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The History of Ottawa East - An Introduction
Part 1 of 5
By Rick Wallace
Tucked east and west between a river and a canal; and bordered historically by a railroad and warehouse complex on the north with market gardens on the south, lies the original suburb of "Old Ottawa East". Begun originally as Archville and Spenceville and then Ottawa East Village (1888), this community has, throughout its history, maintained existence through a sense of place and spirit exists even today.
There are many factors that have contributed to the evolution of Ottawa East (OE) from a farming community to a Police Village and ultimately an integral residential part of Ottawa. These factors range from the region's transportation geography, predominance of the Catholic and Protestant communities and of course, the proximity to Canada's capital.
Water, land, rail and even air transportation routes have historically
been major factors in the shape and function of OE. Initially the Rideau
Canal not only served as a western boundary that isolated OE from the
city itself but also provided a major shipping route for goods such as
bricks produced in the community. In 1831 land adjacent to the canal provided
the first major road (and only road until 1864) that connected Bytown
to the southern communities. The northern boundary for decades was an
extensive railway complex of a 'round house', repair shops and rail lines
with most of the workers and service industries based in OE. This was
a mainstay of the local economy well into the 1950's.
By far the largest landowners in the history of OE are the churches.
The original land purchased by the Oblates in 1863 was developed into
St. Joseph's Scholastique (now Deschâtelets) and St. Paul University
(the community's largest employer and a world-class theological research
And finally OE has been a major supplier of everything to the city throughout the past two centuries. From skilled labourers to government workers to fresh produce, beef cattle and bricks, OE has been an integral part of the region's evolution and prosperity. Now as a residential community with some tertiary industry, the next decades will of course bring more change. It will be interesting to see if the community maintains the connection with the past!
The Evolution of Ottawa East
The evolution of Ottawa East Village can be seen in two distinct phases. The first begins around the time of construction of the Rideau Canal (1826-32) and ends with the ultimate annexation of the Police Village of Ottawa East by the City of Ottawa in 1907. From this point to present, the community evolved from an agricultural/industrial base to the present day residential use.
Originally part of Nepean Township in Carleton County, By-law #348 passed on 7 December 1888, defined the incorporated Police Village. This was the area east of the Rideau Canal, west of the Rideau River, bounded on the north by the city limit (now Mann Ave.) and the south by the line between Lots I and K (approximately Elliot St.) of Concession C and D (divided by Main St.).
The original land survey of the early 1800's divided the Ottawa area into 200 acre lots. Such notables as William Stewart, George Patterson, John Hickey, John Mutchmor, Robert Lees and the Church of Scotland acquired land in Ottawa East. St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church owned all of Lot H which was bounded by Glebe and Fifth Avenues from Bronson Ave. to Main St. This was known as a 'glebe' (land for use and benefit of the church). Technically then, the Glebe was part of Ottawa East well into the Twentieth Century! By the 1880's most of the Concession C Glebe land east of the Canal had sold to land speculators. All of the land bordering 200 feet along the canal was owned by the Crown and controlled by the Ordnance Department (military).
Up to that point there was very little residential settlement in the area as most of the land was used for market gardening to supply the city. The northern part was predominantly settled by workers for the railway and building trades and was known as Archville (1873). Named after Archibald Stewart, this suburb extended from the canal to Harvey St.. The Village of Spenceville (1868) to the south extended from Hazel St. to Clegg St. along the canal. It was named after Rev. Alexander Spence of St. Andrew's.
Well into the 1880's, the southern boundary of the city west of the canal was the suburb of Stewarton located between Gladstone to Isabella and was populated mainly by government workers and professional. The majority of the community wanted increased services and pressure began to build for annexation to Ottawa. City fathers wanted to increase the tax base and felt that areas such as Archville, Rochesterville, Hintonburg and Mount Sherwood should be included in annexation to provide for better planning of transportation systems and industrial areas. Month after month there was heated debate between those for and against annexation. In 1887 the city requested that the Province permit absorption of all the adjoining suburbs. The residents of Archville reacted and counter-petitioned. Led by such notables as Robert Lees, James Ballantyne and John Graham, political pressure was exerted and the Province relented allowing the creation of the Police Village of Ottawa East in 1888.
Now separate, the leaders of the village of about 1000 residents set about developing services that would rival those available in the city. Electric and water companies were formed, roads were macadamized (packed stone), drainage pipes installed and sidewalks of heavy wooden planks were laid on the main streets. A two-story brick school was built for over 100 students at the corner of Harvey and Concord streets replacing the small wooden single room building. It stands today. The crowning glory was the construction of the town hall at Main and Hawthorne, complete with prisoner cells in the basement.
During this period the community was comprised mainly of workers in various trades servicing the city and the railroad activities. Brickyards, slaughterhouses and market gardens in the northern part were interspersed with residential dwellings. As the population grew, more residential areas were created south of Clegg St. replacing the market garden farms.
Finally in 1907 pressure for annexation from the city overcame the desire of the village to remain distinct. Newspaper accounts detail "a vision for a greater Ottawa". The Ottawa Journal described the little village as "a most desirable area" with "good waterworks and streets in admirable condition . . . well situated with industrial sites adjacent to the canal and rail". With the promise of no new taxes for 8 years, residents relented and in December of 1907 the Village of Ottawa East was annexed and ceased to exist.
This began the second phase of evolution of the community. No longer political distinct from the city, residents demanded increased services including a bridge. In 1915 the construction of Pretoria Bridge created an explosion of industrial and residential development in the Ottawa East area. In the north a massive rail complex was created centered on the 'round house' which was surrounded by rail yards and shops. This serviced the growing transportation and fuel needs of the city. A huge gas storage tank and tar works were constructed at the end of Lees Ave. Warehouses, dairies, bakeries and slaughterhouses operated side by side with new housing. As the federal government developed roads along both sides of the Rideau Canal, this area became populated with professionals who worked in the city. New plans of subdivision were registered in the southern part of Ottawa East and agricultural land was turned into homes - a process that continued well into the 1950's.
The increasing population continued to mirror the original diverse cultural mosaic. This was reflected in the building of the numerous churches and schools to service French and English, Protestant and Catholic. The historical presence of the Oblate Fathers expanded with the development of St Paul's University? A new college (St. Pat's) was built on Patterson's Field in 1929.
Main Street from Echo Drive to Herridge St. was a continuous strip of businesses that served almost every need. One could buy fresh meat at Hawley's Butcher Shop, a new dress at Antoine's, a football at Guzzo's Sport Shop, have bread delivered to your door from Walker's Bread and your wedding announcements printed at Nofke Press. All within walking distance. The age of the strip mall and chain stores had not yet arrived. People shopped, worked and lived in the community.
In the 60's however, pressures from growth of the larger region eventually caught up with the community. The movement of suburbanites in and out of the city core became more important than preservation of the community. The removal of the railway industry and the building of Queensway effectively covered over a major portion of what was Old Ottawa East. Gone were the railway yards and the industrial land (now the Nicholas St. interchange) in the northeast. Wildwood Avenue and half of Ballantyne Park became a commuter lane. Main Street was widened and, with the building of the Smyth Road Bridge, became a major arterial road servicing the communities south of the Rideau River. This, as well as other forces of progress, significantly reduced the commercial aspect of the area. And this reduction of the community may continue, as there are future plans to further pave over even more significant portions!
The last two decades have seen a slow revitalization of the area with an increase in businesses, growth of educational institutions and the development of condominium housing in the northeast adjacent to the canal. Now predominately a residential area, the last vestiges of the original industrial activities have long since disappeared.
There are still many who remember the Old Ottawa East. But many more are not aware how this unique community came into existence. To rectify this situation and to permanently record the memories that will be lost, the Ottawa East History Project has come into being. In the next several issues of the Mainstreeter the history of the community will be documented with articles on the people, industries and institutions that originally created the community. This work and much more will be eventually published on CD-ROM and available free to all community association members.
* * * Coming in the next issue of the Mainstreeter
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