|Air Photo Study
The White House - La Maison Blanche
|One of the very earliest structures in Ottawa East was a beautiful, rustic wood building that sat overlooking the Rideau River on what we know call the Oblate property. The memory of this building, simply referred to by its colour, holds a special place in the hearts of the earliest Catholic residents of the village. Not only was the building the location of the first organized Catholic school but it also served as a church when the parish of Ste. Famille was created at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. And it was the center of many celebrations by the Catholic community for many decades.
|Contrary to popular belief though, the house was not built by the Oblate Fathers. This Order first purchased land in September of 1863 from Richard Fitzsimmons. There were later transactions between Darby Kealey and Martin O'Gara up to 1883. The Codex Historicus (the official history of the Oblates) indicates that the actual building of the Scholasticate was started about 1884 and that the White House was there when they arrived. Therefore this building was probably constructed by Isaac Fitzsimmons as a home on his large farm on Concession D, Lot H. The actual land record can be seen here.
|There is also some disagreement as to when it was demolished. Again the Codex Historicus lists a request for permission to demolish the house in April of 1927. The request was for immediate action as the building was in an unsafe state. It is therefore logical to assume the demolition occurred shortly thereafter.
|Perhaps the best description of La Maison Blanche is that of Augustin Potvin, a very early member of the Ste. Famille Parish. His eloquent phrases demonstrate the special place that this venerated building held in the hearts of all early parishioners. His thoughts were recorded in the Eightieth Anniversary History prepared by the Parish of Ste. Famille (pages 5 to 7) and are reproduced below. The source of the translation is unknown.
The White House by Augustin Potvin
"The White House is nothing more than a memory. But how poetic, how faithful, how vivid. I know that the elderly of Ottawa East shed tears in silence when worn out by the passage of time, the White House was demolished a few years ago. It is a happy page of their life which seems to have been erased forever. It is to perpetuate this devotion that I thought to write these lines.
Like old people, the White House kept memories of times past and loved to spin yarns about olden times. Its unassuming walls have seen things worthy of being recounted. But why ask questions, let it speak for itself. "I was the birthplace of Holy Family Parish. My walls, which were strong at that time, sheltered the first chapel, the first school and the first parish hall in Ottawa East." Our readers know without a doubt that up' till 1900, the Catholic families scattered in this area did not have either a separate school or church. In that year, at the request of its principal citizens, the Archbishop of Ottawa, Monseigneur Duhamel, decided to have the Oblate Fathers of St. Joseph's College (the Scholasticate) open a school and to establish a parish there. Father Guillaume Charlebois was named the first parish priest (cure). He set up a school commission which fixed up the top floor where temporary classrooms were installed. The Chairman of this School Board, which functioned until Ottawa East was annexed by the Capital, was Mr. J. Hughes. The Vice-Chairman was Mr. J.B. St. Laurent and the Secretary-Treasurer was Father Guillaume Charlebois who was replaced in the fall of the year by his brother Father Charles Charlebois.
With great dedication the Grey Sisters of Ottawa took charge of the growing school. As early as 1901, classes were started for children in the English and French language. On the 14th of April of the same year, Holy Family Parish was canonically established. It was the second parish established in the diocese. The west room of the White House was furnished as a temporary chapel and parish offices were said there regularly starting on Easter Sunday, 1901. The eighth of July following, Father Charles Charlebois became cure of the new institution. He stayed almost twelve years as the paster of Holy Family.
The White House served as a school until September 1901 and as a church until 30 November 1902. It must have been deeply moving, the midnight mass of the 25th of December, 1901, in this rustic setting, where the baby Jesus, would have thought of Bethlehem with the children inviting him so lovingly in their carols to be born in us today.
Listen again to the voice of the White House: "If I only kept until
1902 the honor of housing your chapel, and if I only sheltered your classes
for less than a year, I have been for alot longer time a faithful witness
of parish festivities. My left wing served as a public
It is there as children we played in skits under the direction of the good Grey Sisters. It is there we learned to love our language. It is there that our elders exercised their talents in drama or comedy. It is there during the New Years season, that a Father or Brother from the Scholasticate disguised as St. Nicholas would distribute fruit and candy in lattice work (net) bags. It is there that our parents came to applaud our success and were amused sometimes by our pranks. It is there, in a word, that each one of us knew moments of unforgettable happiness which we like to recall today.
The White House is all that we have said and much more. It is the fragile bark canoe that Frere Scholasticat paddled gayly on the Rideau River and that he put away in the right wing. A bit further away it is the priests garden where flowers and fruit grew "like a paradise on earth." Close by it is the grove where, beads in hand, the religious walked silently, to the song of birds. Finally it is the little cemetary, where piously each day, the Oblates of today came to kneel at the graves of Oblates of former days.
And if the White House evokes so many charming images, so much quiet devotion, so many hopes and so many dreams, how could we not cherish it, not praise its memory in this the fiftieth year of the Scholasticate near which the White House cast its picturesque silhouette for such a long time. Yes, truly inanimate objects have a soul that binds itself to our own and gives us the will to love."
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