Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The big top in Kitchissippi in the early 1900s

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

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

Sunday, October 8, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Journal, December 1, 1890.

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1892

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1892.

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

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

Thomas Hand had lost his wife in 1891. The couple had 10 children total, but by 1895, only his youngest son Selwyn (born 1883) was under the age of 16. Thomas and Mary Ellen lived alone in the house on Richmond Road; Thomas had left the Hand homestead in Pleasant Valley to his eldest son William Pittman Hand, and several of his other children continued to reside there as well. In 1900, Selwyn would move out to Richmond Road (perhaps for proximity to Ottawa, where he had obtained employment as a civil servant). He resided there until 1912, when he was engaged to be married. His wedding gift from his father was a gift of half of the parcel of land on Richmond Road! Thomas Hand parcelled off the eastern half of the property, and gifted it to Selwyn and his new wife Stella Agnes Pedley. The couple built the new brick house (pictured above) and resided in it until 1953, the year Selywn passed away. That summer, the house was moved north up Patricia Avenue to make way for the new Canadian Tire store.  (full details of that story at: https://kitchissippi.com/2013/09/16/three-stories-of-stories/)

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The 1956 Miracle in Westboro

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo from the Ottawa Citizen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ottawa Citizen evening edition, November 13, 1956.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Nepean High School Class of '67!

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

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

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Kitchissippi Museum returns to Tastes of Wellington West!

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Caffé Mio: The original edge of the city

Caffé Mio over its 12 years of existence at the corner of Wellington West and Western Avenue has become one of Wellington Village's most popular spots. It isn't easy to survive that long on a main street; many other Wellington West restaurants/bistros/pubs have opened and closed unable to find the recipe of success. Mio has, and the little bistro-bar in the converted corner store continues to grow, both amongst its large established clientele, and also to new visitors to the neighbourhood. It has a constantly changing menu, and a reliably comfortable atmosphere; a perfect combination. 

The focus of my article today is not so much on the business itself, but on its historic building. Dating back nearly 100 years, the building has stood the test of time on developing Wellington West. It has a unique appearance, with its instantly recognizable extra-large bricks and eye-catching slightly-pink and white colour scheme. The building has also been seemingly extremely well maintained. Adding to its importance is that it truly was at the western edge of the City of Ottawa until 1950 (Western Avenue was the border between Ottawa and Nepean until the great annexation of 1950). It had the highest address number on Wellington Street (though that later changed in 2002 when the western end of Wellington was extended to Island Park Drive). 

I love Caffé Mio, and I love the building even more (of course, I'm a history/built heritage geek, so that probably comes as no surprise). I appreciate so much how the building has been preserved, it truly is a Wellington Village landmark (one of many that stand tall on Wellington West). It's a great property in a great neighbourhood (I'm just a block over on Gilchrist myself), and I have a life-long tie-in to the place. I spent some of my favourite times as a kid there, as it was the nearest candy/convenience store to our house, so most of my allowance money ended up there throughout 1986 and 1987.  

The property was originally on the western edge of the Stewart family farm, which existed from 1832 until 1893. Western was the border between the Stewarts and the Cowleys, and a little lane (and likely a fence or two) separated the two farms in the 19th century. Western was appropriately known as River Street in its earliest days, as it was the path you would have used to access the Ottawa River from Wellington. Beyond 1893, for the next 27 years the property sat largely empty, part of the holdings of a land investment company waiting for the real estate boom that the Roaring Twenties eventually provided. 

I've previously detailed that fateful auction day in June of 1920 when the Wellington Village properties were all sold under a circus tent at Holland and Wellington one at a time (http://kitchissippi.com/2015/04/17/history-of-wellington-village-ottawa), and the Mio lot was of course a part of that auction.

The buyers at said auction were a mixed group. Many were simply investors, looking to scoop up a few cheap lots in anticipation of selling them for a quick profit. Others were small-time developers, anxious to make their mark in the newest Ottawa subdivision. The third category were the dreamers, the individuals who were sold by the Ottawa Land Association's promises of a cheap lot, and assistance to build a home right away, for less than the price of renting a home.

Albert E. Knight in 1938
The Mio lot was one of four lots purchased that day by Albert E. Knight, a 38-year old policeman with the Ottawa Police Department. Knight had come to Canada from England, where he had been a policeman with the Worcestershire force. He joined the Ottawa Police in 1912 as chief police photographer, and from 1914 until his retirement in 1946, he was in charge of the issuing of licenses (largely for dogs and cars), retiring with the rank of Inspector.

Knight bought his four lots for $1,020. Two of the lots were the Mio lot and the one next door to the east (the used car lot), and the other two were two lots at the south end of Ross. It is probable that Knight acquired them solely as an investment. Indeed he never took out any permits, nor built in Wellington Village.

In May of 1922, Knight sold the Mio lot to Antonio Mendola for $600. He would certainly profit on that lot, as anyone who re-sold them prior to the late 1920s did. The adjoining lot (car lot) he wasn't as lucky with, holding on to it for 13 years until losing it due to unpaid taxes during the depression (land values reached extremely low levels, new home construction was at a standstill, and the City was still charging relatively high property taxes, leading many to simply surrender their lots rather than pour money into them year after year in the hopes that the depression, and later WWII, would end). 

Antonio Mendola operated his own grocery store at 438 Preston Street at the corner of Pamilla (now EVOO Greek Kitchen restaurant), and must have had a plan to build a new grocery and confectionery shop on Wellington Street in the new subdivision, and move. 

ad for Mendola's original grocery store on Preston.
From the Ottawa Journal, March 1st, 1920.

Mendola did build it, likely starting in 1924, and completing it sometime between the fall of 1924 and the summer of 1925. But it was not Mendola who would open for business in the new building. For reasons that are unclear (but are likely financial or personal related), Mendola put the property up for sale just after construction was complete. He sold in January of 1926 for $1 and the assumption of the remaining balance of the mortgage, a transaction which seems to indicate Mendola was simply looking to be rid of the property. He was soon after listed as living back on Preston Street, running a store next to where he previously had, at 440 Preston Street.

Rather than Mendola opening in the new Wellington Street storefront, it was 31-year-old Edward S. Howard who opened the first shop in the future Caffé Mio building in very late 1924 or early 1925. Born in County Kerry Ireland, he arrived in the Ottawa as a teenager. He married his wife Edna Smith on the lawn of her family cottage in Champlain Park in 1913. (That cottage/house was 101 Cowley Avenue, located on the northeast corner of Pontiac, now NCC-owned greenspace. Edward and Edna lived there until it was expropriated by the NCC in 1959). The Howards operated the grocery/confectionery store until 1929 when the building was sold. Howard then moved on, still working in the grocery business, but with Bryson-Grahams.

Meanwhile, Mendola sold the store in 1926 to John Wesley Summers and his wife Edith, of Westboro. John was 34 years old, and employed as a civil servant, with the intriguing job of photostat operator with the Department of the Interior (a photostat being the earliest version of a photocopier, which as you can imagine in the 1920s sounds like it was quite the involved machine). The Summers seemingly acquired the property as an investment, holding it as landlords for just three years, before selling in February of 1929.

It was in 1929 that the property begins its first true notable era when Joseph Shaeen purchased the property, for the total cost of $3,950. Joseph had led a very interesting life to that point. He was born in Syria in 1890, and had escaped from there in 1909. He came to Canada and settled in the tiny oceanside town of Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, where he operated a butcher shop. He fought in WWI as a member of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment, enlisting in December of 1914. In July of 1916, while in battle in Beaumont-Hamel, France, Shaeen was shot in the left leg. He spent two weeks in a field hospital, transferred to England, and from there spent an incredible 29 months in hospitals, eventually returning home to Newfoundland in December of 1918. By that time, his medical file indicates he had received 18 operations on his leg, which was still not healed. He later spent 5 months in Camp Hill Hospital in Halifax in 1920, at which time records seem to indicate the leg was amputated. He also lost his first wife during this period as well, and he had two young children when he enlisted, for whom there is no trace beyond that point.

In 1925, he married his second wife Alice Ganim, who was also Syrian-born. Travel records show he left Newfoundland (which required immigration, as Newfoundland was still not part of Canada at the time) for three weeks in 1925 to come to Ottawa, and it was here that he married Alice. The couple returned to Newfoundland. There they had their only child, a son Albert. In October of 1928, the family planned to move to Ottawa, and boarded the S.S. Caribou from Port-aux-Basques to North Sydney, Nova Scotia. However, upon arrival in North Sydney, the family was rejected. They appeaed the decision, and for 16 days the family would have stayed in limbo (perhaps at some kind of temporary holding location), until the appeal was heard. It was approved, and they were free to come to Ottawa to start their new life.

It did not take long for the Shaeens to find their new home: the Caffé Mio building on Wellington West! On February 6th, 1929 the sale was official. The Shaeens paid $3,950, half down and half paid through a mortgage from Westboro's Rev. Steacy of All Saints Church. It was more common than not in those days for loans to be acquired from individual lenders, rather than a bank or loan company. How the Shaeens met Rev. Steacy and were able to borrow $2,000 from him after being in Ottawa only a few months must be an interesting story unto itself. 

Early records list Shaeen's business alternatively as a restaurant, fruit store and confectionery in different sources. It is likely true that the shop had a few functions during the early years, as the Shaeens would have done anything they could to stay afloat during the difficult years of the depression.

The building was originally smaller than it is now. An addition was put on the rear between 1930 and 1931 by the Shaeens. This can be seen in the aerial photo comparison between 1928 and 1933 below. That is Wellington running left to right, with Western and Gilchrist running north off of it. The building on the northeast corner of Western is noticeably extended in the 1933 photo.

November 1928 aerial photo

May 1933 aerial photo, with new addition showing

Initially, the Shaeens lived in a split-level apartment, occupying all of the space above the store, and a portion at the back of the ground floor. The renovation in 1930-31 added an additional apartment on the 2nd floor, and another unit on the ground floor, both with Western Avenue addresses.

In August of 1935, Shaeen acquired the vacant lot next door from the City of Ottawa, who had acquired it due to unpaid taxes by its original owner Albert E. Knight. It was a shrewd acquisition by Shaeen, who picked it up for next to nothing (less than $100 I believe) to give himself an extra-large parcel of land fronting Wellington Street. This double-lot remains as one parcel today.

Joseph Shaeen continued to operate his store until 1947. I found very little written about the family or the store during this period, and in fact could only find one advertisement for the store during this entire time, an ad which ran on Christmas Eve 1936, which misspelled Shaeen's name.

Ottawa Journal, December 24, 1936

Attempts to locate a descendant of the Shaeens proved difficult, and thus I am unable to find any vintage photos or stories from this period, unfortunately.

Joseph retired in 1947, and sold the building and the lot next door to Esau and Rose Kavanat, who had been living in Spencerville. The store then operated as "Kavanat Confectionery" for 2 years, then "Western Confectionery" until 1961.

In the summer of 1948, neighbourhood institution Gerry C. Lowrey Roofing opened in the vacant lot at 1375 Wellington Street. They must have opened an office in a temporary structure of some kind, perhaps using the lot for storage of roofing materials. There certainly was no permanent structure on it at the time, and in an aerial photo from 1953, there was not a temporary one by then either.

Journal, September 11, 1948

Soon after the lot was co-leased by A. Bethell & Son, a "concrete floor" business, who shared the space for a year or so with Lowreys. Lowreys remained until April of 1953, when they moved a block over into the building at the corner of Gilchrist which is now Lauzon's Music. The vacant lot was immediately leased by Hughie Henderson, who opened Parkway Motors, the first car dealership in a long line of car dealerships, which technically is still the use of this lot today.

Journal, May 6 1953

In 1952, part of the Kavanat's shop "Western Confectionery" was sectioned off (I believe even by an interior wall with a separate entrance) and the "Western Barber Shop" operated out of the east part of the building, with civic address 1377 Wellington for over 20 years, until about 1973.

In 1961, the Kavanats sold to Rodger Harold Moodie, a car dealer himself, who saw potential in owning the lot. He opened "Moodie Motor Sales", with a sizable starting stock of cars, as evidenced by his first newspaper ad:

June 9, 1961 Journal

Moodie then rented out the corner store to tenants. But business would not go so well for Moodie. By 1963 he was out of business, and that fall he was foreclosed on by the owner of his $51,000 mortgage, an Ottawa lawyer John Barber Ebbs. Interestingly, Ebbs would maintain ownership of the property for several years.

The confectionery meanwhile had different names throughout the years: Ganim's Emporium (1962), Wally's Emporium (1963-1964), Tony's Emporium (1965-1968), and finally Sam's Grocery (1969-1987).

Ottawa Journal, February 5, 1969

Sam of Sam's Grocery was Samir Ghattas. He and his wife Ruth acquired the property in 1969 from Ebbs, and opened his store that would remain open until the fall of 1987. Sam's would sell a variety of items. In 1974, a newspaper ad highlighted their chuckwagon sandwiches...

Ottawa Journa, February 1, 1974

Here is a view of the corner of Wellington and Western in July of 1974, looking northeast:

July 1974

Sam was quoted in a pretty comical article in the Journal in 1977, discussing the popularity of Penthouse magazines in Ottawa, after a news distribution company was charged with distribution and possession of obscene written and pictorial matter. Sam noted that he sold "more than 90 percent of the 60 Penthouse magazines he receives each month". His trial testimony, which now is kind of funny 40 years later, noted that "all kinds of people from all walks of life buy magazines of that kind."

June 21, 1977

I remember Sam and his wife, though by the time we moved onto Gilchrist in the spring of 1986, he was clearly tired of the business. I recall him sitting glumly at the cash, rarely with expression, and not really all that happy to have a 6-7 year old kid bugging him for a quarter's worth of penny candy.

In October of 1987, Sam closed his store, and it became an H&R Block office. I'm not sure what happened to Sam and Ruth afterwards, I could find no real trace of them, though they did continue to own the building into the late 1990s.

After it was an H&R Block, it later became Almy's Deli, Wellington Deli, Lulu, The Cottage, and finally Caffé Mio by early 2005. The City of Ottawa Archives had a photo of the building from 1991 when it was briefly the Wellington Deli:

The Wellington Deli - June 1991
(City of Ottawa Archives - CA-24336)

So there you have it, the story of 1379 Wellington Street West. A building with so much history, all the way back to when it marked the edge of the City of Ottawa, but also one that has stood the test of time over its 93 years. Just one more reason to appreciate the charm and uniqueness of the West Wellington strip!

Caffé Mio (This photo and the one at the top borrowed
from Caffé Mio's website)

Friday, September 1, 2017

The history of the Holland and Wellington intersection

My article in this week's Kitchissippi Times is on the history of the intersection of Wellington Street West and Holland Avenue. Being arguably the busiest intersection in Kitchissippi, it has a lot of history. From streetcars to horses to gas lamps to bible agents to Laura Secords to fires and more, this corner has seen a lot of change over the 130 years of so that it has existed.

Check out the print edition, or you can see the online edition, which has many extra photos at:


Wesley Building 1955 (Ottawa Archives CA-25262)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Broadview School photos 1959-1960

A while back, I discovered a random little trove of photos taken of students at Broadview Public School during the 1959-60 school year. These were taken by the National Film Board, and were taken by NFB famed photographer Chris Lund for their Still Photography Division.

I am not certain why this set of photos was taken, but it is a nice sampling of school life 60 years ago. Have a look, particularly if you or a family member attended Broadview at that time - you may find yourself!

"A kindergarten class at Broadview Public School."
LAC MIKAN 4301849

"A woman and two children seated at table in the library at
Broadview Public School."
LAC MIKAN 4301850

"A close-up of a young student seated at a desk in the
classroom. Broadview Public School"
LAC MIKAN 4301592

"A Group of children standing around together. In the foreground
is a little girl holding a rabbit. Broadview Public School"
LAC MIKAN 4301593

"View of the Broadview Public School. In the foreground
can be seen children running out at recess."
LAC MIKAN 4301594

"A view from the back of the classroom looking towards the
teacher and the blackboard. Broadview Elementary School"
LAC MIKAN 4301595

"A high angle view looking down on a group of young students
who are seated on the floor listening to their teacher explaining
some material from a text book. Broadview Public School"
LAC MIKAN 4301596

"A high angle view looking down on students in the
Broadview Public School."
LAC MIKAN 4301597

Wellington Village residential-to-commercial, with a focus on the Wellington Diner

The current edition of the Kitchissippi Times features an article I wrote, describing the changes to Wellington Street West over the last 100 years or so, but most particularly since the 1950s, when the area was still largely residential. As the need for more commercial space has increased over time, houses have been re-purposed as shops, stores, restaurants and other businesses. Wellington West is fairly unique in this regard, and what's great is that almost all of the original buildings in Wellington Village still remain today (unlike Westboro, where a lot of these old converted houses were demolished during the late 1990s and in to the 2000s).

This article takes a particular look at the Wellington Diner, at the corner of Wellington and Western, and it's history from residential house, to used car lot, and eventually, a restaurant. The article also details just how it ended up that a vacant lot ended up in this spot, a story which originates all the way back in 1911. This vacant lot of course now is contentious over the establishment of a patio, the matter passing through Council but now headed towards the Ontario Municipal Board in Toronto.

The online version of the article contains a few extra photos of the neighbourhood, and some neat old ads for the used car lot which stood on this location for over 40 years. Thanks for reading!


The Wellington Diner - aka the Stacey home.
Circa 1930

A walk through Kitchissippi in 1867

I'm well behind in posting my updates to the blog! My apologies!

Earlier this summer, you may have caught it: the cover story of the mid-June Kitchissippi Times was my article on Kitchissippi of 1867. As we are the midst of Canada 150 celebrations, it was good timing to write an article talking about the people, places and streetscape that would have existed in our area in 1867. This was a really fun article to write, and combines years of research on various topics, culminating in painting a picture of exactly what someone in 1867 would have experienced. I included as many photos as I could find that would apply, including some very rare pictures I acquired over the last few months but haven't shared yet.

I hope you'll enjoy it, and gain a bit of an appreciation for just how different life would have been in our area 150 years ago. You can read the full article at:


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The day Mechanicsville nearly burned

Ottawa Citizen headline - May 22, 1956

The Victoria Day long weekend of 1956 is likely one that long-time Mechanicsville residents have never forgotten. Tragedy and devastation was narrowly avoided, thanks to the incredible efforts of the Ottawa Fire Department, and a little luck from mother nature.

As anyone familiar with the area might reasonably question, the close proximity of the houses in Mechanicsville, along with their simple wood-frame construction (and particularly at the time, the questionable materials used in their finishing - the chimneys, the stoves, the pipes, the insulation, etc.), how has Mechanicsville made it through 145 years without being wiped out by fire? The answer is, they haven't exactly... fires have been a significant problem for the neighbourhood. Of course, major changes to the building and fire codes, as well as improvements in the homes themselves have minimized the risks in 2017. But up until the 1960s, fires were a regular event in the neighbourhood, and there is hardly a lot in Mechanicsville which hasn't seen a fire at one time or another. Major blazes have taken out a few house at a time over the years, but thankfully (and luckily) there was never an inferno that destroyed the community as a whole. But such a fire was maybe never closer than on the evening of Sunday May 20th, 1956.

In late afternoon, three young boys aged seven, eight and ten years visited a corner store in Mechanicsville. As it was the Victoria Day weekend, the store had a large stock of firecrackers on hand. One of the boys had 10 cents on him. He purchased 10 firecrackers for 5 cents, plus a book of matches for another penny. The boys took their purchase to the old Artelle icehouse, located on the east side of Forward, where the Place Allard rowhouses now stand.

Google Streetview 2016: Forward Avenue east side near
Scott, where the Dore ice house was located

The ice house was a monstrous building, 60 by 40 feet in footprint, and stood 50 feet high, the equivalent of a four-storey building. These buildings were huge structures, and there had been several in Mechanicsville, where the ice-men of the era had stored they had pulled out of the Ottawa River the prior winter, for sale and home delivery throughout the following spring and summer. With the electric refrigerator becoming an affordable appliance for just about every home in the 1950s, the icemen were more or less out of business. The Artelle ice house had been sold to the Dores in the 1940s, but ceased being used as an icehouse in 1953. It had then been sold to the James Tapp & Sons Construction Company to store construction equipment.

Just before 7 p.m., the boys went alongside the building, and set off their firecrackers. They put one firecracker between boards of the of icehouse's outer wall, and into the sawdust insulation. They later claimed they believed the firecracker to be "dead" when the did that. They then left the area, and went to go play on swings nearby. A short time later, they noticed smoke and flames coming from the roof.

They ran to the house next door at 191 Forward and alerted Mrs. Ouellette, who was watching television on the main floor. "I went outside shortly after 7 o'clock to find flames slapping our house" Mrs. Ouellette recalled to the newspaper. "My husband was upstairs sleeping and all I could think of was getting him awake." Just moments later the Ouellette's bedroom was a mass of flame. The Ouellette family were in the midst of renovating their home at the time. This was in fact their third tragedy in three years. In August of 1955, 7-year-old daughter Nicole was killed when hit by a car at Parkdale and Scott, and in 1954, youngest son Denis spent two weeks a in coma after being hit by a train at Forward Avenue (he survived).

191 Forward Avenue as it burned
(City of Ottawa Archives, CA-38569)

Meanwhile, next door, neighbour Leo Monette was also watching television when he heard the cries in the street, and saw the boys running past the front window. They had run to the fire alarm box (which was located at the corner of Hinchey and Lyndale) to alert the fire department. Someone else had already pulled the alarm.

Frank Albert who lived at 195 Hinchey came running over, and was one of the first on scene. He had seen the smoke coming from the warehouse a block over. Albert and other neighbours began to help as was common in the era in the event of a fire: begin to quickly remove furniture, clothes and personal property within the houses of those affected. Thus for as long as they could, neighbours helped empty 191 and 189 Forward of as many of their contents as could be carried out in the short minutes they had before the homes were engulfed. 191 Forward was also the location of Lucille's Beauty Salon, and as much of the hairdresssing equipment owned by the Ouellette's daughter were brought outside.

The first firemen on the scene included Acting District Chief Stan Pratt. He called in a second alarm, which brought Acting Chief Maynard Dolman to the fire, who saw the severity of the blaze, and called for all Ottawa fire stations and all off-duty firemen. 18 reels came rushing to the scene, and virtually all of Ottawa's firemen and their equipment from seven stations. Many off-duty firemen were called in, and others arrived voluntarily when they heard of the fire. Dolman later said that he believed on his arrival that the fire would likely "spread to the Ottawa River".

At the height of the blaze, it was stated that flames shot into the sky 60 feet over the roof of the former icehouse. Hoses began to melt and burn, and windows of neighbouring homes and businesses began to crack and shatter. Residents of houses 250 feet away stated they could feel the heat of the fire in their kitchen.

The firefighters at 191 Forward upon first
arrival. (City of Ottawa Archives CA-38557)

Early in the blaze, loud explosions could be heard. This caused great anxiety for those at the scene, as the explosions were contributing to fueling the fire, while also slowing the fire department's ability to fight it. The explosions were believed to have come from old oil drums, which were empty at the time, as well as the 15-gallon gas tank on the dump truck that was parked in the warehouse, and from its tires.

Meanwhile, down the street at 183 Forward, Teck Chiodo reported that "the heat was becoming so intense" that they began evacuating. Next door at 185 Forward, the Morisette family was forced out by a flaming roof. Suddenly houses all over Mechanicsville were becoming alight.

Sparks showered houses blocks from the fire. Homeowners throughout the neighbourhood battled the burning embers with buckets of water and hoses to keep roofs wetted down. Firefighters spread out over the entirety of Mechanicsville to assist, and keep watch. It would be a nervous two hours for the residents of the district.

The heat from the icehouse fire became so intense that 191 and 189 Forward were fully ignited. Firemen had climbed to the roof of 191 to help battle the blaze, but were affected by what was described as "blast furnace heat". One fireman, Kenneth O'Connor, was blinded by smoke and flame, and feel from the roof. A second fireman, Len Eburne, slipped from a fence. Both men were taken to the Civic by emergency ambulance. O'Connor had broken his ankle, while Eburne was looked at for a possible foot fracture.

Firefighter Ken O'Connor at the Civic Hospital
the day after the fire May 22, 1956
(City of Ottawa Archives, CA-38570)

The CPR's new "Canadian" train, on its way into Ottawa from Toronto was held up for an hour because of hoses over the track. The Police were also busy, managing area traffic and also the incredible flow of spectators that found their way into the neighbourhood. Large numbers of officers were required to keep the crowd at bay. The billowing clouds of smoke brought thousands into the area.

By 7:45 p.m., the icehouse was in ruins and the final portions had collapsed. The fire fighters turned their attention to the neighbouring houses, and by 9 p.m. had succeeded in calming the fire.

Photo after the ice house had burned and collapsed.
(Ottawa Journal, May 22 1956)

Police and bystanders interviewed said they had never seen a faster, more capable "stop" of a fire. All agreed that a major disaster was averted by the skill of the fire department. "I dread to think what the consequences would have been if there had been an easterly wind and it had been later in the night" said Michael Connolly of 124 Hinchey Avenue, whose house briefly was on fire owing to a spark that had travelled 400 yards. The roof of his neighbour at 120 Hinchey next door had also been on fire as well.

Equally as important a factor in why Mechanicsville was not razed that Sunday evening was the luck of the weather. The direction of the wind throughout the event was southwest. Residents and fire officials agreed it would have been disastrous had an easterly wind been blowing. Surely all of Hinchey and moving east would have gone up in flames.

Ottawa Citizen profile of some of the area neighbours
who did suffer damage/loss in the fire. May 22 1956.

Property damage was estimated in excess of $75,000. The ice house alone was valued at $30,000, though it (and its contents) were fully insured. 191 Forward was a total loss, partially insured for the $9,000 loss. 189 was severely damaged but was later restored and continued to stand into the 1990s. The three families who resided in 189 and 191 Forward were made homeless, and took temporary shelter in the homes of friends and family.

Aftermath of the fire, smouldering ruins of the icehouse
View looking east and slightly south, from middle of
Forward Ave. (City of Ottawa Archives CA-25267)

View looking north up Forward Avenue after the fire. Hinchey
Avenue in background at right.
(City of Ottawa Archives CA-25268)

Shockingly, not everyone learned from this incident! The following night (Monday night) firefighters were called back to Forward Avenue when another alarm was called in, after fireworks let off on the street sent sparks onto the roof of 86 Forward. With the nerves of the neighbourhood still frayed, no chance was taken, and the fire department arrived and extinguished the smouldering shingles on the roof.

A bylaw passed in May of 1955 banned the sale of "fireworks or any other dangerous article to any child apparently under the age of 16." Thus the day after the big fire, the police department stated that the store owner who sold the boys the firecrackers would face charges. No details were ever followed up on in the newspaper about the charges.

The last of the Sunday evening fires was finally out at 11 p.m., around which time the police had rounded up the three kids who were responsible for the fire. The boys sat in a kitchen on Forward Avenue recounting the story to police, who told them they would not be charged "I will buy a soft drink next time", promised the oldest of the children. "Nervous Mechanicsville residents hope they keep their promise", wrote the Citizen.


Here is a list (using newspaper accounts) to list the houses and residents most significantly affected by the fire that day:
- 195 Forward: The Tapp warehouse (former icehouse) had within it a 1955-model three-ton dump truck and construction material (lumber, power tools and a lot of equipment).
- 191 Forward (Mr. and Mrs. Emile Ouellette and four children): total loss
- 189 Forward (duplex, Mr. and Mrs. Leo Monette and one child; and Mr and Mrs. Paul Gougeon): entire house seriously damaged
- 185 Forward (Mr. and Mrs. Paul Morisette, 4 children and a roomer): heavy fire damage to roof.
- 183 Forward (duplex, Mr. and Mrs. Teck S. Chiodo and their son; Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ducharme and two children; and Miss J. Maloney): roof destroyed, water damage heavy
- 179 Forward (Mr. and Mrs. R. Auger, two children; and Mrs. E. Lappe)
- 202 Forward (American News Company)
- 208 Hinchey, at rear of the icehouse (Mr. and Mrs. O. Trottier and three children; Mr. and Mrs. L. Lafontaine and three children; Mr. and Mrs. O. Demers and one child)
- 206 Hinchey (Mrs. M. Laroque)
- 202 Hinchey (Mrs. C. Lacosse and son): shed at rear destroyed and rear wall of home severely damaged
- 198 Hinchey (Mr. and Mrs. Harold Raymond and five children): garage at back and rear wall of home heavily damaged
- 194 Hinchey (Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Mercier and seven children)
- 192 Hinchey (Mr. and Mrs. G. St. Laurent and seven children)
- Many other homes two blocks away or more were damaged via roof fires, touched off by high drifting sparks


The following three photos are from one larger photo looking south up Forward, towards Scott Street. It shows a groups of some of those spectators who had assembled to watch the fire. I split the photo into three segments, which will allow for more close-ups of the people. Recognize anyone? I have to believe most of Mechanicsville was out watching the fire, perhaps someone you know may be in the crowd?