There is no real beginning. The bedrock here is Ordovician limestone laid down in quiet shallow seas 400 million years ago. The rock ledge at Byron and Churchill is one of many minor faults radiating from the Gloucester fault, the major geological fault that formed the Chaudiere falls and Parliament Hill. The limestone and shale formation with its interesting dolomite and calcite inclusions may be studied in exposures at the Westboro station on the Transitway. The Ice Age, whose glaciers occasionally dropped those smoothed granite boulders that may be seen along the river, ended 12,000 years ago. For three thousand years after that whales and seals swam over the land while the Champlain Sea flooded here to a depth of 600 feet.
It was the Algonquin tribe that inhabited the river here who referred to it as Kitchesipppi, or the Grand River. The name is remembered in our regional electoral ward. If ancient arrowheads or pottery are dug up in people’s backyards, the occurrences are few and far between and not well publicized. Hull has it’s old native portage trails. There is nothing here having comparable archeological interest. History here starts with Etienne Brule and Nicholas Vignau, two youths, who were as far as is known the first white men to ascend the Ottawa in 1610 and pass the site of modern Westboro. Samuel de Champlain would follow in 1613. After them would come the Recollect priests, Brébeuf, Lalemant and the Jesuits, the voyageurs and traders from Nouvelle France and from the Northwest Company, the explorers of the eighteenth and nineteenth century such as Pierre-Espirit Radisson and Médard Chouart-Desgroseillers (1658), La Vérendrye, Lord Selkirk, and Sir Alexander Mackenzie and many others from that parade of names learnt in high school history. The Iroquois used the Chaudiere area as a base to attack the Algonquin and Huron Indians in the eighteenth century and prevent trade along the river. Likely many stopped on the beach here although some were probably paddling and camping on the Quebec side where the portage trails were. If anybody camped on the Ontario shore, or ventured in to hunt in the old white pine forest, either the 19th century mills obliterated their camps, or the NCC laid sod over them, or they went like ghosts and didn’t leave footprints.
The premier monument to the earliest historical period of Westboro is Richmond Road. In the autumn of 1818, 400 soldiers from Wellington’s 99th and 100th Regiments and families from Quebec arrived at Richmond Landing behind the Chaudier Falls to open the Richmond trail (road) and to settle Richmond beside the Jock River. They arrived in September and their families camped at the Richmond landing under harsh conditions while winter was descending until the road was completed. The settlement, on the banks of the Jock River, was named Richmond, after the Duke of Richmond, governor-in-chief of Canada. A year after the town was settled, the duke was visiting there when he took ill and died from effects of an earlier fox-bite. His body was carried out over this road in a wagon pulled by a team of four oxen driven by Philemon Wright. It was taken by canoe to Montreal and by steamer to Quebec, where it was interred before the altar of the Anglican Cathedral. These are the first substantive historical memories of the road and the area of Westboro.
In pioneer times Richmond Road was a corduroy road, paved as it were by logs laid perpendicular to it. In those days it would take an entire day to take a cart to Bytown from Westboro and come back. Perhaps the original trail wandered a bit from the straight road we have today but the number of old buildings facing onto the modern road shows that our modern Richmond Road follows essentially the trail of the old.
Heritage Homes of Westboro and Vicinity
In 1817 the Thomson family, being the elderly William Thompson, his wife and three sons and six daughters, arrived in Canada without much money. The Thomsons were allotted about 400 acres of land that extented from the present Carling Avenue to the river. Their's were the first farm and frame building on Richmond Road. Maplelawn, the stately manor house at 529 Richmond Road, was built for William Thompson in 1831-34.
In the 1830's there was built an stone farm house, known as the Aylen-Heney house, at 150 Richmond Road near Kirkwood Avenue. The stonework is not refined and the roof was put on a century later. Peter "King of the Shiners" Aylen's farm workers, the thugs and no-good-niks known as the Shiners, boarded there. As a gang they would try to bully their way into getting the river raft work from the French Canadians. What began as economic competition ended as ethnic rivalry. Peter Aylen arrived in Canada as a cabin boy on a British frigate. At the age of 15 in the year 1815, he decided there was a better life somewhere in our Ottawa valley and by force of circumstances gravitated to Nepean. The stone house and stone barn featuring the Aylen homestead were landmarks on the river.
Another Westboro pioneer was Thomas Birch. Birch settled in Richmond for several years but then pioneered a bush homestead in the area east of Churchill Avenue. That neighborhood based on their farm was called Birchton in their honor when it was subdivided with mixed success during the 1870's building boom. The portion west of Churchill was called Baytown. An interesting story about Thomas Birch has survived. In the year 1819, Thomas Birch together with his wife previously Miss Sarah Robertson and one child, arrived in Canada from Ireland by boat. The story goes that the boat passengers would pay by the day so the Captain, to maximize his earnings from the voyage would double back at night making the trip take four months. After the Birch's arrival here, the ship set sail back to Ireland, only to sink forty miles out. A couple of Thomas Birch's grandchildren visited the wreck. The Birch's would come to have eight sons and four daughters.
As a result of the lumber boom era of the 1870's a number of mills and industrial settlements developed along Richmond Road and the Canada Central Railway (CCR) tracks. About a mile west of Skead Mills, at Stottsvale for example, Joseph Johnston had a large steam saw mill for shingles and laths and a carding and fulling mill. After that there was another rail stop at Brittania. Logs would come in either by rail or water. The cut lumber would go out by railway. These mills were much smaller steam operations than the great ones at the Chaudier Falls.
Senator Skead, built one of the largest of these smaller operations. Skead Mills was built in 1869 on river side land bought from the Thomsons. The mill burnt in 1870, was rebuilt and was in operation again by 1873. Senator James Skead was a great man at the time of confederation. He held many important offices. He was MP for Carleton County and president of the Carleton County Society that bought Lansdowne Park. Along with J.R. Booth he was a director of the Ottawa Ladies College. He was a city of Ottawa alderman from 1861 through 1863 and a vice-president of the CCR. In 1860 he imported and distributed free to farmers 33 pound sterling worth of flaxseed to the local farmers to encourage raising of that staple.
The Skead Mill ruins, a massive stone foundation with remains of blacksmith iron and old-style nails scattered around, can still be found along the river about two hundred meters east of Westboro Beach at Lanark and Kirchoffer. Go to the beach and stroll up the riverbank until you find them or there is a short path leading to the river through the foundation at the west end of the Kitchissippi Lookout parking lot. The foundation stones still have three curious grooves to accomodate a rotating mill wheel. The occasional white pine boom or raft log along with bits of chain and anchoring spikes may be found on the river bank east and west of the beach. An aerial photograph from the forties show large log booms anchored on the river off from the beach. The boom anchor islands are visible from the beach to the north and west with one large boom anchor island being 100 meters out in the water just in front of the ruins. When explored by canoe these islands are found to be held together by cribwork of timbers 40 cm square and have thick iron chain links embedded deep in the rock cribs.
In the late 1870's a severe depression swept Canada. Sir John A. Macdonald was returned to power to try to restore the economy. Skead's mills went bankrupt and Skead lost all his industrial holdings. The Gilmour and Hughson mill in Hull went into retreat. There were great slowdowns and hardships in lumber and building trades. E.B. Eddy bought Skead's mill in 1880. It burnt down a few years later and not rebuilt. Westboro had lost its most important employer.
In 1911 a Mr. M.N. Cummings opened a lumber and coal business at 143 - 165 Main Street (Churchill) north of the CPR line. The plant boasted one of the most up-to-date sash, door and planing factories in Canada. Cumming brought in by rail in coal, concrete, cement, brick and lumber, much of it from Cumming's other plant in Maniwaki. Westboro was a second business to Cumming's Maniwaki plant in but it soon outstripped it's parent.
Westboro Heritage Homes
Westboro is fortunate to have a continuous record of its buildings from 1830 down to the present. Everybody who lives in the area usually has a fine old home on a street nearby that they admire. The charm of Westboro is in its wealth of heritage homes throughout all its neighbourhoods. Here is a selection of houses representing different building styles over different times to show the historical development of our neighbourhood.
At 330 Churchill there is an example of an early stone farmhouse, now well renovated to become lawyer offices. Courtney C.J. Bond in the guide City on the Ottawa says it dates to about 1870. There is another stone farmhouse at Churchill and Avondale.
An important old home is part of the Sisters of the Visitation monastery although the story of the house is a bit complex. Originally James Skead had a large stone residence at Wellington and Kent Street. Afterwards Skead bought the old George Eaton home adjacent to his farm on the Richmond Road. After the crash of Skead's industrial empire, George Holland, for whom Holland Avenue is named - then reporter of the Senate Hansard, acquired the property. Following his death the place became the property of the Sisters of the Visitation. The Holland house part, a mid-19th century estate mansion which as mentioned belonged to Skead and Eaton previously, remains quite distinct in brown sandstone at the east end of the monastery.
Railway and Electric Streetcars
The Central Canada Railway was inaugurated in 1870 linking Ottawa and Brockville via Carleton Place with a flag station at Westboro. This railway was later absorbed into the Canadian Pacific Railway C.P.R. system. The old Westboro train station used to be at Roosevelt Street by the Transitway. The tracks ran along the north side of Scott Street. The station was torn down around 1969 but is not forgotten. In Studio II Framing at 356A Richmond Road you can buy a water colour print of the old station which Anne the owner painted. Next store the other framing store has a different print of the Westboro station along with prints of other train stations in eastern Ontario. The railway right of way was used to build the OC Transpo Transitway.
Further south there was another set of tracks which was torn up between 1957 and 1965 to provide land to build the Queensway. This track had its start as the Ottawa Armprior and Parry Sound part of the Grand Trunk Railway of 1896 which linked Ottawa with Armprior and Parry Sound. Witticombs of Westboro, 325 Richmond, has a 1915 advertising poster showing a Grand Trunk Railway locomotive steaming past the Chateau Laurier to the Grand Trunk Railway station beside the Rideau Canal.
An electric tram-line from downtown to Holland Avenue had already been in place since 1896. The area was serviced by an inefficient horse-driven tram before that. On April 2, 1900 an electric trolley car full of reporters drove the first trial run of the Ottawa Electric Railway double track from Holland Avenue, through Westboro along the Byron Avenue right of way, to the summer resort area of Britannia. The car would accelerate down the hill west of Churchill at Byron. There was a loop at McKellar Park that is at Windermere and Byron. At McEwen and Richmond Road in the green area in front of the modern apartment there used to be the trolley service area where a big transformer hummed all day long changing AC current to DC for use by the trolleys. The final loop was at Britannia at the decorative terminal waiting shelter where the parking lot is now.
I am guessing here, and I would appreciate it if somebody would confirm the following. Were the trolley tracks paved with red granite cobblestones? Are those same cobblestones now built into a substantial stone retaining wall right beside the laundrymat at Byron and Churchill? The long bicycle trail and path beside Byron is one souvenir of the trolley. Is that wall another?
The last trolley to collect fares ran on May 1, 1959. On this final Britannia run was CFRA radio personality Les Lye and his family. Three days later there was a final procession of the street cars, paraded like circus elephants, for which twenty-five thousand people came out to wave goodbye. The trolley cars are well in living memory of the children that grew up in the neighbourhood. "I took the trolley downtown to shop." "We went on the Britannia A-Line to Lakeshore Gardens and fell asleep coming home." "We took the trolley downtown on Dominion Day and there were people crowded in all over." They made the downtown shopping stores possible. "Tickets were four for a quarter, then three for a quarter. I was buying kid's tickets." Then the ticket price went up to ten cents each as the Ottawa Transportation Commission had to service the mostly rural parts of Nepean which the city had annexed.
The homes and the neighbourhoods and the development followed that street car line out west. Hintonberg is a streetcar suburb. Downtown civil servants could build the fine homes on Tweedsmuir or Athlone street at Wesley Avenue and take the trolley to work every day along Byron.
When the area started developing into a residential district, the residents wanted a slightly "tonier" name than Skead Mills. Westboro as it suggested vaguely the class of Westmount. Holland Avenue was still city limits and Westboro was still well past there. Riders in the trolley coming to the village could relax with a view of farm land with cows grazing in the fields. In the 1927 History of Westboro we read: "If half the families of Westboro had twenty-five good layers in their back yard, the citizens of all of Westboro would be independent of outside sources for new laid eggs."
Hilson Avenue was named after Mrs. George C. Holland whose maiden name was Alison Hilson Robinson. In The City Beyond, Bruce Elliot writes:
Hampton Park: J.C. Brennan began development of the Hampton Park residential area in 1910. The streets were given the names of prestigious London districts, Kensington, Picadilly, Mayfair and Windsor. Brennan Avenue was laid out in 1921 although there is nothing especially antique about it. Piccadilly and Mayfair Avenue , both more attractive streets, were laid out in 1925. In 1922 the 150 acre area had four houses. By 1931 there were 21 houses built, most on Island Park Drive. The Federal District Commission, the successor to the OIC, purchased Hampton Park, the park, in 1927. The Hampton Park Police Village, servicing the then small but wealthy enclave, was set up in 1939 and dissolved 11 years later with the Ottawa municipal annexation.
Island Park Drive started as the Ottawa Improvement Commission Driveway in 1910. Island Park Drive had a traffic circle at Richmond Road that was removed after annexation. The fine homes there were built in the twenties and also using depression labour in the "dirty thirties" after the OIC driveway was extended through the Brennan family Hampton Park subdivision. Another series of large homes were built in the 1940's as part of the Leighton Park project.
The Champlain Bridge was erected following the establishment in 1927 of the Federal District Commission, an organization devoted to the beautification of the capital, replacing the old Ottawa Improvement Commission of 1899. The earlier commission had built bridges from the Ottawa shore to the islands in mid-stream, where what was known as Island Park had been created. The extension of the commission's powers to cover works in the province of Quebec made possible the completion of the bridge over the river. C.H. Ney, of the Geodetic Survey of Canada, calculated for the construction crew the length of the river gap by triangulation.
To the east, on the Heney propery between Tweedsmuir avenue and Island Park drive, the mid forties had seen Nepean's first modern subdivisions. Here up to a hundred houses of similar design were built in short order by a single well-capitalized contractor, who was responsible for installing sewer and water services and surfacing the streets before building.
John E. Cole developed Highland Park (West of Churchill)
The annexation of Nepean in 1950 resulted in a duplication of street
names in Ottawa and some names had to be changed. Heney became
Kirkwood Avenue. Main Street became Churchill Avenue after the Second
World War Leader. Roosevelt used to be something else.
Strathcona became Tweedsmuir and McGee became Athlone.
At 488 Edison is the house built by contractor W.J. Hamilton for Charles Ogilvy, the Ottawa Department store owner. At Kenwood and Edison there is a nice log cabin style house. At 852 Byron Avenue is A.N. Dunning's home built in 1911. Built of decorative concrete block it looks a bit like a Scottish highland castle and sometimes catches the eye of drivers going by on Richmond Road.
The Churches of Westboro
All Saints Anglican Church at 347 Richmond Road was built in 1865. This fine stone church was built on lands that were contributed by the Thomsons. James Skead gave a generous donation in support of its construction. The architect for the church was Thomas Fuller who is better known for the Parliament buildings which he also did. Fuller went to England to study the designs of rural churches there before designing this one. During the 19th century this church stood by itself in an idyllic rural setting - it was in the middle of no where basically and not just another building in a street and district full of them. Town hall beside it, for example, was not built until thirty years later. The elders of the church like to point out the spikes from the mill workers shoes on the floor at the back, while the floor at the front, where the rich folk sat is not marred in the same way. All Saints is the mother church of the missions of St.Luke, St.Martins (Woodroffe), and St.Stephen's (Brittania).
At 307 Richmond Road is the old Methodist Church built in 1888. It is now the Westboro Baptist Church. The exterior of the church is of well built stone while the inside of this church of this church is not particularly impressive or old looking. Someone unclear on the heritage concept iconoclastically chistled out the name and date on the stone plaque (Methodist Church 1888) beside the front door. There is some nice woodwork if you look up at the front along the roof.
The Presbyterian Church, now the United Church, at 450 Churchill was built in 1913. The Presbyterian church united with the Methodist church to become the United Church of Canada.
The Westboro Masonic Temple at 430 Kirkwood was dedicated on December 13, 1924. The formal name for the lodge, "Ionic Acacia", is carved in a stone plaque. Ionic was an order of ancient Greek architecture and acacia is a flowering tree, which with corn, is used in masonic emblems. The masonic sanctuary upstairs has beautiful old masonic carpets, masonic charters, masonic posters of King Solomon and other worthies and much other masonic paraphernalia from between the wars. It makes for a worthwhile visit whenever they have an open house. Many early churches of Ottawa had masons come to officiate at their building ground breaking service to ensure that the cornerstone of the church being built would be set square and well founded.
Across from the Canadian Tire store on Richmond Road at Patrica Street, behind a high opaque fence deliberately cloistered away from the view of passerbys. is the Sisters of the Visitation Chapel and Convent. This monastery was founded on the 15th of August, in the year 1910 when Madame La Superior Savoie, Margaret Marie de Verry, eight sisters coming direct from Anncey department of Hante France, together with nine Canadian sisters arrived in Westboro. The group took over the "old Holland house" which they enlarged and renovated. The chapel and other enlargements, on the west side, were built using grey limestone. After it was set up the nuns would earn some money by painting religious pictures and crafting religious artifacts. It is still an active nunnery.
The Maison Joan d'Arc of Westboro at Kenwood and Edison was associated with its sister house at 489 Sussex Street. It was set up as a school for young girls and women and the sisters would also devote themselves to social work. The French catholic parish church of Ste. Jeanne d'Arc de Westboro was established in 1923 at Evered and Wesley streets.
Schools and Public Institutions
1896 Nepean Town Hall (345 Richmond). The eastern portion of Nepean Township was annexed to Ottawa in 1950 although this hall continued to serve Nepean township until 1966. It is of fine stone construction with a pinned Roman arch on capitals. The interior has little to offer a visitor. Westboro was incorporated as a police village on June 10th, 1905.
There were two monuments to the old Westboro School board. These are the original Churchill Public School at 434 Churchill Avenue and Hilson Public School at Hilson and Richmond Road. Churchill Public was built in 1910 and brought down in 1990. Hilson was built in 1914 and torn down in 1997. The demolition of Hilson was a bit of a comedy of errors with the Ottawa Board tearing down a perfectly functional school while not having enough money to rebuild it and no guarantee that the larger almalgamated board would make rebuilding it a priority. Both old schools had stone plaques giving the name of the Westboro School Board, School Section (SS) No.2 of Nepean Township, and the date of building. On Churchill Public School the old plaque was installed on the restored entrance of the rebuilt school. Broadview Avenue Public School was built in 1916. Elmdale School on Iona was built in 1927. Nepean High School was built in 1922.
Hilson Public underwent a major enlargement around 1950 which hid the old building from the street and reduced its interest as a heritage structure. There was much to admire in the old two story brick building with its aslar stone base. It had well-made brick arches and the architect used brick flanges to stiffen the walls. Inside there was wooden windows with brick and stone lintels, ceramic tile work in the hallways, and embossed decorated tin on the ceiling. When they tore it down they found asbestos insulation inside and that complicated the demolition. Hilson Public is in the process of rebuilding (May 1998) itself into a fancy new school soon so that the second Nepean SS No. 2 plaque may become public again.
The Westboro Village War Memorial is in the long park at Cole and Byron. The Highland Park Lawn Tennis and Bowling Club was organized in 1914.
Westboro Commerce and Industry
The store-front merchants of Westboro are located along Richmond Road while along Scott Street, where the railway ran through, is the warehouse and light manufacturing district. Besides the few of shop buildings west of Churchill which have a pleasant oldish character there are few reminders of the commercial life in Westboro which is over a century old.
Ketchum Manufacturing Co. started in 1918 as a metal stamping business but lately produces livestock identification tags which are marketed around the world. One of Westboro's outstanding businesswomen, Isabel Percival, was president of Ketchum Manufacturing for nearly 70 years. She took over the presidency of the firm at 18 years old when her father died.
Bruce Elliott lists Westboro industries such as the Westboro Coal and Builder's Supplies (1920), the Westboro Monument and Wire Works (1928) , the furniture factory of the Westboro Woodworkers which was a subsidiary of Ogilvy Department Store and these are all gone. Tubman's Funeral Home was established in 1925 according to their black granite sign. Their elegantly refurbished 408 Richmond Road building is new. Some of the advertisers in the 1927 History of Westboro are:
The railway corridor was the oldest and most natural industrial zone of Westboro. Even today a linear strip of factories and warehouses following Scott Street and the Transitway divides and impinges upon residential areas . Late in 1947 Westboro council agreed to ban further industrial development on Dominion and Berkley Avenues, north of the Ketchum plant. In October 1947 the township planning board recommended that a second industrial park be reserved north of the CPR line between the Cummings and Independent Oil property. The goal of a modern planned industrial park for Westboro was not achieved by the time of Westboro's annexation to Ottawa in 1950.
As a result of these frustrations about finding land zoned for industrial use, companies attracted to the urban area by cheap land and low taxes located not in these non-existent industrial zones, but rather along Richmond Road and Scott Street. At Richmond Road and Hilson, site of the Heney estate, is the Canadian Bank Note Company building which set up their security printing business at that location in 1948. It has an impressive entrance with neo-classical columns and a large cast business insignia. Behind the company building is a forgotten piece of forest. R.L.Crain opened its forms manufacturing plant in 1947. In 1949 a Pepsi-Cola bottling plant opened around there.
Of late Richmond Road has become a trendy place to locate stores with
fine furnishing like oriental carpets, Otto's BMW and LandRovers, antiques,
framing, etc. Two modern enterprises located here are the Rogers
Cable and the Regional Muncipality building.
Bibliography and Resources
Westboro - Ottawa's Westmount - June 21, 1913 (reprinted November 1978)
History of Westboro 1927 Edited by W.E. Haughton and Charles E. Port. Reprinted under the auspices of the Westboro Board of Trade and NewsWest 1980. Reprint edited by Shirley Shorter - Heritage Westboro.
The City Beyond - A History of Nepean, Birthplace of Canada's Capital 1792-1990 Bruce Elliott, Nepean, 1991. Corporation of the City of Nepean.
Readers curious about what other Georgian era pioneer buildings are still remaining in the west-end may want to look up the following:
The Bayne House, 40 Fuller Street, was built of stone in 1828 by Corporal William Ross and two men of the Royal Sappers and Miners engaged in building the Rideau Canal. They were working for George Bayne, who had settled in 1826. Corporal Ross married Bayne's daughter Ann. He enlarged the house in 1858 at which time he was one of the most successful dairy farmers in Ontario. Grete Hale, chairwoman of Morrison-Lamothe foods lives there now.
35 Armstrong Street. This house was built about 1845 for Judge Christopher Armstrong, (1801-1874), an Irishman who came to Canada in 1819, and studied law in Toronto. In 1842 he was appointed Judge of the District and Surrogate Courts in the new district of Dalhousie, which became in 1850 the County of Carleton. This house was once set back from Richmond Road in spacious grounds. It was occupied in the 1950's by the Grey Sisters.
At the intersection of Richmond Road and Carling is a squared log building
known as the old Forge. A forge there was shown on Wallings
map of 1863.