Posted by: OSHP
Title: South Side Belmont Avenue Between Willard Street and Bellwood Street.
Address: 170, 172, 174, 176, 178, 180, 182, 184, 190 Belmont Avenue, Ottawa, Ontario.
The block located between Willard and Bellwood Avenues in Old Ottawa South comprises a series of homes built between 1916 and 1930. All of the lots feature 1920s Prairie Style architecture, and are situated on intensely developed urban building lots. This street represents development in Old Ottawa South in the 1920s and the transition of the neighbourhood from a suburban to urban space.
The block on the South Side of Belmont Avenue was developed as part of a subdivision created by the Spring Lake Property Company in 1916. Originally C.C. Ray had intended the spring lake property to fill the role of a park within his subdivision.1 Presumably influenced by then contemporary aesthetic values which emphasized the value of the picturesque, the lots in Ray’s subdivision were arranged surrounding a triangular central park the highlight of which was a large pond.2 Although it is uncertain whether the park was simply conceptual or actually realized, the property certainly remained virtually undeveloped as late as 1912. This lack of development is apparent in the Charles Goad Fire Insurance Map for the city of Ottawa in 1912 which shows only one house on the south side of Belmont Street.3
In 1915, perhaps because of a new focus on urban development during the , C.C. Ray’s property was bought by the Belmont Property Company and subdivided into 47 building lots measuring 30 by 88-90 feet.4 These lots, for the most part, did not sell quickly. On the South side of Belmont Avenue alone, several of the lots did not sell until the 1920s. In fact, one particularly late sale did not occur until 1927, twelve years after the lots had been subdivided.5
Unlike many nineteenth and early twentieth century homes in Old Ottawa South, such as 38 Euclid Avenue, 175 Belmont Avenue, or 66 Barton Street, which seem to have been commissioned by or perhaps even built buy the individuals who lived in them, all of the homes on the South Side of Belmont Street were developed by contractors, with the exception of 190 Belmont, the home of the widow Elizabeth Kelly.. The most widespread of these contractors was the Spring Lake Property Co. Ltd. which developed 40 of the 47 lots in the subdivision three of which were on the South Side of Belmont Street.
The South side of Belmont Street was largely dominated by middle class residents among whom were Rowland Williams, owner of a lumber company, Gideon Miller, a “science master” at a normal school, John Timmins, the head clerk for the Operating Department of the Board of Railway Commissioners, William Switzer, a contractor, Blanche McPhee, a teacher, and several other men whose occupations are listed neither in city directories nor Canadian census returns. The data available suggests, however, that the street was overwhelmingly populated with white-collar workers, perhaps indicating a trend for the entire neighbourhood.6
All of the homes on the South Side of Belmont Street were built between 1916 and 1930, and all were constructed by developers for middle-class individuals. As a result, all of the homes are very similar stylistically. Nevertheless, these fourteen homes can be divided into 5 distinct groups based on their builders.
The first of these homes at 194 Belmont was built much like older structures on the North side of the street. It is a two-story front-gabled brick side hall plan home. The brickwork is simple and not particularly high quality with large grey concrete lintels above the windows and doors. The windows themselves are standard sized double-double hung windows that would have been mass-produced in 1916 when the home was built. As it was built for Elizabeth Kelly, who had lived on the South side of Belmont Street as early as 1897 prior to the property being subdivided, it is not surprising that her home resembles the late nineteenth-century architecture typical of many streets in Old Ottawa South.7
Homes built by the Spring Lake Property Co. Limited were far more modern in design. All three homes designed by the company are American foursquare homes, which would have been typical of the middle class from roughly 1900 to 1930.8 All three are brick homes based on a square, box-like plan with large one-storey verandas, and display pyramidal hipped roves and front attic dormers.9 These homes were associated with efficiency, economy and order, as contrasted with the excessive ornamentation and complex building plans of the later nineteenth century. For example, one 1923 home catalogue declared that “The square type of home…is always popular, because it gives the greatest value for every dollar invested…All in all, it is a sensible, comfortable home with no useless frills or fancies.”10 Between the three Spring Lake Property Company homes, there is very little difference except in exterior ornamentation. For example, 190 Belmont is made of grey brick whereas the other two homes (192 and 176 Belmont Avenue) are made of red brick. Similarly, 190 Belmont Avenue displays a projecting front window rather than the large veranda of the other two. Nevertheless all three homes were built according to similar values, and probably even the same building plan at the same time.
Similarly, two homes built by the contractor Gideon Miller, 184 and 182 Belmont Avenue, are variations on this basic foursquare design. Each displays a box-like shape, and pyramidal hipped roof. They differ from those of the Spring Lake Property Company in that they feature more complex brickwork integrating side blocking. In particular, 182 Belmont Avenue features a complex polychromatic diamond pattern directly above the entrance. Both homes have a low shingled front gable which is echoed in a pediment on a front portico. In both cases, the front gables serve no discernable function, and do not disrupt the square floor plan of the homes.11
The South side of Belmont Street is important to the history of Old Ottawa South as it strongly reflects new urban development that took place in the 1920s transforming the neighbourhood into a truly urban landscape characterized by the efficient use of space, heavy development of small lots replacing the picturesque nineteenth-century park on which the subdivision was created, and development by professional developers. It was in the heavy period of development in the 1920s that Old Ottawa South began to take on a new character shifting from a semi-populated suburb on the outskirts of the city of Ottawa, home to country gentlemen such as George Hay, and a scattered population of working class individuals, to the urban middle class neighbourhood it is today. As such, the homes on the street built between 1916 and 1930 provide a useful snapshot of the social and architectural values of the 1920s in Old Ottawa South, and Ottawa as a whole.
1 See Subdivision Plan 116, Figure 1.
2 For a discussion of the picturesque and landscape in the nineteenth century, see Ron Graziani, Robert Smithson and the American Landscape, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004. For the arrangement of Ray’s subdivision see figure 1
3 See Figure 1.
4 As of yet, it is unclear who was behind the Belmont Property Co. There are no documents referring to this company in either contemporary city directories or at Library and Archives Canada. It is possible that some records may be available at the Ottawa City Archives or Ottawa Public Library.
5 See Ontario Land Registry Office, Ottawa-Carleton. Plan 133434, Roll 4AR138
6 An economic shift appears to have taken place in Old Ottawa South between 1900 and 1920. Whereas in 1900 a strong majority of the population (54%) of Old Ottawa South was made up of working class inhabitants (such as janitors, labourers, etc), in 1920 the composition of the neighbourhood had changed drastically. On South Belmont Street at least in 1929 50% of the inhabitants were identified as holding middle class employment, while the other 50% has no occupation listed. None are listed as having working class positions. Considering that all of the homes on South Belmont Street are virtually identical, it seems likely that this other 50% also held white-collar jobs. See The Ottawa City Directory 1901. Ottawa: Might Directories, and The Ottawa City Directory 1929. Ottawa: Might Directories.
7 See Figure 2 for a depiction of this home.
8 Harold Kalman indicates that this foursquare house was extremely common in both rural and urban areas after 1910. He describes it as “square in plan, two storeys high, with a front veranda, and was covered by a pyramidal hipped roof with a front dormer.” Furthermore, he describes them as typically made from brick in central Canada. See Harold Kalman, A History of Canadian Architecture Vol. 2. Toronto: Oxford University Press, (1994). Pp. 617-18.
9 See figures 3-5.
10 Morgan Woodwork Organization, Homes and Interiors of the 1920s (Reprinted Morgan Woodwork Organization Catalogue originally entitled Building With Assurance). Ottawa: Lee Valley Tools, 1987. Pp. 43. For a discussion of the perceived “efficiency” of foursquare homes, and their particular appeal to the middle class, see Mariana Moscowitz, Standard of Living: The Measure of the Middle Class in Modern America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. 2004. Pp. 153-55.
11 See figures 6-7.