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The Village of Ottawa East - 1889 to 1907
By Rick Wallace
The Village of Ottawa East officially came into being as a result of County Council motion #27, read a second and third time, on Friday morning, December 7, 1888. With this legislation the tiny community of Archville with a population of less than 1,000 people became a village within the boundaries of Nepean Township.
Sadly the early village records from 1889 to mid-1898 have been lost to time but it is possible to extrapolate some information from scant newspaper coverage and other sources. It is clear that the initial efforts in forming a village administration were led by notables such as the Ballantynes, Lees, George Patterson and others. Given the small tax base and the limited powers within the Township of Nepean, it must have been a formidable task to inaugurate everything from new bylaws to public works. And it must be remembered that while the majority of ratepayers had fought against annexation with the city in 1888, they did want certain amenities but not higher taxes. These constraints must have led to some interesting debates at early council meetings!
Not A Police Village?
Ottawa East Village is often mistakenly referred to as a "Police Village". In reality Ottawa East became a fully incorporated entity with powers exceeding that classification. The process of becoming a Police Village involved petitioning the county council for the special status. Rayburn in his book "Place Names of Ontario" notes that in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century this status was given to local communities "for the purpose of establishing fire and safety regulations in built-up areas". The term "police" referred to the "maintenance of a place, as well as the preservation of good order, cleanliness and related matters. Upon designation the village was allowed to elect 3 trustees, improve its streets, erect street lights and perform other public functions" - all at the cost to village ratepayers. This designation conveniently removed a burden on the township as a whole since it did not increase the taxes of rural ratepayers who would not benefit from new village amenities. Elliottt, in his book "The City Beyond" confirms this definition and also notes that all actions of a "Police Village" were subject to approval of the township".
This was not the case for Ottawa East Village. There is no reference in the minutes of seeking township approval or trustees. And it appears that, from the very beginning, Ottawa East enjoyed near full autonomy from Nepean Township as a fully incorporated village under the provincial legislation. This allowed for the election (not appointment) of a Reeve and council as well as many other powers.
An Overview of the Village Circa 1890:
A general description of the village in 1890 begins in the northeast where Second St. (Greenfield) intersected with Hurdman Road, the only route to the city. South, bordered by the Rideau Canal and the railroad (Queensway) was the triangular-shaped Archville. This area was a mix of civil servants, tradesman and the odd slaughterhouse. To the east was an industrialized area with brick works and lumberyards in proximity to the rail lines. To the west was the Canal Road with some light industry, market gardens, hotels and some residences. English, Irish, Scots, French Canadians and lots of Germans made up the main mix of the people.
The concession road (Main St.) bisected this predominantly residential
area. Residents named the road after the process of packing stone invented
by a Scot named MacAdam - hence the universal term "macadamization".
Rather than call it the "Concession Road" (of which there were
many in the region), they instead called it the "Macadamized Road"
(of which there were also many in the region).
There was some utility in this naming as revealed by a conversation between a young Gustave Lemke, a recent German immigrant, and Robert Lees, the venerable and decidedly Scottish village lawyer. Inquiring about an address, Gustave asked in heavily accented English "Ver is Macadam"? Lees replied in his finest burr, "Aye laddie that'd be the one with the stone".
South of the old Archville, the housing density dropped significantly. Much of the land was held by farmers and land speculators, and there were few streets. The large tract of land owned by the Oblates not only housed the Scholaticate but also a massive vegetable garden, butcher shop, maple syrup cabin and a cemetery. A daily event in the village was the procession of 30 or 40 student priests as they made their way, dressed in full frock along the Macadamized Road to the Canal Road and then to the University of Ottawa. Twice a day!
At the southern tip of the village was Barney Slattery. Ontario born and a prominent leader in the Irish community, along with his sons (no daughters) William, John, Eddie, Barnard and Gladstone, he operated a large farm that specialized in raising beef. On any market day there was a distinct possibility of Slattery driving 50 head of cattle, festooned with banners and bells, up the Macadamized Road through the village and across a bridge which connected to Argyle St. What better way to advertise your product!
There was employment in the village working for the various local industries but many worked in the city. Getting there was chore at the best of times. With no local transportation, the main mode of commuting was on foot. Imagine living on Clegg St. and slogging through knee-deep snow on a bitter January morning up the Canal Rd. to the bridge over the canal. There were no sidewalks; or snow removal in that area. In the spring it was mud and in the summer - dust. It is no wonder that a major topic, at almost every council, was sidewalks.
The village employed many residents, mostly for labour with the odd official position such as constable or assessor. Tenders for the most part were given to locals who almost always had the lowest bid. Perhaps that was the result of many bidders having spent time on council in previous years! While the village had over 1,000 residents, most of the local work (and politics) involved a small cadre of men who had their own personal agendas.
Just one example of a ratepayer who earned his living in the village is that of Wilhelm Rhomhild. Arriving from Germany in 1888, he quickly learned English and set about to make a living for his family. At any one time, according to the village minutes, he painted the village fire hall, fumigated houses for the Board of Health, broke stone with a hammer for $2.25 per ton, erected street signs and buried dead animals. His most infamous position was that of the Village Constable. A physically powerful man he had the duty of enforcing council bylaws including the dog tax, for which he received 10% of the money collected. And this was a significant part of his salary given that almost everyone had a dog to catch rats and protect property. There were no early morning warm plastic bags in Ballantyne Park - dogs worked for a living!
There is much more on the personalities and activities in the village during this time on the upcoming History Project CD-ROM that will be published late this year. This overview is intended only to put the following topics in a context. The synopsis below represents the life of the village from about 1890 to the early part of the Twentieth Century as seen through the eyes of the village council. It reveals a burgeoning, diverse community where hard work, thrift and the future were the mainstays of village life.
The Village Council:
From 1898 to 1907 the minutes list a council comprised of a Reeve and 4 Councilors. Nominations were held each year in late December with names being put forward by a nominator and seconder. The person had until the day of the election to resign the nomination. Nominations for Public School Trustees were also held at that time. Even though there was a Separate School, there was never any public election. Perhaps these positions were filled by appointment through the church.
The election was held in the first week of the following January after the voter's list had been posted in the village. It appears that the polls were open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM. At the closure of voting the clerk read out the results and declared the winners. The first meeting of council usually took place a few days later in the town hall (completed in 1895).
Examining 9 years of existing electoral records, it is clear that the political power of the village was held by a small group of men who formed various alliances at election time. For example, the election for 1899 had a total of 39 possible names for candidates, nominators and seconders. Only 21 individuals were actually involved though (54% of the total possible). Similarly, in 1904 there was a possibility of 54 names yet only 29 were involved (again 54%).
And of course, there were no women ever involved in the politics of the village. In fact the only few references to women in all of the recorded years involved a few petitions from widows for drains; and women employed to clean the town hall.
Village Council Activities:
Council met usually twice a month with special meetings held to discuss major subjects such as school building or major drainage problems. Meetings took place in the evenings as council members worked. There was no salary or honourarium for council - only the clerk was paid. The usual order of business was to first approve the accounts of the village. And every single account, no matter how small, had to be recorded and approved by a motion. Next on the agenda were the various letters sent and received by council. By way of a motion or directive, the clerk would be authorized to reply to the various communications received. Council also administered policies via the mail directing the clerk to write to individuals or agencies requesting compliance with council's wishes.
By far the single most important topic discussed at council was that of public works. Council regularly received "petitions" from ratepayers requesting such things as drainage or sidewalks. Upon approval, tenders would be requested for labour and/or materials. The lowest tender was always accepted and work would commence under the direction of a committee of councilors.
About June each year council would hold a "Court of Revision" with a jury where ratepayers could request a lowering of their tax assessment or school support designation. Individuals in most cases were given some relief but large organizations such as the railway or telephone company never had their assessment reduced. For a small village the Canada Atlantic Railway must have been a cash cow! After revision the mill rate would be set for payments to the county, schools and village expenses including bank debentures for building such things as the town hall.
Council had the yearly duty of making several appointments to positions
necessary for the operation of the village. Early on each year two auditors
would be appointed (one by the Reeve) to review the previous years accounts.
In 1899 the fee for each auditor was $3.00/year; by 1906 it was $10.00.
Council was also responsible for appointing the members of the Board of Health for the village. Terms ranged from one to three years. There was no salary but members did receive payment for special meetings or duties. The Medical Health Officer was appointed after various local doctors were solicited for their terms.
An important appointment was that of Village Constable. In 1899 a bylaw was passed appointing Charles Rhomhild to the position. No salary was specified, only that he receive a "reasonable rate" for "every hour that he is actually employed". His duties not only included keeping the peace of the village but he was also responsible for: collecting dog taxes, impounding cattle and horses at large and burying dead animals. He received a percentage of the dog tax and any fines levied in court. In addition: he posted street signs, fumigated houses under the direction of the MHO, inspected outhouses and insured backyards were kept clean. All of this on a part-time basis! By 1903 the constable received $50/year with the additional responsibility of Pound Keeper (essentially the dog pound).
The position that remained the most consistent was that of the clerk. From 1898 to 1907, Walter N. Barry, an upholsterer living on Seventh St, held the position. His duties as clerk included recording all council matters, at every type of meeting, and dealing with all communications under the direction of council. Some of his minor duties included: purchasing all administrative materials (stamps, stationery, etc.); the registration of all births, deaths and marriages in the village (20 cents each in 1899); and lighting fires in the town hall prior to meetings (25 cents/fire). In 1899 the clerk was paid $16.25 quarterly and by 1906 the salary was $200 per year. He was also the secretary for the Board of Health for which he was paid $5.00 per year.
The last important position appointed by council was that of the Village Treasurer. In 1899 Andrew G. Acres was appointed at an annual salary of $50. He replaced Thomas Ballantyne who had resigned earlier in the year even though council had asked him to reconsider. He remained as Treasurer, at $50/year, until the village was annexed.
The majority of council's time was taken up by this topic and this involved the maintenance of drainage, roads and sidewalks. To accomplish this, the village employed residents as labourers and ordered copious quantities of stone, wood and nails. There were no machines - everything was done by hand, sometimes with the aid of a horse. Labour rates in 1898 were $1.25/day for one man working 10 hours; and $2.00/day for a man and a horse. Rubble stone cost $4.50/ton and had to be broken by hand at about $2.25/ton.
Roads in the village were mainly packed soil. Repairs consisted of filling in the holes with broken stone and grading. Streets had ditches along the sides that constantly plugged with silt leaving large linear ponds of foul, stagnant water. Most people drained their property including the barnyard into these ditches. Only the Macadamized Road (Main St.) was maintained with a packed stone surface. In certain locations proper culverts were installed with pipe and covered by "gully grates" to permit crossing.
Sidewalks were made of thick cedar planks laid down in specific lengths on poles set on a bed of stone. Various tenders show that the planks had to be 3 inches thick and 3 feet long (no mention of width). These planks were nailed to 9-foot cedar poles that had a minimum diameter of 6 inches at the smallest end. In 1898 poles cost 16 cents each and contractors were paid 20 cents/section for installation. In 1903 the village offered residents new "granolithic" (cement) sidewalks. The catch was that the majority of ratepayers on each street had to agree as they paid the cost per foot.
Snow removal was a labour intensive job to say the least. By 1902 it appears that snow had become a major item with council. It is doubtful that all the roads were cleared as people would walk or drive their sleighs over the packed snow. Labour was probably used to clean the existing sidewalks and a few main roads. Some examples of cost included: Michael Redmond paid $7.28 for 48.5 hours of snow cleaning at 15 cents/hour; and J. C. Ogilvie who earned $11.13 for work with a horse (44.5 hours at 25 cents/hour). By 1904 the village employed 21 men and boys in January. Men received 15 cents while boys were paid 8 cents per hour. The village even purchased a horse-drawn snow plow that year.
Permanent sewers did not exist until 1904. Up to that time residents (and industries) drained their property into the roadside ditches. There is some mention in the minutes of residents along the canal discharging their wastewater directly into the waterway. As there was no village water system, pit privies (outhouses) were de rigueur. Some industries such as slaughterhouses dumped directly into the Rideau River.
As the village grew the need for a proper sewage system became critical. Finally in 1903 ratepayers agreed to a debenture that would fund a main trunk sewer with individual property owners paying for their own connections. There was no sewage treatment of course. The village followed the accepted practice and piped the effluent directly into the Rideau River (at Springhurst).
The absence of a village water system until 1904 was a major concern for council. With the use of pit privies and backyard wells, the threat of groundwater contamination was always present. As well, the village did not have a source of pressurized water to fight fires. There had been some rumblings of a water system in 1898 but nothing came of it. Finally in 1903, several residents, including such village stalwarts as Ballantyne, Lees and Slattery, banded together to form the Ottawa East Water Co. Within a year the company had installed electric pumps to draw groundwater (the Rideau River was deemed too polluted) and installed a system of pipes with fire hydrants. Annual rates for individual homes ranged from $5 to $10 with an extra 50 cents if a cow was owned.
The village had access to electric power in the late 1890's as evidenced by the regular electrical bill paid for the town hall. But there was no street lighting (not even gas). In January of 1903 council passed Bylaw #79 which gave the exclusive right to supply electrical power to the village to the Ottawa Electric Company. As part of the agreement, the company installed a system of wires and street lamps on the main streets at key intersections. From that point on there were constant demands on council from the ratepayers to extend the lighting system.
Council Motions and Bylaws:
Appointments and debentures always required a bylaw and most dealt with such mundane topics as drainage or street openings. Every year there was an ongoing debate with the railways involving excess train whistling or track crossings. Council reacted to such topics with stern motions and letters to the offending parties. On a more colourful note, in 1903 council decided to clean up the morals of the village and passed Bylaw #90 which involved all sorts of nuisances and immoralities. With this new law it became illegal for example: to wash private parts in public places; expose wounds or deformities to obtain alms; or operate a pool hall.
Life in the Village of Ottawa East during this time was very similar to most of the suburbs surrounding the city. The ratepayers constantly petitioned the council for improvements to the basic amenities of roads, sewers and protection of their property. In the end it was the absence of an adequate fire department that tipped the balance and prompted a slim majority of villagers to vote for annexation with the city. But it was the hard work of the village council from 1889 to 1907 that created a community that was characterized by the City of Ottawa Annexation Committee as being "a very desirable acquisition". The final financial statement of the village showed that the assets exceeded the liabilities. The community lost its autonomy when it joined the city, but the spirit persisted and exists even today!
Coming in the next issue of the Mainstreeter
The Sex Scandal That Rocked the Village!
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