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Bank and Wellington, ca. 1900. Photos courtesy of Library and Archives, Canada, unless otherwise noted.

Streetscape Memory Bank: The lost neighbourhood of Uppertown, Pt. 4

By Andrew Elliott on February 18, 2016

Last time, we looked at the residential area of Uppertown’s Cliff and Vittoria Streets.  To refresh: in Ottawa, on February 27, 1912, the Federal Government expropriated all properties located in Uppertown, an area bounded by Bank, Wellington, and Bay Streets and the cliff along the Ottawa River.  On March 9, 1912, a notice of expropriation was filed at the Ottawa City Registry Office.  According to a memo to the Minister of Public Works Frederick Monk (dated May 9, 1912), the area expropriated was divided into four blocks, and each block would be overseen by a rental agent to look after the property for the government.  Following this, three “valuators” were appointed to examine and report on each property. Each valuator (Nelson D. Porter, Samuel Davis, and C.P. Meredith, Architect) was paid $2000 for their services.  Following this, in April 1912, R.W. Farley, surveyor, was instructed to undertake a survey of all land expropriated.

As we have seen in past posts, much of the area expropriated was residential in nature.  However, it is worth noting that commercial buildings along Wellington Street were also affected. Modern Ottawans have come to think of the stretch of Wellington from Bank to Bay Street as a boulevard flanked by grand iconic government structures and large green spaces.  And in particular, since the 1930s, the towers of the Confederation and Justice Buildings have risen up majestically here, and have taken up all of the block from Bank to Kent Street.  But in 1912 when the government first expropriated the properties here, this was a vibrant commercial streetscape: here was a healthy mixture of businesses, and these businesses occupied – mostly – the ground floors of beautiful commercial buildings that stood no more than 3 storeys high.

In late February or early March 1912 (in most of the photographs we see evidence of snow), a Department of Public Works photographer (or perhaps an independent photographer hired by the department) with an eye for detail went out and documented, among other things, these commercial buildings.  Today we’ll look at the buildings he photographed in the stretch from Bank to Kent Street. (Note: While the item level descriptions for these buildings are available in the Library and Archives Canada database, the photographs are not.  I am told that they will soon be available in digital format.) As you can see in the following fire insurance plan, this stretch of Wellington was covered under Block A of the expropriation:

uppertown

If we start at the northwest corner of Bank and Wellington, the first place we find – just steps from parliament and the old supreme court building – is a newsstand with a fence covered with an eclectic mixture of advertisements:

Uppertown

Right next door was the small but beautiful Capital Hotel (below left), owned and operated by E.C. Hillman.  Hillman – like many property owners – had a long and convoluted correspondence with the department of public works with regards to the value of his property and the rightful amount of compensation he was owed by the government.  (below right)

uppertown

This correspondence can be found within some very old Department of Public Works files (See RG-11, , and generally files entitled Wellington Street North Properties, and in volumes 2928-2947) dating from 1912 to the late 1930s, one can trace the exhaustive work that the department did in evaluating each property and then following through in either compensating the property owners or allowing them to lease their properties from the federal government until such time that demolition occurred.

Moving west along Wellington, J.L. Orme of the Orme Piano Factory was the owner of a 3 storey commercial building (below left).  This building was fitted out with a rich variety of businesses on the ground floor: a shaving parlour, and electrical supplies shop, a brass foundry, a repair and locksmith shop, and a watchmaker. And a foundry at the back of the property (below right):

uppertown

Next to the Orme building was the Sinclair (below left), and a couple of buildings west was the Almonte House Hotel, with the New Almonte Lunch business attached to one end of the Second-Empire styled building (below right).

uppertown

If one reads through the Ottawa Journal newspaper record, it appears that the Almonte House was associated with colourful characters and events.  In 1907, for example, a bartender – Oliver Deslauriers – committed suicide by putting a bullet in his head in front of his wife (see newspaper clipping here).  One of the hotel’s owners, John Moodie, was a Bell’s Corners native who had mining ventures in Otter Lake and Ladysmith, Ontario. On January 25, 1914, Moodie was charged with breach of the Ontario Health Act due – according to the news report – to the an accumulation of manure and filth on the premises.  Nearly a year later, the Ottawa Journal reported that he had received $60,000 in compensation from the Federal Government relating to the building’s expropriation. Another hotel owner, James Allen, was also charged in 1916 for having liquor on the premises:

allen

Here is what the back of the Almonte House property looked like:

Almonte house

Next door to this was the Hawkesbury Lumber Yard, followed immediately by the ornately-designed British Bank of North America. Check out the elaborate detailing of both the front and sides of the structure:

Bank of North America

Next door to the bank are shots that capture the variability of the commercial architecture (excellent detailing in stone and in brick) but also the activity in the street.

Uppertown

The large building at the corner of Wellington and Kent is a long three storey structure that was owned by a Mrs. McCarthy.  Mrs. McCarthy appears to have owned many properties in this area of Uppertown.  This building below, as one can see, seems to have contained two stores on the ground floor: Kennedy’s Wines and Liquors plus Grocery Store and The Peerless Men’s Clothing and Hat Store.

uppertown

While this is just a standard commercial building, it is worth taking a second look at the fantastic details that went into its design.   Notice the dentilled brickwork, the arched windows, the filagree details at the base of the second storey, and the floral designs between the first and second storey on the Kent Street façade:

uppertown

Major change to this stretch of Wellington didn’t occur until the late 1920s and into the 1930s. First there was the Confederation building (1927-1931) as seen here under construction in 1929 and here’s the nearly-completed Building in 1930. Next there was  the Justice Building which was constructed from 1935-1937. See 1935 construction images here,  here, here,  here and here.  See the completed product in 1937 here.  Here’s a streetscape shot:

uppertown

In 1938, with the area undergoing further transformation, the Ottawa Journal wrote in a retrospective piece: “Time and the hand of the wrecker and the demolisher have done a neat job of wiping a picturesque section of old Bytown and Ottawa clear off the map.  We refer to that historic esplanade which stretches from Wellington Street down to the Ottawa River, between Bank and Bay Streets, where once stood the homes of some of Bytown’s most influential citizens and which is now undergoing a wonderful transformation.”

Today, we have a lot to learn from these 1912 images, for they show us that it is possible to have both commercial and residential under the same roof, and they also show us that you can have buildings lining a street that are no more than 3-4 stories in height.  Unlike the opinion of the 1938 newspaper article, it is hard for me to say whether the transformation was wonderful or not.  Certainly these images show us that there was a vibrant low-rise commercial streetscape and subsequent demolition put an end to this vibrancy.  The new buildings, though beautiful, create a certain stagnancy by comparison.

Next time: Kent Street, the South Side of Vittoria Street, and Wellington to Bay Street. View Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 in our series on The lost neighbourhood of Uppertown.