Saturday, April 8, 2023

The Long-time Wellington & Huron Shell Station

To most residents of the neighbourhood today, the Bank of Montreal parking lot near the intersection of Wellington and Holland is just a boring parking lot for twenty cars accommodating customers of the bank. However, Wellington Village residents with long memories will recall the gas station which existed at this corner for many years. There's quite a bit of history to this parking lot, worth digging into. Through the years I've also collected a few photos of the old station, so it was only a matter of time until I wrote about it! So here we go!

Earliest Days

The land which today is the BMO parking lot was once about 300 feet inside the western border of the Hinton family farm. The future Huron Avenue was the location of a deep manmade trench that carried away the spring melt waters, and the overflow of Cave Creek, down to the Ottawa River through the Hinton farm. This trench passed underneath old Richmond Road (and Wellington Street as it was renamed to in 1907), along the east side of what is now Huron, and it is likely a decent-sized culvert existed right here in front of where the BMO parking lot now stands. Overtop of the trench on the north side of Wellington in the 1910s, and perhaps even earlier, stood a large, V-shaped billboard with advertising.  

At the big 1920 Wellington Village auction of lots held by the landowners the Ottawa Land Association, John M. Ahearn, the 38-year old assistant manager (and future manager) of the Ottawa Electric Railway (sister company to the Land Association) purchased three prime lots along Wellington Street: adjoining lots 498, 499 and 500. These three lots at the northeast corner of Huron and Wellington were purchased for a total of $1,500 (which is all of the land today constituting the Bank of Montreal building and its parking lot). Ahearn was the nephew of Thomas Ahearn, who established the Ottawa Electric Railway and later the formation of the Ottawa Land Association, which was primarily interested in acquiring land along the future route of the streetcars. 

The younger Ahearn's purchase was likely for investment purposes. An investment which paid off, when he formally sold the three lots in January of 1928 for $3,600, more than doubling his money, just before the economic depression set in. 

The first service station

In April of 1925, Ahearn made a preliminary agreement for sale of just the one lot (lot 500) on the corner of Huron to Victor W. Quigg, who operated an auto garage at 286 Elgin Street.

Just four months later, in August, a new agreement for sale was made for the same lot, selling it to Henry G. and Colin Campbell. The Campbells were the owners of well-known Ottawa firm Campbell Steel & Iron Works (Henry G. was president and manager; Colin was secretary-treasurer). This business was described as: "Structural Steel engineers, boilermakers, electric welding, forgings, tanks, etc." which was located at 855 Carling Avenue, on the northeast corner of Champagne. The company was in business from 1870 into the 1990s, where the shops on Carling stood until then. 

Anyhow, in late 1925 or early 1926, a very small service station was constructed on this lot. It may have been started by Quigg who bowed out due to costs or some other reason. Or it more likely was built by the Campbells, who were getting in on the new phenomena of automobiles. In the 1920s cars were suddenly everywhere, which created a need for service stations and gas stations. The Campbell brothers evidently were getting in on this opportunity, and acquired a few lots across Ottawa and built small service stations in up-and-coming neighbourhoods.

At that time in 1925, Wellington Village saw another service station open just a block over, Welch & Davis at the corner of Caroline (which was probably unwelcome competition for the Campbells). Otherwise, there was only the Ottawa West Garage on Wellington just west of Western Avenue (which had opened in 1922), and a garage in Hintonburg at Merton Street.

The new station at the corner of Huron and Wellington was called the "Holland Service Station", and was assigned the civic address 1251 Wellington Street. A partnership with the Shell Company of Canada saw the installation of two large tanks (one 1000 gallons, the other 500 gallons) and two pumps. It is likely the building was adorned with Shell gasoline signage, and likely the name of the operator. 

Ad from around the time the station opened.
The Ottawa Citizen, April 20, 1925.

I've never seen a photograph of this original station, which stood from 1925 to 1938, except for a couple of aerial photos which at least provide some detail on it. The photo below is from May of 1933, and shows the small station in the southwest corner of the lot, with cars parked on either side. A shortcut walking pathway goes in behind. You can see the Thyme & Again building on the left, and scaled against it, it helps show just how small the service station was.

The Holland Service Station - May 1933

As mentioned earlier, the formal sale of this lot, as well as the two to the east was made by Ahearn to the Campbells for $3,600 in January of 1928. 

The Holland Service Station was very small in size. The photo below probably is very close to how it would have appeared. The aerial photo above shows a small 1-storey structure, with a large overhang in front that would have helped protect the single car that approached for gas. The two pumps would have looked and been located similarly as well. 

Sample photo (not of the Holland Service Station)
to show how the original station likely appeared

The station advertised itself in listings as a "service station and gas oils" business, providing "gas, oil and greasing". 

Herman Armstrong was the manager by the summer of 1927 and may have been its inaugural manager. He lived at 42 Caroline Avenue and managed the station until at least 1929, possibly a bit longer.  G.R. Allan was the operator in 1932.

By 1933, 23-year old Lewis Whitney Fuller (at first with a partner Robert J. McKendry) became the new operator of the service station, a role he would keep until 1941. (McKendry would be involved only until about 1935).

In early-mid 1933, after Fuller and McKendry took over operations, the station changed names and became the "Wellington Service Station". 

Below is a rare ad for the gas station, run in the Ottawa Journal in 1935 (it's the last one on the list). "Subway" refers to the area where Bank Street dipped under the train tracks (now the Queensway) at Catherine Street, creating a 'subway'. The "Subway Service Station" (as it was actually known) was operated by McKendry, so it makes sense the pair would run a listing together, even though the two stations were across town from each other.

Ottawa Journal, May 4, 1935

This ad below mentions the Fuller station on Wellington, and also lists all of the other Shell stations in town at the time.

Ottawa Citizen, July 23, 1936

The second station

On March 22nd, 1938, it was announced that a new service station would soon be built by Shell at Huron and Wellington, replacing the original one (which was only 12-13 years old). This was a significant investment by Shell, as they did not own the property, nor had they owned the first station, but now they would own the new station (on leased land from the Campbells).

Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1938

These plans was later confirmed when the building permit was noted in the April 2nd newspaper, indicating the Shell Oil Company had taken out a $5,000 permit to build a "cinder and stucco service station". 

Ottawa Journal
April 2, 1938

The new station was to be much larger and have many more features. To compare, the original station had a tax assessed value of just $500 in 1937, but the new station had a $2,600 valuation in 1938. The new building had two halves. The west half was an office, about 30x30 in size, while the larger, eastern half, had bays for cars to be worked on, and was closer to about 50 feet wide, and 25 feet deep, set back just slightly from the office. The building had a light grey stucco finish, with red lettering advertising the Shell name. Two pumps without any overhead covering were placed out front for drive-in service.

L. Whitney Fuller remained on as operator of the new station, which would have opened by the fall of 1938. 

The building is illustrated in the 1948 fire insurance plan for Ottawa (see below). It appears in blue as it was of cinder block construction. The new Bank of Montreal building is shown next to it, as well as 153 Huron Avenue in behind. The fire plan doesn't share too much detail, though it does note the location of the underground tanks. 

1948 fire insurance plan

I'm glad to say I have a few photos of the gas station, all taken within the same period of about 1949-1958. (If anyone else happens to have any other photos of the station, I would love to see them, and add them to this post!)

This first photo below doesn't actually show the station unfortunately. It's from a video clip of a vehicle driving east down Wellington approaching Holland. The red and yellow truck or jeep at left would be parked at one of the pumps. The BMO building at left has an awning up:

1949. Shell station just out of view on the left.

This photo is from 1957, and is fuzzy because it is the background of another photo, but I've cropped it down to show the Shell station (as well as Higman's Hardware store - now Thyme and Again). 

Circa-1957 view (courtesy of Suzanne Abercrombie)
This next photo, again the gas station shows up in the background, of a photo taken of what was the original Morris Home Hardware location inside the Bank of Montreal building. The photo was taken in the spring of 1958 when the Morris' new building was completed.

Spring 1958 (courtesy of Mike Morris)

These are the best two photographs, they come from a National Film Board video I shared previously ( from 1953. There is a nice colour shot of the pumps, and then the station itself:

By March 1941, a new operator had taken over the Shell station, Norman Edwin Darragh, who ran the station until about 1948. Norm was 26 years old when he took over the station. He was married with a young daughter. He was a former junior and senior amateur hockey player, who had two famous uncles who played in the NHL (including uncle Jack, who was part of the Ottawa Senators in the first year of the NHL). 

Ottawa Citizen, February 28, 1947

I recently acquired a cool old matchbook from the Darragh gas station!

Matchbook, circa 1946
(Source: personal collection)

Norm Darragh and Whitney Fuller actually have a bizarre connection. Around the time Fuller became operator of the original service station (1933), he married Beatrice Bryan. At some point, the couple divorced, and twenty years later in 1953 (after Darragh had left the gas station), Beatrice married Norm Darragh!

In May 1946, the Campbells would sell lot 498 to William Haughton who built the Bank of Montreal building. The other two lots (lot 499 and 500) and were sold in March of 1947 by the Campbells to the Shell Oil Company of Canada (who already owned the building on the leased land) for $6,000. 

In 1948, a new operator took over the station, Ed Joiner, who became a big name in the auto service industry in west Ottawa. 

In 1952, the Ottawa Citizen profiled 25 year old Paul Dobson, who had come to Ottawa after an incredible young life. He was born in Lisbon, and moved to Athens, Greece at the age of three, and then England at six. He left school in 1943, took a year's farming course, then joined the Royal Marines in WWII. After the war he was located to Germany as a lieutenant with the British occupation force. In 1947, he chose to return to civilian life and moved to Singapore, where he worked at a rubber plantation. He returned in England in 1951, and decided to hitchhike to Athens. After accomplishing that, he returned to England and got paperwork to move to New Zealand. However at the last moment, someone told him about the wonders of Canada and the glories of working as a lumberman in the north. He came here instead. In October of 1952, he arrived in Montreal, ready to work in the bush. He came to Ottawa on the advice of a stranger who told him this was the city for lumberjacks (because just a few miles north you'll find lots of work at a place called Kapuskasing, he was told). Paul discovered it was more than a few miles away, and that lumbering season was over. So he found the position at Joiner's Shell station and took it. "This way, I meet all kinds of Canadians every day, and only by meeting Canadians and getting to know Canada can I decide just what I want to do in my new country", said Dobson. 

The photo below, taken from the Citizen, shows Dobson working in the Wellington Shell station:

Ottawa Citizen. November 18, 1952.

This is just a neat coupon/ad that Joiner ran in the paper in 1954:

Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1954

Joiner was also a hobbyist race car driver, and had a 1939 Chevrolet customized to advertise his business in the popular auto races at Lansdowne Park. This great photo from 1956 survives:

Ed Joiner's car "in the pits" at Lansdowne Park
June 6, 1956. Photo by Ted Grant. Courtesy Ottawa Archives.

As business grew, and traffic in the west end grew (particularly with the establishment of the Tunney's Pasture campus), Joiner briefly operated at a second location in 1957-1958, 24 Richmond Road at Piccadilly (where The Piccadilly condo building now stands).

In the spring of 1958, Ottawa instituted a new Sunday closing bylaw, which allowed Joiner to be closed on Sunday for the first time, enabling him to spend the day with his family. He had a life with little time to himself, being open every day except Christmas. In an interview with the Citizen, he welcomed the extra rest, noting that every day was a hard day of work, from opening the station at 8:30 in the morning until close. "Got to (hustle) if you want to make a success of this business", he said. "The term 'service' means just that. If you want to make and keep customers you've got to keep moving." 

Joiner noted that he saw the neighbourhood service station as an institution which plays an important role in the community. "One of the operator's biggest rewards is the number of friendships he makes. Actually in addition to giving all kinds of free service, he has to operate a combination first-aid and comfort station, garage, information bureau and check-cashing agency", wrote the Citizen. "Ed reached in behind the counter and produced a little tin box. It was crammed with checks which he had accepted over the years - checks which had bounced. "Sometimes I figure I'm not as good a judge of human nature as I'd like to think I am", he grinned."

"Unless a service station operator is careful he can become the Patsy for all kinds of smoothies", said the Citizen. "He's been given 'bargains' in everything from electric razors to signet rings by 'stranded' motorists who 'needed gas and a few bucks to get back home."

"But a guy has to take a chance once in a while" Ed added. "In most cases the chap with the hard luck story is an honest Joe, and you're glad to help him out."

The interview finishes with a great conclusion: "Ed likes to think that he's representative of service station operators as a whole - a guy who can always manage a grin even when there are more cranks around than there are crankcases."

Ottawa Citizen, April 28, 1958

In early 1960, the province announced it was going to begin enforcement of an old provincial law that forbid gas station operators from performing auto repairs. A mechanic's license was required to perform repairs. Long-time operators who had added repairs to the simpler tasks of gas sales and oil changes that they performed, suddenly found themselves without the ability to do a large part of their business. In an interview with the Journal, Joiner noted that he wasn't allowed to "fix so much as a tailpipe or replace a muffler", which was going to force him out of business. The move forced the closure of many gas stations in Ottawa, and created long waits at licensed mechanics. 

As a result of this, Joiner gave up his station at Wellington and Huron, and instead took his car knowledge to the car sales business at Guest Motors in Hull.

In late 1960 or early 1961, the shop was taken over by Marty Quinn. Marty was 43 years old and a resident of Aylmer.

Ottawa Citizen. January 22, 1962

The photo below was taken around this time (circa 1961), and shows Albert Legault of Albert's Flowers (1302 Wellington) standing next to one of the pumps. Amazing, he is holding a lit cigarette! His son Jeff Legault shared the photo with me, and shared my wonder as to why the photo was taken. "I'm guessing this was taken early 1960s sometime before he died in November 1965. I was only 7 when he passed away but I remember him wearing that flannel shirt all the time. I inherited the shirt a few years later." wrote Jeff. "He smoked Black Cat cigarettes and House of Lords panatellas." As the Victoria Tea Room across the street closed in 1961, it dates the photo to around then.

Albert Legault, circa 1961 at the Shell
station, Huron and Wellington.
(Courtesy of Jeff Legault)

Marty passed away suddenly at age 51 in April of 1969, and Ed Joiner took over running the shop for a few months for Shell, as did Gus Georgitsos and John (not sure of his last name) of "Gus and John's" (who had taken over the Piccadilly and Wellington shop in the late 1960s - and which remained open into the early 2000s). It became "Ron's Service Station" in 1970, around which time it ceased being a Shell station. 

It became Ottawa Transmission, a repair shop for a couple of years between 1972-1973. 

Ottawa Citizen. March 10, 1972.

The parking lot era begins

Shell sold the property in August 1971 to Palmer Kavanagh Inc., who sold in September 1973 to the Bank of Montreal, who I believe still own the property to date.

The station was demolished soon after the Bank of Montreal acquired the lots. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, it is now fifty years later, and this space remains a parking lot, though one wonders for how much longer.


  1. Born in 1952 and growing up on Caroline Ave. this brings back a lot of memories, Thankyou.

  2. Great article Dave! A lot of interesting history on that little corner and really tells a story about the local gas station from that era. I remember Gus of Gus and Jon’s he was still there I believe in to 90’s at Piccadilly until the gas station was sold to Domicile, and I think he had a daughter named Chrystal who went to school around the same time as my sister and I.

  3. Nice writup as always Dave. Thanks for including the photo of dad.