Posted by: Molly Wells
In today’s world we live—us “oldsters” do—from day to day. We look forward, with very mixed feelings, of anticipation (something really good may be in store), and almost dread (can anything else go wrong in this old world?).
I’ve been asked to look back. So I invite you then, to come along with me. Let’s unlock the flood-gates of memory in Ottawa South and let the recollections tumble out. As we step into the past, I gratefully acknowledge the kindness of a number of the residents of this our community who have so willingly contributed their share of memories. Here they are then, recollections, memories, history, call it what you will, but, I am afraid, in no particular order.
When a somewhat “permanent” Bank Street bridge over the canal had been constructed, Ottawa South began to develop rapidly.
Colonel By had made a preliminary exploration of the territory in our vicinity, through which he might build a section of the Rideau Canal, but found the part out our way rather unsuitable, since it was wet and marshy. The Rideau River had two mouths — one flowed down through LeBreton Flats and emptied into the Ottawa River, while the other followed pretty much its present course to the Ottawa. When the Colonel found the river unsuitable for navigation, he waited for winter, when the ground was hard and frozen, to make his final survey, and then laid out the course of the canal as it is at the present time.
The foregoing naturally brings back thoughts of the Rideau River and the Canal when “luxury” steam boats plied these waterways, between Montreal, Ottawa and Kingston –the “Ella Ross”, “Rideau King” “Rideau Queen”, and others. Harry Ross, well-known historian of Ottawa and “The Valley”, had noted the “Ella Ross” left Montreal for Ottawa. She went down the Rideau Canal and River to Kingston, then passed down the St. Lawrence to Montreal. The round trip, including meals and berth cost the magnificent sum of $18 per passenger, and covered a period of some five days, including stopovers.
Thoughts of bygone days bring to mind that the writer was once told Ottawa South used to be called “Skunk Town” in its early days! I can say that as far back as 1939-40, it was not unusual to have summertime nocturnal visits from skunks (only occasionally now, though) and our garbage containers (there were no plastic bags then!) were sometimes visited by raccoons.
Our present Ottawa South branch of the Carnegie Library, designed by the late well-known Ottawa architect, Albert Ewart, opened its doors in 1951, and sprang from two earlier locations. The first was in a residence on the south side of Aylmer Ave., not far from Bank and the second was on the west side of Bank between Ossington and Cameron.
Of the churches in Ottawa South, some have histories going quite far back in time, but the following 1900 dates may be of interest:
Bethel Pentecostal opened its present church in 1964; St. Margaret Mary Roman Catholic parish records begin about 1930; Southminster United also dates from about the same year; Trinity Anglican is said to have been built in 1926, burned in ’47, and reopened in ’48, while the Wesleyan Methodist opened their first church (which faced Sunnyside) in 1916, and the present one in 1957.
Many still remember Rideau Market Gardens which extended roughly, in the present area along Riverdale Ave., from Main St. in Ottawa East southward to Sunnyside and, of course, right down to the Rideau River.
Produce in those days was drawn to market by horse driven vehicles and horses were also used in preparing the land. One Ottawa South resident recalls seeing some very fine Clydesdale horses and also remembers witnessing a lovely stand of stately elms being cut down on Riverdale to make room for a sidewalk. I am told that the last lots of the Rideau Market Gardens were sold about 1951. In war years a number of Polish people were brought in to help with the gardens.
The hostelry known as Ryan’s Hotel occupied the corner of Riverdale and Bank in years gone by and this also was the era of wooden sidewalks. One such, complete with hand rails, extended on Bank from about our present streets of Glen to Cameron. We hear of a very fine grove of oak trees in the vicinity of Ossington and Cameron, and, somewhere in this area, perhaps from Grove south to Cameron, on the west side of Bank a strip had been cleared for a horseshoe pitch. The clink, clink of the shoes could be heard on many a summer’s day and evening as the boys tried their skills. The land on the east side of Bank was still wooded and surrounded by a fence in those days. That area is now occupied by Lewis Motors.
Has it all been worth it? Definitely: Let us be proud of our community and not let it deteriorate. Let us keep alert and aware in order to retain something which is worthwhile in our estimation. I speak presently, particularly to our young people and those of middle age, as they are our strength, but also to the folk in Ottawa South of all ages. Please carry on the good traditions of the past and the best ones of modern times. We can all help and work together.
Remember when Ottawa had “Silver Seal” taxis, and one could be driven a considerable distance for 25¢?
Originally published in the OSCAR September 1974.