Sunday, February 22, 2015

The evolution of Whispers: Westboro's Friendliest Pub - and one of it's oldest buildings!

A pub like Whispers is exactly what makes Westboro so great. While I'm not a big drinker, I can't appreciate enough that a place like Whispers has been able to survive for so long. It's a place where anyone in Westboro can go and enjoy whatever kind of evening they like. You can hear a live musical act, watch a game, or play trivia; you can bring a large group or party in and have a loud evening, or you can have a quiet chat next to a fireplace. The reason it probably has been able to survive all this time is that it is not pretentious in any way. And it appeals to the wide clientele base that now inhibits Westboro. You can be a sweaty sports team after a summer ball game or a late winter evening's hockey match; they'll be glad to have you. You can be a businessperson bringing a client for a working lunch, they'll be glad to have you. You can be in your teens, or in your senior years, and there is a bar chair or table ready for you any time you like it. The patio is great too, if you can find a spot. The staff is always incredibly nice too, and will be as hand-on (or hands-off) to suit whatever you like. The atmosphere is laid back, and they don't try too hard. To me, its a perfect pub, and I'd be devastated if I ever heard it would be closing. A few years ago they even improved the decor by adding a lot of historical artifacts and old photos of a local interest. So really, what more could you ask for?

It was natural then, that I set out to cover the history of the pub. I've been going through those front doors practically my entire life. Through family dinners, hockey team celebrations, hockey pool draft nights, dates, and eveningss where its just somewhere comfortable to go, Whispers is easily one of my favorite spots to be, And again, not that I'm that much of a barfly, but I've been in there enough times to know the layout of the place like the back of my hand - where every photo is and what its of. But as a history-curious guy, I've always wanted to explore the history of the building more. My interest was picqued years ago when I noticed that, hey, wait a minute, if you look at it from the street, it clearly used to be a house. They when you think about the interior, well sure, you can imagine it being a house! When they opened up the second floor a couple of years ago, you almost felt like you were heading up to the bedrooms!

So with this blog, I now have a completely valid excuse to really delve into the the past, and find out the whole back story of the pub. I knew bits and pieces already, but it was really worth digging deep in to records at the land registry office and the city archives.

To start off, Westboro itself started life essentially as a small village supporting the local mill located by where Westboro Beach now exists. The village was even named "Skead's Mill", after its owner. After the mill closed (and later burned) in the 1880s it took a while for the area to grow. Thanks to the arrival of the trains, and in particular the streetcar line to Britannia, Westboro became a desirable location for Ottawans to live and commute. Once the automobile arrived, there was no looking back.

By 1910 the Westboro population was just around the 1,000 mark, and many of the former farmers were finding that they could sell their property for many times what it was worth only twenty years prior. Some took it upon themselves and created subdivisions of their own. Others sold it off in blocks, and real estate prospectors bought up land as investments. F.X. Ladouceur was one such prospector, and I detailed his 1909 "Mansfield Park" plan in the history of Tweedsmuir Avenue article.

Scan of the first page of the original
sale deed for lot 6, Richmond Road.
The southern edge of that plan was Richmond Road, and those naturally were the most sought-after lots when they hit the market. On November 7th, 1910, Laderoute sold lot 6 at the corner of Richmond Road and Xavier Avenue (now Tweedsmuir) to Mary Margaret Larkin for $600. Mary was the wife of carpenter William Larkin (it was common in the era for real estate transactions to be put under the wife's name). The Larkins, who resided downtown at 112 Percy Street, financed the purchase with a mortgage of $650, which likely just covered the purchase and perhaps some immediate foundation work at best.

In February of 1911, a second, larger mortgage was taken out from a Mrs. Marie Davieau for $1,050, for the construction of the house.

The two-storey, wood-frame house was completed quickly. The Nepean Township assessor visited on April 21st and noted that the family was occupying the home. They had also made it just in time for the 1911 Census of Canada, which was taken on June 1st.

The value of the property, including the new house, was assessed at just $500 in April of 1911. Click below to see a scan from the original assessor's rollbook, listing the newly built home on lot 6:

1911 Nepean Township Assessment Roll showing the Larkins at the newly
completed home on Richmond Road. William listed as 42 years old, F (freeholder),
lot "6 N Richmond Rd in E 1/2 lot 31", Concession "1", $200 value of the land,
$500 value for the building, total $700, school section 2, "P" (public school),
"2" (children 5-21), "2" (children 5-16), "6" members of the family, "1" male
21-60 years old, and "Apr 21" being the date of the assessor's visit.

Mary & William Larkin
Photo at left of Mary and William Larkin, the builders and first occupants of the future Whispers pub. William Larkin was also responsible for the construction of several brick homes in the Westboro area as well, according to his grandchildren.

Signalling that work was progressing on the house, the value had increased to $600 in 1912, and then once it was bricked in 1914, had increased all the way up to $1,800.
1915 Fire Insurance Plan showing the
structure of the Larkin house.
Construction costs had added up, and so by 1915 the Larkins took out a new mortgage for $2,500 from a David McCaffrey (it was very common in these era to acquire a mortgage from an individual lenders, not necessarily  the bank). Within a year the mortgage was re-assigned by McCaffrey to John F. and Bessie Dowling. This would later be an important detail.

The house appears to have been initially designed as a duplex, the dotted line in the 1915 fire insurance plan (at right) indicates a partition wall. As well, prior to housing a business, the building had two civic addresses (at the time, #514 and 516 Richmond Road).

It was about 1919 that William Larkin added on a small addition to one half of the front of the house, with the intention of opening a small shop (the change is visible when contrasting the 1915 and 1922 fire insurance plans, see below).

By mid-1919, the first evidence of a business in the building shows up, and that the Larkins had begun operating a small grocery store out of their home. Home construction had slowed due to the first world war, and the Larkins perhaps saw running a grocery shop as a way to manage during the difficult financial times. This new business endeavour was first noted in the pages of the Ottawa City Directory of 1919, in the listing of residents of the Ottawa suburb of Westboro:

1919 Might's Ottawa City Directory
By the early 1920s, Westboro was prospering, the area was growing quickly, and the Larkins had a successful grocery shop business underway. William and Mary Margaret (formerly Rooney) had five boys: Earl, Roy, Matthew, James and Daniel all between the ages of 8 and 18 in 1921. In fact the youngest son Daniel, actually was born in the upstairs rear bedroom in 1913, according to his son Patrick Larkin, who very kindly aided me in putting some of the details of the early days together.

Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa, 1922. Showing the north side
of Richmond Road between Athlone (Magee) at left and Tweedsmuir
(Strathcona) at right. The Larkin home is shown as #514/516
Richmond Road, wood frame (yellow colour), with brick veneer (pink).
The dotted line again appears, indicating a partition within the house,
perhaps originally constructed to be 2 semi-detached residences.
On the 1921 Census, William continued to be listed with the profession of "carpenter" (with an annual income of $700). The house was described on the Census as a 7-room brick-veneer single home.

The 1922 fire insurance plan shows the vastness of the area at the time, and the future Whisper's building was the only structure at the intersection of Tweedsmuir (by then known as Strathcona) and Richmond Road.

The civic number of the building changed in the mid-20's as well, and was given the number 9 Richmond Road for the business, and 11 Richmond Road for the residence portion (the numbering was based on Richmond Road starting at Tweedsmuir, which was the eastern border of Westboro. Prior to Canada Post stepping in and enforcing addressing rules in the early 40's, villages could basically number their own buildings as they wished. So Westboro ignored the portion of Richmond Road to the east, which also had a 9 & 11 Richmond Road just east of Island Park Drive, in the village of what was known as "Ottawa West". Confusing to say the least).

Matt Larkin, manager of
"Matt's Place" (1929-1940)
By 1929, the address ceased to be listed as a grocery store, and instead was listed with the more panoptic term of "confectionery". Within a few years it also had a formal name, "Matt's Place". William and Mary's son Matthew took over operations of the store, while father William was likely back working in the contracting business. 

1937 Ottawa City Directory listing
for Richmond Road in Westboro,
showing Matt's Place at 9 Richmond.
However, the momentum of west Ottawa's growth shifted around this time, as the depression settled in, and finances became strained for all. Due to the stone cold real estate market in Ottawa, with new home construction stagnant, records indicate that the Larkins had to make a deal with the Dowlings, the mortgage-holders from back in 1916, and the house was sold to the Dowlings for the price of the mortgage balances, taxes and insurance owing (a total of $3,700). However, the Larkins continued to reside in the home, and operate Matt's Place for several more years.

Daniel and Fleur-Ange Larkin in front
of the store, circa late-1930s. This photo
gives the best view of the full front
window of the store.
Fleur-Ange (and Mary Larkin at the left
edge), late 1930s. Visible in this photo is
the name "Matt's Place" behind Fleur-Ange
in the window, as well as the small porch
that existed next to the 1919 front addition.
Sometime in December 1940 or very early 1941, the Larkins moved out of the house. As many of the kids had married and moved out, William and Mary moved to a smaller home in Ottawa. George and Mary Monsour, who had just married in 1939, moved in as the new tenants of the building. The Monsours continued operating the business, but gave it a new name: the Westboro Confectionery.

The Monsour's daughter Carolyn was born soon after, and so many years later recalled for me the details of the layout of the house. The ground floor was divided in two halves. The west half was the living and dining room for the residence (this would be the bar area of Whisper's today). The east half was entered through a door on the side of the small front addition. The Monsours operated a long lunch counter along the east wall of the store (where the huge TV screen now hangs), where they served burgers, hot dogs and fries to hungry customers. On the left side of the store portion was a long wall where they sold grocery items. The front window was filled with fruit, vegetables and penny candies. Carolyn recalled that her Dad was very generous with the neighbourhood children, giving the children free treats when they came to the shop with their parents, under the adage that "if you are good to the children, it will make the parents come back to the store".

The staircase to upstairs was in the same location it is now, and upstairs were the four bedrooms, which Carolyn lamented not having taken the opportunity to have a nostalgic look at when lunching at Whispers a few years ago (renovations within the last few years has now opened up the upstairs as additional restaurant space - very cozily done too, I might add).

In 1942, with the new post office requirements, the store was given the number it still has today, #249 Richmond Road (the residence portion was given #251). The Monsours lived upstairs, and for a while had Mrs Monsour's parents living with them as well.

After a couple of years, George Monsour purchased the property outright from the estate of Bessie Dowling, who had died in 1939. The Monsours paid $2,700 on January 19th, 1943.

Ottawa Citizen, December 30, 1944
At left is one of the few published advetisements taken out by the Monsours.

1948 Fire Insurance Plan, again showing the north side of Richmond
between Athlone (at left) and Tweedsmuir. 
Below are some great photos that Carolyn Monsour so generously shared with me. Each photo shows the front of the Westboro Confectionery, and a couple even have Mr. George Monsour as well.

George Monsour and daughter Carolyn
outside their store, mid-late 1940s.

The front window of the Westboro
Confectionery, mid-1940s

George Monsour inside the front window
of the Westboro Confectionery

George Monsour inside the window at a different date

The Pure Spring billboard which was located on the side
of the Westboro Confectionery - April 8 1946 (source: E00176
Sproul collection, City of Ottawa Archives) (this photo is just a
placeholder - I am waiting for the colour original from the Archives)

The Monsours continued to operate the Westboro Confectionery until the late 1950's. George Monsour began to feel unwell, and so in 1958 the family decided to lease out the business and residence. Sadly, George passed away a short time later in August of 1961.

On October 1st, 1958, the Monsours leased the property to Rizk (Ray) and Joseph Naufal. It was a 10-year lease, with rent at $250/month for the first year and $275/month for years two through nine. The rent was split $150/month for the shop (which increased to $175/month after the first year), plus $100/month for the residence portion of the house. The Naufals moved in upstairs, and kept the name Westboro Confectionery.

In July of 1968, Mary Monsour was listed as having sold the business to Helen Mains for $34,000. Mains immediately leased out the building to a Muriel Morrison, commencing December 1st on a 5-year lease at $450 per month to operate a "restaurant and coffee bar", but with the curious restriction: "...and the premises known as 251 Richmond will not during the term be at any time used for any other purpose than that of five rental units". This indicates that the residential living space upstairs and on the west side of the main floor was (or at least was intended to be) rented out in rooming-house style.

Morrison got out of the lease after six months (for unknown reasons) and starting June 1st, 1969, the premises were rented to Hal B. Ellis, who opened the "Ellis Coffee Bar". The four-and-a-half year lease was for $350 per month.

In May of 1972 Helen Mains, who by this time had moved to St. Catharines, sold the building to Rui De Lima and Emircio Garcia for $55,000. The pair had recently acquired the building next door at 255 Richmond and opened the Lusitania Auto Body Shop in 1970. The Ellis Coffee Bar continued to operate through most of the 1970s. I could track down nothing on Ellis or the Coffee Bar.

The front table at Sagres (from "The Key Ottawa/Hull 1979") 
1975 was the last year that occupants were listed as residing in the house. By 1977, the main floor was vacant as well. It was in early 1978 that De Lima and Garcia opened Sagres Restaurant, apparently Ottawa's first restaurant to specialize in Portugese food.

Ottawa Journal - June 7, 1979
Ottawa Journal - December 13, 1979

Sagres continued to operate until closing sometime in either late 1980 or early 1981. The business (under the name Sagres Restaurant Inc.) was purchased by Mike Kelly in July of 1981 for $75,000 and the restaurant re-opened as "Whispers".

Ottawa Citizen, October 2, 1981

In 1987, the business was sold to Don Cogan. I brought my camera in to Whispers last week and took a few photos of some photos from the late 1980's (pre-renovation) which hang on the walls of Whispers currently. They appear below:

In September of 1992, a site plan control was passed by the City of Ottawa, allowing for the expansion of the Whispers restaurant. The renovation allowed for the front expansion of the building, creating more seating area along the west side and front of the restaurant. The new footprint of the building is best shown in this aerial photo below from 2007:

Aerial photo (from 2007) showing the new Whispers
additions in 1992.
This photo below (also grabbed from the wall of Whispers) is of the staff soon after the renovations were complete:

Don Cogan brought in a co-owner in November of 2008 when long-time staff member Stacy Rennick bought in to Whispers.

On June 24th, 2011, fans of Whispers got a scare when fire crews were called to the restaurant around 8 in the morning. I came down Tweedsmuir that morning, and saw that Richmond Road was closed off due to a fire - at Whispers! Luckily it was caught early enough, and was contained to the roof and an upper floor wall. The cause of the fire was attributed to some neon lights that had recently been repaired.

June 24, 2011 - my cell phone snapped this photo through the misty
morning air, soon after the fire trucks had arrived on scene.

A current view of the front facade (from Whispers' website)

Whispers is entrenched as hub of the community - a place not only where people meet, but where events like book launches and concerts are held; where a hockey team can find a sponsor; a place, as one reviewer on Yelp said "as close as you're probably going to get to Cheers, the notorious Boston bar, in Ottawa". Even though over time the usage of the building has changed, the common thread through the years has been its tie-in to the neighbourhood. I love the fact that Carolyn Monsour shared a story about being recognized from the Westboro Confectionery last year by a former Tweedsmuir Avenue resident - impressive as the Monsours had left the store 57 years ago in 1958. I love the fact that the Larkin family still gets together on most St. Patrick's Days, and has a drink inside the home that their family patriarch William Larkin built over 100 years ago. And I love the fact that Whispers is still going strong, despite the changing neighbourhood, increased costs, higher taxes, increased competition, and all the other stuff that in many urban centres has killed off the good old fashioned neighbourhood pub.

Special thanks to Dan Larkin, Pat Larkin and Carolyn Monsour for all their help in sharing photographs,  stories and memories of 249 Richmond Road.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

The history of St. George's Home

If you haven't seen it yet, check out this week's issue of the Kitchissippi Times. I contributed to an article on the history of the St. George's Home-Holy Rosary Church on Wellington east of Parkdale. It has a really interesting history!

Tragedy and heroism in the Ottawa River

This week, I posted a photo of my grandfather Ted Sauve on the Mechanicsville facebook page, a busy and well loved page that features dozens of long-time Mechanicsville residents chatting about the old days. There are even quite a few members of a certain age group that you wouldn't necessarily expect to be posting on facebook group pages. But thankfully they are, and within minutes of posting a photo and caption about my grandfather's 1942 hockey team, I had replies from a couple of people who knew him. One even brought up the story that is well-told within our family, and which was a fairly big story in the area back in 1947.

The conversation prompted me to dig out the copies of newspaper articles I had found for my grandparents about 15 years ago, when I tackled the microfilm reels at the public library with a vague year and month. While this story is sadly far from being the only one of its kind in Ottawa's history, it was one that really did touch the residents of west Ottawa and especially Mechanicsville back in 1947. And for my grandfather it was a tragic tale in which he lost his 19-year old cousin with whom he was quite close, but luckily not only survived himself, but helped save two of his companions on that terrible day. 

My grandfather will come up a lot in this blog in future posts I am sure. He was a fixture of the Mechanicsville and Champlain Park communities, was a third-generation railway man, and his great-grandfather was one of Mechanicsville's first residents. He was also someone I respected immensely and had a million great stories about the 1930s and 40s in the neighbourhood. I know a lot of the reason I love history so much is because of him. Since I have the ability to choose any topic at all for the blog, I'd like to share this story that was such a pivotal event in his life.

The accident occurred on Sunday July 13th, 1947, a little after 8 p.m. My grandfather Ted Sauve, then of 83 Carruthers Avenue, his cousin Clarence Corbett, and three female friends June Leafloor, Teresa Holmes and Helen Grant, all between the ages of 17 and 20, had spent the afternoon and evening swimming and canoeing around the spot which was informally known as "The Beavers". As the newspaper articles below will state, the canoe began to sink and the group panicked. My grandfather always mentioned that Clarence was the best swimmer of the bunch, but he had stayed with June Leafloor, who was unable to swim. The pair drowned likely due to the strong undercurrents in the area that pulled them under quickly. June's body was found a few days later, but Clarence was never found.

The area where it happened, then and now (as always, I encourage you to click on any photo below that will open a little filmstrip where you can view the photos in an enlarged format):

Aerial photo from the era. That is Emmerson Avenue visible at the top, with
Forward, Hinchey and Carruthers running north to it (now only Forward does).
Lemieux Island is pictured at the top, and you can see the islands connected
at the very top by the pier (mentioned in one of the articles). The accident
likely occurred just at the top and center of this photograph.

2011 aerial photo of the same area. As any long-time residents of
the area will tell you, the two bays were filled in significantly when
the NCC prepared the area for the River Parkway in the early 1960s.  

The front page of the Ottawa Citizen July 14, 1947. The Canadian Press
reported that it was a horrific weekend for drownings in eastern Canada,
with an incredible 23 victims in all that very weekend.

The Toronto Star published the photographs of all 5 friends (neither Ottawa
paper included a photo of my grandfather, it is a bit odd that the Star did)

Ottawa Journal's coverage - July 14, 1947

Ottawa Journal - July 14, 1947 continued

Ottawa Citizen - July 14, 1947

Ottawa Journal - July 18, 1947

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Lots coming up!

Thanks to everyone for their support in visiting the blog and passing along the word. It has been only about 7 weeks that I've had the blog running, and already the response has been incredible. The blog has had over 7,500 hits, which is fantastic. I appreciate all the input, comments and kind words shared over Twitter, Facebook, and email.

I'm particularly indebted to Glen at the awesome and informative site for picking up a couple of the blog articles and posting them on OttawaStart, which has really helped expand the audience. Lost Ottawa on Facebook has also published a few of my photos, both of which seemed to hit incredible numbers of likes, comments and shares. So that is really cool.

I'd just like to throw out there that collecting old photos from the neighbourhood has not been easy. It has been years of hard work digging through the various archives, and borrowing/scanning photos from long-time (or old-time) residents. So I just want to re-iterate that if anyone reading this has any old photos of Kitchissippi - be it Hintonburg, Wellington Village, Westboro, McKellar, etc., even if its a few old small black & white photos of your childhood home (or the childhood home of parents/grandparents, etc.) I would love to borrow/scan or obtain a digital copy of your photos. Particularly if it is of a streetscape, or a business, or a house which has since been demolished. These photos are a gold mine to me, when I piece together the history of a property or street (and they make pretty cool additions to the articles too).

Beyond that, I'm also interested in ANY items of historical significance for the area. Just last week I found someone selling two old Champlain Park high school yearbooks from the 60s. If you have any old high school yearbooks (Nepean, Highland Park, Fisher Park, Champlain), or old phone books/city directories, or anything neat at all (or come across it in your travels), I would be very interested in buying (or at least borrowing) it from you. Thanks very much!

Lastly, there are a few exciting things coming up. I've been busy working on a couple of things for the Kitchissippi Times which should appear in the forthcoming couple of issues. I'm especially looking forward to posting up the history of Whisper's Pub, which will be ready very soon. I'm also working on one or two things on Wellington Street businesses, a couple of really cool street histories, and a very detailed article on a topic that I'm asked about a few times per week - the legendary creeks and caves of Kitchissippi. All coming up in the next two weeks (or so) on the Kitchissippi Museum. Cheers!

Monday, February 16, 2015

The history of Tunney's Pasture & the Tunney's name

One of the most frequently asked questions I receive is "who was Tunney", referring to the "Tunney" of the well-known geographic reference point "Tunney's Pasture". Considering that the Tunney name is attached to Ottawa's largest government complex, one of the transportation system's key stations, and often even the surrounding neighbourhood, little is actually known about Tunney himself.

(Note: I had this blog 90% written and was coming on to finish up tonight when I noticed that by coincidence the Citizen ran an article today by Phil Jenkins which briefly skims on the history of Tunney's Pasture. Purely coincidental, but bizarre for sure that I'd even thought to cover this on the same day!)

So the goal of my blog article today is to go back in time a long ways, and dig up details on a relatively obscure person from Kitchissippi's past. You might be surprised to know that Tunney didn't operate a farm that was all too large. Nor did he operate it for all that long a period. And on top of that, the Tunneys did not even own the land on which the "pasture" existed.

The story begins way back in the 1800s, when vacant land alongside the Ottawa River was passed from owner to owner, with little happening in the way of development. Lots 35 and 36 of Concession A, Ottawa Front, in Nepean Township, were granted together in 1801 to Jennet Strothers, daughter of United Empire Loyalist Finlay Grant. These lots comprised all of the land north of what is now Scott Street to the River, between approximately Goldenrod on the west and Stonehurst Avenue on the east.

(As always please click on any photo/graphic to enlarge it)
Map of the Tunney's area showing the borders of the original lot 35 and 36 properties. The red lines mark the
border of the original Strothers land grant; the thin red line in the middle is the approximate dividing
line between lots 35 and 36. All land north of Scott Street is "Concession A"; 
all land south of Scott is "Concession 1" 
The land was owned for a time by Nicholas Sparks (the Nicholas Sparks, who owned much of central Ottawa), later Nicholas Sparks Jr., and later sold to the real estate prospectors who subdivided Mechanicsville. In 1874, those same prospectors (Baldwin and Blasdell) sold a good portion of the land (including the unsold Mechanicsville lots) to a group of major Ottawa lumber merchants, who wished to own control of the river shoreline. The group of men included a who's-who of Ottawa lumber barons: Philip Thompson, G.B. Greene, John R. Booth, Levi Young, and the firms of Bronsons & Weston and Perley & Pattee. This syndicate was also known as the Ottawa Lumber Merchants' Association.

The Association would sit on this large parcel of land from 1874 until 1896. During this period, they themselves would do absolutely nothing with the property (other than continue to sell the already subdivided lots in the burgeoning Mechanicsville suburb). However, one of G. B. Greene's employees was a young labourer named Anthony Tunney, who happened to live on Fifth Street (now better known as Parkdale Avenue) in Mechanicsville.

The Tunney years

Anthony Tunney was born in the County Mayo in West Ireland in 1840. He arrived in Canada sometime around 1860, and passed through Montreal before arriving in Ottawa and residing on Duke Street in LeBreton Flats briefly (living above Patrick Baskerville's well-known grocery shop). It was at this time that he married his wife, the former Maria Devereux. (The dates for Anthony's arrival to Canada conflict in different sources. On the 1901 Census, it was stated that Anthony arrived in 1860; most other sources point to 1868 as the date, and another prominent source lists 1871, but no confirmation can be found, or at least not in the immediate sources I investigated.)

Tunney was one of the first purchasers of land when the Mechanicsville subdivision had been first laid out in 1872. Though he purchased lot 16 on Fifth Street sometime in 1872 or early 1873, it was a year later that he constructed a small wood-framed home on the lot. The 1874 assessment rollbook for Nepean Township lists the five members of the Tunney family as residing in the small home, but notably, with no animals at the time.

It would be one year later, 1875, when the assessor noted in the rollbook that Anthony Tunney was indeed the owner of 1 cow and 1 sheep (please click to enlarge to full size):

My crudely cropped photo of the original 1875 Nepean Township assessment roll,
the first published proof of Tunney's livestock!

Interestingly, many sources that I consulted often mis-spelt Tunney as "Tinney", not an illogical misspelling if you consider an Irish pronunciation of "Tunney" (particularly as most data-collectors of the era simply wrote names as they heard them - any of you genealogy researchers who have spent hours delving into old census records, voters lists and the like will know what I mean).

Between 1875 and 1901, Anthony Tunney continued to own a mix of cattle, sheep and horses, but (according to assessment records), never more than a few of any of them at one time. Livestock in fact was not even his primary employ; he continued to work as a mill hand during this period. His employers were both G. B. Greene (who was the general manager of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company), and the Lumber Merchants' Association. As an employee of the Lumber Merchants' Association, one of his roles was as "caretaker for the empty fields of lot 35" (according to an article from 1955 written by Dr. H. T. Douglas, then librarian of the Historical Society of Ottawa).

The article goes on to note that "the pasture-land between the river and the railway (the Transitway today) was lying idle, and so Anthony Tunney was allowed to pasture a few cows and horses of his own on the land...During the Summer, Tunney's cows produced more milk than his own family required and gradually he built up a moderate dairy business. It is also recalled that Butterworth Coal Company would pasture its horses in Mr. Tunney's care."

It was not only Tunney himself who used the land for livestock. According to a newspaper article from 1952, Anthony Cody, a grandson to Anthony Tunney, reminisced that "the pasture held animals owned by his horse-fancier and very Irish grandfather Tunney. Sections of it were rented to other people in different parts of Ottawa for their cows and it was a great spot for picnics, bonfires and such."

Dr. Douglas further noted: "Later on, he was given a free hand with the property by virtue of paying the tax-money direct to city hall." This is an important fact to note, as it appears that Tunney could have been signed over ownership of the vast (and soon to be very valuable) piece of real estate, since he had making the tax payments on it, but for whatever reason, he declined ownership. Opinions on this detail seem to vary, there is really no true definitive answer on what options Tunney actually had. In September of 1896, the Lumber syndicate sold the land for $40,000 to the Ottawa Land Association (an equally as substantial syndicate of investors, who had already bought up a lot of the farmland in the area). Tunney continued to keep animals on the land for a few more years (perhaps with an unofficial agreement with the OLA folks), but it would be brief.

The last year that Anthony Tunney appears listed as owning animals is in 1901. When the assessor visited him on March 15th, 1901, the nearly-60 year old Tunney still had one cow and one horse. However, a year later, on March 20th, 1902, Tunney was animal-less.

64 Lyndale Avenue in 2014.
Built by Anthony Tunney circa 1891.
In 1891, the original Tunney family wood-frame home on Parkdale that overlooked "Tunney's Pasture" was burned in a fire. Anthony Tunney purchased two lots at the south-west corner of what is now Lyndale and Hinchey and built a home which still stands today at 64 Lyndale (and I would bet that the current owner/occupant isn't even aware they are living in a home built by THE Mr. Tunney!).

201 Parkdale Avenue in 2007, on the
original Tunney lot.
Tunney kept ownership of his original lot on Parkdale. His son John James Tunney married in 1898 and had his first child, daughter Murial in February of 1899, and at the time constructed a new home on the original lot, at 201 Parkdale Avenue. This home stood until 2009, when it was razed to make way for the new Soho Parkway.

Anthony and Maria Tunney's
headstone at Notre Dame
Cemetery (source: Canadian
Headstones website)
Anthony Tunney passed away in December of 1915 at the age of 75. He passed with little ceremony or notoriety. In fact, I could not even find an obituary, let alone a longer article on his life (which was quite common to appear in the era when a citizen of Ottawa passed away). The man whose name and part-time job would be so closely associated to the community over the next 100 years had no idea how important his legacy would become.

Following his passing, his son John James indeed did remain in the home at 201 Parkdale until he died in 1957.

The vacant years

From 1902 until 1950, the Tunney's Pasture property more or less sat vacant.

It is notable to point out that the property discussed above only went as far west as Goldenrod (the west edge of lot 35). Tunney's Pasture of course goes further west than that, to the back of the property lines behind Northwestern Avenue. So it should be pointed out that in 1906 an abattoir company, the Ottawa Stock Yards and Abattoir Company Ltd. purchased most of lot 34 in concession A.

Together with the Ottawa Land Association, the companies created a subdivision plan in 1909 called "Eldonwood Park", creating three streets on what is now the western Tunney's Pasture area:

1913 map of Ottawa showing the Eldonwood Park streets
(I'm intentionally avoiding adding much detail at this point as Eldonwood itself is interesting, and worth a blog post on it's own, which I'd like to get to someday!). Though a few lots were sold and some houses were built (almost exclusively at the west end on Gainsboro), the subdivision was largely a failure, and within a few years, discussions were heating up about how the City could maximize the use of the large parcel of central land.

The aerial photo below is of the Tunney's Pasture property in 1920. The CP Rail line (Scott Street) can be seen running left to right at top. Mechanicsville is at left (the thicker white line is Parkdale). At the bottom right you can just see the Champlain Park subdivision; Northwestern is the thicker white line going to the River). Your guess is as good as mine as to any of the land features in this photo. (That is definitely a creek running from above Scott Street down to the river). The property overall is mostly a rocky, empty space, with a few patches of trees.
Aerial photo - 1920

Later a second subdivison created even more planned streets which did not pan out:

1948 Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa showing the streets of Tunney's Pasture
By the late 1940s, a few houses did exist at the west on Gainsboro, and on the west side of Parkdale at the east end of the Tunney's property. Also a few businesses existed on the west side of Parkdale between Burnside and Emmerson:

1948 Fire Insurance Plan (Parkdale running top to bottom down
the center. Burnside at the bottom, Emmerson at the top).
The Federal Government years

In 1947, the federal government expropriated the 113-acre Tunney's Pasture property, with settlements for the former property owners reaching up to about $700,000. Work began in the summer of 1950 to excavate the rocky property. "Only a thin film of scratchy sod and sun-dried moss covers the rock" mentions the Ottawa Journal in an article on the excavation work.

An editorial also adds "Houses are springing up like mushrooms between Scott and the Richmond road, and beyond the railroad tracks over to the river. The exception was a block of rocky and barren land, stretching north from the tracks to the river, and from Parkdale avenue to Gainsborough street. This area is known as Tunney's Pasture, and the original Mr. Tunney must have had a hardy breed of cattle to find sustenance in so unpromising a field."

The first four buildings constructed were: (1) the Power Plant Building (Public Works): started November 1950, plus addition completed early 1956. Total cost of $806,245; (2) the Virus Laboratory (Dept. of Health): started December 1950, completed November 1954. Cost $943,243; (3) the Financial Building (Dept. of Finance): started December of 1950, completed March 1953, cost $450,980; and (4) the Bureau of Statistics Building (Dept. of Trade): started January 1951, completed March 1953, at a cost of $5,889,000.

A view of the progress as of 1955 can be seen below:

Ottawa Journal - December 31, 1955

And here are some great aerial shots as it continued to grow in the early 1960's:

Tunney's Pasture - May 1960 (Ottawa Archives CA-8235)

Tunney's Pasture - 1963 (Ottawa Archives CA-8697)

I hope you enjoyed this rather quick history of the Tunney's Pasture property. I glossed over a lot of the post-1920s details, as I wanted to focus more so on the Tunney name itself. Rest assured, at some point in the near future, I'll cover those proposed Tunney's Pasture subdivisons and developments in greater detail. Cheers!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The incredible move of 333 Patricia Avenue

One of the most eye-opening stories I'd come across while researching the history of the neighbourhood was the tale of the huge brick farmhouse which existed for many years on Richmond Road, but was moved somewhere else, at some point in time. This is what I had to go on for several years, and in chatting with other local history buffs, others had perhaps heard the story too, but no one could confirm what house it was, or if the story was even true.

In the summer of 2013, the Kitchissippi Times ran a contest to "win the history of your house" (done by yours truly of course). The winning entry was particularly intriguing to me - a woman on Patricia Avenue lived in an old home that she believed may have been moved. She and her husband were once told by a contractor their foundation was much newer than the house which stood upon it. That was all she knew, but had no guess as to the story behind it. What a great coincidence for me!

Sure enough, through researching the amazing history of the home, the connection was made. Indeed her home which now stands at 333 Patricia Avenue (just north off Richmond Road) had stood for over forty years 130 yards to the south, on Richmond Road.

The summary of this incredible story was published as the cover story for the Kitchissippi Times in September of 2013 (you can view the article here: But with the freedom of this blog, I'd like to share this story once again, with a bit more detail. 


The story begins in 1890, when a long-time Goulbourn farmer John Barton purchased the vacant 6-acre property at the north-west corner of Patricia and Richmond (the former Canadian Tire site, now a condo building), and built a farmhouse.  Barton was much loved in the village of "Pleasant Valley", and his departure was a blow to his friends (see the newspaper account published about his farewell party). 

Ottawa Journal - October 8, 1890
In November of 1890, John and his wife Mary Ann moved in to their newly built house. 

Sadly, John Barton fell into a mental decline, perhaps despondent over leaving his much loved homestead in Pleasant Valley (it really is quite curious why he and his wife would have moved away at age 58, relocating so far away to the relatively random spot on Richmond Road outside of Ottawa). Regardless, on April 7th, 1892, John committed suicide due to his mental illness. The newspaper accounts left little to the imagination (which was quite standard for the era) (click on either to enlarge the view):

Ottawa Journal - April 7, 1892

Ottawa Journal - April 8, 1892

The widowed Mary Ann Barton remarried in 1895, to a widower Thomas Hand, who was loosely related to Mary Ann through marriage (Thomas Hand’s daughter Sarah Jane had married Alfred James Barton, the son of John Barton's brother Benjamin). Thomas Hand was an elected Councillor of Nepean Township council, first serving for the 1895 year. He likely found the move to Richmond Road quite an advantage, as it was just a short walk from Nepean Township hall at Richmond Road and Churchill.

Ottawa Journal - October 9, 1912

In September of 1912, the youngest son to Thomas Hand, Selwyn Hand, was married to Stella Pedley, and as a wedding gift, received an 11,000 square foot portion of the Barton-Hand property on Richmond Road. Construction began immediately on a new home next door to the original Barton farmhouse, and was mostly finished by early 1913.

The report of the Hand-Pedley wedding can be seen at right as a fine example of the way Ottawa newspapers once reported on the happenings of its citizens, back when Ottawa was still a relatively "small town" and the newspapers still heavily focused on local news.

On April 21st, 1913, the Nepean Township assessor visited the property and assessed it with a value of $1,200 for the house (and $200 for the land), and noted that it was occupied by 2 persons.

Patricia Avenue at the time did not really even exist. It was merely a small lane (known unofficially as Potter's Lane) running north towards the CP Railway line, and was more of an access lane to the Riverside Park (now known as Champlain Park) community. Of course Island Park Drive was still 10 years away from existing as well.

A part of the Cauchon & Haycock Map of the City of Ottawa - 1913

The Hand family grew, and raised their family in this home over the next 41 years. 

A shot of the house can be seen in the 1920 aerial photograph below. Richmond Road cuts through left to right. The convent can be seen at the top, Hilson PS is to the right of it, and that is Hilson Avenue running south towards the top off Richmond Road. The Hand houses can be seen in the center, below Richmond Road (Selwyn's house on the left, the Barton farmhouse on the right). The impressive Heney property is at right, and otherwise, it's a vast open area, a few years before Island Park would be cut through. 

1920 aerial photo
And here are the two houses as they stood in the 1940s fronting on Richmond Road. The Selwyn Hand house was #119 Richmond Road, and the old Barton house (seen in the background) was #123.

The year 1953 was a year of great change for the Hand family, and the home at 119 Richmond Road. Selwyn Hand had become ill, and since his children had already grown up and moved out, made the decision to sell the home before his illness worsened. On May 1st, 1953, Selwyn sold the entire property to Neil Malcolm MacNish for $40,000. MacNish was the owner of Ottawa's only Canadian Tire location at the time (at the corner of Kent Street and Laurier Avenue), and endeavoured to open a second Canadian Tire for Ottawa on Richmond Road.

Though MacNish would have the Barton farmhouse demolished a few years later (it actually continued to stand next to the completed Canadian Tire for several years) to make way for the parking lot and future addition, he found a buyer for the Selwyn Hand-built home at 119 Richmond. Jean R. Woods, who resided at 329 Patricia and owned the vacant lot on both sides of his house, must have preferred the idea of moving the Hand house, rather than having to build something new on his vacant lots. He purchased the house at 119 Richmond Road from MacNish for $2,000, and right away set about making arrangements to have the home moved.

Jean Woods immediately hired contractors to begin the daunting task of preparing not only the house for its move, but also the vacant lot further down Patricia. The F.E. Cummings Construction Ltd. (owned by Frederick Ernest Cummings), located at 388 Richmond Road was hired as the primary contractors for the move of the house, the construction of the new foundation, and other finishing jobs on the new location. Earle Electric (owned by Eber Earle, located at 1394 Randall Avenue) was hired to do the electrical work at the new location. And well-known local plumber and home contractor Wilfred J. Carriere (of 18 Western Avenue) was hired to do the plumbing and heating work.

Frederick Cummings' son Garry was a teenager in the 1950s, and was present when the house was moved from its spot on Richmond Road, down Patricia Avenue to lot 69. In January of 2014, I asked him about his recollections of the move. "The move took place over days. About a week. It was a big job, a three-storey house. Rollers were used. The house was placed on jacked up wood block piers and put under timbers, onto wood rollers. The house was moved out to Patricia, down the street, and then we had to turn it, then move it on to the foundation." I asked him if his Dad's company had done the new foundation and he replied "I assume so." He added "I can't recall exactly how we made it move, power-wise. Dad's company did a lot of moving in Manor Park at that time years ago, and used a pulley with a horse that was tied to ropes and walked around a pole in a circle."

Further, he added "to move down Patricia, it had to be accurate. With a grade going down, it was important to keep the house level the whole time moving it." Garry remembered that the foreman on the job was Adelore Laderoute, who worked with his son Eugene. "They were the two main men on the job. Adelore was the (company's) main moving guy, the superintendent of house moving." Garry doubted there were any photographs available of the house move, or at least he was unaware of any. I asked him if there was anything special he recalled about the move and he said "It was just a regular move. Nothing spectacular." 

A neighbour on Patricia had once indicated that a photograph does exist of the move, but I have yet to see it, or confirm it's existence. If anyone reading this has a copy or knows of one existing, I beg you to please get in touch with me! :)

Sadly, just days after selling his home, Selwyn Hand passed away on June 17th, 1953, at the age of 70. 

In July of 1953, the newspapers announced that a new Canadian Tire branch store was coming to to Richmond Road, and indeed the doors were open just before Christmas of that year. The Canadian Tire lasted in this spot until 2008, when it unfortunately shut down - a sad moment for Kitchissippi. (

As for the Woods family, once the newly-moved home was ready at 333 Patricia, they moved in. Sadly for them however, the costs of the move proved to be too much, and after a series of extra mortgages and liens by the contractors, they had no choice but to sell the house in July of 1954. However, we have Jean R. Woods to thank for this great story, and his incredible idea to move (and thankfully preserve) this awesome heritage-worthy house, which still exists today at 333 Patricia Avenue.

333 Patricia - Google Streetview 2013