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Streetscape Memory Bank: The Florence Paper Company

By Andrew Elliott on April 2, 2015

In 1967, the Supreme Court of Canada heard a case between the Florence Realty Company and the Queen. Specifically, the Florence Realty Company included the Florence Paper Company in Ottawa’s lowertown neighbourhood, and the company was appealing the National Capital Commission for additional compensation to deal with the loss of a railway siding and the costs related to the relocation of the business to a new site. While the appeal was denied, the case nonetheless sheds light on the issues surrounding the massive urban redevelopment that occurred in Lowertown between the late 1950s and early 1970s. The Florence Paper Company was near the epicenter of this redevelopment.

The Florence Paper Company was started by Jewish businessman Avram (Abraham) Lazarus Florence (1875­-1936). He was born at Zadik, Lithuania and came to Canada in his early teens. He moved to Ottawa around 1900 and initially was listed as a junk dealer in the Ottawa City Directory, living at 107 Dalhousie and operating his business at 75­-77 Dalhousie.

Mr. Florence was past president of the Agudath Achim Congregation, and was one of the prominent members of the congregation associated with constructing the Rideau Street Synagogue in 1912. He married the former Lena Pulla and they had three sons, Frank, Harry and Jack and four daughters, Esther, Rose, Molly and Freda. As Abraham Florence’s business prospered, by 1914 they­ ­had moved to a house at 45 Metcalfe Square (Metcalfe Square no longer exists, but it was once located near the Ottawa River, close to Sussex Drive and the end of Dalhousie.)

At one time, the Florence Paper Company warehouse was located on King Edward Street, but in 1918 it moved to the railway yards near Boteler Street. Eventually Florence specialized in supplying paper mills with used paper. The Government of Canada was also a major buyer of products. The company suffered a setback in 1931 when the warehouse – located at the corner of Redpath and Sussex ­ was destroyed by fire. The warehouse was rebuilt, slightly further east, at the corner of Boteler and Dalhousie.

This was a noteworthy industrial area, with a number of other prominent businesses clustered around the end of the railway line: Zelikovitch Bros (fruit produce and cold storage), Richie Feed and Seed warehouse and offices, Olgivie Flour Mills warehouse and elevator, Lloyds Lithographing, Bruce Coal Co garage, Parfield Oils pump house, and Dominion Building Materials garage among others. The railway line itself was one of the oldest in Ottawa, having been constructed in the 1850s by the Ottawa and Prescott Railway Company. (For more on the history of the yard and subdivision, click here and here.)

Unfortunately for these businesses, and perhaps for the long­term nature of Lowertown, they were identified ­along with the railway line by planner Jacques Greber as being an eyesore to the city of Ottawa. Greber identified nearby Sussex Drive as a new boulevard that would be lined with government buildings. In support of Greber’s initial planning studies of the late 1930s, government photographers used the top of the Florence Paper Company building to photograph the area. At six stories in height, it was one of the tallest buildings in Lowertown. Here are some spectacular bird’s eye views of what the neighbourhood looked like in the late 1930s or early 1940s. The following images follow a clockwise rotation from the top of the building:

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Remarkably, the dividing line between industrial land and residential land was not that great, and there was a lot of wonderful tree cover that is less in existence today. Click herehere, and here to see what some of the houses looked like.

A little later, in the 1950s, the federal government identified the area as a natural location to extend King Edward Avenue and link it with the new MacDonald Cartier bridge. In the process, all residential buildings and streets north of Boteler were obliterated and replaced with an interchange. Somewhat concurrently, the Lester B. Pearson Building, to house foreign affairs, was also constructed. Here’s what the neighbourhood looked like at various points between the 1930s and 1960s:

Sussex Street, just south of the National Research Council in January 1937:

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North end of King Edward Avenue in the late 1930s:

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Cumberland street in the 1950s

Rail Bridge crossing the Rideau River in 1950s

Redpath Street in the early 1960s

In 1952, the NCC and the Florence Paper Company came to an agreement that the siding could be used for another 10 years. In order to diversify, the Florence family started the La Paloma dining lounge and tavern on Rideau Street. Here’s what the place looked like, seen from the corner of Rideau and Nelson, in this wonderful 1968 shot:

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Photo courtesy of the Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation Photo Collection.

In 1963, the NCC and the CPR agreed to abandon the rail subdivision by 1964, in order to aid the NCC’s programme of development of the Lower Town Ottawa area, and particularly the construction of the MacDonald­Cartier Bridge connecting Ottawa and Gatineau. The National Capital Commission offered the Florence Paper Company ­ and various other businesses near the railway line ­compensation for the loss of access to the rail line. The NCC also provided compensation for lost business, and offered the paper company land in an industrial park (on the edge of Ottawa) it owned at 20 per cent less than the market price. The Florence Paper Company continued operations without the siding at the old location for several months, but eventually took advantage of the offer of land and relocated its business in 1967.

Within two years, the whole area was transformed. Not only was the Florence Paper Company gone, but all rail lines and other old buildings were demolished, and the new spaghetti junction linking King Edward with Gatineau was completed and the Lester B. Pearson Building was constructed. (For more on this change, please see Urbsite.)

The Florence Paper Company lasted another 16 years. In 1985 the Laidlaw Company took them over.

Next time: The dismantling of a beautiful boulevard and a whole neighbourhood: King Edward Avenue and Lowertown East