Project Information
After 1907
1901 Snapshot
Air Photo Study
Image Library
Chapter Four: Annexation - Yes or No?
As prosperity began to return in the late 1870’s the suburbs surrounding the city continued to grow along with new demand for increased services. The appeal of low taxes, few regulations and independence drew the working class to the communities on the periphery of the city. Land was cheap and most people were content initially to do without many of the services available to city dwellers. Being annexed (joined) to the city was not something that suburban residents desired. However, countervailing pressures from city politicians, land speculators and the need to modernize began to emerge. As a result a battle over annexation of the suburbs erupted.
The situation of the suburbs such as Stewarton, Hintonburg, Rochesterville and Archville (Ottawa East) and others vis-à-vis Nepean Township must be reiterated here (See Map). Essentially, at this point in the story, all development south of Ann Street (Gladstone Ave./Mann Ave.) and west of Booth Street took place in the township. Therefore urbanization issues inherent with an expanding population had to be dealt with by a local government with a decidedly rural mindset and strictly limited in power by the Municipal Act. Under this 1849 Act "it was intended that subdivision planted in rural townships adjacent to Ontario cities would secure urban services by seeking annexation to the urban municipalities. " (1). While most suburbanites rejected this form of solution, they increasingly demanded basic amenities such as fire, police and public health protection. The demands began to dominate township affairs as the 1870’s came to a close.
As discussed in a previous chapter, Nepean Council was, for the most part, reactive in dealing with ratepayer’s requests. In turn both rural and urban residents did not make excessive demands in order to keep taxes low. But this arrangement had difficulty dealing with the growing pressures of new urban functions and numerous external forces. Ultimately changes were made that affected both the suburban and rural residents of the township.

The Forces Driving Annexation

The solution to the problem of meeting the growing urban needs appeared to many, both in the township and the city, to be annexation. And the ultimate decision as to whether or not this would occur was the responsibility of the province. As with the modern-day amalgamation of the Ottawa Region, the decisions of this nature are not democratic – they are imposed!

Leading the fight for annexation were the city (hoping to increase the tax base), landowners (who anticipated a raise in land values) and affluent suburban residents who wanted the amenities of publicMaggie Hyde at pump - 29 Main St. - 1899 safety and clean water. The argument was that in joining with the city, the suburbs would enjoy advantages not available in a rural setting but necessary for any modern community. Suburbanites were immediately suspicious of this claim and many remained steadfast in opposition to annexation.

Of paramount importance in the debate was the subject of services – their provision and cost. In Nepean, taxes were levied on all residents for any services in any area. Rural residents were therefore reluctant about paying higher taxes for needed improvements in the urban areas from which they would not derive benefit. Moreover, the township was limited by the Municipal Act as to the type of services that could be provided.

By contrast Bytown, which had separated from Nepean in 1850, was not constricted in this way. Immediately after separation the city changed the process of statute labour to "a road-works rate" (2). In 1851 equipment was provided for several volunteer fire departments . . . a salaried police department was started in 1866 . . . a professional fire department in 1874". Private companies initiated other amenities such as "gas lighting in 1854 . . . a horse tramline in 1870 . . . electric lights in 1885 . . . electric street lights in 1890 . . . and telephone services for city and suburbs in the 1870’s" (3).

The issue of public health was a major point put forward by the pro-annexationists "as urban congestion and urban filth began driving up death rates, chiefly from infant mortality and contagious disease "(4). The imaginary lines of municipal boundaries did not deter the threat of disease. What affected one community could spread to all.

Smallpox for example "was a recurring problem in the working class areas" (5) such as Archville. The use of pit privies (outhouses) in residential areas had the potential of contaminating the groundwater reserve. Since most homeowners used a backyard or public well as the source for their potable water, the threat of contamination and the spread of disease was always present. Even the water from rivers was contaminated by sources such as tanneries and slaughterhouses. Regarding the latter, the 1875 Report from the City of Ottawa Medical Health Officer (MHO) noted that

 " . . . all . . . are constructed of wood, and unprovided with trough, gutter or reservoir of any kind. In utter violation of public rights, they have openings in the floor, or slides, through which blood, offal (trimmings), and fecal matter are covertly dropped into the water of the Rideau River. The latter is largely used in the neighbourhood for domestic purposes and hence the supplies of ice for summer use in the city are mostly drawn" (6).

There were no adequate mechanisms for cleaning properties, privy vaults or the roads; and no public dumps. Even control of the dumping of night soil (human waste) by private contractors presented a problem. A contractor employed privately in the city to remove this material simply crossed into the suburbs to dump the load where there was no authority to preclude such activities.

The MHO’s 1875 report describes "large quantities of household refuse and garbage . . . thrown upon the thoroughfares" and pools of stagnant water often filled with "decaying animal and vegetable matter and filth" (7). This report pertained to the City of Ottawa but there is every reason to believe that the situation was similar in Ottawa East given the large number of butchers, slaughterhouses, tanneries and the absence of any police or health inspector.

The province passed a new Public Health Act in 1884 (8) requiring municipalities (including townships) toOntario Board of Health Logo appoint a board of health to deal with these problems. Nepean complied and appointed several officials including McLeod Stewart to deal with the health issues in both the rural and urban areas. Without an adequate law enforcement system, policing these new regulations was problematic at best.

Nepean Township had no authority over law enforcement, as this was the responsibility of the County Council. Constables were appointed to deal with matters in all the townships of Carleton County and enforcement in urban areas was far from adequate. In the city, the work of the small police department involved mostly "arrests for drunkenness, fighting and prostitution" (9). City police were also responsible for such mundane tasks as leasing stalls in the market, acting as truant officers and ensuring the humane treatment of animals including " "relieving" cows by milking them" (10). Under supervision of the MHO they enforced sanitation by inspecting and ordering the cleanup of city yards. Other duties included property protection, the enforcement of building regulations and lending assistance to fire fighters at all fires. Compare this to the suburban communities where there was very little if any police activity.

Fire protection was also used a carrot to entice suburbanites to support annexation. By the 1870’s the city Early rendition of a fire reelhad a professional fire service and with newly installed water mains, there was a semblance of protection. But in the suburbs little could be done to save life or property. In Stewarton, literally across the street (Gladstone) from Ottawa, incidents occurred where the city fire department refused to cross the city boundary and buildings perished. (11).

But all of these services, from health to police and fire protection, came with a price tag and the city had accrued a large debt. This was a major impediment for the pro-annexationists. Many city dwellers felt that the suburbanites, who worked in the city, benefited from the improvements but did not share the cost. Moreover the populous suburbs drained away potential taxpayers to a cheaper area. The counter argument offered by many Nepean residents indicated that annexation was a tax grab to increase the city’s revenue, which had been seriously limited in the depression of the 1870’s. And they balked at being forced to assume additional debt for "which they had no voice in creating and for improvements which they derive no benefit" (12).

1882 - Annexation is proposed

By 1882, the battle over annexation reached a crisis point. Ottawa City Council, although seriously divided on the issue, indicated that application would be made to the Ontario legislature. The pro-annexationists were led by C. R. Cunningham who recommended that the city annex over 2000 acres of the suburbs (including Archville) and add 4,500 people to the city tax rolls (13).

Opposition to this move was swift and strenuous. Led by MPP G. W. Monk (Monk St.) representing Nepean and supported by numerous petitions from suburbanites including one "signed by all but 2 of the 98 resident householders in Archville (14)", the debate in the private bills committee of the assembly resulted in defeat of the city’s application. The Ottawa East petition was presented on January 22, 1883. The actual motion with more information can be seen here. A later motion in City Council to reapply was also narrowly defeated.

Defeat did not still the debate and in 1887 the topic was raised again. But this time the desire to join the city came from an influential group of Stewarton residents. (See Map)

By the latter part of the decade, many of the affluent residents of this suburb were no longer satisfied by the benefit of low taxes and the resultant few services. Some Stewarton residents had already been hooked up to city water and in one case of fire, the city brigade had come to the rescue. The community was predominantly composed of "civil servants, engineers, bookkeepers and respectable tradesmen (living) on Ann Street (Gladstone Ave.) near Metcalfe. On McLeod and Argyle and their cross-streets were the impressive late Victorian residences of senior bureaucrats, merchants, gentlemen, and politicians" (15). This class of people wanted more than the blue-collar workers of other suburbs and they could afford to pay for these amenities.

Early in 1877, this group petitioned the City for consideration. A similar petition quickly followed their action from a group of Rochesterville residents. The city struck a committee to consider the appeals and the annexation battle rekindled.

The debate raged throughout the remainder of 1887 into 1888. Anti-annexationists claimed that: crushing taxes would oppress the poor; city water was "rotten"; and that the city could not adequately service the streets it already had. Counter-petitions were circulated amidst charges of political skulduggery on both sides of the issue. One petition organized by James Hickey from the market gardeners south of Stewarton protested that there were only 209 people in 43 dwellings on 600 acres (16), with no streets or prospects for the extension of city services. They argued that tax assessment as an urban area would be unfair.

Despite all the opposition, the pro-annexationists won the day. The provincial assembly passed the requested bill into law on March 23, 1888 with annexation to be effective as of January 1, 1889 (17). With minor alteration to accommodate assessment for agricultural land, the suburbs of Stewarton, Rochesterville, Mount Sherwood and Orangeville, just over 1,000 acres, were joined to the city. (See Map)

* "Pro Libertate - For Freedom"

But what happened to Archville and other parts of Ottawa East during this furore? Why was this community not swallowed up with the others? The answer to these questions reveals the true story of the birth of Ottawa East Village.

Amidst all the political intrigue of annexation, a tight little band of Ottawa East stalwarts pulled off an ‘end run’. Faced with the ravenous jaws of a subsuming city clique across the canal and an assured annexation imposed by an insensitive provincial government, the small cohesive community unleashed their secret weapon – Robert Lees.

Now this man has been mentioned in previous chapters and a biography is available here, but it is Robert Lees 1878 - from the Belden Atlasnecessary at this point in the story to understand how critical he was to the creation of the Ottawa East community.

Lees had a vision for the evolution of the Ottawa East area. He had built his home, Wildwood, in a forested area that offered his family a refuge from the negative aspects of ‘city life’. Lees purchased large tracts of land surrounding his home where he operated a profitable farm and orchards. To a large extent his family Wildwood - Home of Robert Leeswas self-sufficient and did not require the amenities of the city. As a Crown Attorney and Queen’s Counsel, he journeyed to the court in Lower Town on the Canal Road regularly to earn part of his livelihood. He preferred life that way – connecting to the city only when it was necessary. But with forced annexation, control over his idyllic lifestyle and the future evolution of his community would be lost to the interests of a large city. The dilemma was how could this be avoided?

Lees knew that the tiny community had little chance of stemming the political tide that was washing over the area. A different approach was needed. In early December of 1888, about a month before annexation was to take place, Lees "petitioned Carleton County Council for a bylaw to incorporate as an independent village" (18). As a prominent citizen, owner of a large tract of land and well connected in political circles, he held some sway at County Council.

Critical to his argument for a village was the proximity of Col. By’s convenient canal. Lees used the obvious isolation from the city as a cornerstone in his appeal. He noted that the community was distinct from the surrounding city and suburbs as it was bounded by the Rideau river and the Canal and in reality, only connected with Nepean Township via a narrow "tongue of farmland" in the south. The residents of Ottawa East, it was explained, were of the unanimous opinion that they could best acquire needed services and management using their own local resources. All that was need was incorporation as a village.

The majority of County Council agreed, with the proviso that for the community to be a village, it must have the "statutory population requirement of 750 (19). This was confirmed by a member of Council deputized to examine the number of residents. An examination today however, of the original assessment record, shows something different. Go here for a discussion on this topic.

After an opposing motion to defer the vote for legal opinion was defeated, the bylaw was passed. So on December 7, 1888, just a few weeks before annexation was to be imposed on the suburbs, the Village of Ottawa East was born!

The actual County Council motions can be seen here.

The County Council Bylaw #348 which established the boundaries of the Village of Ottawa East can be seen here.

For the next two decades the community had nearly complete control of its evolution. Led by such notables as Lees, Ballantyne, Stewart and Graham, the community grew and thrived as will be described in the next chapter.

A final Note

Perhaps the role of Robert Lees in the birth of Ottawa East Village has been somewhat dramatized here. Certainly there were others it should be recognized, who made valuable contributions in the fight for independence. But from all the sources researched to date, it is clear that Lees led the fight. Along with all his legal, agricultural, community, church and family activities, he must have been an excellent chess player!

Footnotes: For complete references, see Sources
1. Elliott, The City Beyond,p1
2. Ibid, p126
3. Ibid
4. Taylor, Ottawa An Illustrated Historic,p106
5. Elliott, p126
6. Taylor, p108
7. Ibid
8. Elliott, p126
9. Taylor, p108
10. Ibid
11. Elliott records on page 133 that in 1886 a fire box on Ann Street was pulled and an alarm sent. Fire fighters upon reaching the city line realized the burning house was outside of their jurisdiction and allowed the house to burn down
12. to 14. Elliott, p133
15. Ibid, p136
16. to 19, Elliott, p135

* The phrase "Pro Libertate" means "for freedom". It was the rallying cry of Sir William Wallace when he led the Scots to freedom. The Scots later coined the phrase "Scots Wae Hae when Wallace led". The phrase is also found on the crest of the Wallace Clan.


Return to Chapter Three
Go to Chapter Five