Ottawa Stories - Changes in the city's physical appearance

Ottawa has a long, rich and varied history. The stories below illustrate and explain this history. Check back often because we are constantly adding new material.

Jewelled Plague


25 July 2008


Something was wrong with the ash trees in the east end of Ottawa. Trees lining St Laurent Boulevard and Ogilvy Road near the Queensway were under stress, their upper canopies thinning, with wild growth appearing lower down their trunks. Sent out to investigate, the city’s Forestry Services discovered small “D” shaped holes on their trunks and branches along with strange serpentine tunnels that scored the wood immediately under the bark. On 25 July 2008, Ottawa City Council received the Forestry Services’ grim report—the emerald ash borer had arrived in the city.

Agrilus planipennis, a.k.a. the emerald ash borer, is a small, metallic-looking member of the beetle family. Measuring only about 8.5 to 14 millimetres in length and 3 to 4 millimetres in width, this attractive insect, sometimes referred to as a “jewel” beetle, is native to north-east Asia, including parts of China, Japan and Russia. Its larvae feed on the cambium of ash trees (genus fraxinus); the mountain ash (genus sorbus) is not affected. The cambium is the thin layer of cells found between the wood of a tree and its protective bark. On its inward side, the cambium produces sapwood which carries water and other nutrients up to the tree’s leaves, while on its outward side it produces the phloem which carries nutrients produced by the leaves through photosynthesis down to the roots. It’s this cambium layer that makes the annual growth rings in a cross-section of a tree truck.

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In the spring, the adult female ash borers deposit their eggs on the bark or in cracks in the bark of infected trees. Up to as many as 90 eggs can be deposited by each female. After about a week, the larvae emerge and make their way to the cambium layer on which they feed. In the process, they make serpentine “galleries” through the cambium and sapwood. A serious infestation can girdle a tree, effectively disrupting the tree’s ability to draw nutrients and water up to its leaves, killing it in the process. The mature larvae pupate over winter with the adults emerging in mid-May or June from exit holes of about 4 millimetres in diameter. The adult males live for about two weeks, while the females survive a week or so longer. Adult ash borers are good flyers and can travel for up to one kilometre. The insects can also be disbursed through the movement of infected wood and wood products.

Trees attacked by the emerald ash borer typically die within a few years of being infected. In their natural range in Asia, the insect is considered a minor and episodic pest, with recent research showing that it is biologically controlled by at least three species of tiny, stingless wasps, Oobius agrili, Spathius agrili, and Tetrastichus planipennisi. These wasps, measuring only slightly more than one millimetre in length, parasitize ash borer larvae by laying their eggs on them. When the wasp larvae emerge, they eat the ash borer host larvae, killing them.

In the summer of 2002, the emerald ash borer was identified in several south-eastern counties of the U.S. state of Michigan as well as one county in bordering Ontario. It is believed that the insect was introduced, possibly as long as five years earlier, into North America through the port of Detroit in wooden packing used to protect goods transported by ship from China. Since then, the invasive and destructive insect has quickly spread, affecting countless ash trees throughout central United States, Ontario and into Quebec, apparently unimpeded by our cold winters.

The arrival of the emerald ash borer in Ottawa represented a major threat to the city’s urban forest as ash account for more than 25 per cent of trees in the Ottawa area, and up to as much as 40 per cent in parts of eastern Ontario. Ironically, many of the city’s threatened ash trees, fast growing and tolerant to air pollution, were planted during the 1960s and 1970s to replace dying elm trees, felled by Dutch elm disease. That arboreal epidemic was caused by a different alien invader, a fungus that also originated in Asia which was subsequently spread by host beetles throughout North America. A still-earlier imported blight killed off 99 per cent of eastern North America’s chestnut trees, once a mainstay of southern Ontario forests, at the beginning of the twentieth century.

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Since the summer of 2008, the emerald ash borer has spread throughout the city despite municipal, provincial and federal efforts to control the pest through regulations that strictly control the movement of firewood from the affected areas, and encourage the removal of infected trees, and their replacement with different species. In some cases, systemic insecticides injected into a tree’s bark have also been applied to save trees. Despite these efforts, the emerald plague has continued its advance. Less than two years after being first identified in Ottawa, ash trees at the Central Experimental Farm came under attack leading to the felling of eighty-year old ash trees on Ash Lane to be replaced by maples, ginko bilobas, and oaks; Ash Lane was gone in all but name. In 2012, Andrew Haydon Park lost close to 1,000 of its ash trees. By 2013, dead and dying trees were everywhere, along streets, in neighbourhood playgrounds and schoolyards, and in city parks.

In June 2013, there was finally a small bit of positive news. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency gave its approval for the introduction of a biological control, enlisting the help of Spathius agrili, and Tetrastichus planipennis, two of the three parasitic wasps, in the battle to contain the ash borer beetle. While the wasps would not be able to eliminate the beetle, it is hoped that over the long run some kind of ecological balance could be restored. It remains to be seen whether this new approach will be able to save our remaining ash trees. Regardless, Ottawa’s landscape has been radically altered.

Sources:

Ash Trees & Emerald Ash Borer:.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Central Experimental Farm Advisory Council:.

Ottawa City Council, Report to Committee(s) of Council Internal Routing

European and Mediterranean Plant Protection Organization, Data sheets on quarantine pests, Agrilus planipennis:.

The Manotick Directory, 2013. “Emerald Ash Borer, Two Choices: Treat or Cut,”.

The Ottawa Citizen, 2008. “Invasive Beetle Threatens Ash Trees,” 26 July.

———————-, 2013. “Approved: Tiny Wasps that Kill Emerald Ash Borer,” 5 June.

Image: Emerald Ash Borer,Anthrophysis.

Image: Dying Ash Tree on Ash Lane, Central Experimental Farm, July 2014, by Nicolle Powell

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

HEALTH CARE IN EARLY BYTOWN
- Clifford Scott

After my first article some weeks ago, I was asked how only the one doctor and pharmacist mentioned in Smith's 1846 summary could possibly have provided health care to a town of 7000 souls. The truth is that there were other sources of medical help and why Smith did not mention them is a good question. Very recently, the Historical Society of Ottawa published a paper of the latest winner of the Colonel By award for local history (Mike Nelles of Carleton University) and it is an excellent source of information on early medical care and a good bibliography of sources on the subject. The Bytown pamphlet series is available through the Historical Society and is also available at the National Library of Canada and the Ottawa Public library.

labelThe first ever medical facility in Ottawa was a twenty bed military hospital established by John By... label

The first ever medical facility in Ottawa was a twenty bed military hospital established by John By in 1826 on Barracks Hill where the West Block now stands. It operated for fifty years. It was only available to the civilian population in dire emergencies such as outbreaks of malaria, typhus and cholera. These kind of outbreaks occurred in 1827, 1832 and 1847. The Sisters of Charity under the capable leadership of Sister Elizabeth Bruyere opened the first civilian general hospital in 1845. It is curious this was not mentioned in Smith's 1846 Gazetteer.

In 1903 a memoir of the early days of medicine in Bytown was written by Dr. Beaumont Small who recalled the days when doctors rode around the settlements dispensing care to the settlers Another account of the early days was written in 1993 by Linda Tresham, as one of the Bytown pamphlet series mentioned before, of the great cholera epidemic of 1832. Both authors decry the lack of interest and attention given to medical care.

The earliest recorded doctor in Bytown was Dr. A.J. Christie who became a prominent advocate for medical care. He also founded the first (in 1836) newspaper in Bytown---The Bytown Gazette. - He first came to Bytown in 1827 as a military doctor for Rideau Canal workers. He was one of the few doctors to stay in the town after the completion of the canal in 1832. There is some debate over his medical training but he appears to have served the populace until his death in 1843. In those days, according to Charles Roland in Ontario Medicine (1983) doctors were paid in such things as "chickens, eggs, home brew, a slab of bacon or chores".

"The real 'driver' of improved medical care in the town was a series of epidemics that threatened the local population."

The real "driver" of improved medical care in the town was a series of epidemics that threatened the local population. The worst of these was the cholera epidemic of 1832 which is deserving of a column in itself! In June 1832, Lt. Governor Colborne authorized the first Board of Health in Bytown under the chairmanship of Dr. Christie. One of its first acts was to close all schools and public buildings to prevent the spread of disease. A temporary wooden hospital was constructed on what is now the site of the Royal Canadian Mint. It was the first medical facility constructed for the benefit of the civilian population. By a month later 15 of 35 cholera patients had died—an indication of the mortality of cholera in those days.. This hospital was scrapped in 1834 and sold as firewood. Probably the lack of medical knowledge of the time contributed greatly to the death rate in 1832.. By 1844, it was definite that the military hospital was inadequate for a town that was growing with the lumber industry.

In February 1845, a group of nuns arrived by sleigh, led by the 27 year old Sister Bruyere. The Sisters took up visiting the sick and opened a seven bed hospital in the spring. Within a year the facility was inadequate and a petition was made for a land grant to build a larger facility. Of the signers of the petition only four were Roman Catholic, so the need was widely felt. Fourteen lots were provided and plans went ahead for the construction of a hospital that stood on the same ground occupied by the old general hospital, still operated by the Sisters as the Bruyere Centre The town was immediately challenged with the great typhus epidemic of 1847-48. This was brought to Ottawa by unfortunate immigrants who died in great numbers on the trip to Canada and after they arrived. The bulk of these immigrants were Irish, fleeing the potato famine in Ireland.

Following the example of the Catholic General Hospital, approval was granted in 1847 for the construction of a Protestant General Hospital. While medical care was still chancy at best the foundation had been laid for the proper medical treatment of citizens The first permanent health Board was created in 1851 and the first stone hospital was erected on the northwest corner of Rideau and Wurtemburg Streets From these early beginnings grew the excellent if sometimes crowded medical services we enjoy today.

 

Cliff Scott, an Ottawa resident since 1954 and a former history lecturer at the University of Ottawa (UOttawa), he also served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Public Service of Canada.

Since 1992, he has been active in the volunteer sector and has held executive positions with The Historical Society of Ottawa, the Friends of the Farm and the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa. He also inaugurated the Historica Heritage Fair in Ottawa and still serves on its organizing committee.

 

Ottawa’s Rink

 

18 January 1971

 

~ James Powell

 

While Ottawa is a great place to live, even its most partisan citizens would have to agree that at life’s great banquet, it got a double helping of winter. On average, Ottawa receives roughly two metres of snow each year over a season that lasts from early November to well into April, with temperatures dipping to -30 Celsius. Consequently, to live happily in Ottawa, it’s important to embrace the season. Fortunately, we have access to lots of winter amenities, including wonderful ski trails and slopes in the Gatineau Hills just a short car ride away. But one of the city’s winter crown jewels is the Rideau Canal Skateway, which runs 7.8 kilometres through the heart of the city from the Ottawa River locks beside Parliament Hill to the Hartwell Locks at Carleton University. Each year, Ottawa citizens eagerly await the start of the winter skating season, checking regularly the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) web site or its information line on the state of the ice. Requiring an ice thickness of at least 30 centimetres, it takes at least a couple of weeks of temperatures persistently below -15 and a lot of hard work by NCC staff to prepare the ice surface before the Skateway can be safely opened to the public.

Typically, the skating season starts in early January and remains open until mid-March, though the Canal might close for short periods owing to temporary thaws. The earliest opening date occurred on 18 December 1971 and 1982. Its latest closing date was 25 March 1972. The average season is about 50 days, of which 42 are skating days. The longest season was 1971-72 with 95 days, while the shortest was 2015-16 with 34 days, of which only 18 were skating days. Even then, the skateway was open for its entire length for ony a few days. In contrast, the canal was open for a record 59 consecutive days during the previous 2014-15 season, attracting an estimated 1.2 million visitors. In general, however, shorter and milder winters associated with climate change is shortening the skating season.

Skating on the Canal has in fact been a feature of the City’s winters since the 19th century. In March 1874, The Globe newspaper reported that there “was good skating on the Rideau Canal.” The ribbon of ice running through the city beckoned youngsters of all ages when climatic conditions were just right for a smooth, solid ice surface to form—low temperatures for several days with little snow. When that happened, skaters would descend on the Canal to enjoy the ice. On one occasion early in the 20th century, it was reported that people could skate all the way from Lisgar Collegiate to Sunnyside without benefit of snowploughs or sweeping.

At best, however, the city tolerated impromptu skating on the Canal. When times became more litigious, it forbade it owing to the risk of injury, or even death. Although the water is partly drained from the Canal each fall, it is sufficiently deep in places for people, especially children, to drown should they fall through the ice. Despite the risks, skating on the Canal captured the imagination of Ottawa’s citizens who recalled Dutch paintings of skaters on the canals of Holland. If they can do it in the Netherlands, why can’t we do it in frigid Ottawa?

Conditions were perfect for skating during the winter of 1958-59, and attracted thousands onto the ice on the Canal, Dow’s Lake, and even the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers. Owing to public demand, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department asked Ottawa’s Board of Control for $16,000 to maintain a one mile length of canal between Patterson Creek and Bank Street, complete with ramps, changing huts and lightening, for the following winter season. Instead the City coughed up only $2,000, enough for a ramp at Fifth Avenue and a skating lane. It was maintained for just over two weeks from 15 December 1959 to 2 January 1960. Four men and two ploughs mounted on jeeps were unable to keep up with the snow. As well, twenty men using four water pumps were required to keep the ice surface smooth. But as the water was drawn from under the ice, city officials feared that air pockets might form leading to cave-ins. With attendance low, averaging only 30 skaters per day, the experiment was abandoned on 5 January, ending Canal skating for more than a decade.

Despite this setback, people kept the faith. In 1969, the National Capital Commission proposed the establishment of an ice rink on the Canal as a way of “finding imaginative and enjoyable uses for unused resources.” But even as late as December 1970, there were naysayers. In an editorial, the Ottawa Citizen opined that the “durable proposal” of Canal skating was “going nowhere.” Instead, it favoured a temporary outdoor rink with artificial refrigeration be installed by the National Arts Centre across from the Canal.

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Douglas Fullerton, the redoubtable chairman of the NCC from 1969 to 1973, would have none of it. On 18 January, 1971, he sent teams of men with shovels to clear a five kilometre stretch of ice, twenty feet wide, from the Arts Centre to the Bronson Street Bridge. It was an instant success; 50,000 Ottawa residents flocked to the canal during the rink’s first weekend to enjoy the experience of skating through the heart of the city. There were glitches, however. During the second year of operations, the shelters provided on the ice for skaters sank. They were subsequently placed on gravel pads. Clearing the snow off the ice and maintaining a smooth ice surface suitable for skating also took considerable on-the-job learning. Within three years, however, NCC crews had improved their technique sufficiently to permit virtually the entire width of the Canal to be cleared for its full 7.8 kilometres length through the city. Changing facilities, bathrooms, skate-sharpening facilities as well as first aid centres were established. Refreshment stands served snacks, hot chocolate, coffee and cider to cold, weary skaters. To facilitate night time skating, lights were added.

In 1979, the NCC inaugurated the first annual Winterlude, or Bal de Niege winter festival featuring winter-related activities as well as snow and ice sculptures. It too was a great success. Naturally, its events centred on the Canal; so much so that Fullerton became concerned that Winterlude might detract from the skating. His fears were misplaced. Winterlude became a major tourist attraction and has attracted thousands of new visitors to the Skateway each winter. Ottawa is now a major winter tourist destination.

For many years, the Rideau Canal Skateway billed itself as the longest natural ice skating rink in the world. However, during the mid-2000s, Winnipeg’s River Trail usurped the title. Measuring 9.32 kilometres in length in 2009, it easily topped the Canal for length. Ottawa residents sniffed that Winnipeg’s Trail, which narrowed in places to no more than a car width was a poor excuse for a rink. Ottawa MP Paul Dewar called it a “cow path” in a tongue-in-cheek exchange with his Winnipeg colleague in the House of Commons. Today, Ottawa’s Skateway claims to be the “largest” outdoor skating rink in the world, equivalent to 90 Olympic-sized hockey rinks, a boast supported by the Guinness Book of Records.

Sources:

Canadian Geographic Travel Club, 2009. “Skating: The Cold War,”.

Capital News Online, 2014. “The history of a record making rink,”

Forks North Portage Corporation, 2014. Red River Mutual Trail,.

New Straits Times,” 1975, “Ice-Skating, The Popular Winter Sports,” 29 June.

National Capital Commission, 2014. “Rideau Canal Skateway,”.

OttawaKiosk.com, 2005. “Fact Sheet-Rideau Canal Skateway,”.

The Age, 1974. “Skate Along Ottawa’s five-mile waterway,” 4 November.

The Citizen, 1984. “Evolution of Ottawa’s Rink,” 7 February.

The Globe, 1874. ”Latest from Ottawa,” 6 March.

The Globe and Mail, 2008. “Only in Canada: Two frozen cities face off over ice,” 8 January.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1960. “Skaters’ Wish Coming True With Rink At Mooney’s Bay,” 20 December.

———————–, 1971. “Canal Open—Night Skating On Its Way,” 24 December.

Image: skating on the Rideau Canada, February 2014 by Nea Powell

 

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Ottawa Sewer Explosions


29 May 1929 and 28 January 1931


~ James Powell

Almost ninety years ago, the City of Ottawa was rocked by two series of sewer explosions that occurred twenty months apart. The first happened on 29 May 1929, and the second on 28 January 1931. Both hit the same areas of town—Sandy Hill, Vanier (then called Eastview) and New Edinburgh—and caused extensive damage. There was also one fatality in the first set of blasts; many were injured. Despite three inquiries, the exact cause of the explosions was never conclusively determined though leaking illuminating gas used for lighting was believed to have been the culprit. However, a lengthy law suit launched by the City against the Ottawa Gas Company to cover the costs of the second explosions failed.

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The 1929 explosions began shortly before noon on 29 May in the block bounded by Cartier, Frank, Waverely and Elgin Streets in the Golden Triangle neighbourhood of Centre Town, blowing out manhole covers in the area. The resulting fire ignited gas inside the main sewer line running eastward under the Rideau Canal, causing shaking, rumbling and venting through manholes on Templeton Avenue, Henderson Avenue and Nelson Streets in Sandy Hill, before travelling down St Patrick Street and into New Edinburgh on the other side of the Rideau River along Crichton, MacKay and John Streets to the sewage outlet into the Ottawa River. There were also a number of smaller blasts in the Eastview and Clarkstown areas (Vanier) between Montreal Road and Beechwood Avenue.

At least twenty-eight manhole covers were blown in the air, some thirty to forty feet, before crashing to the ground. Clouds of smoke and vivid tongues of flame were reported emanating from the manholes. Mrs Hannah Henderson, age 73, of 37 Templeton Avenue was killed when flames shot out of her kitchen sinkhole and ignited her clothes. Although she managed to flee her home, she later succumbed to her injuries in hospital. Around the corner at 192 Henderson Avenue, Miss Lilian Pettapiece, age 20, escaped a similar house fire with serious burns. She had been in her cellar choosing potatoes for lunch when she was enveloped by flames that shot out of a sewer connection. Despite choking fumes, she managed to stumble up the stairs to the outside where she was rescued. Many others were injured by flying glass blown from windows. The home of Captain Sam Blackler of the Ottawa Fire Department at 211 Henderson Avenue was rocked from its foundations by the force of a blast and was gutted by fire. Fortunately, nobody was hurt. Mrs Blackler suffered a narrow escape, however. She had just walked out of the kitchen a minute before it was wrecked. An apartment building at the corner of Somerset Street East and Chapel Street, which housed a grocery on the ground floor, also suffered serious structural damage. In New Edinburgh, St Martin’s Anglican Chapel on John Street was destroyed. In total, the sewer explosion caused roughly $40,000 in property damage.

photo Ottawa’s mayor Arthur Ellis was convinced that the explosions were not due either “to defects in the city sewer,” or to sewer gas (a mixture of hydrogen sulphide and other gases). Municipal leaders commissioned John Campbell from the Edison Illuminating Company of Boston to conduct an inquiry into the disaster. Campbell concluded that the exact nature of the gases that exploded might never be known as no tests were performed on gas in the sewers prior to the explosion. However, he pointed to two possibilities: i) gasoline vapours due to the improper disposal of gasoline by homeowners, leakages from the growing number of service stations in the area, and waste from dry-cleaners, or ii) a leak from a gas main. He noted that the Ottawa Gas Company had been digging for leaks prior to and during the day of the explosion. He added that the sewer explosion need not have been the result of a single big leak but could have been due to a number of small ones. While not specifically pointing the finger at illuminating gas, he added that the lack of soot deposits and the nature of the fire suggested a gas lighter than air was responsible; gasoline vapours are three times heavier than air whereas illuminating gas is half as heavy as air. Campbell was of the view that the exact point of ignition was in the Frank-Cartier Streets area. However, what caused the ignition would never be known. He postulated it could have been a lighted match, the backfire of an automobile, or a spark from a trolley wheel.

Rather than lay blame, which he argued was outside of the remit of his report, Campbell made a number of recommendations. These included the prompt investigation of complaints about gas smells (complaints prior to the explosion were apparently not investigate with any degree of diligence), the regulation of the sale of gasoline to homeowners, a prohibition on disposing of volatile fluids in the sewers, and the inspection of gasoline service stations. He also recommended the construction of ventilation stacks with fans to help dissipate volatile vapours in the sewers, and the hiring of additional staff by the City to keep up to date in the matter of inspecting, testing and the keeping of records.

The second series of sewer explosions began at roughly 4.30 pm on 29 January 1931 just two days after the City had made its last payment for damages from the previous explosion to St Martin’s Chapel. As was the case in 1929, it started in the Golden Triangle area of Centre Town, this time at the corner of Lewis and Robert Streets. The explosion was accidently ignited by a plumber’s assistant who was investigating the source of a foul odour in the basement of a home. Apparently, a spark from a trowel he was using ignited gas emanating from the sewer.

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Replicating in many ways the 1929 disaster, the blast rumbled down the main sewer line blowing up manhole covers in Sandy Hill along Templeton Street, Nelson Street and Somerset Street East, through Strathcona Park, before travelling along the east bank of the Rideau River to John Street in New Edinburgh. As in 1929, twenty-eight manholes covers were sent flying, sixteen of which featured in the earlier disaster. The damage sustained to the sewer system was severe. There were at least four breaks. The 78-inch main sewer on the Eastview (Vanier) side of the Cummings Bridge, which carried much of the sewage from the eastern portions of the city to the outfall at John Street into the Ottawa River, was fractured. Another 54-inch sewer running from Ottawa South along the west bank of the Rideau River was also ruptured near the Strathcona Hospital. With these breaks, sewage backed up into Sandy Hill. To prevent the flooding of homes, the City excavated at two points, one on Somerset Street and the other near the Isolation Hospital, and pumped the sewer water into the Rideau River. In total, more than a mile of sewer was wrecked with damage placed at almost $400,000, roughly ten times that of the earlier 1929 sewer explosion.

Fortuitously, this time no lives were lost. There were, however, a number of close calls. Twelve-year old Munroe Dingwall of 138 Goulburn Avenue was skiing on Somerset Street East with friends when a manhole cover blew up beside him. The lad was lifted into the air, skis and all, and deposited stunned but unhurt into a snowbank. Poor Miss Pettapiece, who suffered grievous injuries in the 1929 explosions, was on a bus near home when a manhole exploded. She collapsed and had to be treated for shock. A number of children were skating on the Sandy Hill rink on Nelson Street between Somerset East and Templeton Street when gaping holes appeared in the streets around the rink. The children were unharmed and taken to safety.

The City launched two inquiries. The first by consulting engineers Gore, Naismith and Storrie of Toronto concluded that gasoline and illuminating gas were “reasonably probable” causes. Of the two possibilities, the engineers favoured illuminating gas on the grounds that there was little evidence of flames or black smoke emanating from the explosions that would have been characteristic of a gasoline fire. Also, they viewed it as improbable for a perfect mix of gasoline vapour and air to have occurred. But, in the absence of all data and an analysis of sewer air before the explosions, they refrained from given an opinion regarding the source of the responsible gas.

They did, however, make a number of recommendations. First, they recommended that there be a judicial inquiry under oath so that all relevant records and other information pertinent to an inquiry could be obtained. Second, they argued that Ottawa’s method of ventilating sewers was dangerous and obsolete. They recommended the construction of more ventilating shafts, the opening of manhole covers, and the checking of home drains attached to the sewers. Apparently, many were not properly trapped. Other recommendations included the regulation and supervision of establishments using flammable gases or liquids, a regular inspection of sewers every six months, and the construction of sewage treatment plants.

A second committee chaired by Dr Alfred E. MacIntyre, a retired former chief of the Explosives Branch of the Dominion Government, focused on the causes of the blasts. MacIntyre had also consulted on the Campbell Report into the earlier 1929 explosion. He was of the opinion that illuminating gas had been the cause of both explosions. His report concluded that “gas had adventitiously entered the soil, drainpipes, sewer, etc. from defects within the gas distributing system of the Ottawa Gas Company.” Needless to say, the Gas Company came up with the opposite conclusion averring “that gas is the last thing that could be considered in connection with the recent sewer explosions.”

MacIntyre was pretty damming of the City as well. His report said the City had made no attempt to investigate the 1929 explosion, and that the investigations of complaints about fouls smells from residents were “neither informative nor satisfactory.” He contended that members of the inspectorial staff “had neither developed their powers of observation nor acquired sufficient qualifications and knowledge to discriminate or determine the actual condition of hazards, nor a conception of fitting methods of relief, conditions largely attributable to lack of instruction and direction.” MacIntyre also criticized the City for improper ventilation of the sewers, a charge to which the City responded by saying that it was not responsible for keeping sewers free of volatile gases that enter the sewers through the negligence of another company.

On release of MacIntyre’s report, the Board of Control suspended Mr W. F. M. Bryce, the engineer responsible for Ottawa’s sewers for negligence in not taking adequate measures to ensure that the sewers were kept free from dangerous gases. Bryce subsequently resigned. Earlier in the year, Mr A.F. Macallum, the Commissioner of Works, had also resigned, having been held responsible for not taking sufficient precautionary measures to avoid a repetition of the 1929 blasts.

At City Hall, the two investigations into the 1931 explosions set the proverbial cat among the municipal pigeons. Amidst a rancorous debate, City Council defeated on a split 11-11 decision a motion supported by Mayor Allen for a judicial inquiry into the explosion as recommended by the consulting engineers from Toronto. A motion for an independent inquiry into the conduct of Mr Bryce, the sewer engineer, was also defeated on a close 11-10 decision. Subsequently, however, the City launched a law suit against the Ottawa Gas Company in the amount of $376,000 for damages resulting from the 1931 blasts. Despite the testimony of roughly 100 witnesses, the evidence provided by the two inquiries into the sewer explosions, and an admission of the Ottawa Gas Company that its pipes and gas mains had not been inspected since they were installed, the Court ruled in favour of the gas company owing to lack of evidence. After losing an appeal, the City paid the court cost of both parties.

Following the inquiries, the City took steps to improve ventilation in the sewers, including the establishment of another ventilation shaft in Strathcona Park. Measures were also taken to improve the investigation of complaints of sewer smells by residents through the establishment of a complaints bureau. In the end, only Mr Macallum, the former Commissioner of Works, took the fall for the sewer disaster. Roughly eighteen months after the explosion, the Board of Control unanimously re-appointed Mr W. F. M. Bryce to his old job as sewer engineer on the curious and vague grounds that the Board had earlier requested his resignation not because members felt that he “was not fully competent, but because of the nature of the report dealing with the investigation.”

Sources:

Ottawa Evening Citizen (The), 1931, “May Call Further Expert Advice On Sewer Blasts,” 29 January.

————————————-, 1931. “Experts Differ Upon Cause Of Sewer Blasts,” 10 June.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1929. “City Denies Blame For Explosions, Continues Inquiry,” 30 May 1929.

————————————–, 1929. “Advises Ventilation Of Sewers, Restrictions Of Gasoline Sales And More Vigorous Inspections,” 4 October.

————————————–, 1931. “Discover Sewer Explosion Damage Much Greater,” 29 January.

————————————–, 1931, “Fourth Stack Will Be Built To Air Sewers,” 17 April.

————————————–, 1931. “Judicial Probe Under Oath Is Only Way To Learn cause Of Explosions, Says Report,” 20 April.

————————————–, 1931. “MacIntyre Report Sets It Theory Of Big Explosion,” 4 June.

————————————–, 1931. “Says Lighting Gas The Cause Of Explosions,” 10 June.

————————————–, 1931. “After Long Stormy Debate City Council Rejects More For Probe Of Sewer Blasts,” 18 August.

————————————–, 1931, “Board of Control Endorses Damage Suit For Big Sum Against Ottawa Gas Co.” 30 September.

—————————————, 1931. “Declares Pipes Only Inspected During Repairs,” 1 December.

—————————————, 1932. “Mayor States All Favorable To W.F. M. Bryce,” 17 September.

————————————–, 1932. “Open Type Tops Would Have Cleared Gases,” 25 November.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

Everybody Out!

~ James Powell


18 April 1962


It came without warning; a notice addressed to residents of LeBreton Flats reading “This letter will advise you that on April 18, 1962, the National Capital Commission [NCC] filed a notice of expropriation covering the property at [your address.]” With that, 2,800 residents, along with hundreds of businesses, were obliged to move. They were given two years to relocate. The decision to raze the neighbourhood was taken without public consultations, presumably to avoid land speculation. Even Ottawa’s mayor, Charlotte Whitton, was kept in the dark.

In total, 53 acres of land was forcibly acquired from 240 landlords. The government paid fair market value for the land at a cost of about $17 million. The expropriation was part of a project to redevelop the entire LeBreton Flats area of roughly 154 acres. The federal government already owned 60 acres of railway yards and tracks purchased from the Canadian Pacific Railway in an initiative to remove trains from downtown Ottawa. Another 29 acres were to be reclaimed from Nepean Bay, with streets accounting for the remaining 12 acres. The last building to fall to the wrecking ball was the Duke House, the former Couillard Hotel, in October 1965. More than 250 people had crowded into the tavern the previous St Patrick’s Day, its last day in operation, to celebrate its passing. With the Duke House’s demolition, LeBreton Flats, a historic neighbourhood that dated back to the mid 19th century, was nothing but a memory. Its final days were memorialized in oil paintings by local artist Ralph Burton which now hang in the Ottawa City Hall.

photoThe rationale for the expropriation was to eliminate “a real eye sore” of deteriorating housing stock and dirty industry within walking distance of Parliament Hill. The NCC planned to transform the area into something worthy of a national capital, with the construction of up to ten government buildings, along with monuments, parks and parkways. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Diefenbaker’s ambition to complete the project in time for Canada’s centennial on 1 July 1967, Lebreton Flats remained a barren wasteland of weeds, rubble, car parks, and snow dumps for more than 40 years.

There are a myriad of explanations for what went wrong. Changing priorities, cost, recessions, ineptitude, and the discovery of toxins in the soil all played a part in slowing the Flats’ renaissance. The fact that the area was owned for much of the time by three different levels of government, the NCC, the regional government, and the City of Ottawa, didn’t help either.

Many have questioned the original decision by the NCC to bulldoze the Flats, viewing it as a crime committed against the poor. Some look back with nostalgia to a neighbourhood, while hardscrabbled, had a sense of community. But others argue that LeBreton Flats was a gritty, dirty slum. Many of its buildings had been hastily constructed after the 1900 fire which had gutted the area. Only two structures had survived the flames, one ironically being the Couillard Hotel, the last building to demolished in 1965. By the early 1960s, the area was unquestionably rundown, an unhealthy mix of dilapidated houses, scrap yards, metal working plants, mill suppliers, and rail yards. Odours from a paint factory and a brewery poisoned the air.

Regardless of the merits of levelling LeBreton Flats, the fact that the NCC left the brown-field site fallow for more than a generation beggars belief. A succession of proposals was announced for the site with great fanfare only to submerge without a trace. In the late 1960s, the area was to become home of a new headquarters for National Defence. But the three-tower, $40 million project never got off the ground; cost considerations were the likely reason. Instead, National Defence moved to its current location on Colonel By Drive. Subsequent plans for the Flats included a highway interchange with a half-clover leaf, low-cost housing, a convention centre, a national aquarium, a railway terminal for a proposed high-speed train between Windsor and Montreal, and a theme park. While waiting for the NCC to decide, the Flats have been used for special events, including an open-air mass by Pope Jean Paul II in 1984, and performances by the Cirque du Soleil. The land has also been used as a site for hot-air ballooning and as a camping ground.

In the late 1980s, plans for the area focused on five competing concepts with beguiling but obscure names: “Consolidating the Capital,” “Symbolic Bridge,” “A Multi-use Node,” Creating an Urbane Capital,” and “An Agora for the Capital.” Each was assessed on their biophysical, social-cultural, and other characteristics. Under the winning “Agora” concept, the Flats would be populated with museums, offices, roughly 2,500 residential units, of which 1/3 would be social housing, and commercial buildings. There would also be ample green space, including a park (the agora), located in the centre of LeBreton Flats. The Ottawa River Parkway (now Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway) would be relocated to become an urban boulevard through the Flats.

This plan too stalled, in large part on a 1991 environmental study that detailed the various toxins found in the soil and groundwater of LeBreton Flats, a legacy from its industrial past. Before redevelopment could take place, measures would have to be taken to deal with high levels of benzene and other contaminants that had leaked into the soil from the paint factory, underground oil tanks, and waste disposal sites. Snow dumps had also lead to high levels of lead from vehicle emissions, and chloride in the groundwater. Dangerously high levels of methane from rotting household and municipal wastes used as infill were also found in the land reclaimed from Nepean Bay. The cost of remediation and clean-up, which included scrapping off and replacing the topsoil, had risen to more than $70 million by 2012.

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After more than 40 years of delay, the redevelopment of the LeBreton Flats finally got underway in 2003 with the construction of a new Canadian War Museum. Located close to the Ottawa River, the facility, which cost more than $135 million, opened its doors to the public in 2005. Its environmentally-friendly “green” roof is planted with self-sowing grasses found along the Ottawa River. The fields to the south and east of the Museum are currently used for summer festivals, such as Bluesfest.

In 2004, the NCC contacted developers regarding the construction of residential units on a large 11 acre (4.4 hectares) parcel of land. Only three developers, Minto, Alliance Prevel and Claridge, submitted expressions of interest. Controversially, when decision time came, Claridge, judged third on experience and design, was the only contender left standing. The other two had pulled out of the competition owing to changes demanded by the NCC which in their view had made the project nonviable. Since then, Claridge has built two 13-storey condominium towers on LeBreton Flats which some critics panned as “pedestrian.” A third phase consisting of “boutique-style stacked townhomes” is underway.

The LeBreton Flats odyssey is far from over. More residential units are planned though their timing will depend on market demand. The decision to build a light rail transit (LRT) system in Ottawa has also affected development on the Flats. On the positive side, LeBreton Flats will have its own stop, better linking the area to the rest of the city, and increasing its attractiveness to potential residents. On the negative side, the LRT project has prompted the NCC to reassess its approach to the Flats. In September 2014, the Crown Corporation abandoned its twenty-year old plans for mixed-use development for the area saying that they were out-dated and inconsistent with contemporary approaches to development and city needs. It now wants a “signature” attraction of regional, national, or even international significance. Ideas including a downtown hockey arena, or a new site for the Museum of Science and Technology. While the federal government supports this change in direction, it has also indicated that it has no money to finance development. The NCC has invited the private sector to submit proposals for 9.3 hectares of land south of the Parkway and west of Boothe Street. An additional 12.1 hectares might also be made available. The hope is that something could be approved by the NCC Board and the federal government by early 2016.

Sources:

Jenkins, Phil, 2008, An Acre Of Time, Chelsea Books.

McClelland, David, 2009, “The Ottawa Project".

National Capital Commission Planning Branch, Environmental Assessment Section, 1991, LeBreton Flats/Bayview Concept Plans: Initial Environmental Evaluation, Final Report, May.

NCC Watch, The LeBreton Flats.

Ottawa Business Journal, 2012, “Construction crews returning to LeBreton Flats in December,” 29 August.

Ottawagraphy, LeBreton Flats.

Ottawa Sun, 2012, “Cost of Cleaning up Contaminated Soil at Ottawa’s LeBreton Flats would top $71 million, National Capital Commission says,” 22 December.

Rappaport, Michael, LeBreton Flats: Ottawa’s Field of Dreams.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1962, “Huge Expropriation, 10 Gov’t Buildings Planned to”Beautify” Central Area,” 19 April.

———————, 2013, NCC to rethink plans for LeBreton Flats,” 31 August.

——————–, 2014. “Everything you need to know about the NCC’s vision for LeBreton Flats,” 30 September.

The Globe and Mail, 1970, “Paid $1,771,966 for unused HQ Plan,” 20 January.

Trailpeak, 2013, LeBreton Flats, 1950s.

Urbsite, 2010, Ralph Burton on Lebreton Flats.

—————, 2012, Revisiting the Flats after 50 years (and 100, 150, 200 years).

Wikipedia, LeBreton Flats.

Images:

LeBreton Flats, circa 1960.

LeBreton Flats, circa 2010.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History.
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

The Origins of Street Names
- Clifford Scott


Considering how many people in Ottawa are new to the city, it seemed reasonable to do a little research and find out who or what some, of the oldest Ottawa streets are named after. The book mentioned in the last version of this article in September (Ottawa—Making a Capital) has a good article written by Serge Barbe, a member of the City Archives on this subject. Many persons who contributed to the foundation and growth of our City are not well known, and I understand both City staff and the Historical Society of Ottawa have developed tentative plans to make early Bytowners or Ottawans better known. This is a project deserving support! No article of this size can hope to do much more than scratch the surface of this topic. So only a few streets are covered. If readers are interested in the subject, further articles can be written.

Much has been said and written about the proper use of Lebreton Flats which contained Lebreton Street. These were named after Charles LEBRETON (1779-1848) who was a native of Jersey and one of Nepean Township's earliest settlers. He came to our area from Newfoundland and served with distinction in the War of 1812. With a partner, he purchased Lebreton Flats in 1820 and, in 1826 got into a legal wrangle with Colonel By and the Governor General, Lord Dalhousie over the price he wanted for his land. He spent a good deal of money defending the legality of his land ownership against the government of the day He retained his land, but the Rideau Canal was built elsewhere probably because Dalhousie and By rather disliked him after the court battle. Was sour grapes involved in the location of the canal?.

Nicholas SPARKS (1792-1862) for whom Sparks Street is named is much better known,. but the extent of his good works in Ottawa is less known Sparks came to Canada in 1816, from Ireland, to avoid religious strife. He married the widow of Philemon Wright Jr. in 1826... He owned a sawmill and vast timber rights in the area. In 1821, for the equivalent of $500 he purchased land that extended from what is now Wellington St. to Laurier Ave. West and from Waller St. to Bronson Ave. He sold part of his land to construct the Rideau Canal, but, because of the price he asked, another 96 acres were expropriated much to his chagrin!.

Perhaps wishing to avoid religious strife in Canada, he donated landfor churches to both the Anglicans and the Presbyterians. Sparks went on to serve for many years in local government. Sparks named a street on his land after a friend, Daniel O' CONNOR, who became Treasurer of the Dalhousie District (later Ottawa-Carleton) and another after his son-in-law, \ James SLATER Slater Street was first named Waugh Street, after a local merchant Caldwell Waugh., James Slater came to Canada about 1830, married Sparks' daughter in 1847 and went on to be, successively, Provincial Land surveyor, Superintendent of the Rideau Canal and Chairman of the Ottawa School Board.

Robert BELL (1821-1873) was a promoter of railway construction, a land surveyor and eventually, a journalist. He bought the Bytown Packet in 1849 and two years later changed the name to the Citizen, He sold the paper in 1865 to I. B. Taylor. One of the people from whom he bought the paper, Henry J. FRIEL (1823-1869) served as Mayor of Bytown in 1854 and Mayor of Ottawa in 1857, 1863, 1868 and finally, 1869 Pictures of both Bell and Friel are available at the City Archives.

Both had streets named after them

In Lower Town, Bruyere Street is named after Mother Elizabeth BRUYERE (1818-1876) the founder of the Grey nuns and the Ottawa Hospital (1845) She also established an orphanage, a hospice and an asylum for destitute women. GUIGUES Street is named after Monsignor Joseph-Eugene-- Bruno Guigues (1805-1874), Ottawa's first Roman Catholic Bishop. He founded what became the University of Ottawa on land donated by Louis BESSERER.

Further west, BRONSON Ave. was named after Erskine Henry Bronson, a prominent businessman, whose father Henry Bronson had founded a local lumbering firm. Speaking of lumbering, who else could BOOTH Street be named after other than J. R. Booth “the Ottawa Valley Lumber King”, featured in an earlier article.

These are only a few of the origins of Ottawa street names. Serge Barbe is working on a book that will identify many more.

 

Cliff Scott, an Ottawa resident since 1954 and a former history lecturer at the University of Ottawa (UOttawa), he also served in the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Public Service of Canada.

Since 1992, he has been active in the volunteer sector and has held executive positions with The Historical Society of Ottawa, the Friends of the Farm and the Council of Heritage Organizations in Ottawa. He also inaugurated the Historica Heritage Fair in Ottawa and still serves on its organizing committee.

The Saturday Funnies

11 February 1905

Comic strips are a standard feature in most newspapers. The Ottawa Citizen currently publishes twenty comics daily, ranging from one image stories to four- or five-panel strips. On Saturdays, the Citizen publishes the comics in colour—sticking with a tradition of a weekend colour comic supplement that goes back to the dawn of newspaper cartoons. Most of the comics in the Citizen are written by Americans whose work has been syndicated to other newspapers around the world. The only exceptions are Carpe Diem, written and drawn by Niklas Eriksson of Sweden, and Between Friends by Canadian Sandra Bell-Lundy. Many of the strips have been published for decades. In longest production is Blondie whose run began in 1930. Cartoonist Chic Young wrote and drew the strip until his death in 1973, when his son Dean Young took over.

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But comic strips, which can be defined as a telling of a story through a series of pictures, have a far longer and illustrious pedigree. Some historians contend that Trajan’s column in Rome, which tells in sculptured pictures the victory of the Roman emperor over the Dacians (modern-day Romanians) in the second century A.D., is a precursor form of a comic strip. A thousand years later in about 1070, Bishop Odo of Bayeux commissioned the making of another early “comic strip” known today as the Bayeux Tapestry. Made by female needle workers, possibly nuns, in Canterbury, England, the tapestry recounts the story of the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror that had occurred four years earlier. Bishop Odo was Duke William’s half-brother and principal supporter. Embroidered on linen cloth using multi-coloured woollen yard, it is roughly 68 metres long and 50 centimetres high, and is composed of 75 picture panels. Complete with Latin text, the tapestry is a marvel of medieval European art.

Following the invention of the printing press, satirists and caricaturists used cartoons to mock the social, political and religious life of their times. William Hogarth (1697-1764), an English painter, painted in 1731 a series of moralizing but humorous paintings that he subsequently had engraved and sold together called A Harlot’s Progress. Highly successful, this series was followed by the famous A Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode. The British caricaturist and illustrator, George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was the author of many satirical and funny cartoons that lampooned the aristocracy, including King George IV and Queen Charlotte. He was one of the first to employ the multi-panel structure and dialogue bubbles used in cartoon strips of today. His 1849 comic strip The Preparatory School for Fast Men starred the likes of Professor Boozey Swizzle who taught drinking class and Professor Swindle in charge of Finance. See George Cruikshank in Lambiek Comiclopedia.

graphicNewspaper cartoon strips begun appearing at the end of the nineteenth century in the United States. They quickly swept North America when newspaper owners realized that comics sold copies. American Richard F. Outcault (1863-1928) is generally regarded as the father of the modern newspaper cartoon strip. He introduced readers of the New York World newspaper, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, to Uncle Eben’s Ignorance of the City in 1894. He also created the character of The Yellow Kid—a street urchin. Wearing a hand-me-down, oversized, yellow shirt, the Kid was likely drawn bald to indicate that his head had been shaved to prevent lice, a constant problem in the crowded urban slums of North America.

The Yellow Kid and his Phonograph, written in 1896, is believed by many to be the first modern comic strip that combined multiple image panels and speech bubbles. When Outcault was lured away from Pulitzer to the New York Journal-American by William Randolph Hearst in 1907, competing versions of The Yellow Kid were produced by the two newspapers as Outcault had failed to obtain a copyright on the character. The less-popular World version was written by George Luks. The expression “yellow journalism” is based on the Pulitzer/Hearst cartoon rivalry. The expression came to mean an emphasis on comics, fictitious news, exaggeration and misleading headlines. In Britain, it is often referred to as “tabloid journalism.”

Canadians were also active in the early days of newspaper cartooning. Henri Julien (1852-1908), who reportedly spent part of his childhood in Ottawa, drew cartoons for Canadian Illustrated News and satirical publications such as Le Canard. He later became the artistic director for the Montreal Daily Star. Palmer Cox (1840-1924) created the Brownies, a very popular series of humorous cartoon stories about sprite-like creatures based on British mythology. Like later twentieth-century cartoon characters, the Brownies were widely merchandized as toys, games, cards, etc. though Palmer apparently didn’t reap the rewards. Even the early Kodak camera, the Brownie, capitalized on their popularity. Another prominent early Canadian cartoonist was Arthur Racey (1870-1941). He drew a series of humorous drawings called The Englishman in Canada in 1893-94 that incorporated speech bubbles. Racey took over Julien’s position at the Montreal Daily Star after the latter’s death.

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The weekend funnies came to Ottawa on 11 February 1905 when the Ottawa Evening Journal published without fanfare three multi-pane cartoon strips. The first was called Fatty Goes On An Errand To The Doctor’s And Gets Sick, featuring Fatty Felix, created by the American cartoonist Walt McDougall (1858-1938). McDougall was an illustrator for the New York Graffic, and was published in Harper’s Weekly and Puck Magazine. Reflecting the power of cartoons to effect society, McDougall’s 1884 satirical cartoon The Royal Feast of Belshazzar Blaine and the Money Kings, which appeared in the New York World newspaper, skewered James Blaine, the Republican nominee for President, and is credited with helping Democratic Grover Cleveland win the U.S. Presidency that year. McDougall drew Fatty Felix originally for Philadelphia’s North American. Later, the comic strip also appeared in newspapers associated with the New York Herald’s syndicate. McDougall is also well known for his Handsome Hautry and The Wizard of Oz comic strips.

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The other major cartoon strip in the Journal was called Muggsy Saves A Dude From The Billposter’s Paste drawn by Frank Crane (1857-1917). Crane, who had graduated from the New York Academy of Design, became a cartoonist and later the art editor for the New York World and later for Philadelphia’s North American. Muggsy was also distributed through the New York Herald syndicate. Crane produced the Muggsy comic strip from 1901 to 1915.

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Sandwiched between the McDougall and Crane comic strips was a short four-panel strip featuring a circus elephant getting his tooth pulled. There is no title or dialogue, and the author’s name is unclear.

graphicThe Ottawa Citizen began publishing regular comic strips a year after its rival. From the beginning of January 1906, Richard Outcault’s full-page Buster Brown comic strip, which originally appeared in the New York Herald, could be read in the Citizen. Buster Brown was an upper-class imp with a page-boy haircut who was accompanied by his pit bull terrier Tige. The series was like a cross between Dennis the Menace and Calvin and Hobbes. When Tige spoke only Buster could hear him. Each Buster Brown story ended in a moral with Buster resolving to do something. As was the case with the Yellow Kid, the comic strip got caught up in the Pulitzer/Hearst rivalry with competing versions of the cartoon being produced. Not having the rights to the strip’s title, post-1907 Buster Brown comic strips produced by Outcault were published without a title. Buster Brown became hugely popular across North America. The comic spawned the 1904 silent short movie Buster Brown and the Dude. That same year, Buster Brown’s name was licensed by the Brown Shoe Company. The company also produced “Mary Jane” shoes named after Buster Brown’s comic sweetheart.

In later decades, Ottawa’s two major newspapers carried all of the famous American comic strips, many of whose names remain household words. The Katzenjammer Kids, Bringing Up Father, and Mutt & Jeff were published by the Journal in the 1920s and 1930s. Little Orphan Annie, Popeye, Mickey Mouse and Superman followed in the 1940s. Blondie, with her hapless husband Dagwood Bumstead, debuted in the Journal just a couple of weeks before the start of World War II. Readers of the Citizen would find Felix the Cat, Henry, Li’l Abner, and Tarzan during the 1930s and 1940s, and Roy Rogers Joe Palooka and Dennis the Menace in the 1950s. Beginning in 1957, Citizen readers could also enjoy the philosophy and wisdom of Charlie Brown, Lucy and Linus when the Peanuts comic strip of Charles Schultz first appeared.

So, the next time you pick up the newspaper to read Bizzaro or Hagar The Horrible spare a thought to their rich comic history that stretches back at least two thousand years.

Sources:

America Comes Alive, “Buster Brown Shoes and Mary Janes".

BBC History Magazine, 2018. “5 Bayeux Tapestry facts: what is it, why was it made and what story does it tell?,” History Extra, https://www.historyextra.com/period/norman/5-bayeux-tapestry-facts-what-is-it-why-was-it-made-and-what-story-does-it-tell/.

Haltz, Allan, 2018. Strippers’ Guide.

Lambiek Comiclopedia, 2018, Palmer Cox.

—————————, 2018. Frank Crane.

—————————, 2018. George Cruikshank.

—————————, 2018, Henri Julien.

—————————, 2018. Walt McDougall.

—————————, 2018. Richard H. Outcault.

—————————, 2018, Arthur Racey.

Old Things, 2013. Buster Brown by R.F. Outcault, 31 October.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 11 February 1905.

San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, Newspaper Comic Strips Guide.

Saturday Evening Citizen (The), 12 January 1906.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.

 

A Walk Down Sparks Street

 

20 May 1960

By the end of the 1950s, Sparks Street, Ottawa’s premier shopping district, home to major department stores, such as Murphy-Gamble, Morgan’s, and Woolworth’s, as well as jewellery boutiques, restaurants, and banks, was in decline. Shop fronts were starting to look shabby and dated. Competition from newfangled suburban shopping centres with lots of free parking was taking its toll. But the removal of the last street cars in May 1959 offered the street’s merchants the opportunity to buck the trend. Forming the Sparks Street Development Association, their solution was a pedestrian mall, an idea first suggested years earlier by Jacques Greber, the hyperactive French urban design consultant to the federal government charged with beautifying the city. Business owners hoped that a mall would boost customer traffic and commerce.

Overcoming the initial reluctance of City Hall, and opposition from Ottawa’s fire chief who was concerned about access in the event of fire, a temporary pedestrian mall, designed by Walter Balharrie, was officially opened by Mayor George Nelms on Friday, 20 May 1960. To add a note of glamour, the first Miss Dominion of Canada, “pretty Eileen Butter” of Ancaster, Ontario shared the podium with city and mall dignitaries. The street had actually been closed to vehicular traffic the previous Saturday evening so that workmen could paint patterns on the repaved roadway; install fifty potted trees, put in yellow, moulded, fibreglass benches, erect canopies, and install temporary flower beds. The National Gallery of Canada also loaned the mall a statue by prominent sculptor, Louis Archambeault, titled “Iron Bird.” Another Mall attraction was the introduction of outdoor cafés.

The Mall was well received by the general public. Immediately prior to its opening, the Ottawa Citizen enthused that “the public is becoming as proud of Sparks Street as a housewife is of her newly-washed sparkling windows” and that the “promenade will finish the job,” making the street a “place to dream in as well as to shop.” A New York expert lauded the Mall saying that it was the best planned and most well conceived of the several malls he had studied. He also opined that it would be a “great stimulant” to the local economy and would revitalize the city.

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Sparks Street was reopened to traffic in early September 1960. But with the mall experiment deemed a success, a fact confirmed by a survey which indicated that supporters vastly outnumbered opponents, the temporary mall returned the following six summers. It became a permanent feature of the Ottawa cityscape in 1967, Canada’s centennial year. That year, the Sparks Street Mall, the first permanent pedestrian mall in North America, was made resplendent with fountains, sculptures, trees, plants, kiosks and canopies at a cost of $636,000. With the Canadian Guards Band striking up “God Save the Queen,” the new permanent Mall was officially opened on 28 June by Mayor Don Reid. Unfortunately, technical glitches meant that only one of the three fountains on the Mall was operational, and there was no sign of the planned rock garden. Proposed infra-red heating elements to be located under the canopies to keep pedestrians warm in winter were also not installed owning to cost considerations.

Although the establishment of the Mall may have slowed the decline of Sparks Street as a commercial and shopping district, urban blight continued. One by one, the major department stores closed their doors. The opening in 1983 of the downtown Rideau Centre, a major indoor shopping centre with ample parking, provided a major blow to Mall fortunes. Sparks Street retail sales plunged, as tourists and residents alike took their business to the Centre’s modern shopping facilities located in close proximity to the Byward Market’s many restaurants and nightclubs. Stalwarts, such as Birks Jewellers, also decamped to the Rideau Centre, leaving the Mall’s shopping façade snaggle-toothed.

In an effort to rejuvenate the Mall, governments and area merchants spent $5.5 million in 1986 to perk up things. Granite sidewalks, traditional lamp standards, and pavilions housing pay phones and mall directories were installed. The remodelling was not well received. The pavilions were bulky and obstructed the view of the Mall’s distinctive architecture. One heritage expert called them “gimmicky.” The improvements also did not address the Mall’s comparative disadvantages, including inadequate parking facilities and the lack of major anchor stores. It continued to be eclipsed by the Rideau Centre where people could shop in comfort during Ottawa’s cold winter months, and by suburban shopping centres which were conveniently located to where people lived. Street merchants also complained that their landlord—the federal government—which had expropriated many of the buildings on Spark Street owing to their proximity to Parliament Hill and their historic nature, was unresponsive to their needs and slow to act.

The decline of Sparks Street continued through the 1990s and 2000s. Shops continued to close. Much of an entire block of shops on the south side of the street between Bank Street and O’Connor Street was bulldozed in 2003 to make way for the CBC Ottawa Broadcast Centre. While care was taken to ensure that the Spark Street side of the new Centre was consistent with its low-rise neighbours, the new building did little to enhance Mall shopping. Moreover, with its principal entrance on Queen Street, pedestrian traffic declined. Extensive renovations by the federal government to the former Metropolitan Life building (now the Wellington building), as well as to the historic Beaux Arts former Bank of Montreal building has kept much of Sparks Street a building site for years. Now that the Bank of Canada headquarters at the western end of Sparks Street is under renovation, it will remain that way until at least 2017. As a final insult, in 2013, Zellers and Smithbooks, street features for decades, closed, leaving much of the Mall a shopping wasteland.

Today, the Mall is a shadow of its former self. Although its outdoor cafés, including a new microbrewery and restaurant at 240 Sparks, provide some life during the summer months, as do special events, such as the annual Buskers’ Festival or Ribs’ Fest, there is little shopping to attract people, residents or tourists, the rest of the year. Hopes for an urban renewal now centre on the possible construction of a boutique hotel and condominiums on the Mall.

Sources:

Rubenstein, H. 1992. Pedestrian Malls, Streetscapes and Urban Spaces, John Wiley & Sons Inc.

The Globe and Mail, 1960. “Mall and Tulips Open Ottawa Tourist Season,” 20 May.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1960. “Prospects for Spring,” 7 May.

—————–, 1960. “The Sparks Street Mall,” 9 May.

—————–, 1960. “Official Opening of the Sparks Street Mall, 20 May.

—————–, 1961. “The Sparks Street Mall,” 1 February.

—————–, 1961. “Providing for Fire Safety on the Sparks Street Mall,” 13 March.

—————–, 1961. “The Sparks Street Mall,” 1 September.

—————–, 1967. “Pedestrians take Over Mall,” 25 June.

—————-, 1969. “Sparks Street Mall, Chronology of Events,” 2 June.

—————-, 1986. “$5.5 million Facelift for Sparks St Approved,” 29 October.

—————-, 1987. “The Mall Needs More than a New Suit,” 13 January.

Urbsite, 2010. Sparks Street Mall Turns Fifty.

Story written by James Powell, the author of the blog Today in Ottawa's History
Retired from the Bank of Canada, James is the author or co-author of three books dealing with some aspect of Canadian history. These comprise: A History of the Canadian Dollar, 2005, Bank of Canada, The Bank of Canada of James Elliott Coyne: Challenges, Confrontation and Change,” 2009, Queen’s University Press, and with Jill Moxley, Faking It! A History of Counterfeiting in Canada, 2013, General Store Publishing House, Renfrew, Ontario. James is a Director of The Historical Society of Ottawa.