a peek inside the fishbowl

26 Sep, 2006

a bit of a history lesson

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Westboro

For anyone following the development of the Maison Jeanne D’arc … I received a wonderfully detailed email from Bruce Elliot, historian and professor at Carleton University.

Here it is, in its entirety (reproduced with permission):

The designation process is most often initiated by owners, and public awareness and LACAC activity to identify structures of interest for a long time tended to concentrate on the downtown core.

I don’t think my Nepean history “The City Beyond” does much more than note the year of the building’s construction. I suspect Jeanes knows more about it than I do. There may be a file on it in my Nepean research papers at Nepean Museum, in the schools or religious buildings section of files, but if there is it is unlikely to be more than a clipping or two. Still, it might be worth inquiring. I know the school was at one time hoping to buy the empty field west of Maplelawn and build a new school there, but withdrew in the face of neighbourhood opposition (though the prospect of a school may end up looking pretty benign compared with what could conceivably end up there some day). In 2002 they relocated to a site off Iris, and I don’t know what the old building has been used for since ….

You might also inquire of Serge Barbe at the City of Ottawa Archives, though that institution does not have records for either the Separate School Boards or the local archdiocese or religious orders. The R.C. Archdiocesan Archives on Kilborn would probably have architectural plans, records of alterations, etc., …

Maison Jeanne-d’Arc is a difficult building to find another use for given its location in the heart of a residential area. Is Hobin’s plan to renovate the building for condominium apartments, or tear it down to get the site? It is an interesting and attractive institutional building unlike anything in its vicinity either stylistically or in size (when originally constructed), and as such it has always been a particular point of interest.

It sits at the junction of two significant streets. You mention Kenwood, which was the most upscale street in Highland Park, its character dictated by higher lot prices and restrictive covenants in the original deeds from John Cole, the original developer.  Much of Kenwood has been comparatively little altered (though there has been some recent rebuilding even there). The Collenette house was formerly the residence of architect William Abra, and the Geldart/R.A. Bell house is not far away. I don’t think anyone has researched the whole street. It would be a useful exercise that I should talk to David Jeanes about for a possible student project (I teach history at Carleton). Edison is a street with an unusual variety of older housing, including some of the most distinctive houses in the west end right at that very intersection, including the Charles Ogilvy house with its strong but so far anonymous echoes of Frank Lloyd Wright and Prairie School architecture, and the distinctive early 1940s log house across the street that belonged to the owner of a local planing mill. Hobin of course did the infill housing on the Ogilvy property; if the school comes down and is replaced with more of the same it would certainly alter quite dramatically the character of the neighbourhood.

I understand your broader point about the neighbourhood, too; I live on Broadview. The more general problem in the area is that there are many smaller houses on large lots, in an attractive residential area reasonably close to downtown. In the Glebe the houses tend to fill the frontage of their lots, and while they can be enlarged to the rear (and that goes on apace in Westboro, too), they are less often demolished simply to get the lot for redevelopment. And of course for everyone who hires an architect to design something appropriate that might fit in or enhance the neighbourhood, there are ten who simply hire a suburban builder to put up something big. It is a difficult problem. Neighbourhoods do evolve, but it is often disturbing to those who located there because they liked their original character. The City’s website explains that “Heritage District designation can apply to a collection of buildings, streets or open spaces that are of special significance to the community. A district should convey a definite sense of time and place.” This makes it difficult to apply in an area like Westboro where most streets were not developed all at once and reflect a wide array of housing from late 19C or early 20C via 1920s and 1950s to recent replacements and infill. Arguably it is the scale of development, the lot sizes, and the mix of older housing and tasteful upgrades that together give Westboro its character. These are precisely the aspects that are now at risk, with developers and builders arguing that their changes accord with the City’s intensification policies.  The latter were not intended to radically alter the character of existing neighbourhoods, but one can’t help but feel that the process has become developer-driven. 

Professor Elliot brings up some good points.

Part of my response to him:

> I’m not sure where I’m going with all of this. It might not be feasible to
> keep it. I’ve read about all kinds of old heritage places that just fell
> into disrepair and were torn down anyway as a result of the neglect.
> That being said, I’m still really keen on seeing the developer’s plans. I
> would definitely argue for fewer homes. Mature trees. Greenspace. And a
> sidewalk. Children walk to school along that route. I can’t help
> but wonder what all those additional homes would do to traffic patterns.
> You said: “but one can’t help but feel that the process has become
> developer-driven.” I agree. I find it all disheartening. Developers like
> Barry Hobin really push the boundaries. Because the real estate market is so
> hot he’s built a few very large duplexes, probably maxxing out the space he
> has allowed by municipal law. They’re pretty, I admit, but monstrous. It
> makes financial sense for him. He buys one larger lot and builds two houses.
> It’s double the profit.

Anyway, yes, it will be interesting to see where this all goes. I heard there will be an article about it in the next issue of the Kitchissppi Times. We’ll know more soon enough.

1 Response to "a bit of a history lesson"

1 | margaret thomson

September 26th, 2006 at 7:12 pm


I have written an email to Coutts conveying my dismay that there is such intense development of these spots that become available in Westboro or anywhere in Ottawa. I agree with Bruce Elliot’s remarks. I think that Westboro should be considered by now a Heritage District if that means there can be an acknowledgement that there is something worth preserving as it is now at least.
Who cares if Hobin’s design’s are attractive. They are dense for the area.

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