Thursday, May 3, 2018

The history of underappreciated Bate Island

This past week the Kitchissippi Times came out with the first issue in the new format, and I'm happy to say that my 'Early Days' column will continue to appear in each issue going forward. 

This week's article is about the history of Bate Island, the third of the three islands located off of the Champlain Bridge. You might not know it from seeing it, but there is a lot of history here. While the island has been returned to a mostly natural state, previous generations enjoyed it for many more reasons, and for many years it was Ottawa's top venue for wedding receptions, business lunches and date nights. 

Check out the article and the many photos at :

(Note my local history efforts will be curtailed for the next month or so as I will be focused in on the provincial election, but look for my next article in the June Kitchissippi Times, and I hope to set up a booth at Westfest in June! Cheers!)

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Kitchissippi Museum live presentation! May 15th!

In my capacity with Elections Ontario, due to my crazy schedule, I expect to have no choice but to slow down almost completely on my history stuff for 5-6 weeks in May and June. However, I am happy to share that I will be making a pretty cool presentation on the evening of Tuesday May 15th, as part of the Wellington Village Community Association AGM. 

The topic of the presentation is something along the lines of "a photographic journey of the history of Wellington Street West", which will largely focus on the buildings and businesses of Wellington Street West between Holland Avenue and Island Park Drive, from the 1800s right up to the 1980s and 1990s. I'll have then-and-now type photos, and lots of cool stuff, photos of just about every block on both the north and south sides of Wellington. A lot of the photos have never been shared before, largely some things I have acquired in the last year or so. Probably 50-70 vintage photos in total. I'll share a few stories and tidbits as well, to describe the photos, though I won't get too deeply into detail, as I'm just one of several items on the AGM agenda. Likely about 15 minutes total.

Our AGM will start at 7 p.m., and my place on the agenda will depend on the availability of the other guests. But all are welcome to attend, and as a bonus you can hear more about what we've been doing as a community association in Wellington Village!

The AGM will be taking place at the Ottawa Bagelshop on Wellington, between Ross and Grange. Would be happy to see you there!

Where were you in 1974?

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Westboro's exciting (but short-lived) Toboggan Park of 1914

Westboro in 1914 was really only 10 years into its transition from a tiny hamlet of cottages and small wood houses to a developing police village. Westboro was still largely a cluster of homes by Richmond Road with a few shops to serve its residents. The village was connected to Ottawa via the streetcar, but was really its own little small town, decidedly separate from Hintonburg on the east, and the little cottage communities like Woodroffe to the west.

In 1914, Westboro made an attempt to get on the map by constructing a major attraction. By 1914 standards, a toboggan park was a pretty big deal. But as you'll read, what started off as a good idea got mixed up in politics and profit, and eventually proved unsustainable. For one magic winter, however, the villagers of Westboro had an exciting recreation feature that brought everyone together for some fun and exercise.

The story begins at the start of winter in mid-December of 1913 when it was determined that children tobogganing down the sidewalks (and street) of Main Street (now Churchill Avenue) from the streetcar tracks (Byron Avenue) to Richmond Road were dangerous and a nuisance. The toboggans left the sidewalk in a slippery and unsafe condition for pedestrians, despite the spreading of sand and ashes on the ice. As well of course, there was danger to the kids in being run over by horses or the few early cars that were on Westboro streets.

The town council (Trustee Board) announced that tobogganing on Main would no longer be allowed, and that they would be installing placards to this effect. Trustee C.W. Ross stated "If the placards are disregarded, we will prosecute the offenders if necessary to stamp out the practice of sliding on Main street hill."

Ottawa Journal. December 12, 1913

The threats worked, as the kids moved off Churchill to Eden Avenue "Westboro's young element has shifted the scene of their exercise to a more secluded and safer thoroughfare and now do their "coasting" in the vicinity of Churchill avenue", wrote the Journal. If that sounds confusing, it is...ironically Eden Avenue was originally known as Churchill Avenue.

Over the following few days, one of the more popular topics within the village was tobogganing, and how could the activity be enabled in Westboro. The most popular tobogganing area in Ottawa was in Ottawa South off Sunnyside Avenue, on a spot called "Ray's Hill". (A little snippet about Ray's Hill can be found in this article posted at the Old Ottawa South website: That hill would have been accessible via a fairly long streetcar ride with a transfer at Bank Street, but surely was a rare trip for anyone in Westboro to make at best. There was also a slightly less popular toboggan park, called "Cliffside Slide" near Sussex in Ottawa. The publicity created by the Churchill Avenue closure made some residents dream of creating something similar in Westboro.

Tobogganing had become a craze around this time, and most stores in Ottawa were advertising them as a featured item. This ad from Charles Ogilvy shows a wide range of prices. (This was years before Ogilvy's store, and even Ogilvy himself moved to Westboro. His store was on Rideau Street at the time.)

Ottawa Journal - December 29, 1913

Here is an ad for Ketchum's also advertising toboggans (as well as very early hockey equipment and collectibles!):

Ottawa Journal - December 10, 1913

Back to the toboggan hill for Westboro... One well-supported idea was the concept of a full slide that could be built behind Westboro Public School (now the site of Churchill Alternative). That idea got a mention in the newspaper the following Monday morning, and by Christmas, construction was in full progress of a huge slide behind the school. Westboro residents David Latimer and J.A. Leech were behind the endeavour, but it was not just something they were doing for the community; the pair saw this as a money-making business venture. Their plan was to sell season passes for the slide, for $1 per family, which would allow for unlimited use for an entire winter.

The slide was twenty-five feet high, and at its peak had a run of over 1,000 feet. There was 225 feet of trestle work that had been built, to accommodate the fairly steep drop off the cliff behind Westboro School.

The slide had two sides to it: one that was strictly for toboggans and typically adults and older children; while the other side was for smaller children and/or for the use of sleighs. Electric lighting was installed for the park, and precautions were taken against injury, including "a railing around an iron pump, which was situated close to the runway." Latimer and Leech invested $200 total to constructing the toboggan park, and it was Latimer himself who was to manage the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the slide.

The grand opening was held on the evening of New Year's Eve, and over 150 Westboroians were in attendance. For the opening, Latimer had built the run up to a length of 400 feet, 300 of which was iced to ensure speed. "The introduction of the new source of amusement in Westboro will cause a big impetus to tobogganing in the village and will in all probability attract many city tobogganing enthusiasts", wrote the newspaper of the day.

January 2, 1914

I have never seen a photo of the toboggan run, but I bet one exists somewhere out there in old family photo albums! I did find a photo which I think shows very closely what the Westboro toboggan park would have looked like. It's also from 1914, from a park in Minneapolis. The hill is very similar to the one behind Churchill Alternative, and the trestles built in Westboro would have been very close to this too:

Lake Harriet in Minneapolis in 1914

Westboro-wise the closest I can come to at least situate readers on its location, is to use an aerial photograph from 1920, showing what the area generally looked like at the time:

Earliest aerial photo of Westboro - from 1920.  Richmond
Road at top, streetcar line cutting straight from left to right.
Churchill at far right, with Westboro (Churchill) P.S. the larger
building at corner. Byron Avenue did not exist at the time,
the streetcar line is the visible line, with just dirt lanes in
areas where Byron would one day exist.

The toboggan run started behind Churchill Alternative, and ran all the way west down the hill and along what is now the newly renamed Lower Byron Avenue, through Roosevelt Avenue, and right to the Highland Park Lawn Bowling Club. The red line on the photo below shows roughly that route.

Google Earth view of where the toboggan run existed, crossing
over what is now Roosevelt Avenue.

Here is just a close-up view of that dead end of Lower Byron Avenue, where the toboggans ran 104 years ago!

Google Streetview of the dead end of Lower Byron Avenue,
where the toboggans ran 104 years ago!

A few days after opening, Latimer and Leech had second thoughts about charging for access, after being convinced by the Trustee Board. Instead they were considering allowing Westboro's residents free use of the park once they had recovered their investment. The newspaper wrote that "it would behoove the residents of Westboro to help the good case along and purchase family season tickets at $1 each as soon as possible." The board was unsure if they would allow non-Westboro residents to use the slide for free, if it was to be opened up, and perhaps season tickets would continue to be sold to non-residents, as a way to help cover maintenance costs.

The Trustees interest in seeing the slide opened for free was to help remove the kids from other streets in Westboro. "If we are successful in having the slide thrown open, free of charge to the public, all sliding will be stopped on the streets of the village...would be one of the best moves possible, as it would eliminate any risk of accidents occurring by sliding on the streets, and would tend to provide healthy exercise for both the old and young residents of the village."

However a day later, Leech and Latimer announced that it would actually take $300 to open it up for free, to which the Journal wondered whether the proprietors were "holding out" or simply had made an initial miscalculation. By January 8th, nearly 100 season tickets had been sold. The argument was also made that it might not be fair to existing ticket holders that the slide would be opened for free to everyone, with one resident stating that if the slide was opened to the public, then the money should be returned to ticket holders. But that wasn't logical either.

A push was on for civic-minded individuals who could afford it, to buy up season tickets so that the park could be free for all, as a benefit to Westboro in general. Stated one resident: "Is it worth the sum of one dollar for yourself and members of your family to use the slide for the entire winter? If it is, it does not matter whether or not the slide is operated by the trustee board or by private individuals.".

In mid-January the operators requested a permit from Westboro council to extend the slide even further, which would have required closing the end of a street (Roosevelt). This request was not granted. The council was playing politics with the operators, but at a meeting a few days later, a compromise was reached. The proprietors would allow people to slide during the day for no fee, but that there would be no supervision of the slide during that period, and tobogganers would be sliding at their own risk.  Then as of 7 p.m., the slides would be for paid customers only.

By mid-February, the slide reached its peak length of nearly a quarter of a mile (well above 1,000 feet long), and had become very popular with locals and city visitors.

Cartoon from the kids page of the Ottawa Journal,
just to represent the popularity of tobogganing at
the time. From February 14, 1914.

The Westboro Slide became the highlight of the village in the winter of 1914, with many parties, church social events and community events being held at the park.

Things seemingly were running smoothly well into late February. However, late in the month, David Latimer installed a chain across the bottom of the fast side of the slide during the daytime to attempt to keep kids from using it. However, this only appeared to add to the fun for the children, who would duck their head at the bottom of the slide to go under the chain. As you may have guessed, on February 25th, William Cummings, a 6-year old boy who lived on Cole Avenue, received a serious head injury when he attempted to duck, and the chain caught his head, opening a large six-inch gash. William was able to walk home on his own, but the Doctor was called in, and his serious cut was taken care of. He remained in bed for several days, recovering slowly. The story made the newspaper the following day, and became a larger story in the days following.

Headline from February 26, 1914 Journal

The village trustee board was angry at Latimer's decision, and told him to remove the chain, or they would revoke his permission to have the slide extend across Roosevelt, which would therefore have removed at least a third or more of its length, and greatly affected its popularity.

Latimer contended he was within his rights to chain off the fast side, and just allow the children's side to be accessed (free) during the daytime. He claimed that when the agreement was made in January, that it was not stipulated how many runways of the slide would be operated during the day. Latimer was interviewed the afternoon before a town meeting in March, and stated that if both runways were open to the public during the day, that the toboggan (fast) runway would likely not be in good shape for the cash and season-ticket holders for after 7 p.m. Thus the chain was installed to keep people off of it. "The children knew that the chain was there, and that they were not to use the toboggan runway. If they get injured, are we to blame? If they could not swim, and went down to the river and jumped in, would they not expect to get drowned?", stated Latimer. "I do not feel that I have broken any agreement with the trustee board. The children were to get free sliding for a few hours each day. Instead of giving them only a few hours, I fixed up a good slide for them, and gave it to them free of charge for all the time. The slide has been a big advertisement for Westboro, and I cannot see why the residents of the community or the trustee board should be too hard on me,"

While the issue was being debated, Latimer removed the chain in good faith. At the council meeting on March 5th, the board ordered the chain permanently removed, to allow both sides of the slide to be open. Latimer defended why the injury to Cummings had occurred, claiming that the chain had been moved. "If the chain had been left in its original position then nothing but a toboggan would have hit it. To my mind some person longer headed than the injured boy raised the chain, and it was in a dangerous position when the accident occurred."

Likely frustrated with the whole political battle that he had waged all winter, a week later, Latimer decided to end the season, with the last paid slides coming on Thursday March 12th. The weather was beginning to warm up as well. To the end, Latimer claimed he did not remove the chain due to the council's order. "The orders of the trustee board would have been of no use if the slide had remained in operation. The trustees could not make me remove the chain, and if the slide had remained open, I would have shown them that they had no authority to order the removal of the chain."  He claimed he removed the chain because the slide was "becoming useless owing to the mild weather". The slide was left open in an unmaintained state until its natural ending later in March due to the arrival of Spring.

In the end, barely $200 was raised by Latimer and his partner Leech, which did not cover the original construction costs and maintenance.

The following fall, Latimer opted not to reopen the toboggan run, not worth the hassle, and instead announced in December he was opening a new skating rink. Far easier to maintain, and less controversial! The rink was on Alexandria Avenue, today better known as Berkley Avenue.

December 10, 1914

And so ends the story of the exciting, but short-lived Westboro Toboggan park of 1914!

December 15, 1914

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Profile of the Hinton family - Part 3 (the final part!)

This week's new issue of the Kitchissippi Times includes my last part in my profile of the Hinton family. This part of the article talks about the last years of both Joseph and Robert Hinton's lives, as well as more detail on the successes of their immediate family, and their legacy left behind.

Click here:

It has been several years that I've poked away at this article, so it feels great to finally see it in print, and to know I've published about as thorough and detailed a story as I can of this important family. I feel confident that I've exhausted every possible source of information, and included every notable tidbit of information that I can. At minimum, I feel great that I've been able to put a story to the name. Previously there was very, very little detail available on the Hintons, beyond a basic couple of lines, and no photos at all.

These articles have generated the most amount of feedback I've had on any topic. I appreciate all of it!

Here are two more bonus photos of Joseph Hinton, the first two that I found a year ago - badly mislabelled at Library and Archives Canada, but later confirmed when matched with another possible source. These are from September of 1870, when he was 72 years old:

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Hintonburg A&W Drive-In

Long-time residents of the area will likely remember with fondness the A&W Drive-In that existed on Wellington Street in Hintonburg for more than a decade. I had certainly heard of it before, but had never seen a photo until recently, when I discovered I owned a couple of photos of it in a large collection of old local photos I acquired a few months back! So a perfect excuse to make a short post to talk about the greatness of A&W. The Hintonburg location was symbolic of A&W's meteoric rise in the 1960s, to its equally as crushing fall in the late 1970s.

The A&W was located at the corner of Wellington and McCormick, now the site of the Royal Bank. It opened in 1968, was expanded in 1974, and was gone around 1979-1980. Not just A&W as the occupant, but the building itself lasted only 12 or so years. A very brief existence for sure.

This corner has a very long and important place in Hintonburg's history, which I have touched on a few times in various articles over the last few years, but it goes all the way back to the early 1890s and the opening of Alex McCormick's grain elevator and mill on this site. It was soon after taken over by one of McCormick's top employees, James Forward, who ran the operation, with a public-facing wholesale and retail flour and feed business, until 1942. Forward being one of Hintonburg's most prominent citizens in its history.

That original grain mill structure was demolished, and replaced with a new shop that lasted from 1943 until 1966. This was first known as the "West End Tire and Vulcanizing Shop", and for a while Copeland's Builders Supply (and later McLennan Plumbing and Heating) operated out of an addition at the rear. In 1957 it became an Esso Service Station, operated for nearly a decade by Robert Poaps, hence why it was better known as "Bob's Esso". 

Ad for Bob's Esso in the Journal, March 14, 1964

Bob's Esso closed in early 1966, and the empty shop appears to have sat vacant for a year or so, until A&W acquired the lot and built the new restaurant. I surprisingly had difficulty finding out exactly when it opened; they seemingly had no ads to promote a grand opening, and I couldn't locate any building permit info. The best I can put it is that it opened somewhere between the fall of 1967 and the summer of 1968.

A&W started in the States back in 1919 when Roy Allen opened a root beer stand in Lodi, California. He expanded this into a restaurant in 1923, in Sacramento, with a partner Frank Wright (the W in A&W). However the focus in the early years was on the root beer product, and less so on the burgers.

It was actually A&W in Canada that took the franchise to new levels. The first A&W in Canada opened on Portage Avenue in 1956, and it was in the Canadian market where the food-restaurant focus developed, and it was in Canada where the burger family (papa, mama, teen) originated, later copied by the US version. 

A&W Canada succeeded on two fronts: a successful family fast food restaurant during the day, and a popular "teenybopper and cruising" spot for the baby-boomer kids in the evening. A&W was at the forefront of the novelty appeal of a "drive-in" restaurant, which became a major trend of the 1960s. Cars and highways had exploded in popularity, and building off this popularity was the idea of dining in your car. Pulling up and having a server come to your car window to take your order (in some cases wearing roller skates, combining another popular 60s fad), then deliver the meal on a tray to your window was a fantastic success.

At their peak in the 70s, there were more A&Ws in North America than McDonalds. The fact that an A&W opened in Hintonburg is no surprise. It was the fifth location to open in Ottawa. The Hintonburg A&W initially featured drive-in and take-out service only; dine-in service would be added a few years later.

A&W at 1145 Wellington Street West, circa 1978.
View looking west (Holy Rosary Church in background)

Google Streetview of the same spot today!

A&W looking north and slightly east
(Now the site of the RBC bank, corner of McCormick)

This is an ad below from March of 1967, listing the 4 Ottawa A&W locations, including on Merivale Road a little south of Baseline (where the newer strip mall now exists with Tutti Frutti and Colonnade Pizza), and just west of Woodroffe at 993 Richmond Road (now where Tim Hortons stands), which was Ottawa's first location, that opened in June of 1963:

Ottawa Journal, March 10, 1967.

This appears to be the first ad listing the Hintonburg location, and it didn't run until November 1970. Interestingly, it's listed as an "A&W Coffee Shop":

Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1970.

This is an ad from 1971, advertising the 35 cent Teenburger, but also the six Ottawa locations:

Ottawa Journal, September 4, 1971

In 1974, the Hintonburg A&W was renovated, to become a new "Inside/Outside A&W". An addition was added to the east side of the building, creating a dine-in section to the restaurant. It had a grant re-opening in early January of 1975.

Ottawa Journal, January 10, 1975, promoting the
grand re-opening of the Hintonburg A&W

The two aerial photos below show the difference before and after the renovation. A&W is in the centre of the photo, with the four square dots on top of the building. The spacious parking lot is alongside McCormick, and it appears there is something in between the spaces, on the shorter lines? Perhaps some kind of menu stand or a tray holder or ?  Also I'm not sure what those two white circles are in the parking lot (they also have an oddly-shaped line running off of them). My guess is overhead lighting?

May 13, 1969 aerial photo. Wellington running top to bottom,
and McCormick running to the left off Wellington. A&W is in
the centre of the photo, and the spacious parking lot alongside
McCormick. A bit of the Grace Hospital at bottom right.

Same view but after the renovation. You can see the small dining area has been added, taking up a quarter of the parking lot:

June 24, 1978 aerial photo, post-renovation

As hugely popular as A&W had become in the 60s and early 70s, they declined fast in the mid-to-late 70s. Eating habits changed, and people's habits changed as well. A shift in the industry saw fast food businesses begin offering drive-thru windows. A&W lagged behind the other fast food giants, largely sticking to drive-ins, must to their detriment.

In 1975, A&W Canada launched what was originally to be a temporary advertising campaign, featuring a character, The Great Root Bear. The mascot became very popular, and was eventually adopted for A&W in the States as well, and remained for the long haul. One of the few positives in a decade of mis-steps for A&W.

A&W Canada's corporate approach changed in 1977-78. The chain decided to franchise all of its restaurants, rather than operate them from a HQ level. The Ottawa locations were the last holdouts nationally, largely because head office was unable to find owners to take over the franchise restaurants.

Corporate also shifted their target market at this time to adults. They began redecorating their restaurants and changing menus to "satisfy the growing sophistication of the fast food market", with "plush decor, more sophisticated hamburgers with exotic sauces as well as a range of competitively priced burgers" designed to give A&W a "greater share of the growing adult trade".

In the summer of 1978, the Merivale Road A&W drive-in location closed (A&W blamed altered traffic patterns), while the Bronson Avenue location closed later that fall (A&W blamed its 24 hour a day schedule), leaving only the Hintonburg and St. Laurent Blvd locations as the last two in Ottawa.

The Hintonburg A&W closed sometime in late 1979 or early 1980, and the restaurant was demolished soon after.

A&W resurrected operations during the 1980s, by targeting locations in shopping malls (the eat-in restaurant in Carlingwood was a favourite spot of my family's in the 1980s). Drive-in locations were almost fully phased out, the last one of its kind in Canada was closed in 2000, in Langley, B.C. In the last ten years, A&W has made many more changes to appeal to a wider audience, and have now moved into second place behind only McDonald's for locations (there are 900 in Canada now, closing in on McDonald's 1,400). For me personally, it's my fast food of choice, far and away in a different class than the McDonald's and Burger Kings.

So there you have it, the story of the relatively short-lived Hintonburg A&W Drive-In!

Bonus photo I just found, shared to the Mechanicsville Facebook group, posted by Dan Lacelle in March 2015.

Wellington A&W posted by Dan Lacelle to Facebook in 2015

Friday, March 30, 2018

Profile of the Hinton family - Part 2

In this week's new Kitchissippi Times: Part 2 of my three-parter on the story of the Hinton family. Digging deep in the archives to piece together their story, including rare photos that finally put a face to the name "Hintonburg". This part focuses on the years when the Hintons came to Richmond Road, built the amazing house you see in the photo below, and took the original steps to create the community.

Please view the article at:

Hinton family homestead, on Richmond Road, just east
of Holland Avenue, circa 1875.
(Source: Silver gelatin courtesy of the Bytown Museum, P181)

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Hintonburg's Fairmont Avenue Arena...almost! (and thus how Hintonburg Park, Hintonburg Community Centre and Tom Brown Arena all came to be)

This is a story from nearly 50 years ago that only older long-time Hintonburg residents might remember. But it is such an important story in how the neighbourhood would develop, and specifically how many of Hintonburg's most important locations came to be. It's actually a pretty crazy story, and I am happy to share it now, here in the Kitchissppi Museum. Enjoy!


In the late 1960s, recreation for both youths and adults was an issue in Hintonburg. Residents complained about the lack of options in the neighbourhood to keep kids busy, and to keep active. The area lagged behind most other communities in services, and was largely ignored in 1967, the year of Centennial capital building projects. Hintonburg, and even the surrounding neighbourhoods had very little recreation space at the time. The St. Francis Hall/Rec Centre (where Hintonburg CC now stands) was located in the chapel of the original St. Francois D'Assise Church and featured most notably a bowling alley, but the building was small and outdated (the City leased the hall several nights a week for recreation programs). There were outdoor rinks in the winter, and a few pool halls, bowling alleys and movie theaters in the area, but it was thin beyond that. Residents began to push the city for more facilities, and Hintonburg was promised they would get their due attention soon, and that opportunity came in 1971.

In that February's budget, the Recreation and Parks department received a significant allocation, a total of over $1.5M in funding (well up from the $300k received the year previous). The biggest commitment made at the time was $300,000 marked for the purchase of land in Hintonburg, for the erection of an indoor pool complex as soon as 1972. The top site being considered for this purchase was the former CPR roundhouse site on the east side of Bayview (which of course is now the site of Tom Brown Arena).

However, at Council meeting on Monday October 18th, 1971, approval was given to spend $400,000 to acquire two acres of land from the Capuchin Fathers (St. Francois D'Assise Church) plus three private properties along Duhamel Street, to construct "an indoor arena, playground, community centre and parking lot". The five-year proposed budget did not earmark funds for the construction of the arena itself, but it was felt that funding for that project could be re-prioritized and budgeted for in a future year. Alderman Rolly Wall estimated the full project would cost $1M including the land acquisition.

In order to acquire this land, the City expropriated 1.3 acres from St. Francois Church, and were in the midst of negotiating the purchase of three privately-owned properties (which later turned into a as many as 25 housing units that the City was attempting to acquire, comprising most of Duhamel and the north end of St. Francis Street). These additional properties were to be razed in order to make room for the arena's parking lot. The plan also called for Duhamel and St. Francis Streets to become dead ends.

One potential flaw in the arena plan was that the design called for the construction of 1,500 seats in the rink but only included parking for 90 cars on site.

A few weeks later, some residents in the area opened their mailboxes one morning to find letters from the City of Ottawa indicating that property was to be acquired by the City. "This is to advise you that city council at its meeting of Oct. 18, 1971 approved the acquisition of your property known as 13 St. Francis St. in connection with the recreation and parks sports complex.", stated one letter. Residents were fearful of losing their property which, in some cases had been in their family for multiple generations. Whatever little support the City may have had with the proposed project was quickly slipping with the way they were managing it with the local residents most affected.

Ottawa Journal headline - August 18, 1972


1972 began with Ottawa Mayor Fogarty announcing that the city's top priorities for the year were to begin building a "major sports complex" at St. Luke's Park off Elgin Street, lease land from the NCC for a golf course, establish more day camp programs for the summer, construct at least 10 centrally located tennis courts, and to acquire the land for Hintonburg's Fairmont Avenue Arena.

News on the arena development was slow in 1972. In May, the Ottawa separate school board came out in opposition to the arena, citing that there was not enough space in the area, which was directly behind what was then Sacred Heart School. In fact, the earliest land acquisition talks the City had were with the Separate board in acquiring the Church land for a joint school-city playground area.

By August it was reported that the City had purchased three of the six properties they required specifically for the arena's parking lot. The Journal reported that the other three homeowners did not want to sell. A fourth was acquired by October. Homeowners were told they would have to vacate their properties by January 1973. The remaining were expected to be expropriated (their homes sold to the city without their approval required) soon after, if negotiations were unsuccessful.

But as the proposal began to become more real, local residents started to fight it. A petition was circulated in the neighbourhood that summer citing the problems the arena would cause, chiefly that the quiet neighbourhood would be significantly changed, that many more cars would be parking throughout the neighbourhood, fire protection and snow removal would be compromised, and much needed housing units lost. Residents pushed for the arena to be built in an area where expropriation wouldn't be required, such as Laroche Park or the former roundhouse site at Bayview. Officials countered back that they did not want to build on Laroche Park, and that the Bayview site was not even owned by the City.

Morris Nolan of 26 St. Francis Street pointed out that generally an arena does not serve the area in which it is constructed, or at least in significant part; that teams from all over the city and suburbs would use it from early morning until late at night, and that if the City was focused on providing recreation for the majority of the people in the area, that a park would make the most sense for the space.

Mrs. Battool Escander, a 26-year resident of St. Francis Street was upset. "This is my home. I like it. Now they want to tear it down and move me somewhere else" she told the newspaper. Mrs. Margaret Hart, a resident of the area for 25 years, felt she would have trouble buying another home with the money the city offered her.

The battle became not just a fight against an arena, which almost all local residents were opposed to, but also a stand on the principle that residents should be involved in planning projects, which they felt they had not been. "They'll call us in after the plans are drawn up and ask us what color scheme we want and where we want the doorknobs" said one resident, "And they call that participation in planning."

That summer, a youth group called 'Catalyst' conducted a survey in the area, sponsored by a grant from Opportunities for Youth, to measure attitudes on a variety of topics. One of the questions found that 68 per cent of the 180 families surveyed wanted to see the vacant church land used as a "passive park" (a park with only minor features, such as benches and picnic tables) or a children's playground, while 20% favoured a community centre ,and just 7% wanted the arena.

Certainly the consensus was that residents felt that the park should remain a park for children, and that money should be put into adding a playground to the space. The large apartment building across the street on Wellington was also in the midst of construction, and it was felt that the seniors in that building would benefit from the parkland. The Journal further noted that Statistics Canada figures showed that the ratio of persons over 65 in the area was about 50 per cent higher than the average for the city.

However the local Alderman Walter Ryan argued that the $400,000 price tag paid for the Hintonburg Park property was too expensive to use for just a park, and it was also noted that there was little flexibility in the city budget, and that $1M allocated for a rink could not be simply transferred to a park.


Hintonburg Park had a long history as the gardens for the Capuchin Fathers, and by 1972 still had a large number of trees on it (certainly many more than it does today), including significant numbers of plum and apple trees, and "about 30 other large, mature trees". It was still a popular spot for children to play, and for many years was home to outdoor ice rinks in the winter for local kids to play on.

Hintonburg Park, circa 1972, looking northeast

Hintonburg Park, circa 1972, looking
northwest long fence on Fairmont. An
old storage shed can be seen at left.


The Journal editorial in August 1972 agreed with local residents, and argued that city official reconsider the plan, and that "a new effort should be made to find out what the residents of the area really want today, not what they might have thought they wanted five or more years ago." A month later they were steadfast in their opposition, editorializing "Who wants this rink?"

200 residents came out to a meeting in mid-September to confirm their opposition to the arena plan. Alderman Water Ryan admitted he had changed his mind on the arena as well "I was party to recreation and parks' decision over a year ago to build the arena. But in the past six months, I've realized it was the wrong decision. It would mean tearing down perfectly good houses. The arena would also be a city facility rather than a community one". He said he favoured construction of a community centre similar to the planned St. Luke's centre off Elgin, which would cost considerably less than an arena.

Yet, west-enders did still want an arena, and wondered why Laroche Park could not be used. Walter Ryan noted that "we looked at four other sites and this was the largest lot of open space requiring the least amount of demolition", though he would not name the other sites considered. Alderman Wall stuck to the Fairmont Avenue location, stating "if you want an arena, it has to be there."

The political wheels began to be set in motion that fall, while many passionate residents began to rise up against the proposed arena.

A demonstration was held in mid-September in the Park, which brought out some community members with signs, to help promote the issue within the media. The Journal did take some photos, but there was seemingly no coverage in the papers about it, and the turnout appears to be kind of small. But I like the extra photos of the old park, so I ordered a couple photos at the archives from it:

September 9, 1972 demonstration at Hintonburg Park
(Source: Ottawa Archives, CA-25847)

September 9, 1972 demonstration at
Hintonburg Park
(Source: Ottawa Archives CA-25848)

Based on overwhelming public pressure, Alderman Ryan went to Council and advised them to halt the land acquisition for the arena, and to sell any land already acquired on Duhamel and St. Francis, of course first offering them back to their former owners at the same price, less any additional costs the former owners had incurred. The Parks department was also asked to look at alternative uses for the church property acquired from the Church. Ryan felt a community centre and small pool could be built instead. Meanwhile the Laroche Park Community Association circulated a petition demanding the arena be built instead in Laroche Park.

Concurrently, with no official decision yet made by City Council, on October 13th, a group of 22 Hintonburg homeowners applied for a Supreme Court injunction to stop construction of an arena. Their application was based on the case that the proposed 90 parking spaces was far below the minimum requirements set out in the city's zoning bylaw. They stated that the bylaw stipulated one parking space for every 100-square feet of enclosed area, or one for every four permanent seats, whichever requires most, thus a need for as many as 375 parking spaces.

On October 17th, it was announced that the Board of Control would continue to proceed with their expropriation of the land behind the Church, though they cautioned "no definite decision has been reached on building an arena on the site". The Ottawa Journal reported that an "incensed" Controller Garry Guzzo stated "Let's get on with the project. Let's give the arena to somebody that wants it.", while Controller Tom McDougall added "I'm sure the Canterbury district would be pleased to have it."

The Board put the decision in the hands of the recreation committee for a final decision. John Tucker, acting commissioner of the committee, had already looked at Laroche Park and stated it was too small and should not be considered. The Board however was looking at other land on Bayview adjoining Laroche Park on the north side of Scott.


On Halloween 1972, a heated two hour debate resulted in the the Recreation and Parks Committee officially cancelling the Hintonburg arena plan, and instead approving an arena for Canterbury. As an alternative, Hintonburg was approved for capital funding for construction of a community centre in 1974, in the park space behind the Church. The plan would indeed be modelled after St. Luke's in Centretown. It was also noted though, that the old recreation hall (next to the Church on Wellington, to the west) was to be sold within the next year, and that this could be another possible location for the new community centre. Ryan stated a community centre in Hintonburg "is now guaranteed for 1974".

Ottawa Journal, November 1, 1972

Oddly a week later city council left the recreation committee's recommendation off their council agenda, spurring the Hintonburg residents to restart their legal action against the City. But at their next meeting on November 20th, council accepted the unanimous recommendation of the Board of Control to have the Hintonburg arena plan officially cancelled.

The Fairmont Avenue Arena plan was officially dead.


In early 1973, the former St. Francis Parish Hall/recreation centre/bowling alley was indeed put up for sale by the Capuchin Fathers, due to high overhead. An agreement for sale was made with a developer (Marvo Construction Co. Ltd.) who wanted to build a high-rise apartment building for seniors. However, Planning Board rejected the application.

In March of 1973, Planning Board instead passed a motion "strongly" recommending the City to acquire the St. Francis Hall, renovate it, and use it a community centre. This would thus allow the park behind the Church to be left intact in its natural state. Planner Arnold Faintuck and his staff found it was possible to renovate the old centre (at a cost of $100,000), rather than demolish it, which was planned.

The city agreed and entered negotiations, which was rumoured to run as high as $250k (the final price was $235k). The sale was official in September of 1973, and immediately, residents of Mechanicsville and Hintonburg met with Community development commissioner Douglas Wurtele. They proposed pooling the talents of the local residents to do the renovations to the centre, reducing the $100k renovation price tag, and "bring residents closer together in a common project". The commissioner endorsed the "novel approach", and added that any money saved through volunteer labour should be spent on other projects in the community, though noted that ultimately city council would make that final decision.

The new "West Ottawa Community Centre" opened in November of 1974 in the renovated old Parish Hall, and operated until it was demolished in the spring of 1988. The new Hintonburg Community Centre was built in its place, and opened on May 1st, 1989 at a cost of $3.8M.

Meanwhile, going back to 1975, the original city budgets for that year once again included $1M for an arena in Hintonburg. However over the following week, it was discovered that the city's community development committee had mistakenly projected expenditures 30% above 1974, yet were capped at the previous years level. Therefore the Hintonburg arena was the first to go. However, it was placed in a long-range budget for 1979, for an "unspecified location". It was in January of 1979 that the Tom Brown Arena would open, giving Hintonburg it's long-awaited arena, on the site of the former CPR roundhouse.

While each of these important public facilities in Kitchissippi - the Hintonburg Community Centre and Tom Brown Arena - deserve (and will someday get) their own detailed "history of" article here in the Museum, their existence, or at least the fact that they exist where they do today is so significantly tied to the almost-Fairmont Avenue Arena in 1972! So too is the reality that we still can enjoy Hintonburg Park in basically its original natural and undisturbed state today.

Most importantly, all of this is really thanks to the impressive efforts of some passionate, caring Hintonburg residents back in 1972 who gradually won over their councillor, the parks committee, Board of Control and eventually City Council, to fight what would have been a big change in Hintonburg's development going forward, and certainly would have changed the character of the neighbourhood around Fairmont-Duhamel and the St. Francis D'Assise Church... arguably the heart of Hintonburg.

I'd venture to say that we are a lot better of with how things turned out!