Posted by: Kathy Krywicki
Reminiscences by Alderman Alex Roger
Transcibed from a 1950 publication for the 40th anniversary of Hopewell Public School a speech by Alex Roger, Gloucester Reeve 1948-1949 & Gloucester Ward councillor 1958-1960, his memories of growning up in (Old) Ottawa South.
I would like to congratulate the organizers of this very interesting and enjoyable celebration, and I am highly gratified in being asked to have a part in it. I have had considerable contact with this school because four of our children attended it, and my wife and I have very pleasant recollections of our associations with the outstanding teachers who have contributed so much to their success.
During my period of office as Chairman of Township School Area No. 1, Gloucester, Mr. Wilker, the last principal of Hopewell Avenue School with whom I had to do, was appointed Inspector for the County of Carleton, and from then until the recent annexation, we were closely associated in connection with the schools in Gloucester Township.
Compared with the hoary antiquity of Rome, Paris, or London, Ottawa might be said to have no history, but time is relative, and when one considers that the forty year period which has elapsed since the present school building was erected, spans one-third of the total life-time of the City of Ottawa and its predecessor, Bytown, it at once becomes apparent that many changes and developments must have taken place in even that comparatively short space of time.
I will not attempt to review the early settlement of this area, from the arrival of the first settler, Abraham Dow, in 1814 and Lewis Williams in 1817, but will endeavour to give those of you who are not familiar with it, a fair idea of the conditions prevailing at the date of the building of this school, 1910. Of those older residents whose memories are perhaps clearer than my own, I must ask indulgence if their recollections of events are not entirely in accord with mine.
Until the year 1907 the area now known as Ottawa South formed part of the Township of Nepean, and its affairs were administered by the Township Council. It is true that an area North of Woodbine, formerly known as Lisgar St., extending from Bank Street to Concession Street, now Bronson Avenue, had been created a Police Village as of the first of January, 1906 by the By-Law of the County of Carleton, but, with the exception of the care of the roads, administration in even that area continued to be vested in Nepean Township Council. Two years later, the whole area now known as Ottawa South, was annexed to the City of Ottawa by order of the Ontario Railway and Municipal Board, taking effect the 16th day of December, 1907. That part of the area lying east of Bank St. was attached to Central Ward, and the part west of Bank St, to Wellington Ward.
The annexation order provided for the extension of the water-works system, street lighting, and the electric street railway, provided the Company could be induced to supply the service to the newly annexed area. By 1910 the school population had increased to the point where it became necessary to replace the two-room brick school which had served the area for so many years, with the present structure.
In thinking of the somewhat primitive conditions in Ottawa South in 1910, one must remember that civic development has advanced rapidly during the past forty years and that civic services in even the better residential areas in Ottawa were at that time far below the standard of to-day, particularly as regards roads. Practically all the residential streets in Ottawa were of water-bound macadam, made of our local limestone which quickly disintegrated into clouds of gray dust in summer and almost ankle-deep mud in spring and fall, both conditions greatly aggravated by the preponderance of horse-drawn traffic. In winter, snow-removal was confined to the streets traversed by the electric cars, the snow on residential streets being simply drawn to the centre of the road by horse-drawn plows and left for consolidation by traffic. This resulted in icy ruts a foot or more in depth in the spring and ice and snow remaining on the streets to a much later date than is now the case.
There were no sewers and very few bathrooms in Ottawa South in 1910 and most of the houses had wells from which they drew their water supply. Following annexation a water-main was constructed in 1908 along Riverdale Ave., north along Bank St., and into Rideauville from the Ottawa East pumping station on Main Street alongside the Rideau Gardens. This supply was first from a well, but, this proving inadequate, another shallow well was dug on the Bank of the Rideau River to augment the supply. This primitive supply of raw Rideau River water was replaced in 1911 by water from the City mains, of no better quality as it, too, was untreated. Most of the houses used coal oil lamps for lighting.
In Ottawa South in 1910 the only two roads which were even macadamized were the two main arteries, Bank St, and Riverdale Ave., both of which had been constructed many years earlier by the Gloucester and Ottawa Toll Road Co., which still maintained a toll-bar at Billings Bridge. The other streets were just earth roads which had been gravelled. There was no street car service in Ottawa South, the end of the line being between the Old Men’s Home and the Exhibition Grounds. The Canal was spanned by a swinging bridge and as boat traffic on the canal was probably five times in 1910 what it is now, the interruptions of traffic on Bank St. were very frequent. The swing-bridge was replaced by the present structure in 1913 and the street car tracks extended over it.
Bank St. between the Canal and the river was crowned by a much steeper hill at Sunnyside Ave. than now, and was quite sparsely built. On the east side the Precious Blood Convent grounds extended from Echo Drive to Sunnyside Ave. On the south side of Sunnyside Ave. was the grocery kept by Jas. J. Crosby, whose father, a monument-maker, had built the brick house with its marble trimmed corners on the opposite side of Bank St, now occupied by Tom Wah, the Chinese laundry man and dispenser of friendly relations. Crosby senior had his monument yard in front of his house, and evidently in the belief that the way to get a job well done was to do it himself, had carved his own tombstone leaving only the date of death blank. As he was well-liked and of rugged constitution we were glad that he did not have to make use of it for many years after it was finished.
Next to the Crosby grocery, our friend, Mr. George H, Stoate, had his butcher-shop, followed by H. H. Gibson’s dry goods store and W. F. Gibson’s drug store and post office, over which lived the Rev. Wm. M. Hay, the minister of the Presbyterian Church across the river at Billings Bridge. It may be of interest to mention that Mr. Hay is now an Episcopalian Minister and resident at Granite City, Ill., near Chicago. Each year I have a letter from him at Christmas time. There was only one house between the Gibson store and D. G. Cowan’s shop at Cameron Ave. but from Cameron Ave. to the Rideau River was fairly closely built up.
Somewhat back from the west side of Bank St, on the Canal reserve, as it was called, stood the house of the bridgetender, John Little, and on the south side of Aylmer Ave. lived Mr. John McNichol. On the present site of the Mayfair Theatre stood James McLean’s brick house. On the present site of the Coulter block of buildings there was only a small frame house. Next it Mr. Crosby’s marble-trimmed house stood. The only buildings between there and the river were Trinity Anglican Church and the group of buildings adjacent to Arthur Fairbairn’s grocery store, adjacent to and adjoining Billings Bridge, at that time a somewhat ramshackle timber structure annually threatened with destruction by the spring floods.
Ottawa South in 1910 was interspersed with many open spaces, Rea’s Hill, bounded by Bank St. and Riverdale Ave., Sunnyside Ave. and Belmont Ave. was a favourite winter resort for sliding and skiing; Wyoming Park and Ewart’s Field, bounded by Bank St, and Bronson Ave., Sunnyside Ave. and Cameron Ave. was almost entirely pasture land. Then between Cameron Ave. and the Rideau River were Mr. Walter Billings’ fields. Most of the area between Riverdale Ave. and the Rideau River was occupied by market gardens.
The earliest subdivision for building purposes seems to have been Rideauville, the area which I mentioned as being constituted a Police Village in 1905. Rideauville took in the area west of Bank St. between the Canal and Woodbine Ave. Aylmer Ave., before annexation known as Dufferin St., but with its name changed because of Dufferin Road in New Edinburgh, was its main street, and on its north side were the Methodist Church, the residence of John Jackson, a much beloved local preacher and then a large brick house occupied in 1910 by J. S. Crawford but originally the home of Henry Smith, the father of the seven Smith brothers of hockey fame. All told, there were only eleven houses on the north side of the street, the last house being at the corner of Roslyn Ave. On the south side, Mr. John McNichol’s house faced Bank St. and was followed by the houses of Ira Storr and C. P. Lesuer, District Post Office Inspector. There were twenty houses on this side. Euclid Ave., first named McLean St., after George and James McLean, who had a sandpit near the corner of Bank St. was fairly well built up, Mr. Walter Fryer, Mr. Chas. Dore, Mr. M. T. Doherty, Mrs. Gorman, mother of Tommy Gorman, the sports magnate, having homes on it. Sunnyside Ave., originally called Stanley Ave., only extended to Riverdale Ave. and had only three houses on its north side between Bank and Riverdale, and none on the south side as this was the northly boundary of Rea’s Hill, the popular skiing and tobogganning area mentioned already. On Sunnyside Ave. west of Bank St., Dr. W. A. Graham lived with a fine lawn extending to Bank St., a lawn studded with spring blooms. Next came the homes of Isaiah Rombough and our own W. J. Spratt and Thos. Ritchie, both very active in the life of the community then and now. Between Bank and Leonard Sts, there were thirteen houses but no more until you reached the corner of Seneca St. where building resumed. On the south side, scattered building terminated at Grosvenor St. and was not resumed until west of Seneca St.
Hopewell Ave., previously known as Park Ave., had only eighteen houses on its north side, seven of them being west of Seneca St. The south side had more houses, but also many large gaps in building. Glen Ave. had fourteen houses on its north side but the south side was entirely vacant land with the exception of three houses near its intersection with Seneca St. Grove Ave. was entirely vacant as was the Ewart property to the south. On the north side of Cameron Ave, there were only three houses. These were owned by Mr. David Ewart, Chief Architect of Public Works Dept. and two of them had been built to test novel methods of cement construction. About a dozen houses were on the south side. These included the residences of Mr. J. Albert Ewart, and C. O. and Wm. Wood, sons of H. O. Wood, P. L. S., who had subdivided Rideauville in 1872. Mr. Walter Billings and his sisters lived in a large open tract south of Cameron Ave. With the exception of Seneca St., Belmont Ave., and some of the short streets in Rideauville, practically all of the cross streets were unbuilt on.
If time permitted, mention might be made of many items of human interest in what has always been a closely knit community. There is one that I cannot refrain from telling. It is of a well-known resident, always accustomed to driving horses, who bought a Ford car but never attained any great facility in driving it. Although he had been driving for some considerable time, he started down the hill on Bank St, and found himself at a loss as to how to retard the rapidly accelerating speed of the car. Finally, in a near panic, he took his hands off the wheel, threw them above his head, and commenced shouting, “Whoa! Whoa!” As if guided by unseen hands, the car followed a straight course down Bank St, nearly to Belmont Ave., when it suddenly veered left, dashed through a picket fence, and landed up against the veranda of a house that then stood there, fortunately without injury to anyone. The car was sold and Mr. Hill depended upon horses to provide transportation as needed,
Mr. Chairman, may I again express my thanks for your kindly invitation to be with you tonight.