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Chapter Two: Early Rideau Front Settlement
Ottawa East Begins To Emerge
|The northeast part of Nepean was the last to be occupied in the 1840s. The area between the canal and the Rideau River was part of the Merivale District of Nepean and was known as the "back bush" (1). Much of the land on both sides of the river was held by absentee speculators such as the Fraser family and was largely unavailable to individual settlers due to the cost. Those settlers that did come were mostly Irish Presbyterians from the northeast of Ireland. They were certainly not wealthy and were attracted to this area where available land was cheaper than in other parts of the township. In the late 1840s more land became available as financial pressures forced most of the original speculators to sell. This resulted in an opening up of the Ottawa East area for agricultural and later, residential development.|
|At the beginning of the 1850s, the small urban community of Bytown continued to grow as the market focus for the surrounding area north and south of the Ottawa River. As well the community was an important entrepôt (intermediary center of trade and transshipment) for the timer industry of the Ottawa Valley connecting to Montreal and markets in Europe and the United States. In 1850 the community separated from Nepean Township and in 1855 became the City of Ottawa.|
It is important at this point in the story to note that the City of Ottawa proper stopped at the southern boundary of Gladstone/Mann Avenues (See Map). Everything south of that east to west line was technically a suburb. While the City continued to evolve from a commercial/sawmilling function to a civil service center, the surrounding areas developed as separate and distinct communities initially created by land speculators. The economic success of these communities was largely dependent on access to the City, via available transportation, for the sale of goods, produce and employment. While distinct politically, the prosperity of the suburbs (including the Ottawa East area) was dependent on the larger city.
As with other communities such as Rochesterville, Hintonburg, Mount Sherwood, the area that was to become Ottawa East Village began to develop its own unique character. To describe the aerial extent of our story, it is best to follow the structure presented by the original land survey that sectioned the region into Concessions and Lots. Of particular interest are the Concessions of C and D and Lots F to L. Using present-day roads, Concession C is bounded by Bronson Avenue in the west and Main St. in the east. Concession D is bounded in the west by Main St. and in the east by the Rideau River.
The northern boundary of Lot F is the east/west line of Gladstone and Mann Avenues. All the remaining lots (G to L) are lettered south from here.
Lot "F" Bordered by Bronson Ave., Gladstone/Mann Avenues, Rideau River and Isabella Street.
Circa 1850, the land immediately south of the future City of Ottawa was that owned by William Stewart the grandfather of Ottawa East. Stewart wore many hats during his time in the area. Originally from Scotland, he was a merchant when he first arrived in Bytown. He quickly became one of the most influential men in the community through his duties as a land agent, lumberman, landlord, president of the county agricultural society, Assemblyman and leading member of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. There is much more on the Stewart Family and Stewarton located here.
In 1834 he purchased 200 acres from a Loyalist speculator who had received the land as a grant from the Crown and had left it undeveloped. Identified as Lot F, Concession C, this land is now surrounded by Bronson Ave., Isabella St., Gladstone Ave., and the Rideau Canal. Later, in 1844, according to land records, he was granted an additional 104 acres of the Lot F in Conc. D. This adjoined his holdings to the east across the canal.
In 1852, when Bytown residents began to lobby the Legislature for city status, Stewart appealed to the local council for exclusion of his property. He pleaded that:
"the present limit of the town is large enough for the next half century . . . there are upwards of a thousand acres of land now within the town without being occupied by one building . . . nearly two hundred acres of (my) land (is) under original forest [and] . . . it would be unjust and exceedingly oppressive to assess such unproductive property at City of Town valuation" (2).
As a result of his influential lobbying, in 1855 when Ottawa officially became a city, the southern line was fixed at the northern boundary of his land (Ann Street, later to become Gladstone and Mann Avenues).
William Stewart's prediction of a lapse of 50 years before the land would be needed was not to prove out. After his death ownership of 86 acres of his holdings between the canal and the Rideau River in Lot F passed to his son Archibald in 1873. The son did not waste time! By the end of that year Archie registered a plan of subdivision (Reg. Plan 48) named Archville West and immediately offered lots for sale. This was the very beginning of the future Ottawa East Village.
Lot "G" bordered by the Queensway (approximately) and Springhurst Avenue.
South of the Stewart holdings was Lot G in both Concessions C and D. The dividing line between these two concessions was a road allowance that was later to become Main Street. Lot G, Conc. C was originally owned by George Patterson (of Patterson Creek fame), and later by John Hickey and William Powell (Powell Ave.). The majority of the land was leased to individual market gardeners and there was very little development in the 1850s and 60s. But the land in Lot G, east of the canal, soon became important due to its proximity to Lower Town. To understand this new importance, it is necessary to review the transportation geography of this specific area.
Up until the building of the Rideau Canal, the only road available for north-south transportation was a forced road (following the shape of the land, not survey lines). This ran from the Ottawa River at the Chaudière Falls, south around the northern extent of Dows Great Swamp (later Dows lake) to the Rideau River opposite Braddish Billings farm across the river in Gloucester Township. As the canal cut this road in 1830 a new bridge was needed. It was decided however to utilize the cleared land along the canal for a more useful road. A new road was then cut from what is today Billings Bridge, along the future course of Riverdale Avenue to the eastern bank of the canal at approximately Bristol Ave. and then on to Lower Town. This rerouting of traffic was to prove highly advantageous for the later development of Ottawa East as this road remained the main route between Gloucester and the city will into the 1860s.
After Ottawa became a city in 1855, the land east of the canal in Lot G became of interest particularly to lawyers as the canal road allowed easy access to the court building in Lower Town. In 1859, William Ring and C. J. OConnor (OConnor St.) purchased 12 acres of this land. OConnor subdivided part of the land into lots but was unsuccessful in attracting buyers. The northern part was given over for taxes and in 1866, the fiery Ottawa magistrate Martin OGara purchased it. Today this land is bounded (approximately) by Hawthorne Avenue, Main St., just south of Graham Ave. and the canal. The southern part of Lot G was purchased by John Graham (Graham Ave.), who owned the Albion Hotel across from the court house in Lower Town. Canadian Martyrs Church and Immaculata High School today occupy this land.
In Conc. D, Lot G, Crown Attorney Robert Lees began buying property in 1859 along with T. Kealey, J. Greaves and others. Lees was to become one of the most important figures in the evolution of Ottawa East. His political say and vision for the land saved the area from being annexed by the city in 1888 and to a great extent, he guided the development of Ottawa East. Sadly the beautiful brick home he built in 1863 was torn down in the early 1960s to accommodate the Queensway.
In the early 1860s, the Ottawa East land south of the city was fundamentally a rural neighbourhood populated by farmers and labouring families. Lees, in a desire to escape urban life, had built his home in a forest and aptly named it Wildwood. Apart from agrarian practices, there was very little in the way of commercial activity. One exception was a crude tavern, run by a black American Henry Westbrook, located on the eastern bank of the canal at present-day Clegg St. (3).
Lot "H" Northern boundary in Conc. C is Glebe Ave. and the southern boundary is Fifth Ave. In Conc. D, the northern boundary is approximately where Oblate St. intersects with Main St. and along the southern limit of the Immaculate High School land. The southern line of this lot is Clegg St.
John Fitzsimmons originally owned this lot in Conc. D. In 1863 the majority of the land was sold to the Roman Catholic College of St. Joseph. Later this land was to become St. Josephs Scholasticate of the Oblate Order and St. Pauls University. Fitzsimmons retained the northwestern corner of the lot for later development as residential property. This may explain the curious little string of homes between Springhurst and Oblate Streets nearly surrounded by a massive Catholic complex.
Across the street from the Catholic holdings in Lot H, Conc. C, the land was owned by another powerful religious denomination the Presbyterians!
As described in the last chapter, when the Crown originally divided the land of Nepean Township, one-seventh of the area was reserved for the Protestant Church. This was known as a clergy reserve (or a Glebe in the English parlance). It was intended to serve as a source of revenue in support of the church. Originally this referred to the Anglicans (Church of England) but this caused a storm of protest from other denominations. This struggle between the "Church of the Empire and the Scotch Presbyterians is a complex one, but for our purposes, it is sufficient here to note that on:
"April 3 1837 during the Reign of King William IV, there was issued a Crown Grant . . . covering all that portion of Lot ""H" Concession "C" Township of Nepean . . . containing 178 acres . . . to hold hereafter as a Glebe" (4).
Therein lies the derivation of the name of one of Ottawas most desirable neighbourhoods.
The recipient of this valuable tract of land was St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (still standing at the corner of Wellington and Kent Streets). Very little was done with this land until 1868 when the churchs temporal committee" "divided the Glebe west of the Canal into 15 garden plots of about 10 acres each and let them to tenants" (5). When a local speculator attempted to purchase the Glebe lots in 1885, business-minded members of the congregation were spurred to increase the development of the church land. Accordingly a plan of subdivision (Reg. Plan #102) was registered on December 13, 1888. This created, on paper at least, the Village of Spenceville named after the Reverend Alexander Spence (shown on the left); minister of St. Andrews from 1848 to 1867 (6). It was well into the Twentieth Century before the last piece of land in Ottawa East owned by the church was sold. To be technical then, a significant portion of the Glebe was actually part of the Village of Ottawa East!
Lot I Northern boundary is Clegg St. and the southern boundary is approximately an east to west line along the back of the lots on Elliott St. This line is projected from the canal to the Rideau River.
Moving still further south, the land was decidedly rural with the vast majority of the area owned by a few farmers and the Mutchmor Family. In Conc. D, (to the east of Main St.) all of the land was owned by John Fitzsimmons. Very little has been found regarding this family.
This lot in Conc. C extended from the road allowance (Main St.) in the east to Bronson Ave. in the west. Originally owned by the Fraser Family, the land was acquired by the John Mutchmor Family in 1836 (7) from William Vancamp. This family and relatives were to play a major role in the development of land along Bank St. and later in Ottawa South with the establishment of Rideauville. Originally the Mutchmors had little success at farming this land and left the Ottawa region for the United States in 1839 (8). But when Ottawa was announced as the new capital, the family saw the value of their land increase and returned in 1861 (9). In 1864 they divided their holdings on both sides of the canal into blocks which were used initially by "gardeners and nurserymen (10).
Early maps show that some of this land was owned by Bates but again, no information on this person has been found to date.
Lots K and L
Technically the description of the area that was to become Ottawa East Village should end here. The legal southern boundary of the village is the line between Lots I and K. Specifically this line would be found at the back of the properties on the north side of Elliot St. Therefore any land south of this line may be more properly classified as Ottawa South.
But historical geography rarely matches lot lines. Therefore the story will continue south, down Main St. to the Smyth Road Bridge at the Rideau River. Should anyone take personal umbrage with the decision, this writer is prepared to meet that person, con las pistolas, at dawn on any day, at the original site of the Ottawa East Village Water Department Pumping Station.
As well, the small sliver of land along the canal opposite Lansdowne Park will be included. The reader will discover that the geographic proximity of these two areas to the later Ottawa East Village requires that they be examined in the context of our story, notwithstanding the survey lines.
Lot K, Conc. D was owned originally by William Powell who acquired the land from the Crown in 1869 (Land Records Conc. D Vol.#7). William Slattery, a wealthy farmer and butcher purchased the land in 1872; and maintained extensive pasture land in the area. Not only was he one of the first importers of western beef but he was also instrumental in advancing animal husbandry in Nepean Township. The Slattery Family continued to farm this land long after being surrounded by residential areas in the Twentieth Century. The house shown here (11) was located just to the west of what is now the Cuban Embassy. It was lost to fire in the 1990s.
To the west of the concession dividing line (Main St.) were the extensive holdings of Lewis Williams (mentioned earlier). One of the original settlers, he came to the area in 1817 with his wife, 4 sons and 2 daughters (12). His original house at 96 Southern Drive still stands. In 1874 the farm was divided with 54 acres sold in the western part. This later became Rideauville. He also attempted to speculate in the late 1870's laying out a "subdivision of his own at the Fairburn farm just north of Billings Bridge (13), but it was unsuccessful. There is more on the Williams family in the Notables section located here.
Lot L presents some difficulty in delineating which parts were more connected with Ottawa East than with Ottawa South. An 1828 map (14) drawn for Col. By shows the entire lot being owned by Lewis Williams from what is now Bronson Ave. to the Rideau River. Essentially it represents only a tiny piece of land where the west end of Rideau Gardens Drive is today.
From Lots F to L, in Concessions C and D, the stage was set for the next period of Ottawa Easts evolution. All the constituent parts were in place for the coalescence of a new community as Ottawa became the Nations capital. The expected land boom of the late 1860s and 1870s throughout the region was to have a marked effect on the Village.
Footnotes: For complete references, see SOURCES here.
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