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Our Community 100 Years Ago: A Sketch of Old Ottawa South in 1911

Originally published in the January 2011 OSCAR

by Cornelius von Baeyer & Kathy Krywicki

LAC_Woodside_PA-016818_smallWhat was happening in our part of the City around 1911? Who lived here? What were they concerned about? What local institutions were active?

As we celebrate the start of 2011, a look back at people, places and events of a century ago will give us a broader view of our progress.

Let’s start with “who”. The 1911 Census says 1,485 people were living in Ottawa South. There were 314 households, consisting of 280 married couples, 40 widows, and 20 widowers (but no divorcees). By comparison, Ottawa as a whole had a population of 90,520.

The largest number of residents was Anglican (390), followed by Roman Catholics (318), Methodists (317), Presbyterians (272), and Congregationalists (88).

LAC_Woodside_PA-016819_smallMost of the residents were English (598), Irish (405), or Scotch (299), with some French (157), and a few Germans (18). There was a mix of civil servants and office workers, numerous merchants, tradespersons and labourers, and a few market gardeners.

Our neighbourhood enjoyed good shopping, medical services and other amenities. The 1911 City Directory shows that on the east side of Bank Street, between Sunnyside and Cameron, there was a grocer, a butcher, a dry goods store, a doctor, a drugstore, a post office, and a feed store (necessary for horse and carriage owners). On the other side of Bank, south of Cameron, stood Trinity Anglican Church, a contractor, a billiards parlour, another grocer, a blacksmith and a feed mill.

On Sunnyside Avenue, there was another grocer at Seneca, and the Congregational Church at Grosvenor. On Aylmer Avenue at Bank was the Methodist Church. Roman Catholics had the chapel of the Sisters of the Precious Blood on Echo Drive near Bank (in a building that was later torn down to build the large monastery).

Newspaper want ads show that workers in the city could expect to earn from as low as $16 to as high as $100 a month. A housemaid was at the lowest end of the scale, a fireman at the highest. A butcher might earn $84 a month, but a female cook might only get $25 a month and a baby nurse $20.

Compare this to some prices of the day: a businessman’s full course lunch at Murphy Gamble Ltd. cost 50 cents. Chocolate marshmallows were 50 cents for a half a kilo. An elaborate coronation table cloth decorated with the royal coat of arms and the heads of King George V and Queen Mary (who were crowned in June 1911), 2m by 2m, was $2.25. A Model T Ford touring car cost $975, but a Cadillac would set you back $2,500 and an Oldsmobile was a pricey $4,450.

Along Driveway at Bronson Ave Bridge 1911 PA-000940How did our community fit into the urban area around it in 1911, four years after Ottawa South became part of the city? There was a swing bridge at Bronson Avenue (see photo). Bank Street crossed the Rideau River at the old wooden Billings Bridge (not replaced until 1916). Preparations were made for a new Bank Street Bridge to cross the Rideau Canal. The high-level, reinforced concrete bridge was to be built in 1912 with federal financing.

This would allow the function of Ottawa South as a “streetcar suburb” to be fully realized in 1913, when the “car line” from downtown was extended across the new bridge to a turnaround at Bank and Grove.

In fact, a real estate boom was underway in Ottawa South at this time, as in some other parts of the city. While older areas were building institutions, such as the YMCA (1909), and the federal government was creating parks and parkways, Ottawa South was being subdivided and built up by land companies and by individuals.

OttawaJournal_1911-09-29_ad The Citizen ran a feature in April 1911, whose headline declared “Ottawa South Place for Homes. Magnificent Scenic Beauty.” Readers were advised that now was the time to buy a lot for a house: “Ottawa South … will rank in a few years with what the Glebe represents today, where in 1909 lots were sold for $700 which today bring from $1,650 to $3,300.”

The article went on to praise the area’s accessibility to the centre of the city, the beautiful Rideau River with the best of boating, abundant vegetation, and a fixed assessment for the next five years. Specifically, the Ottawa South Property Company was developing a 95 hectare tract with streets, drains, water mains and landscaping. Two fine dry lots on Cameron were listed for $400 each. (See the ad for lots on Belmont Avenue.)

But development did not always go smoothly. Before 1909, Ottawa South got its water from wells. Then pipes were brought in from the city. This water came from the Ottawa River, and brought a new problem to Ottawa South.

In 1911 there was an outbreak of typhoid fever, with over 1,000 cases and 67 deaths in the city. The epidemic was first blamed on tainted milk and poor sewage systems, but it was finally traced to polluted water being taken from Nepean Bay into the water system in dry summers in order to provide enough water for firefighting!

The resulting public anger led to removing several city officials and reorganizing City Hall staff. The mayor from 1909 to 1912 was Charles Hopewell, after whom the street and the school were named. Safe water was a critical issue during his whole time in office. However, due to political wrangling and indecision, it was to take until 1919 to solve the water problem permanently.

OttCitizen_1911-03-29_ad_smallA happier story concerns Hopewell Avenue Public School, which in 1911 had its first full year in the new building. The classroom size, windows and ventilation were all built to the latest scientific standards in order to support the health and comfort of students. Ottawa was a leader in this approach to building schools. In 1911, on a shelf in the hallway of the school, the first public library service in Ottawa South operated for one hour three nights a week.

The civic movements to demand pure water, safe milk, good schools and libraries, tuberculosis sanatoriums, parks, playgrounds and other amenities in our communities were part of a much larger Canadian reforming trend that started in the late 1890s and continued up to World War I.

OttawaCitizen_1911-04-06_Ad_smallThese movements were often initiated by women, such as Adelaide Hoodless of Hamilton who led the YWCA and, with Lady Aberdeen (wife of the Governor General at the end of the 1800s), helped found the Victorian Order of Nurses and the National Council of Women. Ella Bronson, founder of the highly successful Ottawa Maternity Hospital (operational from 1895 to 1925), belonged to this group of leaders.

Ottawa South was becoming better connected to the outside in 1911. In addition to the streetcar on Bank, bus services operated through our neighbourhood (see the ad for viewing the Rideau Floods). The new Union Station in downtown Ottawa was under construction, and Grand Trunk, Canadian National and Canadian Pacific trains would soon be operating there.

As well, the first air flight between two Canadian cities arrived from Montreal and landed in Slattery’s Field, corner of Riverdale and Main. The flight was supposed to land at Lansdowne Park as part of the Central Canada Exhibition, and only diverted to Ottawa South because of the heavy crowds at the park. Even then the idea was floated to bury the overhead wires at the park for safety reasons.

We have obviously come a long way – witness the many stories in our community’s newspaper and website. But in many ways the Old Ottawa South of 1911 was not so very different from our beloved neighbourhood of today.

 

1911 Around the World

  • in March, the world celebrates the first International Women’s Day
  • in June, the nation-wide census records Canada’s population as 7.2 million with 22% born outside of Canada and 49% of those immigrants were from the British Isles
  • in September, Wilfred Laurier, the first French-Canadian prime minister, is defeated in the federal election running principally on the issue of reciprocity (later known as free trade)
  • in November, a cold snap known as The Great Blue Northerner of 11/11/11 hits the central United States precipitating record highs and low temperatures within the same day
  • in November, Marie Skłodowska Curie is awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her role in the discovery of radium and plutonium
  • in December, Norwegian explorer Amundsen reaches the South Pole by dog sledge
  • in December, William Haviland Carrier introduces his “Rational Psychometric Formulae” about relative humidity, absolute humidity and dew-point temperature, thereby paving the way for air-conditioning units
  • all year in China a national revolution rages resulting in the overthrow of the imperialist Qing Dynasty and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China