Old Ottawa South Community Association

  • Ottawa South History Project
Hogsback, Rideau Canal. 1830.
Hogsback, Rideau Canal. 1830. Credit: Library and Archives Canada

From the Archives: Looking for the Spirit of Lewis Williams

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This story from the September 1994 OSCAR by David Bouse notes some of the similarities along the Rideau River over the many years of settlement in Ottawa South. An 1830 watercolour by artist James Pattison Cockburn inspires some comparisons.

Window to the Past: The Spirit of Lewis Williams

By David Bouse

The Rideau River can provide a window back into time for those who care to look through. This is the story of one such glimpse. While researching the "spirit of Lewis Williams" for the Ottawa South Porch Sale activities, I came across several interesting things about the history of this area.

For example, I learned most of the early nineteenth century settlers to this region came from the United States and did not have strong ties to the Empire. They were sometimes not honest and fair toward the later immigrants from the British Isles. One of the earliest non-American families in what is now Ottawa was 47-year-old Lewis Williams, 30-year old Mary Phillips Williams and their five children, the oldest only ten, when they arrived here.

They came from Wales in 1817. They came with cash, but not with an ability to spend it wisely in this "new" land. They came to what is now Ottawa South; first taking possession of land north of what is now Sunnyside Ave., later acquiring additional land north of Windsor Park.

Several years later, the family became "a real object of charity" according to archival records. Some of the younger sharp-dealing Americans treated Lewis Williams as an outsider. They took advantage of him through various questionable and outright unscrupulous practices. In one case Williams had to pay for a team of oxen twice because the first seller had not actually owned them.

The only other family then living in what is now Ottawa South was that of Abraham Dow, whose house was located not far from the current site of Delahunt's Dairy Queen. Dow's sister had earlier married Braddish Billings and settled on the south side of the river near the location of today's Harvey's. They operated a ferry which connected the road from Richmond Landing to the overland route to Kingston. Later, in about 1830, they built the first Billings bridge.

My window into the past became clearer while I was walking along the river bank near Southern Drive comparing views to what the Williams family might have seen there 175 years ago. Old stories and archival records seemed to link up with the present and have personal meaning. I felt an inner sense of connectedness.

The view along the Rideau River is one of the least changed parts of the local environment. For me, the "spirit of Lewis Williams" is not the physical manifestation awarding prizes on Porch Sale day. For me, the spirit is within the flora and fauna along the river.

You can read more about the Williams family here

Plus, more info about the Williams House is found here.

From the Library and Archives database:

Date: 17 August 1830. Artist: Cockburn, James Pattison, 1779-1847.
Last modified on Saturday, 25 April 2020 12:57

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