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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Street Profiles: The History of Stirling Avenue

This is the first of what I hope will be a popular regular series that I plan to do on this blog. Once a week, I plan to run a profile of a street in Kitchissippi. I'll write about it's earliest beginnings, how it was born, when it was first built on, and discuss some of it's significant residents, houses, buildings and businesses.

For my first street profile, I have selected what I consider to be one of the more interesting streets in the history of the area. But it isn't one you would have expected. I was also inspired to choose this street by the suggestion of a high school friend who realizes that the street still has meaning to her, even years after her family has since moved away. Stirling Avenue is a relatively short street that kind of bisects Hintonburg between Wellington and Scott, and has an unbelievable amount of interesting history stuffed into its 1,400 foot length. A perfect representative of the wild and crazy history of Hintonburg itself.

Current Street Name: Stirling Avenue
Former Street Name: was known  as "Centre Street" up until 1908
First established: 1873
Name meaning: According to "Ottawa Old & New", it was named after Stirling, a City in central Scotland.
How named: Hintonburg was annexed to the City of Ottawa in December of 1907, and many streets required renaming. This was done by the Board of Control in 1908, likely under the recommendation of the outgoing Hintonburg town council.

Early days:
The history of a large portion of Hintonburg ties directly back to the land of former Scot Mr. John Anderson, who in March of 1831 acquired 100 acres in the north half of lot 36, concession 1 (many years before it was Hintonburg). The Andersons settled on the land, before John died in 1849. His widow, the former Janet Gilmour began selling off portions in the 1850s, before filing one of the earliest subdivision plans in Carleton County. She registered Plan 14, at the age of 80 in September of 1861, just a month prior to her death. The Plan was an interesting one, as it split the remaining 80 or so acres of her land, into 8 blocks (numbered with roman numerals). Each block had a different width and length, which is very curious. Anderson then transferred a block to each of her eight children. At the time, one would not have envisioned Hintonburg becoming as thickly populated as it is now, and the intention was likely mostly to provide these parcels of land, 6-10 acres in size apiece, for her children to establish either small farms or large homesteads in the rural setting outside of Ottawa.

Block VI (6), comprising a little over 7 acres, was given to daughter Agnes (married name Stewart). Agnes did not built on the lot, but maintained it for 10 years before selling in 1871 to Frances Magee, a widow and early Nepean Township settler who acquired a number of pieces of land. She was a trailblazer indeed, being a female real estate prospector in this era. It was in May of 1873 that Magee laid out what was registered as "Plan 43" at the Carleton County Registry Office. As each land-owner was free to lay out their subdivision as they wished, Magee chose to simply run a thin street down the center of the lot, and offer lots on either side. The street was called "Centre Street", and a total of 43 lots were drawn up, most being of 99' deep and 66' wide.

The original Plan 43 (Richmond Road at left, Scott at right. The entire
plan is essentially the full length of Stirling Avenue)

This background is part of a very detailed history of the early days of Hintonburg, but is excellent evidence of why the neighbourhood has a very unique layout of streets and lots. Essentially, Richmond Road existed well before any development began, and all growth happened around it's existing route. But as the area developed through a series of individual packets of property that were stitched together into the tapestry that became Hintonburg, it speaks to the character of the neighbourhood that makes it such an appealing place to live, with such an interesting history.

Magee conducted lot sales through her agent James Clark until her death in 1883. The lots fronting on the popular Richmond Road sold immediately in 1873. Richard Woodland, a butcher, purchased lots C, D, E, and 1 at the northwest corner of Richmond Road; while Peter Harvey, a blacksmith, purchased lot A. These lots were sold for roughly $100 apiece.

The Scottish-born Peter Harvey would be the first to build on the plan, constructing a small 1 1/2 storey wood-frame blacksmith shop fronting Richmond Road just east of the corner of Stirling (approximately now where the Al Jazeerah shop exists at 1101 Wellington) sometime in 1874-1875. The blacksmith shop would remain in this location until about 1910, later operated by David Moodie (1877-1890) and Thomas Blanchfield (1891-1910).

The other businesses fronting onto Richmond Road on Plan 43 would be built soon after as well. Magee House (the wonderful stone house still standing at 1119 Wellington) was built around 1880, and Francis H. Gilchrist's shop at 1111 Wellington (now Heaven's to Betsy) was built in the mid-to-late 1880s.

However the first houses that actually fronted onto Stirling Avenue itself were constructed between 1876 and 1877, when established builder Samuel McArthur built a larger 1 1/2-storey semi-detached house on lot 3 (formerly 108-110 Stirling, demolished in the 1990s, now the location of the newer row townhouses at 110 Stirling), while stonemason Richard Mathews built a smaller house on the north half of lot 5 (now the site of 92 Stirling), which was demolished sometime between 1902-1912.

77 Stirling Avenue, which was restored
beautifully in 2008-09, the oldest home
on Stirling Avenue, now 133 years old.
The oldest home built on Stirling still existing today is 77 Stirling, on lot 32, built by Thomas Mathews in 1882. He would also build the house at 85 Stirling (which still remains today) a few years later. Mathews was a stone mason, and the brother of Richard Mathews, who had built across the street.

Development occurred quickly on Stirling Avenue, indeed as it had throughout Hintonburg during the boom of the late-1880s. By 1892 there were 32 completed houses on the street (compared to just 5 in 1885).

Businesses on Stirling Avenue:
The 1912 Fire Insurance Plan,
showing the "Moving Picture
Theatre" on Stirling Avenue.

No history of Stirling would be complete without mentioning the infamous Stirling House tavern and hotel, which operated at the south-east corner of Armstrong and Stirling from 1935 until the early 1990s. Part of the building actually began life as a movie theater built between 1911 and 1912. George Ventura who would go on to become a projectionist for 40 years in Ottawa theaters operated the "West End Theatre" at 123 Stirling Avenue during the era of silent films. The small 1-storey wood building must have been an incredibly eye-opening site to visit for Hintonburg residents while it was open from 1911 until about 1915.

A rare ad from the Ottawa Journal newspaper on
October 22nd, 1913 promoting the Theatre.









The 1948 Fire Insurance Plan,
showing the Stirling Hotel.
The site would be used for various purposes over the next 20 years, including as an auto garage, paint shop, and as a butchers shop! In fact it was a butcher by trade, Joseph Bonneville, who had been operating his butcher shop out of the building in the early 1930s while residing in the small house next door at 125 Stirling, who created the Hotel. Bonneville took out a building permit in August of 1935 in order to demolish his small house, and expand the existing former theatre building into a bricked 2-storey and double-wide hotel and tavern. By early 1936, the Stirling Hotel was open for business.

For those of you unfamiliar with the lore of the Stirling House, it is absolutely legendary in Hintonburg. While I was much too young to have ever been able to visit the tavern while it was open, I do remember driving by in my childhood, and hearing some of the stories about it from my Dad and grandfather. The newspaper archives are chock-full of unbelievable stories as well. It seems that barfights were practically a daily occurrence, and the local police were regularly called in for disturbances big and small.

The former Stirling House. (Photo borrowed from the blog:
http://ottawaplaces.blogspot.ca/)

After finally closing down in the early 1990s, when the Hintonburg transformation was just in its early stages, the building sat idle for many years, until the CCOC purchased it for $2, renovated it and converted it in to housing. So it is thanks to the CCOC that we can still walk by the building today and reminisce, and have this piece of history intact from such a unique and important part of Hintonburg's past.

Other businesses have existed on Stirling Avenue over time. As was common in the late 19th and early 20th century, small grocery shops were operated out of front living rooms. Many of these came and went over the years, often not lasting more than a year or two. However, a couple of stand-out businesses did remain longer term and are worth memorializing here.

ad for Verdon's grocery from the Ottawa
Journal, November 28th, 1924.
In 1905, Jean-Baptiste Verdon opened a large grocery store, butcher shop and wholesale tobacco business out of his home at 38 Stirling Avenue. He established quite a complex of different small additions to the three houses at 34, 36 and 38 Stirling, it must have been quite a maze to investigate. J.B. Verdon passed away in 1938, but his son Conrad kept the family business running until the late 1960s. The photo below shows the business as it was just before they were demolished. The site is now a community park that runs the full length between Stirling and Carruthers.

At left is an old ad from the Grocery & Butcher Shop from 1924.


Verdon's Grocery, March 1965
(CA-24662 - City of Ottawa Archives)

The building on the north-east corner of Stirling and Armstrong (105-107 Stirling) has long been the site of various mercantile endeavours. Auguste Roy built the house around 1891, and remained there until he died at the amazing age of 98 in 1958. He operated a cab company out of the home from 1889 until 1939 (I guess he would have started off with horses before switching to automobiles as the times changed). He also operated a restaurant out of the building commencing in the late 20s or early 30s, which was taken over by local businessman Joseph P. Nolan after his retirement in 1939. It later became the Stirling Grocery Market, and Cal's Confectionery. By the mid-1950s it became the Brentwood Vacuum Cleaners and Repairs shop, Morrison Refrigeration in the 60s, and likely had a few other names and purposes before converting to exclusively residential sometime in the 1980s.


Other landmarks & notable locations on Stirling Avenue:

In 1933, the St. Francois D'Assise Separate School opened up at 12-24 Stirling Avenue, providing a larger space than what the school had previously had at the Irving Avenue location. This school was used as an art gallery by the late 1980s and became the Odawa Friendship Centre in 1996, but of course is now under renovation to become part of a larger condo structure.

To the north of the school, where the gymnasium was just recently demolished, used to be a row of houses built in the mid-1890s as rental housing. They actually managed to stick around until the 1960s, and were literally falling apart when the City of Ottawa forced their removal as part of their Urban Renewal initiative of the late 1950s. The photos below were taken in 1960 shortly before they were demolished. Both a view from the front of the house and rear are shown.


2-4-6-8-10 Stirling Ave in 1960 (front view)
(CA-20644 - City of Ottawa Archives)

2-4-6-8-10 Stirling Ave in 1960 (rear view)
(CA-20645 - City of Ottawa Archives)

And this below is just another cool old vintage photo I once found of 82 and 84 Stirling Avenue in their 1954 glory. While doing final editing on this blog, I was actually a little surprised to see the house still exists today, nicely refinished! This house was also built by Richard Matthews, sometime around 1888-1891.


(CA-24663 - City of Ottawa Archives)




To conclude this look at Stirling Avenue, I thought I would do two things. Firstly, I wanted to write a paragraph on the original 98 Stirling Avenue, which has since been replaced with a new build. This was the house which my old high school friend had still felt a connection to, and in doing a quick research of its history, found it to be a perfect representation of a Hintonburg home. The original 98 Stirling was built during the winter of 1888-1889 by Samuel McArthur (the same builder mentioned earlier who had built one of the first two homes on the street in 1876; he also had built the original town hall on Parkdale and several other notable buildings in Hintonburg). McArthur was building up quite a collection of properties which he rented out to tenants. The house was given the number 59 Centre Street (interestingly, prior to the annexation to Hintonburg, all of the houses on Stirling were numbered in the opposite way, with odd numbers on the west side, even numbers on the east). The first occupants were Edmund Thompson, a 36-year old millwright from Lochaber, Quebec, his wife Hannah Scobie, and their five children. Hannah died in April of 1892, giving birth to their sixth child. The Thompsons moved out around 1894, replaced by Leonard Sauve, a lumber culler, and his young family. This began a chain of events typical of homes in the area, where the houses were sold often, and occupants changed practically every year or two. To list every owner and occupant of the house would take literally paragraphs. But the people share almost all of the same basic characteristics: francophone, working class, young with growing large families, such as Eustache Lacroix (1900-1906), Louis de Bourgogne Routhier (1906-1910), and Jean Fissiault (1910-1913).

The Blais family of 98 Stirling Avenue, circa 1910
(photo source: Ancestry)
Most notably, in April 1913 the house was purchased by Wilfrid Blais for $650. Wilfrid was a carpenter, and the director of the Catholic Order of Foresters. He and his wife Alvina would remain in the house for 34 years, raising their TWELVE children, and (at the time of Wilfrid's death in 1944) 36 grandchildren and 7 great-grandchildren.

The Blais family sold in 1947 to Adelard and Alexandrine Dinelle. Adelard was the proprietor of Dinelle Rug Cleaners at 839 Somerset West. The Dinelle family would remain until November of 1980, selling for $25,250 to Daniele Bourbeau, who flipped it a little over two years later in January of 1983 to the Clarke family for $47,000. The original house was replaced between 2002-2005.

To close, I thought I would attach a few interesting newspaper articles about Stirling Avenue from various points in time which show just how far we've come in 100 or so years, and how crazy some of Hintonburg's past really was. Click on any of the articles below which will load up a filmstrip where you can view them in a larger size. Cheers and enjoy!

Ottawa Journal - September 22, 1909

Ottawa Journal - January 15, 1913

Ottawa Journal - March 7, 1913

Ottawa Journal - February 17, 1925

Ottawa Journal - January 26, 1935

Ottawa Journal - May 12, 1959 

Ottawa Journal - July 11, 1961

19 comments:

  1. If anyone has any other Stirling Avenue related stories or memories, perhaps of the Stirling House tavern, please feel free to share!

    I am also very interested in a photo of the Stirling House (from its heyday) if anyone has one! It has been one of the more elusive items I have always tried to find but surprisingly have been able to! Email me if you by chance have one!!! Thanks

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  2. I worked for CCOC when we acquired and renovated the Stirling. (Years earlier, as a renovation contractor, I frequently bought materials at Hubert Heating a block away on Armstrong - I always meant to stop into the tavern for a pint but never got around to it.) During our reno work many neighbours came by with tales of the shenanigans. When a fire broke out one evening the lads just took their beers outside to watch the fire crew do their work. The neighbourhood women came by pleading with the firefighters to shut off their hoses and let the place burn!

    There wasn't much salvageable when we got to work, but we kept as much of the old terrazzo floors as possible, and there was a (mostly) intact stained glass window that we suspended below the ceiling lights in the Stirling St. foyer.

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  3. What year would that fire have been, Glenn?

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  4. The Blais family sold their house to their daughter Alexandrine who was married to Adelard Dinelle (my grandparents). My other grandparents Nicholas and Ellen Copeland bought 85 Stirling and subsequently built houses at 87 and 89 Stirling.

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  5. Hey Nicholas. Thanks for sharing, so really then the house stayed in your family for 67 years. Incredible. Your family must have been a little sad to see it be torn down about ten years ago. Great family connections to the street - another reason why Hintonburg is so great, it always was its own little world. Cheers.

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  6. To be honest, I always found the house a little creepy. While 98 Stirling was in the family for 67 years, 85, 87 and 89 Stirling were probably in the family longer than that. Growing up I lived at 87 Stirling then we moved into 85 for a few years and when the family got too big, we moved into 89 all of which my grandmother Copeland owned. My mother inherited the homes in 1978 when my grandmother passed away at which time my wife and I moved into 87 and subsequently purchased it in 1980 and then resold in 1985. I loved that house but it was costing us a fortune to heat and by the 1980's the neighbourhood was becoming pretty rough so we decided to sell and move our young family to Kanata.

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    1. How neat - I'm living in 87 now, and I'm loving learning about all this history.

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    2. Anne, I would love to ask you a few questions about the old homestead but not via this forum. If you could provide me with your email address, I could send you the questions directly. My email address is ndinelle@rogers.com

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    3. Absolutely! Just sent you an email. :)

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  7. According to one of my cousins who lived near the St-François d'Assise school on Stirling until the sixties, the picture of the Verdon grocery store could not have been taken in 1965. He says it was closed five or six years before that. I would rely on his memory.

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  8. I also have a list of St-François d'Assise parish members dated January 1964 and it lists for the following addresses on Stirlng Avenue: 34A (Léo Tremblay, Robert Dion, Béatrice Tessier, Léon Tessier; 38 (Roland Tessier). No Verdon is mentioned.

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    1. Hi Pierre, thanks for visiting the blog. I thank you for your comments as well. You're probably right, the Verdons may have sold the business prior to 1965 (at hand I have sources listing them as operating the store up until at least 1960), but that store definitely stayed open until at least 1965 (aerial photos from that year confirm it, and the City of Ottawa Archives dated that photo March 1965). I took an even deeper look into a few sources I have at home just now and in fact there are business operating out of 34-36 Stirling until about 1970). It was definitely gone by 1973 though. As a history perfectionist, I usually strive to get exact dates, so I appreciate your help in clarifying things.

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  9. My mother was born at 40 Stirling (right beside the store, now a park) in 1931. Her family moved there in the mid 1920s and one of the first things they did was have the house moved a few feet to one side of the property, so that there could be a driveway for automobiles.. They didn't own a car but at the time adding a driveway was a sure fire way to increase the value of the house.

    Before moving, they had lived at 17(?) Stirling, just across from the school, since 1913. They would leave for Montreal in 1943 and return in 1947, this time to live on St Francis. I heard many stories about the area growing up. Old Mrs Ferone of Ferone's store, who wore men's shoes and always drank gin from a tall glass because 'water disagreed with her'.There was a Chinese laundry on Wellington and my mother would always hide her hands in her pockets when she passed it, because she had been told that the Chinese considered little girl's fingers a delicacy.

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    1. hi Glen, I'm super late with a thank you, but this comment was excellent. These are the types of little neighbourhood stories that I was hoping would be shared in the blog. So thanks for taking the time!

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  10. In the 1960's Stirling Avenue was teeming with children; there was no one on our street practicing birth control! We were 8 kids at our place (Dinelles), the Saumurs at 105 had 10 kids. the Diottes at 101, the Merciers at 100 and the Muldoons at 86 each had 6 kids. Further down the street the Chartrands at 27 had 7 kids, the Trotiers at 33 had 8 or 10 kids and there were several other house on the street with enough children to fill a school bus. I sometimes think that they built St. François d'Assise school just to accommodate Stirling Avenue kids.

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  11. Here's a little fact about the building at Stirling & Armstrong. While it was Morrison's Refrigeration, on October 20, 1969 Jack Morrison was leaving work to go home. While in the car he told his wife he had to tell his staff something and died of a heart attack on the steps on the building

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  12. My brothers and I attended school at 12-24 Stirling, myself from 1950 to 1957 (skipped Grade 3). My father ran A.J. Bédard Hardware at 1109 Wellington, corner of Stirling, from 1927 to about 1960. Phone number was 88747... Like other family members, I would work at the store from time to time filling varsol or turpentine bottles, sometimes helping out with customers and inventory. Most of our customers spoke French. Story has it that some fellows would come into the store and sneak out the back door on their way to the Stirling Hotel, so that the wife wouldn't know where they were going... My mother would do her shopping every Saturday morning at the A&P on the other corner of Stirling and Wellington, the groceries were sent over to my father's store.

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  13. I also filled varsol and turpentine bottles (probably old rye bottles coming from Stirling House), after school, on my way home to Spadina Ave. I attended École St-François from 1946 to 1952, skipping grade 8 to attend Collège St-Alexandre in then Limbour (north of Hull, now Gatineau). Dad moved Bedard Hardware to 1119 Wellington c. 1960. And, sorry to contradict kid brother Michel, phone number was 84767...

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  14. I have just discovered this wonderful page. Thank-you!
    Wondering if anyone remembers the Maple trees on Sterling avenue in 1966. I seem to remember seeing buckets attached to the trees and waiting for the syrup to flow down. I would love to see a picture of that.

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