Skip To Content
The old Ottawa Post Office at the turn of the twentieth century. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Capital History: Post Office and Custom House, 1877–1938, in photos

By Ashley Newall on August 9, 2021

Ashley Newall’s “Capital History Ottawa” (#colourized) has been chronicling outstanding scenes in the city through his newly colourized photos and accompanying factoids. The project’s home is on Twitter, but once a month, a more in-depth piece delving into the stories behind these pics will be published here on Apartment613. 


The Old Post Office, 1900–1904. (Original photo by George McLaughlin, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

It definitely sucks that so many of Ottawa’s heritage buildings have been torn down, but look on the bright side—at least we’re not Toronto! (Skyrise condos, anyone? Try to forget about our very own Burj Khalifa down at Dow’s Lake for the purpose of my argument, although at least no heritage buildings were ploughed under to make way for it.)

The former Post Office and Customs House, located where the War Memorial stands today, was our architectural crown jewel, particularly in its original, pre-fire form. Our early bank buildings were pretty spectacular, too (only one remains, but banks shmanks).

I will say it’s a shame they bulldozed Glensmere, the Wurtemburg St. home of former Prime Minister Sir Robert Borden, as had it been turned into a museum, it could’ve presented a golden opportunity to delve into WWI (just as Sandy Hill’s Laurier House delves into WWII). At least it’s a delicious irony that they named the apartment building that supplanted it “Watergate.” (Built in 1970–71, Watergate opened its doors just a hair before the infamous same-named U.S. scandal broke.) There’s at least one thing (well, probably more) towards which Borden and Richard Nixon shared a common predisposition—neither much cared for protesters.

Glensmere, Prime Minster Robert Borden’s home, 1920s. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Anyhoo, it turns out Apartment613 already has an article on the Post Office and Customs House, so I’ll forgo the extensive chronicling of all the many ins and outs of the building, and just focus on the basics.

Of benefit to you, dear reader, is that the photos from the previous Apt613 story on the subject have now been colourized for this one, so there’s that.

And here are those basics: Built from 1874–77 and designed by Walter (Wally) Chesterton; fire in January 1904; a fourth story subsequently added in the rebuild (a fifth story if you count the walk-out basement, originally occupied by the Inland Revenue Dept., an agency that levied custom duties on Rideau Canal freight); torn down in 1938 and quite rightly supplanted by the present-day War Memorial. Done! And now for a (colourized) photo essay!

Old Post Office, Dufferin and Sappers bridges, c. 1878–83. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Old Post Office, seen from Major’s Hill Park, c. 1897–1903. (Original photo by William Topley, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

(The sign on the building on the left reads “Russell Theatre.” Opened in 1897 and demolished in 1928, it was located on Queen St. just east of Elgin St., on the north flank of the present-day National Arts Centre. Building in the centre to the immediate left of the Post Office was the Russell House hotel, which also went the way of the dodo bird in the Year of our Lord 1928.)

Canal locks, Sappers bridge, and the Old Post Office, c. 1876–82. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Post Office and Wellington Street, 1920s. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Connaught Place looking southwest to the old Post Office and Sparks St. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

The Post Office, with the Chateau Laurier and train station, on April 6, 1938. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

The old Post Office viewed from Connaught Plaza, March 1938. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)

Considering the unbelievable sacrifice made by our WWI soldiers (for whom the War Memorial was primarily built), they—along with our fallen from previous and subsequent wars (from the Boer War to Afghanistan)—absolutely deserve their memorial piece of real estate, formerly occupied by the old Post Office and Customs House, in the very heart of our nation’s Capital. No doot aboot it.

Work on the War Memorial, showing Ottawa’s Union Station and train sheds, April 1938. (Photo from Library and Archives Canada, colourized by Ashley Newall.)


Visit ashleynewall.ca and follow @CapHisOttawa on Twitter for more Capital History stories.