dismissal of a teacher at Broadway School). The community won out, and Meers was allowed to stay on as caretaker.

On July 5th, 1929, the school trustees of school section 2 of Nepean Township made a big acquisition, purchasing all of the land to the north of the school, all the way to Richmond Road. They bought it from Frederick Heney (who had sold them the original property in 1914) for the price tag of $5,000. This was so that Hilson could expand its school yard, but also in anticipation of potential future growth. 

Here are a few photos taken on Richmond Road directly in front of Hilson School in the late 1920s. Unfortunately, despite best efforts of searching, I have never seen a photograph taken at street level of the original Hilson School from back in that era! (If anyone has one, I'd love to see it and add it to this history!)
Richmond Road looking west - circa late 1920s
Hilson School property at left

2022 comparison to the vintage photo above.
Note the stone Aylen-Heney house remains at left.

Richmond Road looking east just before Hilson - circa late 1920s
(Source: LAC PA-034201)

And here is a nice clear aerial photo of the area taken in the fall of 1928, with the new Island Park Drive cutting through the area along the left. Hilson was just about to take over the land to the north of the school the following year, so in this photo below it was not using this space as a playground yet (or at least not officially):

Aerial photo of Hilson November 4, 1928

The 1930s

By 1930, the school settled in and there was little change to the school itself. Also the economic depression had begun, which led into WWII, which also ensured that few improvements or modifications would occur to the school during this time. But a few of the highlights of the 1930s are included below. 

1930 started with an announcement that Richmond Road was to be widened from Island Park Drive to Tweedsmuir later that year. It would also receive a proper layer of asphalt on top. Also a fence was constructed around the future playground, at the corner of Hilson and Richmond, visible at the left side of the photo below:

Richmond Road looking west - circa fall 1930
After Richmond Road widened and asphalted

As of December 1931, there were 27 teachers and 1,048 students in the three Westboro public school combined.

In February of 1932 a large carnival was held at Hilson, which had over 600 students and parents in attendance:

Ottawa Citizen - February 27, 1932

Here is another aerial photo, this one from 1933, and this one shows the well-used schoolyard facilities between the school building and Richmond Road.

May 5, 1933 aerial photo of Hilson and surrounding area

In the 1930s, inter-scholastic sports tournaments became popular, and one of the first instances I can find of Hilson winning a trophy came in June of 1938, when the school softball team defeated Woodroffe to win the league consisting of teams from the Westboro, Woodroffe and Carlington schools. 

Ottawa Citizen - June 25, 1938

The Principal of Hilson for the entirety of the 1930s was John W. Sterling, who had formerly been a teacher at Main Street School in Westboro before taking over the job at Hilson in 1928.

Indoor plumbing and a steam boiler were added by 1935.

The 1940s

The 1940s was a more interesting era, as the neighbourhood, and the school expanded significantly during the post-WWII boom. Also photographs became far more prevalent, particularly in the local newspapers, and so a better photographic record of some key events and clubs begin to emerge after WWII as well. Here are some of the main highlights of the 1940s.

In October of 1940, an evening blaze broke out at Hilson - but amazingly, only caused $15 worth of damage! 

Ottawa Journal - October 24, 1940

Hard to imagine, but it was only in 1941 that Hilson Public School obtained water and sewer services for the first time. Taken from Bruce Elliott's book "The City Beyond", water and sewer services were added for Main Street and Hilson schools "by invoking Board of Health Regulations so that the township could order the work done and cover the costs from SS 2 over five years." 

No story about the history of Hilson would be complete without mentioning the WWII era and how the war touched on Hilson. Of course many former Hilson students fought in the war, but no story may be as sad as the one of Robert Lowell Benson. 

Flying Officer Navigator Benson was just 23 years old when he was killed overseas on active service on February 26th, 1943. He and his family lived close by at 467 Athlone Avenue. Not only was he a former Hilson student, but after graduating from Nepean High School (where he was captain of the senior football team in 1937), he became a teacher back at Hilson, teaching for three years before enlisting in the RCAF. He graduated as a sergeant-observer at Mont Joli Air Training School in April of 1942 and went overseas in August. Making the story even more heart-breaking was the arrival of a letter at his parents' home in early April written by Benson just days prior to his death, letting his parents know he had been promoted from the rank of Pilot Officer to Flying Officer, just 10 days before he died. What a tragic story for Hilson School, and the Benson family.

Ottawa Citizen - March 1, 1943

Scattered throughout newspapers of the era were stories covering fund raising efforts by students at local schools. One such Hilson-related story appears below:

Ottawa Journal - April 5, 1943

In October of 1944, the Principal of Hilson School for 17 years, John Wesley ("Jack") Sterling took ill and took an early retirement. Sadly he died just two months later, on December 19th. He was only 42 years old, and left behind his young widow and four young children, the youngest being son Norman... the same Norm Sterling who went on to become MPP for an impressive 34 years, from 1977 to 2011.

Jack Sterling was born in Valleyfield, Quebec but came to Ottawa as a boy. He attended Nepean High School during the time when the school building first opened, and became assistant principal at Broadview School in his early 20s, moving on to become Principal at Hilson when he would have been just 25 years old. His widow Doris, who then would teach at Hilson for years herself, would actually go on to live another 62 years, passing in 2006. In April of 1945, a ceremony was held at Hilson that brought the trustees, teachers, parents and students of Hilson together, where a photograph of Sterling was presented to Hilson by Alvin Schryer, chairman of the school board. 

Hilson Principals in the 1940s included: Jack W. Sterling until October 1944, H.C. Henry 1944 briefly in 1944-early 1945, John Archibald Graham in 1945, and then a new Principal started in September of 1946, J. Lorne Fulford.

Here is a great aerial photo of Hilson from the fall of 1944. Notable are all the fresh new houses on the neighbouring streets of Mulvihill and Lyman:

Aerial photo, September 16, 1944

In 1945, with expansion in mind, the Nepean Township School Section 2 Board began acquiring adjoining property to Hilson School to the south. On old subdivision plans, Mulvihill Avenue actually originally extended east past Hilson. There were several lots fronting this Mulvihill extension, as well as lots extending back from Shannon Street (the little lane that faces Byron Avenue). 

On October 18th, 1945, the Board paid Fred Artelle $2,100 for lots 12 and 13 (which included an existing house), and Hazel Levick $5,000 for lot 14 (which also included an existing house); On January 21st, 1946, the Board paid Annie McGuire $175 for the northern halves of lots 1 and 2, and paid Gertrude O'Connor $75 for lot; on April 9th, 1946, the Board bought lots 10 and 11 from Nepean Township for $250; and finally on February 21st, 1947, the Board purchased lot 15 through Carleton County for an undisclosed sum. In effect, the school significantly increased its boundary to the south, with just a few lots on Shannon and one or two fronting Hilson that kept them from owning the entire block from Byron to Richmond.

The expansion was desperately needed. With the close of WWII and the building boom taking off, local schools began to burst at the seams.

By December of 1945, there were 1,216 students at Broadview, Hilson and Churchill. Basement rooms at Broadview and Hilson had been converted into classrooms, and the Masonic Hall had been rented for extra class space, but it became apparent that new school buildings would be needed. Those would come soon.

This article below I just love the story - Hilson Principal becomes Jail Governor!

Ottawa Citizen - January 3, 1946

The Expansions of 1946-1950

In the early part of 1946, local school trustees began exploring options to expand Hilson Avenue Public School. Plans were presented at the meeting of the Hilson Home and School Association in mid-April, showing a longer-term project that would see expansions, and the eventual replacement of the original 1914 building (which would in actuality not be replaced for more than more 50 years!). $125,000 was set aside for a new wing at Hilson, to the west of the 1914 school, that was to be one-storey, with a gymnasium/auditorium combination to have a capacity of 550, and a library and kindergarten class. The longer term plan was for an expansion that would see the new gym/auditorium become the center of a larger school to be built to the north and south of it.  The project was to take place in parallel to that at Broadview, where the original 1926 tower was to have an L-shaped building appear next to it. 

The addition was expected to be ready for September 1st.  32 years after he drew up the plans for the original Hilson, W.J. Abra was once again the architect for the project (as part of his new firm Abra, Balharrie and Shore). Churchill School was also considered for additional space it too desperately needed, but was not approved as it did not have the large land space the other schools did. 

Alvin Schryer, chairman of the board of trustees, stated that since 1939, "families with young children have been pouring into the area and with each succeeding year more and more were reaching school age until, at the present time, there was not adequate accommodation for them." 

However construction did not happen in 1946. This was due to a major shortage of construction materials that was holding up new construction all over Ottawa and the country as a whole. The fall of 1946 saw reports in the papers of the over-enrollment at Hilson, Broadview and Churchill schools, as well as at Nepean high school. Hilson began using a second basement room (versus the one it had used the year before) as registration was up 10%, over 400 students total.

Finally, on Boxing Day 1946, it was announced that the project would go forward in 1947. The plans for Hilson had grown as well, as it was to be a two-storey auditorium with one-storey wings, with a kindergarten and eight classrooms:

Ottawa Citizen - December 26, 1946

Even more interesting is viewing the design plans for Hilson and Broadview side by side. Incredibly similar.

Ottawa Journal - December 26, 1946

Construction occurred throughout 1947 and 1948, the contractor being the Thomas Fuller Construction Company of Ottawa, who built the additions at both schools. The plumbing, heating and ventilation contracts for both schools went to Williams Brothers of Ottawa. The project was not quite complete by the opening of school in the fall, so extra space was found within the existing school to run classrooms until the construction was finished. It appears construction went well into 1948, as the opening for parents and the community was not held until early October 1948. 

The opening in the fall of 1948 allowed for six new classrooms, which increased the student population from 400 to 600. The classrooms were advertised as the "latest thing in school decoration and furnishing. Each is equipped with indirect lighting with special inset lights over the blackboards to eliminate glare. They are finished in a light shade of green and are equipped with individual, moveable desks." 

The official opening ceremonies were held on the evening of November 18th, 1948. George Drew, leader of the provincial PC party (and future Premier) attended. 

Ottawa Citizen - November 17, 1948

Ottawa Citizen - November 20, 1948

With the opening of the new auditorium, Hilson was now able to host plays and community presentations. The first to take advantage of the new facilities was a presentation of Alice in Wonderland in October 1948:

Ottawa Citizen - October 15, 1948

Unbelievably, mere months after the additions opened at Hilson and Broadview, the board of trustees announced in April of 1949 that new additions would be required immediately at both schools! It was stated that the area had developed so rapidly that even more accommodation was essential. 

"These additions are just part of an all-out school building program which has been under way for more than a year and has not yet caught up with the increased school population", stated the Journal. A meeting was held April 26th for the community to discuss debentures for the next additions. The new addition would include five more classrooms for Hilson. Further complicating matters was that in 1949 it was announced that a large part of Nepean Township (which the area west of Western Avenue still was in Nepean until January 1950) would be annexed to the City of Ottawa. So Nepean Township ratepayers weren't likely too happy contributing to school construction of schools that would soon be transferring over to the Ottawa Board. During planning discussions the Ottawa Board announced it would pay for any classroom additions greater than 800 square feet only (as the provincial Department of Education had stated they would pay grants only on the cost of classrooms greater than 800 feet). 

Contracts were awarded in October 1949, with local firm F. E. Cummings winning the contract for $98,100 to build Hilson. This additional wing was to be ready by the fall 1950, and would bring Hilson up to 22 rooms (a six room addition for Broadview at the same time would bring it up to 20 rooms). The highlight of the Hilson addition was "three large classrooms with enclosed project rooms at the rear of each". 

The project was part of a $1,000,000 program of new schools and additions in the recently added sections of Gloucester and Nepean in time for the fall 1950 school opening. 

Here are a few random photos at Hilson published in the Ottawa newspapers in the late '40s:

S.G. Cameron Trophy winners for boy's softball
Ottawa Citizen - June 21, 1947

Ottawa Journal - October 7, 1948

In the 1940s and 1950s, Hilson School would have an ice rink on its grounds during the wintertime, and an annual winter carnival was held. 

Ottawa Journal - February 12, 1949

Ottawa Journal - February 12, 1949

Ottawa Citizen - February 14, 1949

On Halloween night 1949, a large party of 600 children attended a party held at the school. 10 gallons of ice cream was apparently served. A few weeks later, the adults celebrated when the staff and admin of Churchill, Broadview and Hilson Schools held a "Farewell to Nepean" party at the Prescott Highway Inn, before the schools transferred to the Ottawa board. 

On January 11th, a ceremony was held at Hilson where a ceremonial key was handed over to George Nelms, Chairman of the Ottawa School Board, by Alvin Schryer of the former School Section Number 2 board for Nepean. 

Ottawa Citizen - January 12, 1950

A photo from the annual winter carnival of 1950, where the King and Queen (as well as a Prince and Princess) were selected:

Ottawa Citizen - February 13, 1950

In March of 1950, the Ottawa Public School Board announced plans to create the first intermediate school in the west end (intermediate schools had first been created in Ottawa in 1929), where one school in a district would become the only one to host grade 7 and 8 classes (along with a limited number of very local kindergarten and grade 1-6 kids), eliminating grades 7 and 8 from the others.

Hilson was initially targeted to be converted into the intermediate school for the west end, but ultimately it was Broadview School that was selected. The plan was for 273 new grade 7 and 8 students from Hilson, Churchill, Woodroffe and Grant Schools to join the 7 and 8 kids already at Broadview (as well a single class of each grade from kindergarten to grade six would remain at Broadview for kids west of Highland Avenue), and in turn, the plan would have meant shuffling 200 elementary grade students out of Broadview to Churchill, and subsequently transferring 200 from Churchill to Hilson. This was the plan of Chief Inspector Dr. Robert Westwater. 

Local parents were not happy with the announced plan, as already the communities were largely not happy with losing their own identity and association with Nepean, now falling within the large city of Ottawa, and felt this was happening far too quickly, barely a month into annexation. Some parents were particularly upset as existing Broadview students would be forced to see their kids leave the nice new, modern addition at Broadview (called the "pride of Nepean" by the Journal) for the older Churchill. The initial announcement said that the changes would take affect that very fall of 1950. A committee of parents "bitterly condemned" the proposal and fought valiantly, but lost when the board decided to proceed (modifying the Broadview boundary slightly to the east at Golden). The change took effect that fall of 1950, and Hilson ceased offering grade 7 and 8 classes at that time.

April 4th, 1950 was a banner day in the history of Hilson Avenue Public School. On that night, Hilson captured the city-wide public school hockey championship for juveniles, taking the title the first year the former Nepean schools joined in with the long-time city schools. The Auditorium in downtown Ottawa was full with 7,000 fans on hand to watch the final, which saw Hilson defeat Mutchmor 6-1 on the strength of four goals from their captain and star player Lloyd Mulligan.

Ottawa Journal - April 5, 1950

Also Hilson proved dominance on the softball diamond that June as well by winning the city-wide juvenile baseball title.

Ottawa Citizen, June 28, 1950

While construction continued on the new wing in the summer of 1950, an old stone barn that was built by 19th century farmer John Heney as early as the 1840s had to be demolished. The impressive old building stood where the kindergarten class in the far southwest corner of the Hilson stands today. The barn had a variety of uses in the 20th century, including community activities, and as a unique duplex house in the 30s and 40s. Tragically, it was demolished in August of 1950, while still in good condition.  Had it been preserved in some way it would be one of the five oldest structures in Ottawa still standing today. 

Some of the last grade 8 grads to ever graduate Hilson are shown in a photo below when they returned to Hilson for a graduation party. Included in the photo are Principal J. L. Fulford, encircled by Barbara Ann Morgan, Dianne Leary, Jim Bennett, Ralph Stephens and Janet Smith.

Ottawa Citizen, September 30, 1950

The new wing (and last addition made to the original Hilson school) was not ready in time for September, but appears to have been by late fall, sometime in November 1950.

As part of the Hilson new wing project, a new Westboro Community Centre was opened within Hilson. The grand opening was held on December 1st, 1950. The key speaker at the opening was Hon. Walter Harris, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, and also a resident of Westboro. Laurence Smith was the first Director of the centre, and Leonard Turner chairman of the Centre Council. This Community Centre was the precursor to what is today Dovercourt Community Centre.

Ottawa Citizen, December 4, 1950

Below is a segment of the 1948 fire insurance plan for Ottawa (updated to 1950) showing Hilson School and the surrounding buildings. (Pink represents brick, yellow = wood, blue = stone). The old stone Heney barn is still shown as vacant ("vac") and the Mulvihill extension is also still represented on the map. 

1948 updated to April 1951 fire plan

Here is an aerial photo from 1953 showing Hilson School in its completed state:

Aerial photo, October 14, 1953

Here is a photo from June of 1954 that just barely shows Hilson School in the background of a streetcar stopped on Byron Avenue at Hilson. (It had hit a car that day, hence why the news photographer had captured this shot). 

Hilson Avenue looking north from Byron - June 2, 1954
(City of Ottawa Archives CA-4461)

As a final note from the 1950s, here is a quote published in a 1989 Newswest article by Leslie Rubec: "By 1956, Hilson had 759 pupils. This was a time when basket and paper drives were popular. Constable Paul and music supervisor Mr. Sutherland were familiar figures. In the 1960s Mr. Stephen was principal of 20 teachers. It was at this time that the girls' schoolyard was paved."

Final Years of Hilson's original school building

I'm intentionally skipping the rest of the 1950s, 60s and 70s here, which is probably annoying to some readers who attended the school during this era and were hoping to see photographs from this time frame. If I tracked some down and included them, it would make this already overly-lengthy article worse. But in general, there were few changes to the school during this era. The enrollment stayed relatively consistent early on before slowly decreasing, there was no new construction, and the surrounding neighbourhood was fully built up by the 1950s.

After the Baby Boom years, school enrollment declined dramatically. An important development for Hilson came in 1979 when the Children's Centre was established in the school's original wing. 

A new playground was added in 1982:

Ottawa Citizen, July 2, 1982

Here is an aerial photo from 1984:

Aerial photo, August 28, 1984

Hilson held a 75th Anniversary celebration on April 29th, 1989, which included alumni events and a large party in the gym, as well as the burial of a time capsule (was this dug up when the school was demolished a decade later??). At that time, Mr. R. Squires was principal of 240 students at Hilson. 

Photo Gallery of the original school:

The photos below were all taken in approximately February 1991:

The replacement of original Hilson School (1997-2000)

In what would become one of the longest running political and education battles of the 90s, the fight to rebuild a decaying Hilson School was a painful one that galvanized parents and local residents, in a battle that was derailed multiple times, and in a last minute surprise move, almost saw the permanent end of Hilson Avenue Public School.

Budget pressures and population shifts left parents and students holding their breath for most of the decade as school trustees dithered, backtracked and finally proceeded on a new school. It was a never ending challenge (that is forever ongoing in the management of schools within a board) between weighing schools with high student counts but inadequate space, versus schools with lots of space and not enough kids. The solution is never easy; and more often than not, it pits the city against the suburbs.

In the early 1990s, the Department of Planning, Economic Development and Housing (PEDH) surveyed the OBE's 11 pre-1930 built schools and evaluated them according to the City Council-approved "Handbook for Evaluating Heritage Buildings and Areas."  Hilson ranked 11th out of the 11 schools, indicating that the history, architecture and environment of the building were not noteworthy compared to the Board's other schools. "The loss of the (original 1914) building's context due to unsympathetic post World War 2 additions and the poor condition brick contributed to its low score", noted PEDH, who further wrote that the significance of the school extended only to the role it has played in the community, rather than the building itself. 

In 1996, after years of discussion that had started back in 1991, Hilson had reached the top of the OBE's priority list for a major project (rehabilitation or replacement). In early 1997, it was announced by the OBE that Hilson would be demolished and rebuilt, but not until at least 1998. 

The OBE commissioned J. L. Richards & Associates to conduct a Feasibility Study for the renewal of Hilson, which would examine options for the future of the school. In December of 1996, five options were on the table for Hilson: three options retained all or a portion of the existing building, while two options were to have a completely new structure. 

The Board's Planning Committee selected that a new structure was the best option, due to the excessive cost of rehabilitating the building (especially the 1914 portion), and the fact that consolidating buildings into one larger facility would help maximize outdoor space on the limited-sized site. 

A last-ditch attempt at heritage designation for the original school built in 1914 was made, as a subcommittee of LACAC (the Local Architectural Conservation Advisory Committee) noted the original section was of sufficient heritage interest to recommend designation, which LACAC agreed with. But ultimately it but failed. Planning and Economic Development Committee rejected the proposal in March 1997.

From the original LACAC report, here was the architectural significance of the original 1914 structure:

As the story continues, just as in 1950, politics were now in play as it was known that the OBE would soon be amalgamated with the Carleton Board into the new OCDSB at the end of 1997. 

With the pending amalgamation, the provincial government in Toronto had used their Education Improvement Commission (EIC) that would typically oversee expenditures of local boards to pay particular attention to expenses in amalgamating boards. The Ottawa-area public boards formed a Local Education Improvement Committee (LEIC) with five trustees representing each of the Ottawa-area boards, which reported up to the provincial EIC. 

In a bold move, with the future of the school still cloudy, in the spring of 1997, the OBE suddenly and unexpectedly announced that construction plans would go ahead right away, a day after the LEIC questioned the plans to do anything with Hilson before amalgamation. 

The OBE had quickly held a special meeting to approve demolition and a reconstruction of the school, and announced that the existing staff and students would be temporarily packed up and moved over to a wing of Fisher Park School that fall. A demolition tender was even published soon after:

Ottawa Citizen, May 22, 1997

But all this was done without local LEIC or provincial approval from the EIC. The OBE was told it must find the full $7+ million for the rebuild in the OBE's 1997 budget. The original allocation made by the OBE for Hilson was only $2.95 million, which would have left the remaining $4 million in costs to be covered by the new OCDSB.

But this project was highly contentious, and ensuing discussions considered whether a new school was even necessary once original Hilson was to be demolished. There were 259 students enrolled at Hilson in 1997, but there was space in most nearby schools. It was difficult to justify a $7 million expense to build a new school, particularly as the growing suburbs had urgent needs for new schools that would serve 500+ students. 

The OBE boldly pushed on, even posting tenders for the construction of the new school in June 1997, through J.L. Richards & Associates: 

Ottawa Citizen, June 17, 1997

The school proceeded with demolition plans, but the issue was far from settled. Though local residents pushed enthusiastically for the school rebuild, there was pushback from all other angles.

The OBE committing to constructing a new school on the eve of that amalgamation was seen as selecting a project that would ultimately be paid for by the new board. Randall Denley in the Citizen wrote in August 1997 that "the (new) board will inherit a half-built school it doesn't need. The time to stop it is now."

Demolition of the old school ultimately began in August of 1997, with all of the post-1914 additions removed together at once. The original 1914 structure remained standing a little longer, coming down on October 30th, 1997, 83 years after it was built by Robert E. Ralphs and his crew.

Below are some great photos of the demolition of the school in 1997, provided by Hilson from their archives (and scanned/photographed by my son Xavier Allston at school in the fall):

One of the final photos of Hilson just prior to the
demolition of the original school - July 31, 1997

October 28, 1997

October 30, 1997

October 30, 1997

October 30, 1997

However, by September, with the old school a pile of rubble, it was looking more and more likely that amalgamation was going to put a permanent end to Hilson. Hilson School appeared on a list of 12 schools being considered for closure (including Devonshire) after the merger. Local school trustee Elda Allen was quoted to the Citizen as saying that the death of Hilson may lead to "a breakdown of the community", and fought aggressively for the community to save Hilson, lobbying the province to save Hilson.

Meanwhile, Hilson parents were "baffled and angry". Vice-chair of Hilson school council Lynn Hawkins told the Citizen "We would never have let them tear it down if we knew it wasn't going to go back up." The slogan for the fight for the rebuild became "What goes down, must go up again." 

Ottawa Citizen, September 20, 1997

OBE Chair Ted Best cut off discussions at the OBE, citing rules that said that once a topic had been discussed at a meeting (as it had been in the summer), it could not be discussed again, angering a large group of parents who attended the September board meeting. Best forwarded the issue to the Education Improvement Commission. 

The OBE explored options to pay for the school in 1997, including the sale of 7 pieces of land that had previously been purchased by the board prior to 1980 and slated for school construction, but later declared surplus when those schools weren't needed (five vacant lots, including 19 acres in the south end, and two lots with buildings, including an unused administration building sitting on 1.3 acres in the Glebe), hoping to net $6 million ($2 of which was already accounted for in the 1997 budget, and the other $4 million to cover off Hilson). Below is the full list of properties proposed to be sold to save Hilson:

Ottawa Citizen, September 17, 1997

The Board began advertising the properties in late September. However, it was unknown if the sales would even happen, let alone so quickly as to be finalized by year end, in time to save Hilson. (The OBE had to have the money in the bank by January 1st when the merger would occur). The commercial real estate market was very slow at the time. Ted Best described one of the sites (at Dumaurier and Grenon) as a "terrible piece of property" that he didn't think anyone would want. Two of the properties were not even cleared for sale, as they were required to be offered to other agencies such as municipalities and other school boards, before the OBE was even allowed to offer them for sale. On top of that, the Education Improvement Commission had only approved the OBE to sell land up to $2 million; the extra $4 million in real estate sales would need to be approved through them. 

In mid-October the Local Education Improvement Commission finally approved the expenditure to rebuild Hilson. However, the celebration of local residents was short lived, as trustees of the OBE internally did not agree, and a debate was to ensue days later. 

Once again frustrating politics intervened, as the OBE debate never occurred, as the 90-minute meeting was spent largely on procedural discussion whether to even discuss the issue, which resulted in a 5-5 tie, cancelling the debate. Frustrated parents in attendance to support the Hilson rebuild left even angrier.

At the next meeting on Tuesday October 28th, 1997, the trustees narrowly voted in favour of rebuilding Hilson, even though the school could still theoretically be closed by the new OCDSB. A short, scathing editorial appeared in the Citizen the next day.

Ottawa Citizen, October 29, 1997

In the end, the properties were not sold in time, and in effect, the new OCDSB was put on the hook for the $4.3M of construction after the OBE paid the $2.7M it could afford.

The good news was though, that Hilson would be rebuilt! A groundbreaking ceremony was held just before Christmas of 1997. 

Groundbreaking ceremony December 1997
(Source: Newswest February 1998)

Meanwhile during all of the discussions, the Children's Centre was approved for $800,000 of the $1 million they needed to rebuild the centre, from a grant from the RMOC. (The tender for its construction went out in May 1998, it was constructed a little after Hilson was completed).

Construction crews worked throughout the winter of 1998. In January of 1998, the foundation was poured, and the walls began going up in February. (Again thank you to the Hilson School archives for these great photos):

January 23, 1998

February 19, 1998

February 19, 1998

April 24, 1998

April 24, 1998

June 25, 1998

August 24, 1998

The new Hilson Avenue Public School opened in the fall of 1998, with a capacity of 442 students - already nearly 24 years ago!

* * *


For this exhaustive article, I had a few sources I'd like to acknowledge. I want to thank Avery Marshall from the Heritage Planning team at the City of Ottawa for hunting down and scanning for me the old files from the 1997 heritage designation application (which included many of the great photos from the 1990s of the original building). I also want to thank Bruce Elliott (as I can never do enough) for his great book "The City Beyond" which is always my starting point for any project. I'd like to thank all-star current Hilson Principal Nadine Saikaley for allowing access to the archives, Xavier's teacher Miss Maria for accompanying him while he went through old boxes as a special project (and the school was inaccessible to parents due to Covid restrictions), and to my son Xavier for scanning and photographing the interesting items in the archives to help make this project better - hopefully the first of many history project's he'll be a part of in the future!