Posted by: Jim Robertson
Jim Robertson lived in Ottawa South from 1947 until 1963 when his family moved to Rideau Gardens. After a career that saw him living in Calgary, Winnipeg, Ottawa again, Edmonton and Toronto, he is now retired and living in the Bank Street/Hunt Club Road area.
Our family lived in Ottawa South during the 1940’s, 50’s and early 60’s. As I have become old, so has Ottawa South become “Old” Ottawa South.
Phyllis and Dick Robertson, my parents, moved from McLeod Street to 162 Sunnyside (just east of Riverdale) in 1943, after my sister Mary was born. My brother Dave came along in 1944, and I made my appearance in 1947.
I don’t remember much about Sunnyside, except from my father’s pictures, as I was too young, but I do remember our bread (Morrison-Lamothe) and milk (Bordens) was delivered by horse-drawn “wagons”. The excitement one day was that the horse pulling the milk wagon had collapsed and died at what was then the end of Sunnyside, just beyond Bristol.
In 1950 we moved from Sunnyside to 105 Fentiman (also just east of Riverdale) in the winter with Dad moving many smaller household items by toboggan.
For a few years, the ice truck used come twice a week to the families that still had ice-box fridges. There weren’t many, but I guess enough to make a living for the ice-man. By then the milk (Clark’s Dairy by then) and bread delivery had switched to motorized delivery.
The neighbourhood had lots of kids our own ages and most of us knew each other. My early friends all lived on Fentiman: Ron Vexler who went on to be a cardiologist and Chief of Medical staff at the Queensway-Carleton Hospital, Bill Farley, John and Verna McConnell. I remember Francis MacDonald’s family having a TV well before many others, so I used to find myself at his house frequently.
Later Joanne Tofani , Anne-Marie Verity also on Fentiman, became part of the group with other friends from near-by Rideau gardens (Avenue Road ,Glencairn, Southern Drive) including Al Bowen, Wayne Canniff, Wayne Crutchlow, Janet Likeness and Shelia Carnell. Through Hopewell, friends started to include some on the west side of Bank – Tom Rankin from Cameron Avenue, Eric Hopper from Fulton Avenue, the Shouldice brothers from Hopewell Ave. Don Jackson, and Eric Nidd from Bellwood Ave were also in the “circle”.
My brother’s friends seemed to mainly live a block or two away. Bob Dore, Fred Mason, Jim Bond all on Belmont, Bob Butterworth lived on Riverdale, Chris Humphries on Cameron and Mike Hooper from Bristol.
Mary’s friends included Liz Hilborn (Belmont) and Janet Corbett (Fentiman) amongst others.
I seem to recall there was a “rec” night at Hopewell on Friday evenings in the “Home Ec” room to keep the kids entertained with crafts and out of trouble. I vaguely recall various types of art work, bingo games and bringing home handmade fired clay figures.
We all started at Hopewell Public School in four year old kindergarten. We walked to school on our own, no school buses or accompanying adults. I have to admit the hill on Sunnyside, between Bellwood and Fairbairn, isn’t as steep now as it seemed then.
Miss Scott, my grade one teacher, as well as Mr Strong, the principal, lived beside each other on Fentiman, just up from Brighton Beach.
I have had short discussions recently with someone else who was at Hopewell at the same time as to who the teachers were. Mine, which I remember were:
Four year old kindergarten – Mrs Yates (Her husband taught Grade 8)
Five year old kindergarten – Miss Fairbairn
Grade One – Miss Scott, who played God Save the Queen each morning on her Victrola.
Grade Two – Miss Lenfesty
Grade Three/Four – Miss Derby (She drove in from Winchester every day, a long commute back then)
Grade Fve – Miss Wilson
Grade Seven – Mr Batterton (also the vice principal)
Mrs Hancock, controversial amongst the students, taught choral music and oratory arts
The boys’ phys ed teacher was Mr Russ Jarrett.
Mr Brooks taught woodworking to grades seven and eight. I think the first project was a thread spool holder for our mothers, some students went on to make themselves desks in grade eight. There was also a metal work class in which we made (or attempted to make) useful household items. My brother made an aluminium tray with the family crest etched into it.
The busy street corners had “patrols” assigned to them. These were students who were responsible (to the extent a youngster can be responsible for his peers) to see them across the intersections safely. At Sunnyside and Bank there were usually three patrols on duty. My brother Dave was one of the crossing patrols at Bank and Sunnyside, while I looked after the corner of Sunnyside and Riverdale for most of a school term.
Mum was active in the Home and School Association, serving as President in the mid-50’s. She retained a connection to Hopewell by being a volunteer in the library between 1972 and 1992. Mum as well volunteered at the museum of Nature, from 1977 for many years leading education tours for visiting school groups some of which were likely from Hopewell. Mum and Dad were both very active with Trinity Anglican Church at Bank and Cameron.
They were also keen square dancers. They and other couples from the neighbourhood (the Bonds and the Wagdins amongst others) used to dance at what is now the Mario Uomo Italy clothing store just across Billings Bridge.
My one and only (thank goodness) singing solo was in one of Noreen Braithwaite’s early puppet shows. Her puppetry prowess survived my contribution and Noreen went on to be well known in the world of puppets. She had her own TV show for a number of years and instigated, and is still heavily involved in, Puppets-Up that is held annually in Almonte.
The Braithwaites lived at the southern end of Willard Ave. Noreen’s brother Steven is a wonderful artist with some of his glass sculpture works on display outside City Hall, his children’s playground in Strathcona Park. His brother John was an excellent cabinet maker.
In the 50’s, a large number of Italians immigrated to Canada with some arriving in Ottawa. Frequently one family would come first, buy a house and find a job. Then other relatives would come over and join them in the house until they saved enough to buy a house for themselves. At times I think there were 2 or 3 families living a couple doors down from us Fentiman using it as a “launching pad” to living in Canada. There were a few younger kids in the house at times, but we didn’t mix much due to language difficulties.
Dave and I both had paper routes, a typical “job” for young boys at the time. Dave had a route delivering the Globe and Mail for a little over a year. I earned my spending money, and savings, for three years with a morning Montreal Gazette paper route that covered the east half of Ottawa South, from Bank Street Bridge to Billings Bridge and east to the River. I can still mentally deliver the 40-50 papers to the houses today. Not only was money earned every week important, but the Christmas tips represented a lot of money to young boys.
Windsor Park played a large part in our lives during all seasons. The area closest to Riverdale had a small green shack with a basic children’s playground and a hill for sliding in the winter; the area by what is now known as Garrett Place, had a baseball diamond and an outdoor rink with the a squat concrete block building used as a change room for the winter skating rink.
The ice rink was used primarily for shinny, but we played in an outdoor league in the evenings. We didn’t notice the cold but I am sure the coaches and parents did. There was non-hockey time for general skating as well. There was a winter carnival for several years at Windsor involving costumes and games. I am not sure who organized it.
The baseball diamond was used for Little League, our coach being Mr Grimes, the Morrison-Lamothe bread delivery man mentioned above.
While Windsor was my park when I was growing up, I take the grand-kids to Brewer with its attractions that delight kids.
Looking at Windsor Park today, the sliding hill is still there and in use. The “forest” we used to play in behind the houses at 58/60 Belmont is gone. Also long gone are the 4-5 “community gardens” that were in a low area behind 34/36 Belmont. Dad had, what seemed large to me at the time, a garden there in which he grew enough vegetables to last us most of the winter which were stored in the cold-cellar (the former coal bin) in the basement.
I learned to ski at Hog’s Back. On the wide hill that is immediately south of Heron Road before it goes over the Heron Road Bridge. We took a bus all the way out to Hogs Back from Billings Bridge every Saturday morning. Dave, being a much better skier, used to take a bus on Saturdays up to Camp Fortune to downhill ski, while Mary cross-country skied.
Not having a car until the late 1950’s, an RCMP truck (Dad was in the RCMP) showed up at the house to take us, and our provisions, to the RCMP Long Island Camp where we spent 1-2 weeks a summer in the early to mid 1950’s. The Camp is at the Rideau Canal Locks just north of Manotick. David Bangs’ parents, of Belmont Ave, had a cottage on the Island as an example of how close to town some cottages were then.
There were a couple docks on the river on Rideau River Drive between Belmont and Fentiman where we sometimes fished and played. One was a “private” dock from which we were chased more than once, but the other seemed not to be claimed by anyone. One morning I was down there fishing and hooked a catfish. The whiskers scared me so much that I walked home with the fish on the hook and asked Dad to take it off the hook. Normally we just caught sunfish.
It was not unheard of for the spring flood on Belmont to almost reach Bristol.
Brighton Beach was a great place to spend the summers. Brighton Beach was run as a non-profit organization with its board of directors being local people. Dad was on the board for a number of years.
It was the only beach in the city with rafts, six of them, to swim to, a long dock from which to take a long running dive and “fly” 15-20 feet before splashing down, plus a diving board. The bottom inside the boomed-in shallow area was sandy; the sand coming via dump truck loads as otherwise the bottom was very muddy. We learned our swimming basics at the RCMP camp, but refined our swimming techniques at Brighton. Swimming classes were run, by Millie Cox and a staff of instructors under the Red Cross award system: Beginners, Junior, Intermediate and Senior. Instruction towards the Red Cross Instructor and Leader was also provided. Royal Life Saving Society sessions were held for the Bronze medallion and the Award of Merit.
Dave and I both worked there as lifeguards and other assorted jobs. John McCombie, a serious when required, but otherwise fun loving police detective supervised the guards and the beach in general. There were 5-6 lifeguards hired each year, but busy Saturday and Sundays saw part-timers working as well.
There was an annual Aquatic Show on a Sunday afternoon in August “starring” the swimming instructors and the life guards. The grass was always packed with viewers who had come to swim, but also to enjoy the show. We enjoyed the shows as young kids and then went on to become performers.
It was a wonderful welcoming place for all who worked there and for people who came from across the city to swim. Paul Martin Senior, the then Minister of External Affairs would come by from time to time as would Paul Hellyer the Defence Minister. Mr Hellyer lived about 2 blocks from Brighton. We are still in contact with some who worked there with us. Mike Hooper, lifeguard, and Florian Elliott, swimming instructor, later married and raised a great family of four kids.
When we did finally get a car (a ’47 Buick that was well along in years) Dad had it serviced at Cutt’s Motors who had a large indoor garage at Bank and Chesley where Bond’s Decor is now. It was a family operated garage. Three Cutts brothers were involved, if my memory serves me right – Charlie, David, and Alan, later Garry one of the sons joined them. At some point they moved the service centre to the SE corner Billings Bridge.
Physically I don’t see a great number of changes in the overall area, yes Shoppers Drugmart certainly made a statement with its store at Sunnyside, the Perley Home moved to a wonderful, but institutional looking facility, in Elmvale Acres with a more modern retirement home replacing it on Aylmer Ave. The redevelopment of the convent and its grounds on Echo Drive was significant. The Sunnyside Firehall became the community centre we never had.
While there have been some (controversial) residential infills, there haven’t been as many as in some areas of the city.
Given the number of years that have passed, the Bank Street “strip” surprisingly still looks somewhat the same with a few modern additions and brightened facades. Southminister Church has changed little if at all. The library hasn’t changed much on the outside, just the entrance altered, the Mayfair has taken over the small store where we used to spend our candy money (three blackballs for a penny), Coulters Drugstore used to be where the Dollar-it is, then moved to Wine Rack’s current location before folding up shop. “My” Scotiabank is still there, TD just moved as we know. Now if something could be done with the burned out structure next to the ScotiaBank…
Some of the other businesses that are no longer (I might have one or two faulty memories):
Esso gas station now is Boomerang Kids.
White Rose gas is now The Barley Mow.
The Beamish Store (5 & 10¢) was where the Black Squirrel and Wag are.
Dominion Groceries was located where Framed is.
A Shell gas station was where Shoppers Drug Mart is now.
Haddad’s vegetables occupied what is now Taylor’s Genuine Kitchen.
Ritchie and Nunn’s paints was at 280 Sunnyside.
The Shoemaker was where the Massage Therapy salon is.
Tallmires Ladies Fashions was where Wine Rack is. The Tallmires lived at 133 Fentiman.
Loblaws was where is Cyclery is.
The extension to Hopewell took over all of what used to be the boys’ school yard.
Sager’s Shoes was where Starbucks is. Sagar’s had a “fluroscope” that you stepped into and it would present a greeny screen showing your toes inside the shoes to see if they fit. Guess it wasn’t safe as you never see such technology now.
Len’s Meat Market occupied where Giant Bikes is today.
A Fina gas station was on NW corner of Bank and Grove where Quickies is now.
Gord Johnson’s Plymouth Car Sales was on the east side of Bank from Belmont down somewhat past Grove Ave.
Hardy Mattress was where Delusions of Grandeur is.
Allan’s Hardware was where Cedars and Co is.
Art’s Taxi was in the small building adjacent on north side of CA Paradis.
The #5 bus that ran uptown via Riverdale, Main Street, Elgin Street and Wellington used to turn around using Sunnyside, Bristol, and Belmont before heading back uptown. When Billings Bridge mall opened it went “way” out there rather than circling. Later it went over to Hull as well.
The #1 Bank Street bus turned at Sunnyside down to Seneca and then up Grove where an indoor heated waiting area with benches accommodated waiting passengers. That site has become apartments.
In 1963, we moved to Rideau Gardens: 62 Glencairn Ave, which I see is not designated as being in Old Ottawa South. I never felt I had left the neighbourhood, but I guess a line has to be drawn somewhere. When I crossed Main Street, then I felt like I was leaving the comfort zone and heading into Ottawa East; now it too is “Old” Ottawa East, just like me.
Note: A shorter version of this article appeared in the March 2015 OSCAR.