Old Ottawa South Community Association

  • Ottawa South History Project

From the Archives: The Striking Tale of the Fairbairn Farm

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Another passage from the Ottawa Citizen Old Time Stuff column of the 1930s, this time the Fairbairn story, printed March 7, 1931, transcribed below.

Another Epic South End History
About Period When Belmont Avenue Was Lane of a Farm

How Peter Fairbairn Broke from Parental Roof and Built First Residence Other Than Homesteads of the Pioneers. C.C. Ray Was Once Large Holder of Ottawa South Property. Worthwhile Story.

This is a story which dates back to the time when Belmont avenue from Bank street to Riverdale was a farm lane, and further back to about the year 1816 when Thomas Fairbairn of Glasgow settled on the north banks of the Rideau river.

Thomas Fairbairn the grandfather of Arthur Fairbairn, Ottawa South grocer, and of T.L. Fairbairn of Rideau Park on the Metcalfe Road, has long gone. So has his son Peter Fairbairn, who built a home on what is now Belmont ave just east of Bank street. But there are many reminders in Ottawa south of the pioneer and his sons.

Thomas Fairbairn, the pioneer built his first log home on the east side of Riverdale avenue at a point which would be now between Belmont and Windsor avenues, were it in existence. We might localize still further by saying that the house would (if there now) be just behind the residence of Mr. Richard Briggs, 439 Riverdale avenue.

On High Land

The house stood on the top of a piece of high land. The house was put on this piece of high land, because in those early days the river front was pretty swampy. Also, in the spring the floods used to rise far beyond the river bank.

Thomas Fairbairn’s farm covered the area between the Rideau river and Bronson avenue on the one hand, and between the north side of Sunnyside avenue and the north side of Grove avenue on the other. The farm was long and narrow.

It is needless to say, of course, that in the pioneer days there was no Sunnyside Avenue, no Grove avenue, no Bronson avenue, no Bank street.

The Location

The Fairbairn farm was wedged between two other farms – the Williams farm on the north, and the Billings farm on the south. The Billings farm ran to the north bank of the Rideau.

Not Good Land

As a productive farm the Fairbairn farm wasn’t in the first class. Near the river it was swampy, at its east end, it was swampy. At its west end near what is now Bronson avenue, it ran into more swamp. The portion south of what is now Belmont avenue was uneven and traversed (even to more recent years) by a creek. West of what is now Bank street there was a mixture of swamp and hill land.

Yet despite the unfavourable nature of the land, Thomas Fairbairn backed by his Scotch pluck and thrift made a pretty fair living.

Hidden Values

Thomas Fairbairn may often have wished that he had located in some better spot, but if he had lived to see the wealth which his farm produced, he would have been pleased.

In later years the high land bordering Sunnyside avenue, near Bank turned out thousands of tons of sand for his descendants, while the hills west of Bank street turned out great quantities of fine building gravel.

Then Ottawa began to grow southward and the descendants were able to sell portions of the land in small blocks to great profit.

The First Break

The first break in the Fairbairn farm came in 1872 when Mr. Hugh Masson of Billings Bridge bought a block of land east of what is now Riverdale avenue. The home which Mr. Masson built facing Riverdale avenue is now owned by a daughter, Mrs. Wm. Ide (447 Riverdale). This was erected in 1875, or three years after the property was purchased.

The Masson holdings remained intact till Ottawa South, east of Riverdale, began to build up.

Only the Home Left

Then the property was broken up into building lots and sold. Today only the old home remains, Mr. Masson is dead.

The Ewart Property

The second break in the farm came about 1885, after the death (1881) of Peter Fairbairn, son of the pioneer.

In 1885 (subject to correction of date) , Mr. David Ewart, chief architect of the Public Works Department, purchased from the Fairbairns 30 acres west of Bank street. This 30 acres consisted of a long narrow strip lying between Cameron and Grove streets, and extending from Bank to Bronson.

This land was later sold by the Ewarts, and is now almost solidly built on from Bank street to Seneca.

Then also in the eighties Harry Fentiman and Hazelton Webster (a retired farmer near Manotick), bought blocks east of Riverdale and south of Sunnyside.

Mr. Ray Enters

Then about 1889 (as far as can be ascertained at the time of writing) Mr. C.C. Ray, the coal merchant, also bought a large block east of Bank street and south of Sunnyside avenue. There were about 30 acres in this block.

Wyoming Park

Then in 1891 Mr. Ray bought 60 acres west of Bank street. This was the block lying north of Grove street, and south of Sunnyside. Not long afterwards Mr. Ray sold this 60 acres en bloc to a Toronto land syndicate, which in 1895 subdivided the property under the title of “Wyoming Park”. The story of Wyoming Park has already been told. [ Read The Story of Wyoming Park – Old Time Stuff Ottawa Citizen Feb 7, 1931. ]

The 30 acres that Mr. Ray bought east of Bank street was subdivided by himself. Most of the lots have been sold, though Mr. Ray admits that “a few good lots are still to be had”.

Peter Fairbairn

Fairbairn-PeterAnd now the story jumps back to the time when Peter Fairbairn [see picture herewith] left the parental roof and built a home for himself near Bank street. This new Fairbairn home was erected in the late fifties. Mr. T. L. Fairbairn of Rideau Park was born in this house (the first child) in 1861.

Faced Bank St.

The new home was a log and frame building and looked towards Bank street. The north side of the house near Belmont avenue. Of course at that time there was no Belmont avenue. Belmont avenue was then only the Peter Fairbairn private farm lane. This lane gave Peter Fairbairn access to Bank street on the west and the old Billings Bridge-Ottawa road on the east. This road which used to run through Archville (Ottawa East) and Nicolas street to the city is now Riverdale avenue.

Mr. Peter Fairbairn died in 1881. In 1887 the widow pulled down the old house and erected a new frame house a little to the north. The new house also faced Bank street.


In 1899 Mr. John Kelley, accountant with the Alex Fleck firm, purchased the Peter Fairbairn home and a triangular piece of land bounded by Belmont avenue, Cameron street, the rear of the Bank street lots, and Bellwood avenue.

In 1914 Mrs. Kelley (Mr. Kelley was then dead) turned the Fairbairn house to face Belmont avenue and bricked it.

In 1921 Mr. W.B. Kelley, son of Mrs. Kelley, erected a home for himself at 43 Willard. It is interesting to note that Mr. Kelley’s house was erected exactly on the site of the original Fairbairn log and frame house erected in the late fifties.

It can therefore be said that Mr. W. B. Kelley’s house is on the site of the first house erected in Ottawa South apart from the farm homes of the pioneer Williams, and the pioneer Fairbairn. It is also of interest to note that when Mr. W. B. Kelley’s home was being put up, the original Fairbairn well was uncovered.

And now back to Peter Fairbairn. It may be told that the children of Peter were Thomas, of Rideau Park; William in Coronation, Alberta; Miss Elspeth, ---; Orilla, at home and Arthur E., Bank street grocer.

Last modified on Saturday, 25 April 2020 06:15

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