Monday, November 20, 2017

Record-setting Westboro cat

Came across this tonight, and it was too funny not to share. This was an actual front-page story from the Journal on January 9th, 1939. Ottawa newspapers still had a very small-town feel to them in 1939...

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Kitchissippi's Francophone Godfather: F.X. Sauvé

This week's new Kitchissippi Times issue includes a column I wrote that focuses on the under-appreciated francophone history of Hintonburg-Mechanicsville. It speaks to the how and why both neighbourhoods developed with largely French populations, and tells the story of one man in particular, Francois-Xavier Sauvé. Sauvé was one of the first to invest in the new subdivision of Mechanicsville (his 1872-built house still stands on Carruthers Avenue), and he was a significant contributor to community and church life in Hintonburg. His descendants number in the hundreds today (including yours truly).

Please see the full article at 

Here is F.X. Sauvé around age 90, in the yard behind his family's home at 80 Carruthers. He is with his grandson Alfred Sauve, and his great-grandson (my grandfather) Ted Sauve (at right, in sweater). I'm not sure who the other young boy is in the jacket and tie.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The big top in Kitchissippi in the early 1900s

From the 1850s until the 1940s, one of the highlight events each year in Ottawa was the arrival of the touring circus. But did you know that the circus actually came to our neighbourhood, and in fact the future site of Plouffe Park/Plant Bath was the long-time official circus grounds for the city? My article in this week's Kitchissippi Times takes a look back at the era around WWI when the top touring circuses set up in Wellington Village next to Holland Avenue, and at the future Plouffe Park. Lots of photos, ads and history! You can pick up a copy of the newspaper around the community, or please read the online edition at:

The 1922 circus at Plouffe Park, with Devonshire School
and St. Francois D'Assise Chuch at background left, and
the Somerset Street bridge at background right.
(LAC, PA-44764)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Despair on Richmond Road: The 1890's story of John Barton

In 1890, a gentleman from a happy-sounding hamlet south of Ottawa known as "Pleasant Valley" decided he wanted to spend the last years of his life on Richmond Road, just east of Skead's Mills (the future Westboro). Sadly, this period of his life would be short, sad, and end in tragedy.

John Barton was a 58-year old farmer, who had been residing in this section of Goulbourn Township for many years, on a fairly large 75-acre farm. His brother Benjamin farmed on the adjoining piece of land, and it appears Barton was very popular amongst his neighbours and friends. He was a long-time councillor for Goulbourn Township as well. His home was in "Pleasant Valley", which was an early name given to this community of farmers south of Stittsville and Hazeldean. What is now the street known as "Faulkner Trail" existed as far back as at least 1879 and probably many years before that. It was along this roadway that the farmers of the area built their houses. The Belden Atlas map from 1879 shows the 15-or-so farmhouses on Faulkner Trail, including the Bartons. Some prominent names in this area including the Bradleys, Argue, and Faulkner.

1879 Goulburn Township map, showing the "Pleasant
Valley" area, or what is now Faulkner Trail Road, just
south of where Terry Fox intersects with Eagleson.

For reasons lost through the passage of time, the newly-retired John Barton and his 49-year-old wife Mary Ellen, along with their 15-year old niece Miss Mildred Mooney, decided to move to Richmond Road, many kilometers from his long-time home. Though the couple did have friends in Skead's Mills, it is a bit odd that they chose this spot. On April 29th, 1890, Barton acquired a 6-acre piece of land from Ottawa lawyer Frank R. Latchford (who owned pieces of land throughout the area which he had acquired from the Hon. James Skead estate a few years earlier). Patricia Avenue did not exist back in 1890 (even Island Park Drive was still 30+ years in the future), but if it had, it would have marked the eastern edge of the property. Barton began construction of a modest brick house on his new property, which stood until the late 1950s. (To place it, the house would have stood in the parking lot of the old Canadian Tire). 

Late in the fall of 1890, the Barton's friends held a large goodbye party for them in their home. 75 people attended to wish them well, and present them with gifts. John Barton was presented with an easy chair, Mrs. Barton with a rocking chair, and Mildred Mooney with a "music rack". Incredibly, the speech presented to honour the Barton's that night was printed in the newspaper a few days later.
Ottawa Journal
October 8, 1890

Sure enough, the newspaper reported on December 1st that the Barton's had moved into their new house on Richmond Road. (Birchton being another old name for the area of Westboro east of Churchill Avenue). 

Ottawa Journal, December 1, 1890.

I've found only one photo of the house the Barton's built, and it can be seen just in the background of another house. Here it is, in behind the Selwyn Hand house at the corner of Richmond Road and Patricia (which is now 333 Patricia Avenue, having been impressively moved north down Patricia Avenue in the 1950s). This photo dates to about 1940.

Barton house in background, behind the Selwyn Hand house
on Richmond Road, approx. 1940.

All seemed well for the Bartons in 1890, as they began to enjoy their retirement on the quiet Richmond Road strip. The 1890s were particularly quiet on Richmond Road, as there was a bit of an economic depression happening. The mill had been destroyed by fire for a final time in 1888, and there was little business in the area. The streetcar was still 10 years away. 

Over the following year and a half, John Barton fell into a depression. He was seen by all he associated with as moody, restless, and in low spirits. Perhaps it was regret in his decision to relocate from his familiar homestead and many friends and family. Or perhaps it was a mental breakdown which had been developing over years. His physician, Dr. Potter, had been treating him for "brain trouble". Around ten years prior, Barton had been assisting in the construction of a large barn when he fell from its roof. Family later recounted that he was never quite the same following that incident, his wife stating that he was never again "quite right in the head". Whatever the cause, his condition had deteriorated during his days on Richmond Road. Friends stated they worried about him, and that his mind was going. 

It all came to a sad conclusion on the morning of April 7th, 1892. His wife Mary Ellen discovered his lifeless body hanging from the roof of the layloft of their barn after returning from visiting the Cowley family next door. The full details of the unfortunate event can be found from the newspaper's detailed account below (the level of detail and frankness to the story was common for news accounts of the era):

Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1892

At 3 p.m. that same afternoon, a jury inquest took place on site to officially review the case. Dr. Mark, Coroner, called 16 citizens, a veritable who's-who of Kitchissippi society in the 1890s, to sit on the panel. They included John McKellar, Thomas Cole, John Fee, James C. Murphy, Charles Hopewell, Dnaiel Shipman, William Lowry, and Robert Barry. Barton's wife and niece gave statements, as did his brother-in-law David Manchester, his friend (and Skead's Mills postmaster) John Falls, neighbour Captain Daniel Keyworth Cowley and Cowley's son John (who had cut him down), Dr. Potter, and several other neighbours and friends. The jury deliberated briefly and then stated "the deceased came to his death through strangulation by hanging, and we are also of the opinion that he caused his death by his own action while laboring under a fit of temporary insanity brought out by an accident that happened to the deceased several years ago, by his falling from a barn that was in course of erection."

His official death registration was confirmed with this fact as well. "Hung himself while temporarily insane", it states, while providing oddly little other information, including date of death ("not stated"), birthplace or really any other useful information.

From F.W. Harmer's Carleton County
Deaths register (source: Ancestry)

Barton's funeral was held on Saturday April 9th, and his body was taken from his home on Richmond Road out to Pleasant Valley. John Cowley was one of his pallbearers, no doubt a difficult week for him, being the one to remove Barton from the barn, serve on the coroner's jury, and then carry his body to rest.

Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1892.

Later in 1892, the property was transferred into the name of his widow, Mary Ellen Barton. Mary Ellen and her niece continued to reside in the home. On the 1894 property assessment roll, they are listed as owning one cow.

The story takes an interesting turn (and a significant one, for the future history of this parcel of property), in that on September 11th, 1895, Mary Ann Barton remarried, to a widower, Mr. Thomas Hand. The two were in fact already related through marriage. In 1891, Mary Ann's nephew Alfred James Barton (son of John's brother Benjamin) had married Sarah Jane Hand, daughter of Thomas Hand. And in fact, on the 1879 map above, Thomas Hand's farm was next to Benjamin Barton's, a short walk from John and Mary Ellen's. So it appears the Hands and Bartons were well acquainted, and as both were widowers, decided to marry and live together on Richmond Road.

Thomas Hand had lost his wife in 1891. The couple had 10 children total, but by 1895, only his youngest son Selwyn (born 1883) was under the age of 16. Thomas and Mary Ellen lived alone in the house on Richmond Road; Thomas had left the Hand homestead in Pleasant Valley to his eldest son William Pittman Hand, and several of his other children continued to reside there as well. In 1900, Selwyn would move out to Richmond Road (perhaps for proximity to Ottawa, where he had obtained employment as a civil servant). He resided there until 1912, when he was engaged to be married. His wedding gift from his father was a gift of half of the parcel of land on Richmond Road! Thomas Hand parcelled off the eastern half of the property, and gifted it to Selwyn and his new wife Stella Agnes Pedley. The couple built the new brick house (pictured above) and resided in it until 1953, the year Selywn passed away. That summer, the house was moved north up Patricia Avenue to make way for the new Canadian Tire store.  (full details of that story at:

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The 1956 Miracle in Westboro

The morning of Tuesday November 13th, 1956 began like most others in west Ottawa. The weather was typical for mid-November, with sub-zero temperatures overnight leading to chilly mornings for commuters travelling into the city for work or school. On this particular morning the temperature hovered around zero, and the skies were largely cloudy. A dull November morning in Ottawa, but it would not stay that way for long.

The OTC was of course still running streetcars in 1956, but the writing was on the wall for their future. The trams were losing the city money. Big money. The City had acquired the streetcar line from the privately-operated Ottawa Electric Railway in 1950 for the incredible price of $6.3 million. It did not take long for the evidence to flood in that it was a bad deal. The infrastructure and the cars themselves were aging, but besides that, North America was in the midst of a serious transition to roadways and highways. Car was king, and buses for public transportation were seem as cheaper, easier to manage, and more modern. The railway was on its way out, and by 1956, the lines were expensive to run. It would be a little over a year later that the City would announce that they would be scrapping the entire streetcar service, and indeed they did, with the final car running on the Britannia line in May of 1959.

Back to November of 1956, the streetcars from Britannia would pick up commuters in the morning, and bring them into Ottawa along Byron Avenue to Holland, then north to Wellington, then east over the Somerset Bridge to Preston Street, north to Albert, and then east into downtown. The entire trip would take between 35 to 40 minutes.

Streetcar in 1959 crossing Golden Avenue just in front of the
Highland Lawn Bowling Club (on right), looking east.
The would be the last little waiting station before Churchill. 

That morning, streetcars were coming through Westboro heading east every five minutes or so. One in particular was driven by conductor Yvon D'Aoust that morning, which passed through McKellar Park and Westboro just before 8:30.

By this point, the train was packed full, standing room only, with an estimated 70-75 passengers on board, largely students and office workers. The streetcar went up the hill on Byron to Churchill, and stopped at what was then a stop sign at the Churchill intersection. Operator D'Aoust then crossed Churchill and stopped at the small station where 7 passengers were waiting to board.

At the same moment that morning, Gaston Regimbal of Forward Avenue, a 24-year-old truck driver with the Frazer Duntile Company was driving his full dumptruck northbound on Churchill Avenue. The truck was full of rock recently mined from Frazer Duntile quarry at Clyde Avenue. The Citizen reported it was a 20-ton truck filled with 17 tons of stone; the Journal said it was a 10-ton truck full. Either way, it was a big, heavy load coming north up Churchill. Regimbal was driving at what he later estimated was about 10 miles per hour, and was approaching the Churchill hill, when he noticed the Churchill Public School traffic patrol flagging him down to stop.

"I eased on the brakes and nothing happened" Regimbal said later, "I thought for a second I could swing east into Byron avenue but there were some kids standing on the corner." He considered wheeling around the children, but at that very moment, a car rolled up to the westbound Byron Avenue stop sign at Churchill. When Regimbal realized he wasn't going to be able to stop the truck, he spun his wheel to the left in an effort to simply swing the truck around the streetcar, in the hopes of avoiding an oncoming car as well. However, he miscalculated by 10 feet.

The Journal reported: "When the truck hit the tram, an avalanche of rock cascaded over its cab roof. The heavy stones crashed in through the cab windows among the passengers. Oddly, none of the big rocks hit the crowded tram occupants." The Citizen added "Crushed stone burst into the street car through shattered windows, showering passengers with broken glass and debris."

Regimbal told reporters later "There was a terrible crashing sound and people began to scream. I cut the power at once, and threw over the lever which controls the doors. The front doors opened immediately, but the back doors were jammed." He added that after the initial shock there was little or no panic among the passengers, and all of them filed out quickly through the front doors. "Some were bleeding about the face and head, and a few had to be helped, but it seemed apparent, almost at once, that no one had been killed or badly injured." Regimbal himself was shaken up and had cuts to his head and face.

Photo from the Ottawa Citizen

Miraculously, no one was killed, or even seriously injured. There were a total of 10 injuries, but none of them major, beyond cuts and bruises. One can only imagine what would have happened had the streetcar luckily not been positioned there to hit, and the truck instead would have barreled down the hill on Churchill towards the much busier Richmond Road intersection out of control and gaining speed, during the peak of the morning rush hour. The results could have (and likely would have been) devastating.

"It was a lucky thing at that, for God knows what might have happened if I had torn down the Churchill hill out of control." Regimbal told the papers.

Someone asked him why he hadn't tried his hand brake. "Ever try to stop 10 tons with your arm?" he asked back.

"We were over the crossing and almost stopped - in fact barely moving - for the passenger pick-up, when wham-bam, it sounded and felt like a bomb had hit us. The back of the car was jarred and jolted up and over almost to the west-bound track. Then there were shouts and screams and the tinkle of falling glass. We were lucky; everybody could get out under their own power", said D'Aoust.

Looking west down Byron. That's the laundromat at right.
(Source: Ottawa Archives AN-46674)

The view looking east, showing the point of impact.
(Source: "Ottawa's Streetcars" book by Bill McKeown)

The injured were all taken to the Civic Hospital via Exclusive Ambulance, Ottawa Police and OTC cars. The Civic had been called from the scene, alerting them to the possibility of a major emergency. Every available doctor and nurse was waiting when the injured began to arrive. A nurse reported "We did not know how bad the accident was, and we were ready for anything. When they began to come in there was a lot of blood in evidence, but we realized quickly that we had nothing more serious than some nasty cuts and ugly-looking bruises to care of of. A few were suffering from shock, but no one was in serous condition."

Injured were Regimbal (the truck driver), D'Aoust (the tram operator), and passengers Donald Stevens (40 years old), Mabel McGovern (31), Bruce Keeler (15), Lloyd Gore (14), Paulette Lacosse (10), John Gleeson (12), Dalton Parks (16) and William Croshaw (14).

Photos of some of the passengers, taken just after the accident.
From the Ottawa Citizen, November 13 1956 evening edition.

Some of the eye-witness testimony described a harrowing experience for those on board:

"I was sitting in the seat nearest the window when the truck hit", said Donald Stevens. "It's a miracle that I escaped with only these cuts. The rock slammed in among us. There was a great swirl of dust and a lot of screaming and then we started sorting ourselves out." Mr Stevens was swabbing several bloody cuts on the side of his face and the back of his neck with his handkerchief while telling the papers his story. "Sure I saw the truck veering in on us, but in the space of a couple of seconds what can you do, except sit there frozen and helpless, staring?"

Mabel McGovern was located at the front of the streetcar, standing, when it was hit "I didn't see a thing" she said "First thing I know I was looking at the car floor. The impact flung me on my face in the aisle. The thing I can't understand is that it was my ankles that were hurt."

Bruce Keeler was sitting in one of the rear seats facing south on Churchill and saw the truck approaching "I ducked my face in my hands and waited" he said, "It was a terrific jolt."

Harold Watson, 23, was sitting on a side seat at the rear reading a newspaper. "Suddenly I was hurled forward out of the seat and people standing in the aisle were bowled over like ninepins. Broken glass flew around my head and one jagged piece ripped right through my newspaper. But I wasn't even scratched by the glass. All I got was a bruise above the left knee. That must have been when I was thrown to the floor."

Photo of the interior of the streetcar, with rocks and broken
glass covering the floor. From the Ottawa Journal.

Paulette Lacasse, 10 years old, had been standing in the aisle "I was never so scared. I was so frightened after it happened. I couldn't move. I didn't know for a minute what had happened, but I was sure it was awful."

Dalton Parks was one of two boys from Stittsville on the streetcar, and reported a "tremendous crash" when the truck hit. "The street car seemed to lift up in the air for a minute. I thought it was going to turn over but it didn't."

Area police were also busy that morning with another train-truck accident. Ironically, just twenty minutes after the Byron-Churchill collision, a separate accident took place in Hull, which saw a 55-year-old Gatineau Point man killed. An Ottawa to Montreal CPR passenger train struck a panel truck at a level crossing on St. Henri Street at 8:50 a.m.

The Westboro crash stopped all streetcar traffic on the Britannia line for over two hours, with twelve cars on each side lining up in the queue behind the accident. The streetcar's rear wheels, as shown in the photos above, were pushed all the way over to the west-bound line, buried into the right of way, and blocking both tracks. The OTC acted quickly to reroute buses to pick up the streetcar passengers, sending buses from Churchill to Britannia, and east from Churchill to Holland Junction. They also rushed work crews to the scene to put the train back on the rails and clear the tracks.

Interestingly, Churchill Avenue just prior to the accident had been targeted as a concern by local residents, who complained that it was being used by heavy commercial traffic as a cut-through between Richmond Road and Carling Avenue. Local truck traffic was permitted at the time, but not through-trucking.  Many residents had been actively complaining to the City Police, but nothing had been done about it. Just a week prior to the crash, Controller Donaldson had asked City Police to investigate the traffic on Churchill. It was simply an accident waiting to happen. Thankfully, no lives were lost and a major Westboro tragedy was averted.

Of course the story was the lead headline in that evening's edition of the newspaper:

Ottawa Citizen evening edition, November 13, 1956.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Nepean High School Class of '67!

This week's Kitchissippi Times includes an article that I wrote about Nepean High School's Class of 1967, and their 50th reunion being held this fall. 1967 was of course a significant year in Canadian history, arguably a major turning point in Canadian society. My article focuses on the work that goes into organizing a reunion, and the impressive dedicated group that has undertaken this job. A few stories about Nepean in the 60's, and details about the reunion and more in this jam packed article which you can view at:

And don't forget I will be set up tomorrow (Saturday) from 11-4 at Wellington and Gilchrist for the Tastes of Wellington West festival. I'll have a ton of stuff, including rare videos of trains travelling through our neighbourhood in the 1960s, and fire insurance plans of Wellington Village and the surrounding area from 1922! Come find your street/house in 1922. Cheers for now!

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Kitchissippi Museum returns to Tastes of Wellington West!

As I do every year, I will be setting up shop for Tastes of Wellington West. This year Tastes falls on Saturday September 16th, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

I will be set up at the corner of Gilchrist Avenue and Wellington West, with a few tables of photos, maps, artifacts and more. Stop by to have a look through, share stories, or feel free to bring along photos if you have some neat shots from our area's past that you'd allow me to scan/borrow!

Of course, my booth will be weather dependent, so here is hoping for no rain! Hope to see you there. Cheers!

Here I am at Tastes of WW in 2013!
(Source: WW BIA Twitter)