Posted by: Lindsay Suthren
Editor’s note: this story was first published in the April 1979 OSCAR, so the fifty years of memories takes us way back to the 1920s.
Fifty years ago, children growing up in Ottawa South in the neighborhood of the old Firehall enjoyed a wide variety of experiences. There were fewer cars, more trees, vacant lots and several resident horses and cows. As a result, children slid down hilly streets, built tree houses, constructed sand forts in empty lots and were well acquainted with animal life. There was much playing of tennis, joining of canoe clubs and swimming in the river.
Mr. George Seal of Bellwood Ave. reminisced the other day about his childhood in Ottawa South. He can remember the sounds of tennis playing on the four courts of the Sunnyside Tennis Club which was situated in the ravine behind St. Margaret Mary’s Church, formerly Calvin Presbyterian Church. Tennis was very popular as was canoeing. There were a number of canoe clubs on the Rideau River and on the Canal within the Ottawa South area.
While the youths were playing tennis and canoeing, the younger children were sitting on their perches in the ‘climbing tree’, a large maple at the top of Bellwood. Or they were playing in the sand in the empty lots along Sunnyside near Riverdale, building forts and tree houses with wood acquired from the James E. Wilson & Sons Lumber Mill on lower Bellwood. While they were playing, it was exciting to watch the horses, pulling the steamer from the Firehall, take off at great speed as they practised making the turn off Sunnyside onto Riverdale There were other horses in the area for the children to become acquainted with, one was stabled behind the church, another in a barn at the northeast corner of Bellwood and Belmont. At the foot of Bellwood on Cameron was the horse used for plowing the sidewalks in the winter. Many horses were on the streets in those days pulling delivery wagons and sleighs.
The winter was a time of great fun for the children. Sliding down the Sunnyside and Fairbairn hills was great sport with sentries placed at intersections so that no mishaps occurred. What cars there were often had skiis on the front in order to contend with the foot deep ruts in the snow laden streets.
As the years have passed, George Seal has seen numerous changes in the area of his childhood. The cows on the Convent Ground have disappeared, as have the horses from the streets and residential properties. The Sunnyside Tennis Club disbanded after the war and, for a while, his father grew irises on its site. It is now a quiet ravine, home for squirrels, birds and stray mice. The barn which housed the horse on the northeast corner of Bellwood and Belmont was incorporated with the house into one large house, decorated with stucco and wooden beams. The large Maples and Elms lining Bellwood, giving it the appearance of a boulevard died and were chopped down, one by one. The lumber mill on lower Bellwood shrank until it disappeared, leaving a series of semidetached houses in its place. The vacant lots and the gardens filled with flowers gradually became occupied by houses and a new generation of young children.
That generation of young people has since grown up with its own memories of living in the area. There are now small children playing again on the streets around the Firehall. It is hard to speculate as to the changes that will occur in this neighbourhood in the next fifty years or as to whether there will be someone around to tell what it was like to grow up in Ottawa South now. Presumably there will be happy memories of childhood play but they will lack the sense of freedom and the variety of experience that was usual for the child of fifty years ago.