They’re easy to spot when you’re walking along any of Ottawa’s busy streets. They’re designed to be recognized.
Our October 13, 2021 presentation is about the traffic control boxes at many of Ottawa’s intersections; not of the drab utility boxes themselves, but about the colourful history lessons that have been applied to them to remind you of what Ottawa used to look like 10, 50, or 100 years ago, and to tell the story of a significant event that took place near each control box.
David Dean has been a professor of History at Carleton University since 2000. He got the kiosk project moving forward in 2015 with utility boxes along Bank Street, to tell the story of the local businesses. This early stage was completed in collaboration with the Workers History Museum and the Carleton Centre for Public History. The Capital History Kiosk Project expanded city-wide in 2017, as part of Canada’s 150th Anniversary celebration.
Danielle Mahon is an MA student as Carleton. She talked about the process of gathering information on each kiosk, and uploading location information on the kiosks to the Capital History website, at www.capitalhistory.ca. Students have also assisted in the project to add QR codes at each traffic box so that pedestrians can scan the code with a cell phone to read more about the history depicted at each box.
Being the national capital, there is no shortage of stories to tell about Ottawa, and fortunately there is no shortage of control boxes. David notes that the city as about 19,000 of them. The kiosk project is expanding as more research is done, so don’t be surprised if you see a new one next time your walking, jogging, or cycling around town.
Visit the HSO YouTube channel for to view the full presentation about the Capital Kiosk Project.
Imagine going online 500 years ago to find something on Google Maps. You’d see no grid of streets with familiar, mostly British names; no array of colourful icons directing you to coffee shops or LRT stations. What you’d have seen then is a vast wilderness broken only occasionally by a few narrow, meandering paths. These trails were winding, not because the trail makers were lost, but because the trail makers were following the path of least resistance. To the Anishinabe traders, trappers and hunters, it made more sense to go around a steep hill rather than over it. It was easier and safer to go out of your way to cross a river at its narrowest or calmest point.
The indigenous trails that criss-crossed the Gatineau and Ottawa valleys were ignored in later centuries by civil engineers and town planners who preferred their roads to be as straight as possible, regardless of the lay of the land. As a result, the early trailways of the Ottawa area have all but vanished, but thanks to Dr. Peter Stockdale, they’re coming back to life.
Peter is continuing his research to find the routes used by the Anishinabe, to have these trails marked with informative plaques, and where possible turned back into public trails for recreational use. Peter is the founder of Kichi Sibi Trails.
In his research, Peter has confirmed that there are different types of indigenous trails. Portage trails cross the highland between watersheds. Ritual trails were often challenging walks that lead to remote vistas were the solstice and equinox events could be watched. There are also possible “war paths” that the Anishinabe of this area may have used as much for defence as for attack. Peter is still looking into the heritage of these types of trails.
We were also fortunate to have Barb Sarazin and Merv Sarazin join in on Peter’s discussion. Barb and Marv are current councilors of the Algonquins of Pikwakanagan First Nation. Barb told a personal tale about her family and how they came to be involved in the affairs of the First Nation. Merv talked about his preferred way to get around; which is by canoe. Although land trails that Peter has been investigating were necessary to get to final destinations, the rivers and streams were the main highways for Anishinabe travelers. Merv has been making canoes since we was a child.
Find out more about the ongoing work that Peter and his team at Kichi Sibi Trails have undertaken at the Kichi Sibi Trails Facebook page.
Check out the HSO YouTube channel for a video of the full presentation.
If there’s one area of Ottawa that seems devoid of history, it’s easy to imagine Tunney’s Pasture being that place, but our September 29th guest speaker, Dave Allston managed to add some humanity to the story of an area famous for its dehumanizing buildings and wide, vacant parks. Tunney’s Pasture has a much richer history than you might expect.
Dave is a long time resident of Ottawa’s west end, and maintains a website, The Kitchissippi Museum, dedicated to telling the stories of communities like Hintonburg, McKellar Park, and Britannia.
A number of developers in the early decades of the 1900s had dreams of building neighbourhoods in Tunney’s Pasture but these failed. A few factories moved into the area, close to the railway tracks, but otherwise the area remained as its present name suggests: acres and acres of pasture. When a small community finally did develop during the Depression it was an isolated collection of shacks, forgotten by following generations. These homes remained in dwindling numbers until the late 1950s when they were finally removed by the federal government when the office development went up. Dave’s presentation included some touching photos of the poor families that managed to eek out an existence in homes without heat, electricity, and running water. At a time when even Ottawa’s finer neighbourhoods were suffering through a deep Depression, the residents of Tunny’s Pasture had a particularly sad tale to tell. Yet as Dave noted in his presentation, the people in his collection of rare photos all seem to be smiling.
It makes you think that perhaps Tunney’s Pasture was not so bad a place at all. Certainly Dave’s presentation proved that Ottawa’s enclave of office towers has an interesting past.
Visit Dave’s website at kitchissippimuseum.blogspot.com for more stories about Tunney’s Pasture and of Ottawa’s other west end communities.
Check out the HSO YouTube channel for a video of Dave's full presentation.
You can say that the Historical Society of Ottawa’s guest speaker for September 15, 2021 is certainly an accomplished speaker. From 1973 to 1980, Jim Hurcomb was a familiar voice on CKCU-FM, Radio Carleton. From 1980 to 2000, Jim hosted a number of programs on CHEZ-106, including the morning show, and the afternoon variety show, In the City. From 2000-2008, Jim worked at CFRA Radio.
In all these years of jockeying everything from vinyl records to MP3s, Jim has gathered a wide collection of memories of the music scene in Ottawa. Did you know that Elvis Presley performed live only three times in Canada, and that one of these stops was at the old Auditorium on O’Connor Street?
Although Jim talked briefly about the big stars who visited Ottawa, the main theme of Jim’s presentation was Ottawa’s hometown bands. Most were short lived groups whose hits played only on the local stations. One of these, The Staccatos had a song, titled Signs that did not do well. Then the band took on a new name, The Five Man Electrical Band. They re-released Signs and this time around it went to the top of the Canadian and US charts.
Paul Anka is perhaps Ottawa’s most famous songwriter. His songs were hits in the US and Europe, but Anka was not well respected in his home town. As Jim noted, the movement in music in Ottawa was towards a hard-driving rock sound, while Anka was writing popular, but otherwise conventional love songs that didn’t have the kind of edge Ottawa’s music fans were craving.
Jim’s presentation was only able to scratch the surface of Ottawa’s music scene, but you can read more about Ottawa’s early rock and roll history in his new book, Rockin’ on the Rideau, available at amazon.ca or at local bookstores. You can also catch Jim on LIVE 88.5, Sunday nights at 9 pm for his show, The Sound of the Underground.
You can watch the full presentation on the HSO's YouTube channel.
Our last presentation before the summer 2021 break took us halfway around the world but the story resonated here in Ottawa in 1979. After seeing stories on the news about the plight of refugees fleeing Cambodia and Laos and Vietnam, Ottawa mayor Marion Dewar anxiously arranged a public meeting at Lansdowne Park to gauge the interest within the city for sponsoring refugees in desperate need. Dewar expected about 500 people to show up, but when she arrived to open the meeting she discovered that 3,000 had arrived to do their part to provide new homes for refugees fleeing war-torn countries.
It is at this point in our story where two of the evening’s three guest speakers enters the picture.
Michael Molloy was the director of refugee policy in Canada from 1976 to 1978 and Senior Coordinator for the Indochinese Refugee Task Force. Canada had never before experienced a refugee crisis of such magnitude, so Mike and his colleagues had no playbook to go by to process refugees and get them safely to Canada.
The second speaker for the evening was Robert Shalka. He was in Thailand and had hoped initially to settle refugees there but realized that Canada was going to have to do its part to find homes for those forced to flee Cambodia and Laos. Robert spoke about processing centres in Singapore, Bangkok and other places in Asia and of the challenges of interviewing refugees, reconnecting separated families, finding resettlement lands in Thailand, or arranging transportation to Canada for refugees, as well as the process in Canada of organizing sponsors.
In 2017, Mike and Bob and two other foreign service offers, members of the Canadian Immigration Historical Society, collected their stories into a book, Running on Empty, which you can order through the McGill-Queen’s University Press website, at mqup.ca.
Last to speak was Rivaux Lay, who was in Thailand during the crisis, a Cambodian refugee himself, contributing as a social worker, translator and teacher’s aide at the refugee camps. You need to hear Rivaux’s story in his own words to fully appreciate what he went through in those horrific years, finally came to Canada, after helping so many others before him.
Our guest speaker for May 12, 2021 was James Powell, who is a long-time member of the Ottawa Historical Society, and a director on the HSO board.
For his presentation James spoke about one of the most tragic heroes in Canada’s history. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was murdered near his Sparks Street apartment on a chilly April evening in 1868. James talked about McGee’s early life in Ireland and his brief stay in the United States. While in the US he visited Canada, and it was here that McGee felt Ireland’s poor could find opportunities unavailable at home. Feeling that union of the French and English cultures would cultivate equality for all people, he promoted a greater Canada, thus becoming a Father of Confederation in the two years prior to his murder. It’s sad to think that a man who saw so much promise in Canada would be one of the few in this country’s history to be the target of a political assassination.
James also told the story of the man put on trial for McGee’s murder, and gave us an account of the suspicion surrounding Patrick Whalen’s conviction and execution.
Our meeting on April 28, 2021, was as much a romance story as it was a history lesson. HSO member Dorothy Phillips has researched the life of the Duke of Devonshire, Victor Cavendish and his wife, Lady Evelyn Petty-Fitzmaurice, which the duke affectionately called “Evie”. In 2017, Dorothy assembled her extensive research into a book, Victor and Evie: British Aristocrats in Wartime Rideau Hall.
Unlike many of Canada’s governors general who accepted their posting as just a stepping stone to better political opportunities in the UK, or to a future diplomatic assignment in a warmer part of British Empire, Victor Cavendish loved the time they spent in Ottawa. The couple contributed much to the city’s life. Evie was well known as a gracious host, holding twice-weekly dinners for government officials, and Saturday afternoon skating parties for the common folk. Victor and Evie spent their summers at a cottage at Blue Sea Lake, about 100 km north of Ottawa. Their eldest daughter Maud was the first child of a governor general to be married in Ottawa.
Evie was already familiar with Rideau Hall when her husband became governor general in 1916. She had lived in the same Governors’ Mansion as a teenager when her father, The Marquess of Lansdowne was Canada’s head of state.
In recent years we’ve enjoyed many presentations by Phil, where he has brought a joyful presence to Ottawa’s past, in story and song, but Phil has a special passion for the old neighbourhood of LeBreton Flats, and it’s hard to tell the story of this community without diving into the troubled waters of this troubled land. Vacant since the late 1960s, there’s a generation of Ottawa residents unaware that a close-knit community once thrived here before it was removed as part of something called “urban renewal”.
Phil has many stories to tell of LeBreton, and he has gathered them together in his iconic book titled An Acre of Time.
LeBreton Flats may not have been some people's idea of a paradise but Phil shares many endearing stories from that lost community, lamenting the missed opportunities to save the neighbourhood, and to warn us of the possible mistakes that could be made in the LeBreton’s future.
Also very enjoyable is Phil's latest book, As I Walked About which you will find on his website, at philjenkins.ca.
Our March 31st guest speaker shares an interest history’s darker side. Author of nine award-winning books on Canadian history, Charlotte Gray published Murdered Midas: A Millionaire, His Gold Mine, and a Strange Death on an Island Paradise in 2019 to tell the story of the rise to wealth, and the unsolved murder of Sir Harry Oakes.
Harry’s life was not a rags-to-riches story (his father was a lawyer, and Sir Harry studied to be a doctor) but his life became one of adventure (with a bit luck here and there) that lead to his becoming one of the world’s wealthiest men. Harry made some famous and influential friends along the way, but it’s possible that one of these might have been responsible for his brutal death.
Charlotte traveled to such diverse places as the silver mines of Kirkland Lake and the elegant mansions of the Bahamas, in search of details on the life and death of the mining magnate who was considered a generous philanthropist and gentleman to some, and a crude and arrogant monster to others. Which of these is the true version of Sir Harry? You’ll have to watch the video of Charlotte’s presentation to find out how she feels about this Murdered Midas.
The Historical Society of Ottawa went underground for our March 10th presentation, following author Andrew King on a journey to some of the hidden secrets of Ottawa’s past.
In 2019, Andrew wrote Ottawa Rewind: A Book of Curios and Mysteries. This was a collection of stories Andrew had written individually for local publications, about lesser-known people, places and events in Ottawa’s past. He followed this book up recently with Ottawa Rewind 2: More Curios and Mysteries, which takes a more “in-depth” look at the city beneath our feet.
One of Andrew’s earliest investigations lead to historic Pooley’s Bridge in search of a cave. Years earlier some girls had found the cave by accident, entered and followed the dark path about 150 feet before turning back in a panic after hearing what seemed to be the sound of mournful organ music.
Other secret passages are not so hard to find. One of the more curious of these is in plain sight, near the steps that lead from the Rideau Canal locks up to Parliament Hill.
Andrew not only searched for the location of the city’s many hidden tunnels, passageways and “subterranean secrets”, he mapped them out in 3D to help us better visualize where these mysterious place are; in case you’re interested in following Andrew’s path of research. Or, if you’d rather play it safe, watch the video of Andrew’s presentation and let him tell you his stories.