Posted by: Jean-Claude Dubé and John Calvert
Brewer Park and Carleton University are key landmarks for Old Ottawa South, but in the early 1900s they didn’t yet exist; the property was farm land, fallow and undeveloped or swamp. But starting in 1910 a group of land speculators led by two Ottawa lawyers bought up title to these properties and incorporated as the Ottawa South Property Company, with the intention of subdividing the land and selling building lots.
The Ottawa South Property Company was incorporated in Ontario on February 11, 1910. The founding directors were:
- John Inkermann MacCraken, Solicitor (President)
- Ainslie Wilson Greene, Solicitor(Secretary/Treasurer)
- Edward Rupert McNeill, Agent for Smith Premier Typewriter Co
- Albert Ewart, Architect
- Hugh P. Fleming, no occupation indicated
- Thomas F. Ahearn, Insurance Agent
The company proceeded to purchase, in separate blocks, a large tract of land along the southern and western borders of Ottawa South, from Bank Street all the way to Hog’s Back. The company increased its capital by profitably selling lots on its property between Bank Street and Leonard Avenue. The rest of the property to the west was improved by grading and filling; nearly $155,000 (in 1910) was spent in this improvement work in the first few years.
One example of the early lots sold is a lot on Cameron Avenue for which the original surviving indenture (bill of sale) document dated August 25,1913, was recently loaned to the History Project and digitized. A copy is available on our website.
At this time the land east of today’s Bronson Avenue on the present day site of Carleton University was identified by the company as: owned by Mrs. McIntosh, the Lumsden estate, the Monk estate and Canal Ordnance lands.
However, because of legislation commonly known as the “Moratorium Act” in Canada during the First World War, purchasers were not obligated to pay on the principal but only the interest owing. This created a cash flow problem for the company and its shareholders.
In 1920, in order to revive its flagging fortunes, the company issued an ambitious prospectus for a development proposal entitled Riverhill Estate, in what is today Brewer Park and Carleton University. For the time period in Canada, this development plan was very innovative in design. It integrated building lots with open space, playgrounds and parkland. The business centre core was enclosed within an inner circular street. A diagonal business main street ran through this core from northeast to south-west, starting from an inviting pedestrian walk-in entrance at the streetcar stop at Seneca and Grove.
The development property consisted of 172 acres divided in 501 lots. A quarter of these lots had a frontage of 100 feet while the others had frontages of 50 and 40 feet. As the Canadian Pacific Railway right of way and tracks ran through the middle of the development property (formerly known as the Saint Lawrence & Ottawa Railway and now as the O-Train), the lots backing onto the right of way were 200 feet deep to allow them to be split in half should the right of way be converted at a later date into a automobile roadway.
The Rideau River shoreline was designed to be park areas and the extension of Cameron Street was planned to be a curved driveway following the shoreline from Seneca Avenue to the Canal Road (approximately where Carleton University’s University Road presently meets Col By Drive at the traffic lights above Hartwell’s Locks).
Part of the concept was to capitalize on the Ottawa Electric Railway streetcars. The line which was running from Bank along Sunnyside, south on Seneca, then west on Grove, would have been extended to Bronson Avenue and then have returned through the Riverhill Estate via the diagonal in its circular town square and then back on Grove at the Seneca intersection. The entire population of the area would have been within close walking distance to public transportation and also to the Experimental Farm and the Hog’s Back Park (now Vincent Massey Park). The 20 acres of Rideau River frontage would have been maintained as a public park. The circular town square was planned to have churches, businesses and 2 and 3 storey apartment buildings.
The 5 acres of land where the Brewer Park fields are now, were swamp lands in the 1910s and 1920s and would have had to be filled for development. It would also have been necessary to negotiate with the Federal Government for acquisition and use of Rideau Canal lands and other federally-owned lands.
Ultimately, the plans for Riverhill Estate were not realized, and the Ottawa South Property Company went moribund shortly after 1931, the last year an annual corporate return was filed with the provincial government. Many years later the company was finally dissolved in a routine administrative procedure with the cancellation of its Letters Patent as of June 6, 1955. With its passing a grand vision for the future of Ottawa South faded away.
Much of the full story of the Ottawa South Property Company remains to be told. Who exactly were the founding and subsequent directors and shareholders and what became of them? Why was nothing of their grand and innovative plan realized? And how was the property ultimately disposed of, before eventually becoming the city park and university campus that we know today?
The Ottawa South History Project wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Rebecca Sciarra, BA, MA, CAHP., a Toronto-area professional researcher, who visited the Toronto offices of the Companies Branch of the Ontario Ministry of Government Services and provided copies of numerous documents pertaining to the Ottawa South Property Company.
Additional material for this article and the digital map for Riverhill Estate Plan of Development were obtained from Library and Archives Canada, reference number AC901 A7 1920 no.
Originally published in the May 2009 OSCAR.