Posted by: Leo Doyle
December 16, 2007 marks the 100th anniversary of Ottawa’s South’s annexation to the City of Ottawa. Today, as we find ourselves once again in a heated debate over municipal budgets, it is timely to reflect upon the decision residents of our community took 100 years ago, when they chose to join Ottawa. Then, as now, citizens had cause to consider the merits of Ottawa and its services. They weighed the costs and the benefits of being a part of Ottawa. It was a debate that featured soothing promises from local politicians, and fear and suspicion on the part of some residents.
As Bruce Elliot recounts in his award-winning history of Nepean, The City Beyond, what we now call “Old Ottawa South”, prior to 1908, comprised of two suburban communities “Rideauville” and “Wyoming Park”, which was becoming known as “Ottawa South”. Laid-out and sub-divided by the early 1870s, Rideauville and Ottawa South were residential subdivisions of Nepean Township. Bounded by Bronson to the west and Main Street to the east, Rideauville extended south from the Rideau Canal to Woodbine Lane, while “Wyoming Park” (or Ottawa South) ran from Sunnyside Avenue south to the Ottawa River.
Construction of the low “swing bridge” over the Rideau Canal, in 1865, made the predominantly agricultural land of Ottawa South area more attractive for development. In the 1870s affluent Ottawa businessmen, such as George Hay and Thomas McKay, built large suburban country homes on Echo Drive, well removed from the pollution and grime Ottawa’s lumber and industrial economy. However, most of the early homes were modest, wood frame dwellings, housing families engaged in trades, labour, and market gardening.
Ottawa South’s “suburban” character began to develop after 1891, when the privately owned electric streetcar service was extended into the Glebe reaching Lansdowne Park and the Exhibition Grounds. Suddenly the once distant communities of “Rideauville” and “Wyoming Park” were within walking distance of transit connections to downtown Ottawa.
According to Professor Elliot, by the late 1890s the residents of these growing suburbs were becoming more desirous of urban services, such as water and electricity. To obtain them, they were open to various options ranging from political independence to annexation. The goal was simply to get urban services at the lowest possible price.
As the new century got underway, the City of Ottawa, led by third term Mayor James Ellis, had its own aspirations. The southern suburbs, as well as those to the east and west, were attractive opportunities for growth. It was thought that new land and locations were needed to expand the city’s industrial economy, which risked being diminished by competing federal efforts to beautify the capital.
As Dr. Elliot recalls, the federal government established the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC) in 1899 to implement Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s version of Ottawa as the “Washington of the North”. By 1906, the OIC had acquired significant lands for the construction of parks and driveways and had taken steps to improve the capital’s appearance.
However, municipal leaders had a different if not competing vision, one that included factories and industry as well as federal government departments. To implement the City’s vision of Ottawa, more land and development control was needed to facilitate and coordinate growth. Accordingly, a municipal annexation committee was set up in 1906 to begin discussions with the surrounding suburbs, including Ottawa East, Hintonburg, Rideauville, and Ottawa South.
Ottawa South Joins the City of Ottawa in 1907
On November 12, 1907, following months of discussion with members of a Joint Annexation Committee of Rideauville and Ottawa South, the City’s committee tabled a report. It recommended annexation of the southern suburbs and noted the benefits that would accrue to Ottawa, such as the addition of 350 acres of land and $334,000.00 of municipal assessment. Against this assessment there was a municipal debt of $3.5 million, however, the area provided tremendous potential for new growth and assessment beyond its existing 325 rate payers. In addition, the report noted that the district had a “good public school”, which had been built in 1872 by Nepean Township, near the current site of Hopewell PS.
The report described how described how annexation, which was set for December 16, 1907, would bring Rideauville and Ottawa South residences coveted urban services, including police and fire protection, and the promise of municipal water and lighting services. It committed the City to “use its best endeavour to have the street railway service extended” to serve the area. In addition, the City’s annexation committee offered residents a fixed rate of taxation on their properties that would remain in place for 8 years. This measure was intended to placate fears that joining the city, and the addition of new services and property improvement, would subject land owners to rapidly increasing property taxes. However, the proposal for an 8 year fixed tax assessment was rejected by a vote of Ottawa City Council.
According to reports published in the Ottawa Journal, three crowded public meetings of Ottawa South residents were held at the local school between November 25 and 2 December 1907 to discuss the City’s annexation proposals. Residents generally supported the notion of annexation, but had two major concerns: City Council’s rejection of the fixed tax rate, and a fear that the Ottawa Board of Health would permit the construction of a tuberculosis sanatorium in Rideauville.
The issue of a fixed tax rate was the most contentious one because it had already been granted to Ottawa East as a condition of annexation. As reported in the November 30, 1907 Ottawa Journal, community leaders such as David Ewart, the Dominion Architect who lived at 135 Cameron Avenue, declared at a public meeting that annexation should take place only on the same terms those given to Ottawa East.
Mr. W.J. Fitzpatrick, a bookkeeper who resided at 72 Aylmer Avenue and member the joint community annexation committee agreed, but expressed strong disappointment that Mayor D’Arcy Scott, who chaired the City’s Annexation Committee, refused to meet to discuss outstanding issues.
However, four Ottawa City Councillors took up an invitation to attend the public meetings, including Aldermen George Wilson and R. King Farrow whose shared Wellington wards would be expanded by the annexed villagers. As the Journal reported, each “expressed his willingness to use his best efforts to secure for Ottawa South and Rideauville the same terms as Ottawa East”. Alderman Wilson encouraged the residents to press the City for better terms, and “hinted that it might require only a little lobbying of the part of ratepayers of Rideauville and Ottawa South to have the city council take a different view of the suburbs requests”.
Moreover, Alderman Wilson pledged “to amend the terms of annexation to the effect that no tuberculosis hospital should be erected in Rideauville”. Rumours persisted that the Anti-Tuberculosis Society was considering a site in Rideauville for the location of a new sanatorium. As reported in the November 26, 1907, Ottawa Journal, Mr. William Martin who represented the residents on Nepean Township Council, urged citizens not to sign onto annexation “until the Tuberculosis Hospital question was settled, as once annexed, the City board of health might grant permission for its erection in Rideauville. [To which a voice cried out] We’d pull it down, stick by stick”.
Mr. W.J. Fitzpatrick, who with his wife and five children, lived close to the proposed hospital site, said that despite the Aldermen’s assurances “councils had a habit of changing from year to year and a new council might favour the site”. Nevertheless, as the Journal reported, “the meeting eventually decided that it could rely on the good faith of the city to see that the hospital went up somewhere else than Rideauville”.
In the end, the Rideauville and Ottawa South representatives convinced City Council to grant them the same annexation terms as Ottawa East, and the December 7, 1907 edition of the Ottawa Journal reported that 195 of the 280 property owners signed the petition paving the way for the December 16 annexation.
Those who refused to sign remained concerned over the proposed hospital location. Other holdouts feared that Ottawa would drag its feet on promises to install sewer and water services, or would introduce prohibitions on the raising of swine and farm animals in the Rideau Gardens portion of the community.
Some of the fears and concerns while overblown and NIMBY in nature, proved to be well founded. As we know, on June 26, 1914 7 years following annexation, Sir Robert Borden laid the comer stone for construction of the Perley Hospital for Incurables in Ottawa South.
Nevertheless, as we also know, the benefits of joining Ottawa clearly outweighed the drawbacks. In 1911, Mayor Charles Hopewell and Ottawa Council secured $80,000 in federal funding to construct the new high level Bank Street Bridge over the Rideau Canal. This attractive new structure, which was designed with high arches to facilitate the passage of the federal driveways below, allowed for the extension of streetcar serviced into Ottawa South in 1913. This service, more than any other, shaped the development pattern of our “streetcar suburb”, which has become one of Ottawa’s most attractive and liveable neighbourhoods.
Combined with a new Hopewell School in 1910, library services in 1917, a new library building in 1951, and a new fire station in 1921, our community retains many significant legacies of our 1907 annexation to Ottawa. It is reasonable to expect that these and other facilities, which connect today’s citizens to our civic past, will continue to serve us well into the future, a testimony to those who sought to build a better Ottawa.
This article is based on chapter 6 – “The Streetcar Suburbs”, in Bruce Elliot’s book The City Beyond: A History of Nepean. Wherever possible, I have gone back to the original source material to provide a more detailed interpretation of the events surrounding Ottawa South’s annexation to Ottawa, including the Census of 1901 available on www.collectionscanada.ca. See also David Bouse’s Neighbourhood History Essay of Ottawa South at www.oldottawasouth.ca.
Originally published in the December 2007 OSCAR.