Coming Events

Unless otherwise stated, starting in September 2019, daytime meetings will be held at 1:00 pm on the last Wednesday of the month (except June, July, August, and December) in the auditorium of the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, 120 Metcalfe Street. Light refreshments will be served in the auditorium lobby starting at 12.30pm.

The Historical Society of Ottawa’s Evening Speakers’ Series will begin in Fall 2019. These presentations will be held at 7:00 pm, on a Wednesday, unless otherwise stated, in the auditorium of the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library. Light refreshments will be served in the auditorium lobby starting at 6.30pm.

Details: During the second World War, a top-secret civilian unit was installed in a Victorian mansion in Sandy Hill to carry out code breaking activities. It was called The Examination Unit. Diana Pepall will examine how the unit came to be set up, who was involved, what it accomplished, and its post war legacy.

Diana Pepall is a graduate of the Masters of Library Science program at Dalhousie University. She spent the bulk of her career as a librarian and manager at the Ottawa Public Library. Since 2014 she has been researching, writing and lecturing on the Examination Unit.

Details: Did you know that ten prime ministers had lived in the Ottawa neighbourhood of Sandy Hill, four of them while they were in office? Through a series of often-amusing and little-known anecdotes, amateur historian François Bregha will shed light on their lives while in Sandy Hill.

François Bregha has lived in Sandy Hill for over 30 years and is an active member of his community association’s planning and heritage committee. He has written biographical capsules about the notable people who lived in this-once prosperous neighbourhood (see, leads heritage walks and gives presentations about Sandy Hill history.

Details: The Rideau Canal, over the course of its 187-year operating history, has played a very important role in shaping the history and geography of eastern Ontario, and indeed in the history of Canada. A remarkable engineering and construction feat, under the direction of Col John By of the Royal Engineers, the Rideau Canal has served as a communications link, a tourism destination and a cherished recreation asset for many years. Despite designation as a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its status as the oldest, continuously operating canal in North America, does the Rideau Canal/Rideau Waterway get the respect and protection it deserves?

Hunter McGill is Senior Fellow at the School of International Development, University of Ottawa and Sessional Lecturer at the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University. Over his career he has worked at the Canadian International Development Agency and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as consulting in international development for a number of agencies and countries. He has written on Canada’s performance as a foreign aid donor. He is a member of Friends of the Rideau and the Rideau Waterway Land Trust.

Details: Since 1978, after emigrating from Liverpool and returning to Ottawa where he grew up in the 1950s, Phil Jenkins has worked as a newspaper columnist, travel writer, author and a performing songwriter across Canada. He was a freelance columnist (over eight hundred columns) for the Ottawa Citizen from 1991 to 2017. He writes for magazines (National Geographic Traveller; Equinox; Wedding Bells: Canadian Geographic: Ottawa Magazine: Toronto Life) and about the Canadian landscape in books via the national non-fiction bestsellers Fields of Vision, An Acre of Time, River Song: Sailing the History of the St. Lawrence, and, Beneath My Feet: The Memoirs of George Mercer Dawson. There are also two commissioned books, on the Ottawa Public Library and the Civic Heart Institute. Phil teaches and lectures in writing, the Canadian landscape and Ottawa history, including a 10-year stint as a lecturer at Carleton University. As a solo musician, songwriter and member of the Wakefield band Riverbend, he produced the albums Car Tunes and Making Waves, and a solo album Noteworthy. He lives in a straw bale house in the Gatineau Hills of Quebec, on the Gatineau River.

Joanna Dean, Ottawa's Urban Forest (1st Speaker at 1.00pm)

Joanna Dean is an associate professor in the history department at Carleton University where she teaches courses in Canadian environmental history, animal history and climate history. She is interested in the history of human relations with the nonhuman world, and writes about such things as city trees and working horses.
She is currently on sabbatical, writing a book on Ottawa’s urban forest. Over the last 15 years she has published a series of articles on the unruliness of city trees, the origins of the term “urban forest,” inequities in forest cover, and the use of geospatial analysis of historical aerial photographs to measure physical changes in urban forest. In 2012 she curated an exhibit, “Six Moments in the History of an Urban Forest,” at the Bytown Museum. Formerly an Ottawa resident, and chair of the Ottawa Forests and Greenspace Advisory Committee, she now lives among maple, beech, and hemlock trees in the Gatineau Hills.
For further information, see

The Trouble with Trees: A History of Ottawa’s Urban Forest
Why tell stories about trees that cause trouble? Why talk about the elm trees that tangled with electrical wires in Centretown; the dying birch trees that prompted debate in the House of Commons; the looming Lombardy poplar that led a Glebe matron to threaten legal action against the Federal District Commission; the centennial crab apple that turned Ottawa pink; and the 156-year-old bur oak that got in the way of an infill project? Because nature is troublesome, and until we understand the history of our urban forest and acknowledge the unruliness, as well as the beauty, of the trees around us, we will not know how to adequately accommodate them in the city.
The lecture will situate these troublesome trees in the wider history of Ottawa’s urban forest. Drawing upon a rich set of historical aerial photographs offering a birds-eye view of the city and the opportunity for quantitative analysis, it will explain how, and why, Ottawa’s urban forest canopy has changed over time.

Stephen McKenna, Supreme Court Justice, Patrick Kerwin (2nd Speaker at 2.00pm)

Stephen G. McKenna is an Ottawa-born author and musician who enjoys history, traveling and music, to name but a few things in this life to enjoy. The book, ‘Grace and Wisdom’, about Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin of the Supreme Court of Canada, was written to ensure his grandfather’s life was captured for posterity.

Chief Justice Patrick Kerwin (1889-1963) was appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC) in 1935 as one of only seven Justices on the Court at that time. This is a man who overcame tough times in his hometown of Sarnia ON and managed to afford law school in Toronto while playing piano for silent movies to pay for his education between classes. From there, he became a leading lawyer in Guelph ON, then was appointed to the Ontario Court of Appeal. This is a man who was known to have absolutely no bias and often said, “Justice delayed is justice denied”.

Details to come

Details: John Buchan, Scottish-born renowned author of spy thrillers such as The Thirty-Nine Steps, became Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada in 1935. His appointment created a nation-wide controversy, but he was nonetheless welcomed for the accomplished individual he was.

Tweedsmuir changed the tone at Rideau Hall, making it less formal. Mackenzie King, who was Prime Minister when Tweedsmuir arrived on Canadian shores in November 1935, had first met John Buchan in England in 1919, and in 1924 hosted the Buchans at Laurier House and at Kingsmere.

Bill Galbraith, author of John Buchan: Model Governor General, will introduce Buchan and his wife Susan, who both endeared themselves to Ottawans and Canadians. Many people felt they knew Buchan through his books, and he and Susan contributed so much to Canada at many levels. He was also fortunate in Canada; as an incurable walker and sport fisherman as well as mountaineer, he could indulge his love of the outdoors. He was an inspiration to several of his Canadian successors and still inspires us today.

J. William (Bill) Galbraith was born in Fort Frances, Northwestern Ontario. He backpacked throughout Europe and the Mediterranean region before taking degrees from Carleton University and from the Université Libre de Bruxelles. Following studies, and more backpacking, he worked first for a private sector business research organization and subsequently served in a number of federal government departments and agencies, involving investment review, intelligence, national security policy, and intelligence review. Bill retired in July 2018 and lives in Ottawa with his wife Kate. They have three grown children and three grandchildren.