Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Cave Creek live presentation at Historical Society of Ottawa January 26th!

I am excited to announce that an event I have been looking forward to for a long time is finally here! Last summer, I was invited to be a part of the Historical Society of Ottawa's 2017-18 season as a guest speaker at their January 26th meeting. I will be making a presentation (with slide show/photos) on Cave Creek and the deplorable sewer and water situation in the Hintonburg-Wellington Village area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The presentation is called "Death, Illness & Squalor: Cave Creek & Primitive West Ottawa."

The meeting is Friday January 26th, at 1:00 p.m. in the lounge of the Routhier Community Centre (172 Guigues Street at Cumberland), and from the HSO's website, appears to be free for anyone interested in attending!

For more information about HSO and my presentation, please see this link:

And to read more on Cave Creek (arguably the topic I receive the most questions and interest on), please see my article in the Times from nearly two years ago now (time flies!):


Tuesday, January 9, 2018

1940s Mechanicsville Bootlegging Gone Awry

At a little past one o'clock in the morning of Friday December 17th, 1943, boarding house and shop-keeper Nelson Gibeault was walking in the upstairs hallway of his house at the corner of Forward and Burnside Avenue when he heard pained groaning coming from the bedroom of his 26-year old daughter Louisa Jones. He opened the door to find her barely conscious. He called the police, and Constable Oscar Charbonneau was the first to arrive. He placed her in his car and rushed her to the hospital. Three hours later, Jones was pronounced dead at the Civic.

124 Forward Avenue present-day

Louisa Jones was the young wife of Lornie Jones, a soldier overseas at the time with the Princess Louise Dragoon Guards. They had married in 1940, just prior to his enlistment with the armed forces. While he was away, she continued to reside with her parents in the spacious brick home on Forward Avenue, which until the year prior her father had operated as the "River View Hotel".

Of course, times were tough, and in a particularly working-class neighbourhood like Mechanicsville, financial and social challenges were felt all the more. Canada's focus was on the war effort, meaning food, gas, building materials, alcohol, and metal to name a few were in short supply. Canada had just suffered through an economic depression in the 1930s, and World War II made life even harder for average citizens. Housing was in demand, yet few could afford to rent, let alone build. Welfare and social assistance programs were bare bones. The Gibeault family stretched their family budget as best they could, renting rooms, operating a corner grocery store, a tavern, etc.

On Thursday evening, the night before she died, Louisa Brown had what could barely be considered a 'dinner' (reported in the media being a simple supper of canned peas), before attending a small party with neighbours and friends. At this party, she ate some "sweatmeats" (which I had to look up, actually refers to a type of sugary candy or pastry, not meat), and had a few drinks.

Brown's death was initially believed to be food poisoning, though the police were baffled by the minimal amount of food she had consumed. The story of her death was headline news first thing Friday morning, and for good reason. Brown's death was the 17th case of food or gas poisoning in Ottawa over the past two weeks, and the third death (Celina Bergeron and Yew Seto had died the previous week in separate incidents). Fearing a potential epidemic, or a concerning trend at minimum, Mayor Stanley Lewis asked Medical Officer of Health Dr. T. A. Lomer and Works Commissioner Askwith to investigate the cases and report on the "disturbing situation."

Lomer was skeptical of there being a wide-spread problem. He cited that death from food poisoning was rare (one death had occurred in Ottawa in 1942, the only one of its kind in Canada), and from his evidence, felt that the food being sold was good at the time of purchase, but was either not being covered or stored at the proper temperature by the purchasers. One particular case at the Argyle Barracks of the Canadian Women's Army Corps saw seven members come down with food poisoning, but it was linked back to a cook with influenza preparing egg sandwiches.

* * *

Food Inspector Dr. H. D. Sparks was investigating Louisa Jones' death under Lomer's orders around noon on Friday. He was checking with friends and neighbours who had attended the same party, or had contact with Louisa over the previous few days. He was next door at 128 Forward Avenue when he discovered 46-year old Alexandre Latreille in a semi-conscious state. He called Dr. S. M. Pennock of 7 Clarendon Avenue over to assess Latreille. Just while Pennock was on site, Latreille's condition worsened and he too was rushed to hospital.

When police showed up to interview Latreille at hospital later that afternoon, they were too late. He was in a coma from which he never recovered, and died at 8:15 that evening.

Latreille and his wife resided in the small two-storey wood-frame house next door to the Gibeaults, a house which was quite rustic and basic, which would be demolished in the 1950s, and left as a parking lot as it still is today. They had one child, a 12-year old son Joseph. The Latreille family had a long history in Mechanicsville, a large and prominent family involved in business in the neighbourhood well back into the 19th century; Hyacinthe Latreille opened Mechanicsville's first tavern in 1889.

A crucial link was now made; Latreille and Jones had attended the same party the evening before, and were in touch regularly. Police investigators also made a startling connection - both had been drinking "wood alcohol", evidence of this had been found in both their possessions.

Wood alcohol was the common nickname for methanol (or methyl alcohol), given its name because it was once produced chiefly as a byproduct of the destructive distillation of wood (thanks Wikipedia!). It is "the simplest alcohol, being only a methyl group linked to a hydroxyl group. It is a light, volatile, colorless, flammable liquid with a distinctive odor very similar to that of ethanol (drinking alcohol). However, unlike ethanol, methanol is highly toxic and unfit for consumption. At room temperature, it is a polar liquid. It is used as an antifreeze, solvent, fuel, and as a denaturant for ethanol. It is also used for producing biodiesel by transesterification reaction." In short, it was industrial alcohol used in factories for commercial purposes, and was considered pure poison for consumption. All wood alcohol being kept for sale or use by a company or individual were required to have it clearly marked as poison. By law in Ontario, it had to be sold in bottles with a specific red poison label.

An example of a wood alcohol label from that era.

* * *

After Latreille was found, three other policemen went to check on another man on Hinchey who they were told by Latreille's wife had attended the party and was seriously ill. Cesaire Blais of 130 Hinchey Avenue, was taken to the Civic Hospital Friday afternoon in serious condition in virtually the same condition as Latreille. Later Friday night, three siblings Leo, Beatrice and Gilbert Meilleur all of whom also lived at 128 Forward, who were brought to the Civic at 12:45 a.m. showing some signs as well, though less serious. (It was later shown that the Meilleurs had actually consumed the alcohol Friday, not at the party on Thursday). Doctors at the Civic kept Blais for observation, and wanted Leo Meilleur to stay as well, but he refused, and the Meilleurs left the hospital. All would end up surviving.

By Friday evening it was clear the police needed to track down the source of the wood alcohol; there were concerns that distribution may have been more widespread. Though prohibition had ended in 1927, the purchase of alcohol was still strictly limited and controlled in Ontario. Permits were required in order to acquire liquor, and buyers had to show a small passbook they were issued when purchasing liquor at the LCBO. Thus there was a sizable underground market for alcohol and homemade stuff, because not only could liquor be difficult to obtain, it was also expensive due to the economic constraints of WWII. Add in the personal financial hardships many were suffering through at the time, and thus for many individuals, there was a lot of interest in alcohol however and wherever they could procure it.

Acting on some information received on Forward Avenue, on Friday evening three police detectives went to the Ontario Hughes-Owens Company plant at the corner of Hamilton Avenue and Spencer Street to examine employee files, and question certain employees. Three nightwatchmen were brought to the office and questioned, and as a result, 64-year-old Donald A. Clark of 335 Flora Street was taken downtown to the police headquarters for further questioning, and held as a "material witness".

The wheels of justice moved quickly, and at city police court Saturday morning, two charges of manslaughter were laid against Clark, for the deaths of Jones and Latreille. The police charged that Clark had been stealing the alcohol from the Hughes-Owens plant, and selling it to unsuspecting victims as legitimate alcohol.

The Hughes-Owens plant still exists today, at the north-east corner of Hamilton and Spencer, though it is now forms part of the "Parkdale Market Lofts" condo building. It was built in 1942, and Hughes-Owens produced equipment and tools specific for the war effort. One ad from the era noted the produced “Gun Aligning and Deflection instruments, Electric Speed and Distance Indicators, Periscopic-Type Tank Compasses which were used in the African campaign, and many specialized instruments of a highly secret nature”. Alcohol at the plant was specifically used in the manufacture of marine compasses.

Photo from 1965 of the general area around the Hughes-Owens
plant. That's Parkdale park at top right, Parkdale along the top,
and Hamilton from left-to-right near the bottom. The Hughes-
Owens plant is in the centre, facing the old Beach Foundry.

Detectives Albert Leblanc and James Kettles stated that it would be easy for an employee to steal alcohol at the plant because it could not be locked up; this was due to the requirement that in case of fire at the plant, it had to be removed quickly, and thus had to be easily accessible. Also it was difficult for a company to track the quantity of their holdings; the alcohol was held in large drums, and even still, it was known to evaporate fairly quickly, as much as four gallons every 100 gallons.

Hughes-Owens used two types of industrial alcohol in manufacturing. Clark did not have permissible access to the alcohol, but as watchman could enter the compass filling room where the alcohol was located.

* * *

Autopsies were conducted Saturday afternoon by Dr. M. O. Klotz, and confirmed both deaths were due to alcohol poisoning. Meanwhile, James Hossack, a chemist at the Customs and Excise laboratory, tested the alcohol consumed by the pair and confirmed it was highly poisonous.

Funerals were held for Jones and Latreille back-to-back on Monday morning, both at the same funeral home (Landreville's at 578 Somerset Street West), and both then taken to Notre Dame Cemetery for burial.

Clark was released kept in jail over Christmas before released on $5,000 bail on the 31st.

Donald A. Clark was a retired farmer. Born and raised in Plantagenet, he moved to Saskatchewan after the turn of the century, and farmed there for 30 years, retiring in 1938, when he moved to Ottawa. He served two years with the Dragoon Guards during WWI, and had a son who died in battle in Italy in WWII. He had 3 sons and 4 daughters, and had likely taken the nightwatchman job at the Hughes-Owens plant as a means of providing a little extra money to his large family.

* * *

In January of 1944, World War II was beginning to see the turn in the tide. The Allies were making gains in Europe, and the Germans were starting to lose power. Berlin and Frankfurt were bombed significantly that month. A large portion of Ottawa's young men were still overseas fighting in the war, and surely the end of the war was on the minds of everyone. However, for two weeks, the bootlegging manslaughter trial of  Donald A. Clark captured the interest of Ottawa's citizens, it being the lead story for much of the month.

The two manslaughter charges were dealt with separately. The first preliminary hearing for trial was that for the death of Alexandre Latreille, held on Tuesday January 11th. The key witness for the day was Alexandre's widow Ernestine.

Ernestine did recount two visits to her home by Clark in the weeks prior to her husband's death. In the first visit, Ernestine had met Clark at the door. "I told Clark my husband was in bed so I gave him $15 which my husband gave me and I received the parcel. It was a gallon container." Clark then returned a second time days later and met Alexandre to deliver a second gallon jug. However, it was under cross-examination where the most shocking piece of information appeared to be revealed. Ernestine admitted that her husband himself brought home alcohol from work (he also worked at the Hughes-Owens plant) just a few days prior to his death, and further admitted that it was the alcohol her husband brought home which caused his sickness and from which he died.

Ernestine said that her husband and some friends had drank from the first Clark jug, but never touched the second one, its contents dumped into the backyard of her home after her husband died.

A port wine bottle containing a small amount of liquid was submitted as an exhibit. Ernestine claimed her husband Alexandre had put some of the alcohol in the bottle, and he filled the rest with water. He then drank two glasses of the mixture, and that Cesaire Blais also had some of the same mixture.

James Hossack, the chemist who tested the samples of the alcohol, noted that the sample taken from Latreille was more potent than other samples he had. But it was also noted that there were two type of alcohol kept at the plant, one very dangerous for human consumption, and the other not quite so potent, with methyl percentages of 39% and 10% respectively.

Clark's defense team argued that no unlawful act had been committed by Clark, that there was no definite proof that Clark sold the alcohol to Latreille which resulted in his death, and that wood alcohol can be purchased by anyone at any time. They argued that a druggist could not be held responsible for the death of a person who purchased wood alcohol from him. They further made the point that the alcohol consumed by Latreille was more potent than the other samples allegedly supplied by Clark, meaning Latreille had dank the 39% stuff, not the 10% that Clark had provided. And finally they pointed out that the testimony of the widow clearly showed Alexandre died from the alcohol he procured himself.

Despite the revelation that the alcohol which killed Latreille was actually acquired by he himself, Judge Glenn Strike ruled there was sufficient evidence against Clark to warrant a committal for trial, on one of the two manslaughter charges.

The second preliminary hearing was held two days later (on Thursday January 13), for the death of Louisa Jones. At this hearing, Mrs. Latreille admitted giving Louisa Jones a quart wine bottle containing the liquid which had been mixed by her husband on the Wednesday. On Thursday she saw Jones at noon, but she was very ill, in a semi-conscious condition, unable to talk. Detectives told court they found a quart wine bottle in Jones' cupboard, containing the methylated alcohol.

Another key witness was Thomas Brown, Chief Inspector at the Hughes-Owens plant, who stated that 18 months ago he'd had a conversation with Clark, where Clark had asked him if the alcohol used at the plant was dangerous, to which Brown replied that it was "rank poison".

Clark's defense argued "in this case Latreille becomes a sort of bootlegger who told his wife to take a bottle to Mrs. Jones. To be able to connect Clark's action with the death of Mrs. Jones would be too remote. There is no evidence he (Clark) directly supplied Mrs. Jones with the alcohol." Crown Attorney Mercier countered that the evidence at the two hearings formed a "perfect train" of facts to point towards Clark being held responsible for the deaths, though indirectly. Again, Judge Strike agreed, and found that Clark would also stand trial for the second manslaughter charge.

* * *

Ontario Supreme Court was the scene of the jury trial which began on Monday January 24th, 1944, under the direction of Judge Justice Chevrier. Again, the charges were to be tried separately, thus the trial was strictly in regards to the death of Alexandre Latreille.

The first witness called was again Ernestine Latreille, whose testimony conflicted somewhat with the evidence given at the preliminary hearing. She said she first met Clark at her home around November 27th, around three o'clock in the morning. "I heard a rattle at the door. Mr. Clark was at the door. When he saw me, he was just about to turn around. I said 'It's all right'. I handed him $15 and he gave me the parcel wrapped in brown paper." She later added "I lifted the top and smelled alcohol." She put the jar down in the kitchen and went to bed. After her husband died, she told her nephew Gilbert Meilleur, to take the jar and "throw it out in the yard."

On December 4th, at 10:30 pm., Clark brought another gallon jar to the door "He left the jar at home and went away. My husband came home and looked at it and he said 'That's a funny color'. He kept it for a couple of days, then threw it out".

On cross-examination, she admitted her husband had drank some of this alcohol and had not been sick. She then told the court her husband himself had brought home a half-gallon of alcohol on the 13th, and a gallon on the 15th.

With Latreille beginning to look potentially responsible for his own death, the questioning began to take a different turn, with the Crown calling a line of witnesses attesting to Clark's history of selling alcohol to others, right within the plant.

One key witness was Pierre Menard, an ex-employee of Hughes-Owens, who testified that in November he had paid Clark $20 for a gallon of alcohol in the boiler room of the plant. Menard stated that "he told me he had phoned for it and it came from the Province of Quebec in a car to the plant". Menard claimed he had first taken a drink in the plant at night as early as mid-October, and that over a period of two weeks, he had six or seven drinks in the boiler room, courtesy of Clark, before finally purchasing a full gallon. Under questioning he felt the alcohol was "pretty weak" and that "when I want a good shot I want a good one." He testified that he had consumed about 80 ounces from the gallon jug he had bought and it did not make him ill.

Another witness Blanche Weise, from 22 Bayview Road, told the court that Clark had given her and her girlfriend a drink out of a soft drink bottle in a little store around the corner from the plant. "He put it in a little glass and I filled it up with ginger ale. I finished drinking a bottle of ginger ale and went back to work." Later that nigh she felt ill, but claimed she didn't know at the time that the drink given to her by Clark was alcohol.

On the third day of the trial, a statement Clark had made to police on December 21st was read into the record of Court. In the statement, Clark admitted to various transactions made on site of the plant, typically in the boiler room. He would make drinks and share them with employees of the plant in the boiler room. When he sold the liquor, he would use gallon jugs. When asked how he got it out of the building, Clark said "I took the alcohol downstairs to the boiler room and the parties I sold it to left the plant by the employee's exit and came to the boiler room at the side of the building on going off shift. I opened the door and gave them the alcohol."

When asked if he knew it was commercial alcohol and classed as poison he stated "No, I drank some myself." When asked if he saw that the barrels had the word 'poison' marked on them, Clark replied "No, I cannot read".

Witness Miss Louise McEnroe told an interesting story from late November. She was in charge of 12 girls in the filling room where six one-gallon jars were kept for filling bomb sights. "I took two jars into the room right next an tried to siphon alcohol and couldn't get it to work. I went downstairs to get a watchman. I met Mr. Clark. I asked Mr. Clark to come up and help me siphon the alcohol. I tried it myself first and got a mouthful. I spit it out and made a face. 'What are you making a face for?' Mr. Clark asked. I said 'I don't feel like dying'". She testified that Clark then replied "That stuff won't hurt you." "Yes it will" she said "it's deadly poison; its marked on the barrel." She said Clark just laughed.

* * *

On Day 4, the focus was then put on Clark's relationship with Latreille.

Clark took the stand and claimed he and Latreille had an unwritten pact to sell alcohol from the plant for $14 a gallon and split the proceeds. He claimed that Latreille had drank alcohol six or seven times previously and that "these parties took place in the boiler room of the plant". "I was in the boiler room one night and I was taking a drink myself (from a drum on the third floor) and offered it to him". When asked if Latreille had occasion to drink with him again, Latreille said "Oh yes, he'd come into the boiler room. I'd be passing him and he'd say 'are you going to get us a drink tonight?'"

Clark claimed the first time he tasted alcohol in the plant was in August 1943. Nearly every night for a period of four or five weeks he had a drink. But claimed he never felt sick or any different from drinking any other kind of liquor. He claimed all the liquor he sold came from one barrel on the third floor. When asked about the "dirty alcohol" he brought to the house he said "They tasted it and it was no good. It tasted of oil. They put some in a spoon and burned it and there was grease at the bottom." He added that Latreille joked he might give the alcohol to a friend to put in the radiator of his car. "I was never paid for this gallon as it was dirty alcohol and Latreille said he couldn't drink it", Clark added.

Clark stated he had sold alcohol to Latreille three times. "On the first occasion (December 4), I traded three quarts of alcohol for a canary", Clark said.

He was questioned whether he had ever tasted alcohol from the first floor and Clark said "Yes, it was very strong and very clear. It had a zinc taste."

Clark testified that when he met Latreille at the plant on the Monday night before Latreille died, Clark told him "you know that barrel is pretty empty and its hard to siphon it out". He claimed he still was able to get half a gallon from that barrel and took it to the boiler room to give to Latreille, who then concealed it to take home. He claimed he sold it to Latreille for $7.

This was the key piece of evidence that turned the tide; it showed that Clark not only brought alcohol to Latreille's house to sell to him, but also sold it to him at their workplace as well. The alcohol which Ernestine Latreille thought her husband had brought home from work himself, and which ultimately killed him, was supplied to him by Clark, just as the other deliveries.

The evidence shows that the tragic turn occurred when Clark's supply on the third floor had run out, and he decided to take alcohol from the first floor. This was a deadly decision, as the first floor alcohol was dangerously potent (39%).

A total of 24 witnesses spoke at the trial. Dr. Klotz, who performed the autopsy, stated that Latreille had between six and eight ounces of the deadly alcohol in his stomach at the time of death. Meanwhile Gilbert Meilleur told the court he'd had two wine glasses of the concoction with his uncle (Latreille) and that "it affected his eyesight for about a week", though he added it didn't taste strong, didn't smell like wood alcohol, nor did it make him feel intoxicated.

* * *

On the Thursday afternoon the defence and crown completed their final statements addressed to the jury. The Defense argued "Did Latreille's negligence cause his own death? No one in this courtroom can say positively the alcohol which caused Alexandre Latreille's death was sold to him by Clark." They charged that Latreille knew where the alcohol came from and was no doubt he himself selling it. "His own mixture taken in large quantities killed him", they added: "Clark had every reason to believe the alcohol was harmless. He had been drinking it for months; so had many people." He also referred to Clark's character asserting that he "does not appear to be of the criminal type". And that though there may have been some negligence on Clark's part, there was no criminal negligence

The Crown meanwhile insisted Clark had committed the unlawful act of selling the alcohol, and simply that "there is no evidence that alcohol was sold to Latreille by anyone else than Clark". They also argued the alcohol was in the plant for important purposes and Clark was the watchman "entrusted to watch it", and not only was he taking it and distributing it, but also selling it for profit.

On Friday afternoon, Clark was found guilty of manslaughter in the death of Alexandre Latreille. The jury was out for three hours and 15 minutes before reaching a verdict.

Clark was sentenced the following Monday by the Judge, to two years less a day at Burwash jail. Justice Chevrier in his statement said "Clark, as the result of your action a life has been snuffed out. And that is a serious thing. One would think that a man of your age would have shown a little more judgment." Chevrier felt Clark's actions should be considered a little more serious at present "because there are a large number of unfortunates who, in order to satisfy their craving for liquor, look and find people like yourself who will supply them with the deadly stuff. I do not know if the persons who make and pass these laws are aware of the conditions that prevail, but it may be that by pointing out out these pathological sides of this case... some means might be taken of curing these persons if at all possible."

He chose to send Clark to Burwash jail (considered a "reformatory" not a prison) due to his age and the circumstances around the case. In late April of 1944, the second indictment was dropped (for the death of Louisa Brown) as the Attorney General felt that justice had be served by the first sentence.

Clark would survive his sentence, and passed away in Ottawa in 1956 at the age of 76.

Perhaps most surprisingly, Justice Chevrier also noted in his closing remarks that "at no stage was there shown to be negligence on the part of the company in storing or handling alcohol."

Ottawa Citizen front page December 18, 1943. WWII takes
prominence but the sub-headlines, as it would be for the next
5 weeks, was all about the Mechanicsville bootlegging
manslaughter case!

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The #OC150 Awards

December 2017 was also a memorable month for me, as I was very proudly selected as one of the award recipients for the #OC150 Awards "recognizing community members who have contributed Ottawa Centre in one of the following ways: Celebrating diversity/inclusion; Building community/capacity; Protecting the heritage of Ottawa Centre; Protecting the environment; and Promoting a healthy community." This was a special ceremony done as part of the Canada 150 celebrations.

My sincere thanks to MPP Yasir Naqvi for first of all hosting these awards, and for the exhaustive work I am sure he and his office staff put into making it happen. I am beyond honoured to have been chosen for this award, and after the ceremony in December where I had a chance to meet and learn about many of the 150 winners, I appreciate it even more. I thank Minister Naqvi for including heritage protection in his award criteria, and the acknowledgement to me and the Kitchissippi Museum is sincerely appreciated.

I've been at this blog for over three years now, and enjoy it as much as ever. It is the feedback and the support I receive that really drives me to keep going. There is of course no money in this for me, it is strictly a love of the community and its history that keeps me digging, writing and sharing. I meet a lot of people (through email or in person) who have sincerely appreciated a particular topic or article I've written; that I've helped bring back happy memories of the past for them, or revealed a family story they never knew about. It's these kinds of things that make it all worthwhile, and so for that I am grateful. An award like this is significant to me, and reminds me that my little niche hobby is seemingly contributing to the neighbourhood in a meaningful way. 

Ottawa Magazine and new Hintonburg hot spot 'The Third'

I was pleased to have received a mention in Ottawa Magazine in December, in an article on new Hintonburg restaurant-bar-social spot 'The Third' at 1017 Wellington Street West. If you haven't visited the Third yet (in the location that was recently the Blackpepper Pub) I highly recommend checking it out, as does Ottawa Magazine.

You can read the article here:

The building has a long history, which I wrote about in great detail two years ago in one of my favourite articles I've written, on the topic of Chinese Laundries. You can view that article here:

This fall when The Third was renovating towards their grand opening, owners Ashley and John were keen to try to bring a substantial local history flavour into the restaurant, and to really highlight the building's long history as a Chinese hand laundry. In fact at one point they were debating using part of the original "Hintonburgh Hand Laundry" name as part of their new name. They reached out to me about securing some old photographs, advertisements, artifacts, etc., and of course I was more than happy to assist any way I could. So the end result is impressive, and already I have someone every day or two either recommending I go see it, or asking if I had a hand in it :)

The Third at 1017 Wellington Street West
in 1955, as the Hintonburgh Hand Laundry
(City of Ottawa Archives, CA-36115)

Kitchissippi Museum and Gallery 150

I'm a little behind in sharing some of the exciting things I participated in back in December. One of the most interesting was a project that I am really proud to have been a part of. In the summer of 2017, I was approached by the Wellington West BIA about a project they were planning as part of the Canada 150 celebrations. A new permanent outdoor gallery was to be installed along the wall at Wellington Street West and Pinhey Street, along the GT Express. For the opening display, the Kitchissippi Museum was asked to contribute photographs and text about the earliest days of Hintonburg, and some of the events which shaped the community as it is today.

On the chilly morning of Monday November 27th, the grand unveiling was held on Wellington Street, to launch the new gallery. Mayor Jim Watson, MP Catherine McKenna, Councillor Jeff Leiper, and members of the BIA and Hintonburg Community Association were present for the unveiling, along with myself (and my son Emmett!).


The story was covered in several media locations, the Metro Ottawa West News did a great story in particular:

Here is a photo of Emmett helping Mayor Watson pull the ceremonial cord to unveil the Gallery:

The gallery included three huge photos and detailed captions showing a fire insurance plan from 1898 detailing all of the houses in Hintonburg; a photo of the village council from 1897 (from when Hintonburg was independent from Nepean, prior to joining the City of Ottawa); and a photo of the Great Hull-Ottawa Fire of 1900, which was instrumental in the boom of Hintonburg and Mechanicsville soon after, particularly with displaced francophones from Hull and Lebreton Flats.

The gallery will continue to display these photos for the next 6 months or so, at which time the BIA has expressed interest in potentially doing another history display, brought up to the 1920s-1930s. The BIA has also mentioned the idea of doing another gallery at the western end of Wellington West, nearer to Island Park Drive, which would be great!

Here are three photos of the gallery (but obviously, it is much more impressive to see in person!). My thanks to Paul Richer for all of these photos in this post!


The Westboro Legacy of Mrs. Shirley Shorter

The article below ran as the cover story for the final Newswest issue of 2017. Mrs. Shirley Shorter was THE original historian for the Westboro area, and it was a true pleasure to speak to her on a number of occasions. Shirley was doing work on local history research and heritage preservation years before anyone else was. Her efforts contributed to several heritage buildings in Westboro being saved. She was also one of the key leaders in the establishment of Newswest itself. The online edition of the article can be found at, but the full text of the article is reprinted below:

"Shirley Shorter, 1921-2017. Historian, Activist, Citizen"

2017 was a year of celebration and ceremony, with many important anniversaries of historical significance. However, 2017 also will hold importance for the loss of one of Westboro’s most dedicated residents, whose contributions to the community live on today.

Shirley Shorter passed away May 4th at the age of 96. Shirley was an early advocate for history and heritage recognition in an era when it was almost unheard of. She was years ahead of her time in recognizing the value of protecting the character of a neighbourhood, but also the elements of a community which made it so much better. She was instrumental in the establishment of Newswest and for many years gave so much not only to the development of the newspaper, but to Westboro itself.

Born in Ottawa in 1921 as Shirley Geldert, she clearly was never destined to live a quiet, unassuming life. Shirley was involved in acting as a young child, and later became one of Ottawa’s top badminton and tennis players as a teenager, while attending Elmwood School. 

Her father Dr. George McKinley Geldert, an anesthetist at the Civic Hospital, in 1924 converted the dining room of their home at 282 Somerset Street West into a studio for Canada’s first private radio station CKCO (later renamed CKOY, now better known as CIWW, aka 1310News) A transmitter was located inside the living room, and each night, furniture would be moved, radio equipment set up, and broadcasting would begin. Shirley’s family home became a venue for musicians, celebrities, political debates and important newscasts. Mackenzie King made the first Prime Minster broadcast steps from her childhood bedroom. 

Shirley attended Havergal College, and then the University of Toronto, where she continued winning championships on the court, while also achieving her B.A. in 1943. She married her husband Gord, then a Lieutenant with the Royal Canadian Navy, in September of 1944. The couple had three children, Sandy, Gord and Bill. 

While raising her family, Shirley continued to play tennis out of the Rideau Tennis Club, and later became an avid curler out of the Granite Curling Club. She also began a new hobby, antique bottle collecting (milks, sodas, beers, medicines, etc.); a passion she would continue for the remainder of her life. Her collection would eventually become the pinnacle of the Ottawa area.

By the early 1970s, Shirley also turned her attention on community affairs, and became actively involved in the Westboro neighbourhood. She contributed to the Village Voice, then Westboro’s community newspaper which ceased publishing around 1976. 

In 1978, Shirley was part of a group of residents who initiated the return of a much-needed community newspaper. The first issue of Newswest came out in November of 1978, featuring a full-page article written by Shirley on the history of Maplelawn. For more than ten years she would contribute regular heritage columns, profiling the personalities and places of historic Westboro. This was long before the internet or digitized newspapers; Shirley’s research was all done through interviews and personal recollections, capturing the true stories of early Westboro. 

Shirley also contributed the monthly "Neighbourly News" column, with updates and tidbits on the people, shops and sites of the west end. There was seemingly no one better connected during this era than Shirley Shorter.

She established a group known as “Heritage Westboro” which worked with the city on the establishment of the original heritage register, and published a reprint of the 1927 “History of Westboro: The Town of Possibilities” booklet. Most importantly was the protection of Westboro’s threatened historic structures, notably the preservation of the McKellar-Bingham House (then the headquarters of CKOY). It is thanks to the efforts of Shirley and others she helped coordinate that several area heritage buildings still stand today.

Shirley gradually began to focus on different activities over the last 20 years of her life, but she still assisted many an author writing on local history. A trip down memory lane with Shirley was a remarkable experience, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity on several occasions. Shirley was still passionate in her love of Westboro, and her memories still strong right to the end. With gracious thanks to her family, many of her files, notes, interviews and photos were recently passed along to me, and I will be proud to carry on her legacy as best I can. 

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Shirley Shorter, after a life well and thoroughly lived.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The evolution of fire-fighting in Kitchissippi

The new Kitchissippi Times is out today, and inside you'll find two articles that I contributed. The first one is my usual "Early Days" column, and its focus this week is on two important structures that were important to the community for a long time - the Churchill Avenue and Parkdale Avenue fire stations. The article covers the earliest days of fire fighting in the area, and tracks how technology and progress led to changes over time. Long-time residents will likely have memories of both stations, which closed in 1985. The Churchill station is long demolished, but luckily Parkdale was given heritage status in the 90s, and later added to the Canadian Register of Historic Places.

You can read the full article, with several photos here: