Old Ottawa South Community Association

  • Ottawa South History Project

Boathouses on the Rideau Canal

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a009197 webThe Rideau Canal has not always been the quiet waterway surrounded by green parkways which it is today. In the nineteenth century it was a busy commercial and industrial zone. North of Pretoria it was bordered by warehouses, wharves, and railway tracks. South of Pretoria the canal banks were more open but there were wharves, a brick works, and private boathouses. The north side of Dow’s Lake was an industrial site lined with lumber piling yards, a cannery and railway tracks.

The Ottawa Improvement Commission (the predecessor of the NCC) was created in 1899 with the object of beautifying Ottawa – of making it the “Washington of the North.” One of its first projects, begun about 1902, was to build the Rideau Canal Driveway (now the Queen Elizabeth Driveway) along the canal. As part of the work the Commission had the boathouses along the Glebe side of the canal removed. [1] An exception was made for the ornate Rideau Canoe Club boathouse which was built at the junction of Fifth Avenue and the canal in 1905. [2]

There were still boathouses along the south-east side of the canal but many of them were considered “most unsightly.” In 1911 the construction of the new Bank Street Bridge forced the relocation of several boathouses from the south side of the canal near Bank Street. The Department of Railways and Canals, which operated the canal, and the Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC) took the opportunity to reduce the number of individual boathouses by encouraging the construction of a few large boathouses which were to be “of an artistic and pleasing nature.” [3]

One of these new boathouses was built by the Ottawa Motor Boat Club. During the first decade of the twentieth century power boating had boomed in Ottawa. [4] In 1909 the power boating community organized as the Ottawa Power Boat Association and began to lobby the government for improvements to navigation on the canal and Ottawa River. [5] In 1912, under the name the Ottawa Motor Boat Club, the power boat owners applied to the Department of Railways and Canals for the lease of a water lot to the south-west of Pig Island. At the same time it submitted plans, prepared by J. Albert Ewart, for a boathouse with 30 bays and a clubhouse; the plans had already been approved by the OIC. The lease was granted and the boathouse was built in the summer of 1912; in 1913 a huge addition with 60 slips was added. [6]

On the Glebe side of the canal the Rideau Aquatic Club (previously the Rideau Canoe Club) jumped into the power boat business. In 1912-13 it leased a 300 foot water lot adjacent to its clubhouse and built a boathouse with space for both canoes and motor boats. Not all of the paddling members were pleased with the change which led to an increase in fees and more emphasis on the social aspects of the club. Some paddlers threatened to move to another club but there is no evidence that they did possibly because most of the paddling clubs in Ottawa were accommodating themselves to the growth in power boating. [7] W.J. Henry, an Ottawa taxidermist, secured a water lot lease for a third boathouse just to the north-east of Pig Island; in 1913 the Ottawa Citizen reported that he planned to build boathouse to accommodate canoes and skiffs. [8] Judging by an aerial photograph taken in 1928 his boathouse was much smaller than the one built by the motor boat club. [9]

The Commission also accepted an existing commercial boathouse, Patterson’s, in front of the lot now occupied by Immaculata High School. The Patterson family had leased the land in 1903 and built a boathouse which both stored and rented canoes and skiffs. Their boathouse burned in 1927 and was not rebuilt.[10]

A fifth boathouse was added to the mix in 1924 when Walter Wells leased a small lot immediately to the south of Patterson’s. Wells’ boathouse, the Rosedale, included some slips for larger boats, storage for about 50 canoes and space for 10 rental canoes. The Rosedale was located in a small inlet and when the Department of Railways and Canals built a retaining wall along part of the canal in 1929-30, the boathouse was cut off from the water and its slips for larger boats were filled in. Wells’ lease was cancelled in 1930 but he was allowed to occupy the property until 1933. His boathouse remained standing until at least 1935. [11]

In addition to the boathouses, the north end of the area included a small industrial site. In 1903 the Silicate Brick Company was granted a lease to 2.38 acres along the canal from Hawthorne Avenue south. The company built a brick plant on the site. By 1915 the company had stopped manufacturing bricks but it continued to use the site for piling sand. In 1922 the company surrendered its lease. Smaller parts of the site were leased to Dupuis and Sons in 1927 and to R.R. Foster in 1928 for piling sand. Their leases were for a short term and specified that any sand delivered to them had to be delivered by boat. [12] The leases were cancelled about 1931-32 when construction of the lower level (Colonel By) driveway began.

Four boathouses and the sand piles are visible on 1928 aerial photographs of the city but their future was in doubt. By the mid-1920s the boating boom had tapered off and the Ottawa Motor Boat Club was having difficulty paying its rent; by 1929 there were only 36 boats in its boathouse which had been built for 90. [13] In 1926 the Ottawa East Municipal Improvement Association requested that the Improvement Commission take over the land south of Pretoria, purchase Patterson’s boathouse, and then build a driveway and retaining wall from Pretoria to Herridge. Similar requests for the removal of boathouses opposite Lansdowne Park were made by the residents of Echo Drive in 1930. [14]

In 1929-30 the Department of Railways and Canals began the construction of a concrete retaining wall along the Ottawa East side of the canal beginning at Hawthorne Avenue. At the same time the Federal District Commission (the successor to the OIC) planned a “low level driveway” (ultimately Colonel By Drive) between Hawthorne and Bank Street. [15] The Ottawa Motor Boat Club’s boathouse would have interfered with both projects and in 1930 its lease was cancelled. The club objected to the cancellation, stating that it had been assured in 1912 that it would be secure in the location. After some negotiation it accepted an offer of $1500 from the Federal District Commission and in January 1931 work crews from the commission began to demolish the OMBC boathouse. [16]

The lease on Henry’s boathouse was cancelled in November 1930 but, because it was built completely on the water and did not interfere with the construction of the retaining wall or of the driveway, it was not torn down immediately. However, in September 1931 it, along with 100 canoes, was completely destroyed in a $20,000 fire. Mrs. Henry and her daughter only just escaped, clambering down a ladder from the second floor where they lived during the season. [17] Mrs. Henry was not allowed to rebuild.

Only a few months later the Rideau Aquatic Club motor boat building was destroyed in a $25,000 fire. Twenty cruisers and some canoes were also destroyed. The club did not rebuild although aerial photographs indicate that it build some docks in the area occupied by the boathouse. [18] The club’s clubhouse was not damaged by the fire and remained standing until 1943 when it collapsed into the canal. After the war the club was re-organized and moved to Mooney’s Bay.

Both the Department of Railways and Canals and the Federal District Commission recognized that when the boathouses were removed some provision would have to be made for storing boats In October 1930 the FDC agreed to build a boathouse on Dow’s Lake to provide alternate accommodation for canoes and smaller motor boats but not for the larger inboards. A new boathouse was built on Dow’s Lake in 1931. It was a two storey building, 85’x65’, with accommodation for about 200 skiffs and canoes, 10 to 20 outboard motor boats, and 7 small cruisers in covered slips. [19] The Dow’s Lake boathouse was used for almost 50 years; over the decades it housed private power boats, skiffs, and canoes as well as various clubs. For a time a troop of Sea Scouts used it as a base and for a short period in the 1930s the Brantwood Canoe Club used it for regattas. From 1947 to 1979 the RA Yacht Club sailed from its docks and in the 1960s the YM-YWCA Canoe Club stored its boats in the boathouse. By the 1970s the building was in poor condition and in 1979 it was torn down to make way for the Dow’s Lake Pavilion.


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[1] Library and Archives Canada (LAC), RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1), 6 October 1911. Phillips, Supt. Eng., to W Kearns, Sec., Ottawa Improvement Commission (OIC).

[2] Ottawa Journal (OJ) , 27 April 1905, “Canoeing. Rideau Canoe Club”

[3] OJ, 8 October 1912. “To Remove Boathouses from Canal;” LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 20 September 1929. A.T. Phillips to Dubuc, Department of Railways & Canals.

[4] OJ, 29 April 1911, “Paradise for Motor Boats is Ottawa and Vicinity”

[5] OJ, 5 April 1911, “Motor Boats on Increase.”

[6] LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 2 April 1912, [Kearns] Sec., OIC, to Campbell, Deputy Minister, Department of Railways and Canals; LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 3 May 1912, A.T. Phillips, Supt. Eng., OIC, to W.A. Bowden, Chief Eng., Department of Railways and Canals.

[7] OJ, 31 May 1913, “Rideau Aquatic Club Organized by a Few Enthusiasts in Summer of 1902;” OJ, 28 December 1931, “Rideau Aquatic Club is Scene of $25,000 Fire;” OJ, 3 April 1914, “Rideau Aquatic Members Are Up in Arms Over Raising of Club Fees for this Season.”

[8] OJ, 8 October 1912, “To Remove Boathouses from Canal.”

[9] OJ , 9 September 1931. “Canoes Lost in $20,000 Fire at Landmark.”

[10] LAC, RG34, Vol. 233, File 116-E(1) Federal District Commission (FDC)to Smart, 29 September 1930; LAC, Vol.1491, File 14995, Phillips to Dubuc, 8 March 1924; OJ, 8 October 1912, “To Remove Boathouses from Canal;” Ottawa City Directory, 1911, p.76; OJ, 3 September 1914, “Exodus from City of Riflemen Hunting for Duck;” Ottawa Citizen, 20 December 1927, “Big Boathouse Destroyed Early Today By Big Blaze.”

[11] LAC, Vol.1491, File 14995, Order in Council, PC124/524, 31 March 1924; LAC, Vol.1491, File 14995, A.T. Phillips to Dubuc, 20 April 1931. LAC, RG34, Vol. 233, File 116-E(1) FDC to Smart, 29 September 1930; LAC, Vol.1491, File 14995, C.W. Yates to J. Warren, 2 March 1934. Well’s boathouse appears in a 1935 aerial photograph.

[12] LAC, RG43, Vol. 1354, File 2225, Order in Council, 14 April 1903; LAC, RG43, Vol. 1354, File 2225, Phillips, to Bell, 5 October 1915; LAC, RG43, Vol. 1354, File 2225, Pugsley to Silicate Brick Co., 30 January 1922; LAC, RG43, Vol. 1354, File 2225, Plan of land leased to Dupuis & sons, 4 May 1927; LAC, Vol.1491, File 14995; Phillips to Dubuc, 22 July 1929.

[13] LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 2 June 1925. [indecipherable] Travelling Auditor, Memo to controller; LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 20 September 1929, A.T. Phillips to Dubuc, Department of Railways and Canals.

[14] OJ , 5 April 1926, “Approve Plan Acquire Land in East End;” LAC, RG34, Vol.233, File 116 E-1. Pearce, Board of Control, to WE O’Meara, Sec., FDC, 22 January 1930.

[15] LAC, RG43, Vol. 1427, File 9632, 20 September 1929. A.T. Phillips to Dubuc, D R&C; LAC, RG34, Vol. 233, File 116-E(1,), 6 September 1930. Smart, DM, to [FDC?]

[16] LAC, RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1) 19 May 1930. Engineer, FDC, to Deputy Minister, Department of Railways and Canals; LAC, RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1), 20 January 1931, Edwin Holloway, Pres., to Secretary, FDC; LAC, RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1),3 February 1931, Smart, DM, Department of Railways and Canals to [undecipherable]; OJ 26 January 1931, “Start to Demolish Canal Boathouse.”

[17] LAC, RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1) 13 November 1930, Chief Engineer to AT Phillips, Supt. Eng., Rideau Canal; OJ, 9 September 1931, “Canoes Lost in $20,000 fire at Landmark.”

[18] OJ , 28 December 1931, “Rideau Aquatic Club is Scene of $25,000 Fire;” Ottawa East History Website, Aerial Survey A4569 35 1933.

[19] LAC, RG34, Vol. 233, File 116-E(1), 2 October 1930, Engineer, FDC, to B.J. Roberts, Department of Finance; LAC, RG34, Vol.275, File 195 (1), 21 April 1931, Donald Blair, Engineer, FDC, to W.E. Gowling; LAC, RG34, Vol. 233, File 116-E(1), 29 Sept. 1930, FDC to Smart, DM, Department of Railways and Canals; OJ, 22 October 1930, “Large Boathouse at Dow’s Lake.”

Last modified on Saturday, 28 March 2020 12:14

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