The Chaudière Ring Dam

19 December 1908

It would be hard to underestimate the importance of the Chaudière Falls to the development of the city of Ottawa. Along with the Rideau Canal, the city owes its existence to the power that was (and continues to be) generated at the Falls. Indeed, one could argue that without the Falls, the lumber industry, which was the economic life blood of the city through the nineteenth century, would have located elsewhere. And without its mills, it’s hard to imagine that little Ottawa would have been a viable candidate to be the capital of Canada in 1857 notwithstanding its ideal location.

From the early nineteenth century, settlers recognized the energy potential of the Falls. Lumber mills popped up on both sides of the River as well as on the islands that straddle the border between Ontario and Quebec, including the Wright’s, Chaudière, Victoria, Albert and Amelia Islands. Logs cut in the Ottawa hinterland were floated down the Ottawa River and its tributaries to these mills. In the years before electricity, the mills were powered by water wheels.

By the early 1880s, water-powered turbines had advanced to the point where it was economic to convert the energy of flowing water into electricity. The first hydro-electric plant in North America opened in 1881 on the U.S. side of the Niagara Falls. That same year, E.B. Eddy used a generator run by waterpower to power arc lights in his lumber, match and woodenware factory in Hull.

By the mid-1890s, Ottawa was known as the “Electric City,” due importantly to the development of electrical power made possible by harnessing the Chaudière Falls. At the time, it was estimated that 20 per cent of Ottawa’s population and 75 per cent of Hull’s population were directly dependent on the Falls for their livelihoods.

The two men most responsible for this electrical revolution, were Thomas Ahearn and Warren Soper. Ahearn was an inventor par excellence, Canada’s answer to Thomas Edison, while Warren Soper was the man with the business acumen. Together, the duo formed a powerful partnership that dominated Ottawa for a generation. In 1896, the Illustrated Buffalo Express newspaper wrote:

Through the splendid supply of cheap power afforded by the falls, combined with the business foresight and ability of two of its citizens [Ahearn and Soper], Ottawa has led the van, not only for the Dominion but also in many respects for the continent, in the way of the development of practical electricity.

In addition to powering a timber industry worth $5 million per year, a huge sum in those days, Ahearn and Soper’s Ottawa Electric Company provided power to many Ottawa-area businesses—as long as they were located within four miles of the generators at the Chaudière Falls. The Canadian Atlantic Railway Company’s repair shops in LeBreton Flats were powered by electricity. R.A. McCormick, a pharmacy on Spark Street, was heated electrically. The Ottawa Canoe Club even used an electric motor for hauling canoes out of the water. Ahearn and Soper’s electric railway system was also powered by hydro-electricity. The streetcar system had thirty miles of track with 40 cars running daily through the year. The streetcars were heated and lighted electrically, unheard of luxuries just a few years earlier.

The Ottawa Electric Company also provided street lighting throughout the city as well power for most of the 60,000 incandescent light bulbs in use in Ottawa at that time. The Buffalo newspaper enthused that is amounted to more than one bulb for every inhabitant, “a proportion claimed to be unequal by any other town of like size in America.”

While less expensive than using manufactured gas to light lamps, electricity did not come cheap, notwithstanding what the Buffalo newspaper said. In 1903, electricity reportedly cost 8 cents per kilowatt hour in Ottawa, equivalent to roughly $2 per kilowatt hour in 2019 dollars. The 2019 Ottawa Hydro’s off-peak rate is 6.5 cents a kilowatt hour.

Chaudiere Falls dam 3328647 Dept of Public Works

Picture of the Chaudière Ring Dam shortly after completion in December 1908, Department of Public Works, Library and Archives Canada, 3328647.

Growing demand for electricity as electrical lines were strung across the city, combined with economic growth, led to pressures to increase the production of hydro power at the Falls. However, conflicting interests and bickering among the power owners at the Chaudière caused long delays. On the Ottawa side of the river alone, there were 26 water lots lettered A to Z, most of which were controlled by electric power generators, lumber and flour companies. These lots were leased from the Dominion government for $100 per year. Added to the complexity of the problem was the fact that any agreement among the Ontario and Quebec power owners at the Grand Chaudière Falls had to respect the rights of power owners at the upstream Little Chaudière Falls. While the Dominion government recognized the importance of developing water power on the Ottawa river, it was not going to move until the private power owners came up with a solution to their disagreements.

In 1907, a settlement was finally reached among the water powers on the Ottawa River that settled “the vexed and prolonged differences between the users of water power at the Chaudière Falls.” The agreement was executed on the Ontario side by J.R. Booth, the Ottawa Electric Company, the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, the Ottawa Power Company, the Bronson Company, and the Ottawa Investment Company. On the Quebec side were the E.B. Eddy Company and the Ottawa and Hull Power Company. To facilitate matters, Thomas Ahearn and the Ottawa Land Association gave up their water rights at the Little Chaudière Falls.

The agreement was quite simple, and hugely profitable for the power producers. The Ontario and Quebec companies would share the water equally. They would also build a modern dam at the Chaudière Falls, replacing the existing submerged dam built forty years earlier. The new dam would raise the head of water at the cost of partially drowning the Little Chaudière Falls. For its part, the Dominion government would dam the upper reaches of the Ottawa river. By storing water upstream, water could be saved during the spring freshet and slowly released during the low water months of later summer and autumn. A steady, regulated flow of water would allow the hydro turbines to run more consistently and efficiently through the year. It would also improve navigation on the Ottawa River. As well, spring flooding would be mitigated. The City of Ottawa would also benefit. A higher water level behind a new dam would reduce the problem of anchor and frazil ice in the winter that blocked intakes to the City’s waterworks located upstream from the Falls. Anchor ice is submerged ice that forms in face-moving rivers at very low temperatures. Frazil ice is slushy ice that also forms in turbulent, super cold water.

Work began on a new dam in early August 1908 and proceeded rapidly in part owing to the Ottawa River’s extraordinarily low water level that year. The power owners established a committee in charge of the work consisting of George Millen, representing the north shore owners, William Baldwin, representing the south shore owners, and two engineers, J.B. McRae and William Kennedy Jr. Messrs. Quinlan and Robinson of Montreal were the contractors. The site’s superintendent was Mr. J. B. Laflamme who had considerable experience, having worked on the bridge across the Rio Grande River between the United States and Mexico at Eagle Pass and on the Trent Valley Canal. He kept a firm grip on the workers. He is reported as saying: “Two things I do not permit among my men are swearing and drinking.”  In charge of the concrete gangs was Uldric Marcotte would had worked on the piers for the Quebec bridge and the power dam on the Severn River at Ragged Rapids.

The first task was to take some two thousand soundings to determine the elevation of the river bed. Tests were also done to determine the velocity of the water at various points. Detailed drawings and specifications were approved for the contracts for concrete, steelwork, etc. Divers also cleaned the river bed. A temporary road to transport supplies to the site from the Chaudière Bridge was constructed along with a tool house, cement shed and a store shed.

Work began on the dam proper in late August on the Quebec side. Work commenced on the Ontario side shortly afterwards. As many as three hundred men were employed on the site working day and night to ensure that the dam was completed before the end of the season. The cost was $250,000.

Chaudiere dam winch 3326122 Topley LAC

The travelling winch used to raise the stoplogs that controlled the flow of the river, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, 3326122.

The dam consisted of 49 concrete piers and two abutments constructed in the form of an arc of a circle with a radius of 546 feet, 9 inches, with the centre of the arc situated at a point within the Big Kettle of the Falls. Each pier was made of reinforced concrete, with steel rods bolted together. 1¾ inch anchor bolts fasten the rods to the bedrock of the river. To construct the piers, a wooden mould, made exactly to the shape of the pier, was filled with concrete and allowed to set. Each pier was 39 feet 5 inches long and four feet thick on the upstream side and 2 feet thick on the downstream side. To protect them from ice floes in the winter, the upstream sides were faced with a curved ½ inch steel plate.

The final pier was completed at 2.45 pm on Saturday, 19 December 1908. When the last bucket of concrete was poured, workmen hoisted the Union Jack on an improvised flagstaff in the presence of the engineers and representatives of the contractor. So accurately were the piers positioned, that holes drilled in the steel beams that connected the tops of the piers were only ½ inch out when the final pier was connected.

In total, the construction of the Chaudière Ring Dam entailed the excavation of 7,400 cubic yards of rock, the laying of 8,926 cubic yards of concrete, and the installation of 700 tons of steel.

To regulate the flow of the river through the dam, large stoplogs of British Columbian Douglas fir were purchased from Cameron & Company, and transported by rail across the country, arriving in Ottawa by mid-November. There were 550 pieces, totally more than 300,000 board feet of lumber. According to their position in the dam, the logs, each roughly 24 feet long, came in three sizes, 14 inches x 16 inches, 16 inches x 16 inches, and 16 inches by 18 inches. They were lowered between the piers by an electrically-operated, travelling winch with a lifting capacity of 50 tons. The winch travelled along a rail laid on top of a concrete road that connected the piers.

By the summer of 1909, several thousand horse-power of electricity was ready for sale at $15 per horse power per year, equivalent to 1.7 cents per kilowatt hour. 14,000 additional horse-power (roughly 10 Megawatts) could be made available with the installation of additional generators. Once the government had completed the water storage dams on the Upper Ottawa, many times that amount could be generated.

The Chaudière Ring Dam was the principal source of electrical power in Ottawa for the next twenty years. By 1928, however, electrical demand finally outstripped what could be generated at the Falls. Increasingly, additional power had to be purchased from the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, later known as Ontario Hydro.

Chaudiere Ring Dam 2019

Aerial View of the Chaudière Ring Dam, courtesy of Jeff Young.

Today, the Chaudière Ring Dam produces 84.6 Megawatts of clean, renewable hydro-electricity. This is enough power to supply 58,000 homes. All of the six hydro-electric facilities in operation at the Chaudière Falls on both sides of the Ottawa River are owned and operated by Portage Power, a subsidiary of Hydro Ottawa. This includes Canada’s oldest operating hydro-electric plant situated on Victoria Island, which dates back to 1891. In 2017, Generating Station No. 5 located on Chaudière Island, was opened. Its state-of-the art powerhouse with four turbines was constructed entirely below ground. This permitted the creation of the Chaudière Falls Park with a viewing platform over the Falls, thereby restoring public access to the area for the first time in over 100 years.  To reinforce the eco-friendly nature of the new hydro facility, a fish ladder was installed to facilitate the migration of the American eel up the Ottawa River. As well, a sturgeon spawning bed was created to help restore the sturgeon population on the Ottawa River, devastated in the past by pollution.

Despite the environmental credentials of the hydro-electric facilities at the Chaudière Falls, the Chaudière Ring Dam remains controversial given its location at a site long considered sacred by Algonquin First Nations. The area, indeed all of Ottawa, remains unceded Algonquin territory. A “Free The Falls” group seeks the demolition of the Chaudière Ring Dam and the return of the Chaudière and Victoria Islands to their natural state or parkland.

 

Sources:

Back, Margaret, 2016. “Report of March meeting: Franz Kropp – Electrical Power Generation at the Chaudière Falls,” Historical Society of Ottawa, HSO Newsletter, June.

Illustrated Buffalo Express, 1896. “Making the Waterfalls Work,” 27 December.

Lambert, Lindsey, 2014. “Free Chaudiere Falls,” Ontario Rivers Alliance, https://www.ontarioriversalliance.ca/free-chaudiere-falls-lindsay-lambert/.

Ottawa Citizen, 1907. “Water Power Interests Settle Their Differences,” 25 November.

——————-, 1908. “Begin Work on Chaudiere Dam,” 11 August.

——————-, 1908. “Rapid Progress,” 18 August.

——————-, 1908. “Dam’s Progress,” 3 November.

——————-, 1908. “A Most Serious Condition,” 26 November.

——————-, 1908. “Piers Completed At Chaudiere,” 22 December.

——————-, 1909. “Ottawa’s Wealth Of Cheap Water Power,” 9 October.

——————-, 1909. “Electric Power Is Plentiful,” 6 November.

——————-, 1912. “Judge Gunn’s Report,” 2 December.

——————-, 2017. “Chaudière Falls opens up to the public with new viewing platform, free show, 10 October.

Portage Power, 2019. Portage Power, http://portagepower.com/.

 

The Inter-Provincial Bridge, a.k.a. the Royal Alexandra Bridge

12 December 1900

During much of the nineteenth century, only one bridge spanned the mighty Ottawa River linking the burgeoning community of Bytown, later known as Ottawa, with its sister town of Hull on the northern shore. Initially, this was the wooden Union Bridge which was completed in 1828 close to the Chaudière Falls. That bridge collapsed a few years later and was superseded by the Union Suspension Bridge in 1843. This bridge became the main thoroughfare linking Ontario and Quebec for the rest of the century. Condemned in 1919, it was replaced by the Chaudière Bridge which is still in operation today.

In 1880, the Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway Company built a railway bridge across the Ottawa River close to Lemieux Island. Initially called the Chaudière Railway Bridge, its name was later changed to the Prince of Wales Bridge in honour of the eldest son of Queen Victoria, the future King Edward VII. (When this name change occurred is uncertain but it was no later than 1887.) However, the Prince of Wales bridge did not carry pedestrian or carriage traffic, and was far removed from the city centre.

Alexandra Bridge Mikan 4459589

The Inter-provincial Bridge under construction, 1900, Library and Archives Canada, Mikan 4459589.

Discussion of a new interprovincial bridge to the east of the Union Suspension Bridge actually predated the construction of the Prince of Wales Bridge. In 1877, meetings were held at Ottawa’s City Hall on the construction of a railway and carriage road bridge linking Rockcliffe in Ontario with the small Quebec community of Waterloo on the north shore of the Ottawa. The plan was for the Ottawa & Toronto Railway Company to link its rails with the Montreal, Ottawa & Occidental Railway by way of the bridge. There were also plans to build a central depot near Elgin Street linking downtown Ottawa with the Rockcliffe bridge. But the scheme failed to gain political traction with the provincial or federal governments. Bridge supporters had hoped that governments would provide much of the $380,000 needed to fund construction.

In 1883, Sir Charles Tupper, the then Minister of Railways and Canals, put the kibosh on the proposal on the grounds that the road to the bridge had not been completed, and that the Quebec and Ontario governments had not provided any funding. Four years later, a similar proposal was mooted, with a bridge over the Ottawa at Rockland, Ontario. Supporters viewed it as an ideal Jubilee project to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden anniversary on the throne with the suggestion that it be called the “Victoria Inter-provincial Bridge.” The idea went nowhere.

In 1890, the Pontiac & Pacific Junction Railway (P.P.J.R.) and the related Gatineau Valley Railway Company came up with a new proposal for an interprovincial bridge to link Ottawa to Hull at Nepean Point with a central depot to be built at the Rideau Canal. The price tag was estimated at roughly $800,000 including the cost of building the approaches to the bridge on both shores.

This idea was warmly greeted by important Ottawa citizens and groups, including former mayor Francis McDougal. Ottawa’s City Council, the Ottawa Board of Trade, and the Trades and Labour Council. Other communities in eastern Ontario and western Quebec later came out in support of the proposal. In 1894, the City of Ottawa taxpayers voted in favour of By-law 1,458 to give a “bonus” of $150,000 to the P.P.J.R. upon the completion of a bridge for railway, carriage and pedestrian traffic. Instead of cash, the City would hand over 30-year debentures paying an interest rate of 4 per cent. There were conditions, however. Most importantly, the inter-provincial bridge would have to be completed by July 1897.

Applications for grants also went to the Ontario, Quebec, and Dominion governments. High-powered deputations of railway and municipal officials lobbied members of legislatures. Ontario came through with $50,000 in April 1895, only a fraction of what was sought. The Quebec government chose not to provide any funds. After much delay, the Dominion government provided $212,000. In the meantime, the City of Ottawa twice extended its deadline for the railway to qualify for its $150,000 bonus.

With financing, both private and public, adequately secured, and the plans approved by the Department of Railways and Canals, work finally commenced in February 1898. The bridge would carry a single-track railway line in the centre with two carriage roads and sidewalks for pedestrians. It was to be 1,300 feet long, excluding land approaches, with one cantilever span of 556 feet, two anchor, or flanking, spans of 247 feet each, and one truss span of 250 feet on the Hull side. Five piers would be constructed to support the structure with the deepest pier located in 70 feet of water. Messrs. McNaughton & Broder were awarded the contract for building the piers. Messrs. Sooysmith & Company of New York were the contracting engineers.  The Dominion Bridge Company of Montreal won the contract for the bridge’s superstructure.

Bridge engineers faced some difficult challenges in building the piers owing to sunken logs and sawdust littering the river bed. Before finding bedrock for pier two, workers had to go through eight feet of drowned boards and timbers. At pier three, sawdust thirty feet deep had to be removed using a “clam-shell” dredge. While there were federal laws against fouling waterways, the law apparently did not apply to the Ottawa River—a testament to the political strength of the Ottawa Valley timber barons.

After clearing away the debris at pier two, workers discovered that the bedrock was sharply sloped. To level the area, they blasted the stone using dynamite placed in holes and attached by wires to an electric battery on Nepean Point. Reportedly, the blasts were imperceptible until smoke and bubbles came to the surface of the river.  Caissons, built of twelve-inch thick wooden boards, were installed around the work sites. Into them, workers poured cement to form the base of the piers. Ten thousand barrels of cement were used in building the five piers. Stone for the masonry work came from quarries in Rockland and Eganville.

Alexandra bridge approach triple tracks and underpass road MIKAN 4269727

The Ottawa Approach to the Inter-provincial bridge, Nepean Point, William Topley/Library and Archives Canada, PA-009430.

Another challenge that workers faced was building the approaches to the new bridge, especially on the Ontario side of the River. Labourers carved out thirty-five feet from the face of the cliff at Nepean Point to form the roadbed. A considerable portion of Major’s Hill Park was also sacrificed to make the entrance into downtown Ottawa. As well, the stone abutments of Sappers’ Bridge were pierced to provide an entry for trains into the new central train station located beside the Canal. The stone abutments were replaced by iron and steel supports that allowed for room for the trains.

Given the engineering challenges, the extensive excavation work, and delays in obtaining needed supplies, the construction of the bridge took much longer than expected. There was also the occasional labour action. In January 1900, stone cutters downed tools when their wages were cut from $3 per day prevailing during the previous summer, to $2.50 per day at the beginning of December to only $2 per day.

Because of these delays, work was hurried to ensure that conditions for the Ottawa bonus were met. Despite the haste, however, there seems to have been few accidents, and the ones that did occur were relatively minor.

Whether or not the P.P.J.R. had met all the conditions to qualify for the City of Ottawa bonus of $150,000 in debentures became contentious. Some aldermen as well as the City’s engineer maintained that the railway had failed to meet an intermediate condition of spending a minimum of $50,000 on the construction by the middle of March 1898. Consequently, they wanted to withhold the bonus. The railway said otherwise and threatened to sue. In the event, the bonus was eventually paid. There was also controversy over the nature of the bonus. Since the time the bonus was originally agreed, interest rates had fallen from 4 per cent to 3 ½ per cent. This implied that market value of the debentures had increased significantly. Instead of $150,000, the bonus was effectively worth roughly $162,000. There were unfavourable comments in the press about the City’s financial acumen in promising to give the railway company marketable debentures rather than cash.

Alexandra bridge 12-12-00OEJ

The small announcement of the first bridge transit, 12 December, 1900. The Ottawa Evening Journal

Another hiccup along the way was a proposal by a consortium of investors led by the Hull & Alymer Electric Railway to build another bridge across the Ottawa River, with the Ottawa end coming out at roughly Bank Street. The idea was to provide electric streetcar service from Hull to the Ottawa shore of the Ottawa River. The proposal was warmly greeted by both the Hull and Ottawa city councils as well as the Ottawa Retail Merchants Association, especially as the backers of the bridge were not seeking public money. However, there was strong opposition from the Inter-provincial Bridge Company, which was owned by the P.P.J.R., that argued that the new bridge would divert business away from its bridge.  As well, the Ottawa Electric Railway owned by Thomas Ahearn, complained that should the Hull streetcar company provide service to Ottawa, even just to the Ontario shore of the Ottawa River, its monopoly rights would be infringed. The proposed Bank Street bridge failed to get a charter from the federal government despite several attempts.

By December 1899, the Dominion Bridge Company was ready to start building the building’s superstructure with six barge loads of steel on site. Work moved rapidly from that point. By October 1900, Ontario and Quebec were connected and work was underway in building the roadbed. Venturesome youth were spotted making the dangerous journey across the iron work from one side of the bridge to the other. On 12 December 1900, the first test train made its way over the new bridge without mishap and without fanfare. Only a small announcement in the Journal newspaper celebrated the event. A month later, Chief William F. Powell of the Ottawa Police Force and his wife were the first to drive their carriage over the bridge. They were initially stopped by a bridge guard, but were subsequently allowed to proceed when the Chief identified himself. In mid-February 1901, the inter-provincial bridge was checked out first by Dominion inspectors and subsequently by the City of Ottawa’s inspector and aldermen. Having received a positive assessment, the bridge opened to the general public for the first time at noon, 5 March 1901.

More test trains ran over the bridge, including one consisting of four heavy locomotives drawing several cars bearing heavy loads of stone and steel. Weighing more than 400 tons, far beyond the weight of a usual train, the idea was to test the endurance of the bridge. Not even the slightest tremor was felt.

Alexandra bridge from Nepean Point William James TopleyLACPA-009430

Inter-provincial Bridge a.k.a. Royal Alexandra Bridge, William James Topley, Library and Archives Canada, PA-009430.

Another less felicitous milestone occurred on 14 April 1901 when the bridge experienced its first accident. An approaching train spooked a horse pulling a rig occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Lahaise, the owners of a furniture store on Rideau street. The horse galloped across the bridge towards Hull and crashed into a carriage driven by Mr. and Mrs. James Cudd who were out for a pleasure drive. Mr. and Mrs. Lahaise suffered shock and bruises when they jumped from their rig to safety. Pedestrians were also sent scurrying to safety to get out of the horse’s path.  While the Lahaise carriage suffered no damage, the Cudds’ buggy sustained a badly twisted wheel and back axle.

The cross-bridge train service from the Hull Station to Ottawa’s new Central Station was officially opened on 22 April 1901; scheduled service had in fact commenced four days earlier. For the big event, both bridge and train were decorated with flags and bunting. On board, were city dignitaries and railway officials. Mr. John Lauzon was the first official paying passenger. Souvenir badges were presented to all on board that inaugural seven-minute journey. Conductor Hoolihan was in charge, with engineer Mr. W. McFall. As the train rolled onto the bridge, Mr. Noe Valiquette, the proprietor of the Cottage Hotel, broke a bottle of wine on the locomotive. Huge crowds of spectators standing on the Dufferin Bridge, greeted the arrival of the train into Ottawa.

Alexandra bridge today, wikipedia by SimonP

Alexandra Bridge today, by SimonP, Wikipedia

In August 1901, Ottawa’s Mayor William Morris suggested that the new inter-provincial bridge be called the Royal Alexandra Bridge in honour of the wife of King Edward VII. The bridge’s railway owners readily agreed with the suggestion. The bridge’s “christening” was planned for the following month when Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York, (the future King George V and Queen Mary), came to Ottawa for the unveiling of a monument to Queen Victoria on Parliament Hill. It was proposed that the Duchess would press a button to illuminate the bridge. However, while the bridge was decked out in electric lights, which spelled out the words “Royal Alexandra Bridge” in twelve-foot letters on its side as part of the illumination of the City done specially for the Royal Visit, contemporary newspaper accounts don’t mention whether the Duchess turned the lights on. However, the royal couple did cross the bridge by carriage to visit Hull which was still recovering from the great fire of 1900.

When the Central Station, called Union Station from 1920, was closed for train traffic in 1966, the train tracks on the Alexandra Bridge were removed and the bridge converted entirely to vehicular traffic. Today, the venerable Alexandra Bridge, the oldest bridge in service across the Ottawa River, is approaching the end of its life. Owned by the federal government, there is talk that the bridge will be replaced within the next five to ten years

 Sources:

Montreal Gazette, 1995. “From The Queen City,” 11 April.

Ottawa Citizen, 1877. “The Inter-Provincial Bridge Scheme, 13 November.

——————, 1877. “The Inter-Provincial Bridge,” 14 November.

—————–, 1883. “Dominion Parliament,” 18 May.

—————–, 1887. “Queen’s Jubilee – Bridge Over The Ottawa,” 23 March.

—————–, 1895. “The Inter-provincial Bridge,”31 January.

—————–, 1997. “New Bridge For The Ottawa,” 22 November.

—————–, 1898. “Everything Arranged,” 11 January.

—————–, 1898. “Work Starts In A Few Days,” 1 February.

—————–, 1898. “Work On The Big Bridge,” 7 February.

—————–, 1898. “The First Pier Started,” 8 February.

—————–, 1900. “Work On Sapper’s Bridge,” 28 February.

—————–, 1900. “The New Bridge,” 17 November.

—————–, 1901. “Bridge Was Inspected,” 18 February.

——————, 1901. “Begun Three Years Ago,” 5 March.

——————, 1901. “The First Runaway,” 15 April.

——————, 1901. “Stood The Test,” 20 April.

——————, 1901. “Formally Opened,” 23 April.

——————, 1901. “Alexandra Bridge,” 8 August.

——————, 1901. “Alexandra Bridge,” 26 August.

——————, 1901. “The Duchess of Cornwall and York,” 21 September

Ottawa Evening Journal, 1887. “Cold Water,” 5 February 1887.

—————————–, 1893. “By-Law No. —,” 6 December.

—————————–, 1894. “Nepean Point Bridge,” 16 June.

—————————–, 1898. “Bank Street Bridge Defeated,” 14 April.

—————————–, 1898. “A Scene Of Great Activity,” 6 June.

—————————–, 1898. “A Stupendous Undertaking,” 15 October.

—————————–, 1900. “Train Over The New Bridge,” 12 December.

—————————–, 1901. “First To Drive Across,” 15 January.

—————————–, 1901. “To Be Named Alexandra,” 15 August.

Woodard, Rick. 2019. “Alexandra Bridge could be replaced within 10 years,” Global News, 19 March.

 

 

 

The Grand Chaudière Dam

16 October 1868

We have in our very midst unrivalled water powers, and it would argue the utmost lack of energy, the blindest fatuity, were they to remain undeveloped. “Impressions of Ottawa,” Ottawa Citizen, 6 November 1860.

The mighty Ottawa River, also known as the Kichissippi in Algonquin and the Outaouais in French, stretches more than 1,100 kilometres. Its source is Lac Capitmichigama in central Quebec from which it runs west to Lake Timiskaming before heading south to form the boundary between Ontario and Quebec, passing through the National Capital Region on its way to meet the St. Lawrence at the Lac des Deux Montagnes in Montreal. Its watershed covers an area of more than 146,000 square kilometres.

For countless generations, the Ottawa was a key transportation and trading route for the indigenous peoples of this land. Later, it became the route for European explorers and settlers into Canada’s interior. Led by native guides, Samuel de Champlain explored the Ottawa River in 1613. It subsequently became an important thoroughfare for French voyageurs and coureurs des bois trading manufactured goods with the First Nations for beaver and other pelts which were in high demand in Europe. Later still, loggers and lumbermen of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, who were exploiting the ancient forests of the Ottawa Valley, relied on the river to transport logs and square timber (logs that had been stripped of their bark and roughly squared) to markets.

With a vertical descent of 365 metres, the Ottawa River is turbulent and fast-flowing even today despite more than 50 dams and hydro facilities constructed along its main branch and tributaries.  According to the Ottawa Riverkeeper, the Ottawa is one of the most regulated rivers in Canada. Nonetheless, it remains a magnet for white-water canoers and rafters.

For nineteenth century lumbermen trying to bring rafts of logs down the Ottawa, its rapids and falls were a nightmare, posing dangers to life and limb. However, the entrepreneurs of Ottawa and Hull saw the potential for profit from those same rapids and falls if they could be harnessed to produce the motive power necessary to drive the big saws that processed the raw lumber. By damming the Ottawa, mill owners could channel the flow of water through their mills. A tamed river also meant a safer river for the log drivers.

One of the major obstacles on the Ottawa River was the Chaudière Falls, known as the Giant Kettle in English. In 1829, Ruggles Wright, the son of Philomon Wright who founded Hull, built a timber slide on the Quebec side of the river to permit logs and rafts of timber to bypass the falls. Three years later, another slide was constructed by George Buchanan on the Ontario side of the river. To build the slide, a dam was constructed that ran roughly parallel to the shore to divert water into a channel. (The dam can be seen in an 1832 plan of the first Union Bridge across the Ottawa River by Joseph Bouchette.)

Plan and elevation of Union Bridge by Burrows in Joseph Buchette, 1831, p.82 (2)

The initial 1832 dam built by George Buchanan can be seen in the middle left hand side of the map of the Chaudière Falls and Bridge from Joseph Bouchette, The British Dominions in North America, 1832.

In 1854, at the behest of the mill-owners and lumbermen of Bytown, the Department of Public Works of the Provincial Government, constructed a 640-foot dam with log booms on the south side of the Chaudière Falls. It extended from the pier built by George Buchanan at the head of his timber slide to Russell Island above the Falls. The purpose of the dam was threefold. First, it would provide a more constant supply of water during the low water summer months. Second, it would furnish a 140-acre pool of calm water for the storage of logs waiting to be processed in the adjacent mills. Previously, only a day’s worth of logs could be stored. Third, it would reduce the loss of timber inadvertently going over the Falls. It was reported that £3,000 pounds worth of logs was lost annually owing to the timber cribs getting into the wrong channel. There was no mention of the fate of the men driving the logs.

A second dam with booms was also constructed on the north side of the river to ensure a constant supply of water for the Hull mills. According to the Citizen, “There is no limit to the extent of the commerce that may be created by the mills and factories that can be put into motion by the water of the Chaudière.”

Despite the hyperbole, the newspaper was on to something. Between 1856 and 1860, the timber industry expanded rapidly with Messrs. Perley, Booth and Eddy joining timber pioneers such as Messrs. Baldwin, Bronson, Harris and Young. The millowners sought more River “improvements” to expand their capacity. Reportedly, the lumber barons, to whom the government had leased water rights, were “exceedingly irritated and annoyed” to go with out water for their mills during the low water summer months while at the same time “a mighty volume of water [was] plunging over the Falls.” With many mills forced to close for part of the year, there was a loss of profit, especially as mill owners tried to keep skilled workers on payrolls as long as possible fearing that they might leave the region if they were laid off. Even so, many found themselves temporarily unemployed during the low water months—a serious condition as there was no unemployment insurance. The Citizen opined that “fathers of families, others younger—the hope and strength of the country—[were] standing idle, in want of work…while the mighty volume of the Ottawa rushed by the silent mills uncurbed and useless to man.”

Mr. Baldwin proposed that the government build a submerged dam across the main channel a few hundred yards above (west of) the Chaudière Falls, to divert the river towards the lumber mills. However, excess water would continue to flow over the dam during periods of high water and avert spring flooding. The government was not convinced. To allay governmental concerns about potential flooding, Baldwin suggested lowering Russell Island, located at the south end of the proposed dam, by six feet to provide an additional area of discharge during periods of high water. During low water, it would stand above the waterline and would act as an auxiliary dam. He figured that the water running over the lowered island during the spring freshet would offset the obstruction caused by the proposed dam. Still unconvinced, the Department of Public Works refused to fund the project and demanded the backers of the project, should they go ahead themselves, provide bonds of indemnity to compensate landowners who might be flooded by the dam.

With the capital for the venture provided by “a large party of the leading residents of the city and others,” the project went ahead under the supervision of Mr. John O’Connor during the fall of 1868. The submerged dam was 350 feet long and 75 feet wide at the base, tapering to 24 to 48 feet wide at the top. It was built of strong crib-work filled in with stone and braced with longitudinal timbers faced with 5-inch thick planks upon which guard timbers were attached using iron bolts. Guard piers protected each end of the dam. Reportedly, workers excavated 8,000 tons of rock, presumably from Russell Island.  The project costed roughly $10,000, and was completed in five weeks using a workforce of 200 men.

The Grand Chaudière Dam was inaugurated on 16 October 1868, a day which the Citizen said would be “long remembered in the annals of the lumber interest of the valley.” The paper also praised the “enterprise of our American citizens—by whom the majority of the milling establishments at the Chaudière are owned.”

A few days later, sixty of the leading citizens of Ottawa assembled on Russell Island for a celebration to mark the completion of the dam, “and pledge a bumper to the health of the builder, and prosperity to the trade.” Chairing the gathering was Richard Scott, the Liberal member of the legislative assembly who represented Ottawa in the Ontario legislature. Other attendees included, Joseph M. Currier, the Conservative member of parliament for the City of Ottawa, Mayor Henry Friel, and a number of Dominion Government cabinet ministers despite the government’s earlier opposition to the project. Samuel Tilley, the Minister of Inland Revenue, apologized for the absence of Sir George Cartier and others who could not attend owing to important engagements elsewhere. James Skead, a prominent area businessman and senator, argued that similar works like the Chaudière dam were needed elsewhere on the Ottawa River.

Chaudiere Falls pre 1900

Map of the Chaudière area before the construction of the Chaudière Ring dam in 1908. The 1854 dam between Chaudière Island and Russell Island can be seen in the middle left of the map. The Grand Chaudière Dam is not visible.

The impact on timber production owing to the construction of the Grand Chaudière Dam was considerable. Reportedly, the small mill owned by Mr. Young increased its monthly production by 1 million feet of lumber, the product of 5,000 standard logs, during the first dry season after the completion of the dam. Extrapolating these figures to include the much larger operations of Messrs. Baldwin, Bronson, Booth and Perley, the Citizen calculated that a total of 13 million additional feet of lumber were produced every month during the dry season. With a dry season averaging three months, the value of increased production amounted to an estimated $507,000 dollars—a huge sum. As well, there was no flooding during the spring freshet as feared by the government. The expectations of the dam’s backers were more than fully met.

With the mills working at full capacity from the beginning to the end of the milling season, the Citizen wrote: The completion and successful working of the dam may be said to be the crowning point of numerous victories over great natural obstructions and difficulties. The vast water power which has for ages been conserved in the Chaudière Falls, has now been utilized to an extent which few of the last generation ever dreamt of, and which but few of the present generation, who thoroughly understood the difficulties, could, a few years ago, have supposed could be realized.

Today, the Grand Chaudière Dam, which permitted a huge expansion of the Ottawa timber business during the second half of the nineteenth century, is long gone. It was replaced by the Chaudière Ring Dam in 1908 which massively expanded the hydro-electric generating capacity of the Chaudière Falls, and provided the bulk of Ottawa’s electricity during the early twentieth century.

 

Sources:

Haxton Tim & Chubbuck, Don, 2002, Review of the historical and existing natural environment and resource uses on the Ottawa River, Ontario Power Generation, https://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/tim_haxton_report.pdf.

Ottawa Citizen, 1854. “No Title,” 29 July.

——————, 1854. “Ottawa Improvements,” 7 October.

——————, 1854. “Public Works On The Ottawa,” 28 October.

——————, 1868. “Inauguration Of The Great Chaudiere Dam,” 23 October.

——————, 1869. “The Pubic Works on the Ottawa And Its Tributaries,” 12 August.

——————, 1869. “The Lumbering Interests Of Ottawa, 16 August.

Ottawa Riverkeeper, 2019. Dams, https://www.ottawariverkeeper.ca/home/explore-the-river/dams/.

 

Lovers’ Walk

14 May 1938

When visitors come to Ottawa, they naturally gravitate to Parliament Hill to view the magnificent neo-Gothic Parliament Buildings, to stroll in the surrounding gardens where statues and memorials to Canadian sovereigns and statesmen abound and, of course, to take in the stunning views across the Ottawa River towards Hull and the Gatineau Hills. One hundred years ago, the number two Ottawa tourist destination was Lovers’ Walk—a pathway that wended its way around the Parliament Hill bluff roughly half-way up the escarpment. Surrounded by a hardwood forest and flowering shrubs, including lilacs and honeysuckle, the pathway commanded splendid views of the Ottawa River, with benches for the weary or for the amorous. Visitors to this tranquil wilderness could easily forget that they were in the heart of Canada’s capital city. According to a 1920s’ guide book, anyone who has not taken a stroll there “has not seen all the charms of the capital. In fact, he has missed one of the greatest of them.” Fast forward to today, you would be hard pressed to find an Ottawa resident who has any knowledge about this once-famous pathway.

LoversLaneAlbertype Company LAC PA-032894

Lovers’ Walk, Parliament Hill, Albertype Company, Library and Archives Canada, PA023894.

The history of Lovers’ Walk apparently dates back long before the arrival of the first Europeans to the Ottawa Valley. Accounts say that the pathway was used by Canada’s native peoples travelling along the southern banks of the Ottawa River. During the first half of the nineteenth century, raftsmen took this same route as a short cut moving to and from their homes in Lower Bytown and the timber chutes at the Chaudière Falls. Sometime after Confederation in 1867, the rough path was widened, decorative iron railings were fitted to protect users from falling, and staircases were installed at several points to give the general public ready access.

One story says that William Macdougall, the Minister of Public Works from 1867-69 in Sir John A. Macdonald’s first Dominion government, was responsible for upgrading the trail from a rough, dangerous track to a gentle path that even women dressed in the long gowns of the period could stroll along without fear of tripping. Macdougall, who was apparently a “hands on” type of Minister, stumbled upon the footpath when he was inspecting the construction of a ventilation shaft for the Centre Block on Parliament Hill.

Another story gives the credit for Lovers’ Walk to Thomas Seaton Scott, the Dominion Chief Architect from 1872-1881. Seaton was responsible for laying out the structured gardens that surround the Parliament Buildings as well as designing the Drill Hall on Elgin Street. According to this account, Seaton constructed the steps down from the formal gardens on top of Parliament Hill to allow the general public access to the wilder charms of the pathway.

Who actually came up with the name Lovers’ Walk is unknown. The first newspaper reference to this name appears in the Ottawa Daily Citizen in 1873. A visitor at about this time said that “no more appropriate name could be devised.”

LoversWalkDept. of InteriorLACPA-034227c.1920s

Steps down to Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Dept  of the Interior, Library and Archives Canada, PA-034227, circa 1920s.

In addition to tourists and Ottawa residents, the denizens of Parliament on top of the bluff also took advantage of the pathway, seduced by Lovers’ Walk’s winsome charms. Prime Ministers, Cabinet Ministers, Senators and ordinary Members of Parliament were all known to take breaks from the hard work of politicking to refresh themselves with a stroll through its sylvan beauty. Lovers’ Walk also attracted bird watchers. One avid amateur naturalist in the early 1930s spotted 59 different species from the pathway.

Lovers’ Walk could be accessed from either side of the Parliament Buildings. On the eastern side, there was a flight of stairs leading from roughly where the equestrian statue of Queen Elizabeth stands today. Another flight of stairs started from a location behind the Bytown Museum close to the locks on the Rideau Canal. On the western side of Parliament Hill at the end of Bank Street, behind the old Supreme Court of Canada, which was demolished in 1956, strollers entered the Walk through a stone gateway. Midway on the path there was a lookout with benches for those wanting to stop to rest or admire the views. There was also a lion-headed water fountain to refresh the thirsty. Unfortunately, strollers and lovers sometimes came across less-savoury elements who also frequented Lovers’ Walk. In 1875, there was a call for police to exclude “roughs” who amused themselves by throwing burrs onto ladies’ dresses. It was also advisable not to pick the flowers. In 1931, Mrs Pamela Cummings of 726 Cooper Street was fined $3 plus $2 court costs for stealing lilacs.

Lovers’ Walk was closed in the winter owing to snow and ice that made walking dangerous, but re-opened each spring, typically in May, once conditions were suitable. Given the steep nature of the hillside, there were frequent rockslides that were dealt with by the Department of Public Works. At the start of the First World War, the pathway was closed to the public and was patrolled by the Dominion Police. The authorities feared that German saboteurs could use Lovers’ Walk to access the ventilation shafts that aired the Centre Block. By cutting the iron protective grills, saboteurs could potentially plant explosives under the building and blow up Parliament. These precautions were discontinued after the Centre Block was destroyed by fire in February 1916.

LoversWalkTopley StudioLACPA-009322

Lovers’ Lane, Parliament Hill, Topley Studios, Library and Archives Canada, PA039-220.

By the 1930s, Lovers’ Walk was becoming less popular. With the Depression at its peak, the pathway had become the haunt of panhandlers and the homeless, and was considered unsafe for casual strollers. The Ottawa Journal reported that “the dregs of humanity would pan handle the lovers, even seek to molest them.” A “jungle” of tin-patched shacks built by homeless men sprung near the path close to the western entrance. The eastern end, close to the Canal locks, was described as the haunt of drunks whose wild shouts could be heard from men drinking denatured alcohol. Regular police patrols and RCMP efforts to dismantle the shacks did little. There were also dark allegations of immorality.

In the winter of 1937-38, two landslides washed out more than sixty feet of Lovers’ Walk. It never officially re-opened. On 14 May 1938, the Ottawa Citizen reported that to repair the pathway would cost over $30,000. Although the Senate Standing Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds, chaired by Cairine Wilson, recommended that the Department of Public Works take steps to stabilize the cliff face and reopen Lovers’ Walk, the repairs were not undertaken. During a time of depressed economic conditions, $30,000 was simply too much.

Besides landslides and the presence of “undesirables,” another possible factor behind the closure of Lovers’ Walk was concerns about Government liability. In 1933, a young boy had climbed over a gate when Lovers’ Walk was closed for the winter. He slipped on the ice, fell 50 feet, and was lucky to get away with only a broken femur. His father unsuccessfully tried to sue the government for his doctor’s bill. In 1937, a man, who had been sitting on a guard railing, broke his spine when he lost his balance and plunged down the cliff.

Some say that it was Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King who ordered the closure of Lovers’ Walk. However, another account says that King had wanted to keep it open and that it was only following extensive discussions with the RCMP, Public Works, and the Speakers of both the Senate and the House of Commons that the decision to close it was reluctantly taken. High barricades were installed at both ends to stop people from using the path now deemed unsafe.

By the 1950s, Lovers’ Walk was a “desolate ruin of crumbling masonry, rusted and broken iron guardrails and rotten wooden shoring.” What was left of the pathway was overgrown and narrowed by erosion. Empty bottles, and other refuse littered the place—evidence that the deteriorating ruins of Lovers’ Walk remained a refuge for the homeless sleeping rough during the summer months. After an intoxicated painter fell to his death in 1960, a coroner’s jury recommended that what was left of the pathway be destroyed to ensure public safety.

Nothing was done. The area got a fearsome reputation, especially at night. By the late 1960s, secretaries and clerical staff working late on Parliament Hill were fearful of using the stairs, which cross Lovers’ Walk, to get to the parking area known as “the Pit,” despite, according to the Ottawa Journal, “routine flushing out by the RCMP foot patrols of winos, ‘rub-a-dubs,’ vagrants and, more recently, hippies from their dormitory-pad along Lovers’ Walk.” In July 1968, ex-MP Herman Laverdière was stabbed and robbed by hooligans when he went to investigate a scream that had emanated from the wooded area after he left his office at 11 pm.

Notwithstanding the increasingly bad press, there were attempts during the 1960s to restore Lovers’ Walk to its former glory. Members of all major parties championed the pathway at various times. But with the price tag rising steadily, the government in power always demurred owing to the difficulty in controlling erosion on the escarpment. In the 1980s, when Jean Pigott was Chair of the National Capital Commission, there was another look at restoring the pathway. Again, it was deemed too expensive. In 2000, the Department of Public Works looked at rebuilding the pathway given the historic nature of Lovers’ Walk and the magnificent views of the Ottawa River. Again, the issue was put on the back burner.

Most recently, LANDinc was commissioned by Public Works to develop a strategy “to restore and reforest the slopes [of Parliament Hill] to ensure long-term sustainability.” Over time, invasive species, including the lilacs, would be removed and replaced by endemic shrubs and trees. In 2014, Graebeck Construction won a $4.78 million contract to rehabilitate the western slope of Parliament Hill and the perimeter wall. There was, however, no mention of re-opening Lovers’ Walk to the general public.

 

Sources:

Capital Gems, 2018, Lover’s Walk Ruins, http://www.capitalgems.ca/lovers-walk-ruins.html.

Canada, 1938. Senate Journals, 18th Parliament, 3nd Session, Vol. 76, p. 344, 24 June.

———-, 1960. House of Commons Debates, 24 Parliament, 3rd Session: Vol. 6, p. 6605-06, 20 July 1960.

LANDinc, 200? Parliament Hill Stabilization,” http://www.landinc.ca/escarpmentwalkway-1.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 1873. “Town Talk,” 7 July

————————-, 1875. “The Parliament Hill,” 20 March.

————————-, 1875. “The Lovers Walk,” 23 August.

————————-, 1926. “Lovers Walk As Seen In Seventies,” 24 December.

————————–, 1933. “Boy Injured On Parliament Hill,” 27 March.

————————-, 1937. “Has Romance Departed From Lovers’ Walk.” 16 January.

————————-, 1937. “When Sturdy Raftsmen Used Lovers’ Walk as Short Cut,” 6 February.

————————-, 1938. “Repair Works on Lovers’ Walk May Cost Over $30,000,” 14 May.

————————-, 1960. “Destroy Lovers’ Walk Jury’s Recommendation,” 20 May.

————————-, 1966. “Lovers find road to romance rocky on Parliament Hill,” 14 May.

————————-, 2000. “Behind the Hill: A Walk into history,” 22 May.

Ottawa Construction News, 2014. Graebeck Construction wins bid for Parliament Hill slope stabilization work, 1 February, https://ottawaconstructionnews.com/local-news/graebeck-construction-wins-bid-for-parliament-hill-slope-stabilization-work/.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1931. “Magistrate Warns Flower-Bed Vandals,” 29 May.

————————–, 1937. “Fear Spine May Be Broken,” 15 June.

————————–, 1938. “Sweethearts Missing Famous Lovers’ Walk,” 18 July.

————————–, 1939. “May Not Re-open Lovers’ Walk,” 26 May.

————————–, 1939. “Remember When?” 8 July.

————————–, 1942. “Lovers’ Walk Ruled ‘Dangerous,’ It Won’t Be Reopened,” 31 July.

————————–, 1968. “Perils of ‘The Pit’ Worry Hill Security Staffs,” 12 July.

Urbsite, 2009. Lovers’ Walk,” http://urbsite.blogspot.com/2009/12/lovers-walk.html, 29 December.

Windsor Star (The), 1952. “Today in Ottawa,” 23 August.

 

Sappers’ Bridge

23 July 1912

It ended with a crash that sounded like a great gun going off, the noise reverberating off the buildings of downtown Ottawa. After faithfully serving the Capital for more than eighty years, Sappers’ Bridge finally succumbed to the wreckers in the wee hours of the morning of Tuesday, 23 July 1912. However, the old girl didn’t go gently into that good night. It took seven hours for the structure to finally collapse in pieces into the Rideau Canal below. After trying dynamite with little success, the demolition crew rigged a derrick and for hours repeatedly dropped a 2 ½ ton block onto the platform of the bridge before the arch spanning the Canal gave way. Mr. O’Toole the man in charge of the demolition, said that the bridge was “one of the best pieces of masonry that he [had] ever taken apart.”

Sappers' Bridge Burrowes

View of the Rideau Canal and Sappers’ Bridge – Painting by Thomas Burrowes, c. 1845, Archives of Ontario, Wikipedia.

The bridge, the first and for many decades the only bridge across the Rideau Canal, dated back to the dawn of Bytown. In the summer of 1827, Thomas Burrowes, a member of Lieutenant Colonel John By’s staff, gave his boss a sketch of a proposed wooden bridge to span the Rideau Canal, which was then under construction, from the end of Rideau Street in Lower Bytown on the Canal’s eastern side to the opposing high ground on the western side. Colonel By accepted the proposal but opted in favour of building the bridge out of stone rather than wood. Work got underway almost immediately, with the foundation of the eastern pier begun by Mr. Charles Barrett, a civilian stone mason, though the vast majority of the workers were Royal Sappers and Miners. On 23 August 1827, Colonel By laid the bridge’s cornerstone with the name Sappers’ Bridge cut into it. The arch over the Canal was completed in only two months. On the keystone on the northern face of the bridge, Private Thomas Smith carved the Arms of the Board of Ordnance who owned the Canal and surrounding land. The original bridge was only eighteen feet wide and had no sidewalks.

Reportedly, one of the first civilians to cross Sappers’ Bridge was little Eliza Litle (later Milligan), the six-year old daughter of John Litle, a blacksmith who had set up a tent and workshop where the Château Laurier Hotel stands today. Apparently, Eliza was playing close to the Canal bank on the western side when she was frightened by some passing First Nations’ women. She ran screaming towards Sappers’ Bridge which was then under construction. A big sapper picked Eliza up and carried her over a temporary wooden walkway and dropped her off at her father’s smithy.

Back in those early days, there were two Bytowns. Most people lived in Lower Bytown. It had a population of about 1,500 souls, mostly French and Irish Catholics. The much smaller Upper Bytown, which was centred around Wellington Street roughly where the Supreme Court is situated today, had a population of no more than 500. This was where the community’s elite lived, mainly English and Scottish Protestants. The two distinct worlds, one rowdy and working class, the other stuffy and upper class, were linked by Sappers’ Bridge. While the bridge joined up Rideau Street on its eastern side, there was only a small footpath on its western side. The path wound its way around the base of Barrack Hill (later called Parliament Hill), which was then heavily wooded, past a cemetery on its south side that extended from roughly today’s Elgin Street to Metcalfe Street, until it reached the Wellington and Bank Streets intersection where Upper Bytown started. It wasn’t until 1849 that Sparks Street, which had previously run only from Concession Street (Bronson Avenue) to Bank Street, was linked directly to Sappers’ Bridge. During the 1840s, that stretch of path to Sappers’ Bridge was a lonely and desolate area. It was also dangerous, especially at night. It was the favourite haunt of the lawless who often attacked unwary travellers. Many a score was settled by somebody being turfed over the side of the bridge into the Canal. People travelled across Sappers’ Bridge in groups: there was safety in numbers.

Bytown, which became Ottawa in 1855, quickly outgrew the original narrow Sappers’ Bridge. In 1860, immediately prior the visit of the Prince of Wales who laid the cornerstone of the Centre Block on Parliament Hill, six-foot wide wooden pedestrian sidewalks supported by scaffolding were added to each side of the existing stone bridge. This permitted the entire 18-foot width of the bridge to be used for vehicular traffic.

But only ten years later, the bridge was again having difficulty in coping with traffic across the Rideau Canal. There was discussion on demolishing Sappers’ Bridge and replacing it with something much wider. The Ottawa Citizen opined that such talk verged on the sacrilegious as Sappers’ Bridge was “an old landmark in the history of Bytown.” The newspaper also thought that it was far too expensive to demolish especially as the bridge had “at least another century of wear in it.” It supported an alternative proposal to build a second bridge over the Canal.

In late 1871, work began on the construction of that second bridge across the Canal linking Wellington Street to Rideau Street, immediately to the north of Sappers’ Bridge. It was completed at a cost of $55,000 in 1874. It was called the Dufferin Bridge after Lord Dufferin, Canada’s Governor General at that time. Another $22,000 was spent on widening the old Sappers’ Bridge on which were laid the tracks of the horse-drawn Ottawa Street Passenger Railway.

Despite the upgrade, Ottawa residents were still not happy with the old bridge. Sappers’ Bridge was a quagmire after a rainstorm. On wag stated that “It is estimated that the present condition of the bridge has produced more new adjectives that all the bad whiskey in Lower Town.” One Mr. Whicher of the Marine and Fisheries Department was moved to write a 24-verse parody of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem The Bridge about Sappers’ Bridge. In it, he referred to “many thousands of mud-encumbered men, each bearing his splatter of nuisance.” He hoped that a gallant colonel “with a mine of powder, a pick and a sure fusee (sic)” would blow it up. His poem was well received when he recited it at Gowan’s Hall in Ottawa.

Sappers' Bridge 1878 Wiliam Topley -Library and Archives Canada

Sappers’ Bridge (left) and Dufferin Bridge (right), c. 1878, Topley Studio and Library and Archives Canada. The old Post Office is in the centre of the photograph. Notice the horse-drawn passenger railway in operation on Sappers’ Bridge.

But it took another thirty-five years before the government contemplated doing just that.  As part of Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s plan to beautify the city and make Ottawa “the Washington of the North,” the Grand Trunk Railway began in 1909 the construction of Château Laurier Hotel on the edge of Major’s Hill Park, and a new train station across the street. Getting wind of government plans to build a piazza in the triangular area above the canal between the Dufferin Bridge and Sappers’ Bridge in front of the new hotel, Mayor Hopewell suggested that Sappers’ Bridge might be widened as part of these plans in order to permit the planting of a boulevard of flowers and rockeries to hid the railway yards from pedestrians walking over the bridge. He also added that public lavatories might be installed beneath the piazza.

Sappers' Bridge Demolition Ottawahh

Demolition of Sappers’ Bridge, 1912. The arch of Sapper’s bridge is gone leaving only the broken abutments and rubble in the Canal. The newly built Château Laurier hotel in in the background on the right. Dufferin Bridge is in the centre of the photograph. Bytown Museum, P799, Ottawahh.

In the event, the federal government decided to demolish Sappers’ Bridge. Both the Dufferin and Sappers’ Bridges were replaced by one large bridge—Plaza bridge. This new bridge was completed in December 1912. The piazza over the Canal was also built. It was bordered by the Château Laurier Hotel, Union Station, the Russell House Hotel and the General Post Office. A straw poll conducted by the Ottawa Citizen newspaper of its readership, favoured naming the new piazza “The Plaza.” However, the government, the owner of the site, had other ideas. It decided on calling it Connaught Place, after Lord Connaught, the third son (and seventh child) of Queen Victoria who had taken up his vice-regal duties as Canada’s Governor General in 1911.

In the 1920s and 1930s, the beautification of downtown Ottawa continued. The Federal District Commission, the forerunner of the National Capital Commission, expropriated the Russell Block of buildings and the Old Post Office to provide space for a national monument to honour Canada’s war dead. The war memorial was officially opened in 1939 by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. In the process, Connaught Place was transformed into Confederation Square.

Little now remains of the old Sappers’ Bridge. Hidden underneath the Plaza Bridge is a small pile of stones preserved from the old bridge with a plaque installed by the NCC in 2004 in honour of Canadian military engineers. The bridge’s keystone with the chiselled emblem of the Ordnance Board was also saved from destruction. For a time it was housed in the government archives building but its current location is unknown.

 

Sources:

Ross, A. H. D. 1927. Ottawa Past and Present, Toronto: The Musson Book Company.

The Ottawa Citizen, 1871. “editorial,” 3 May.

————————, 1972. “A Dirty Bridge,” 10 April.

————————, 1874. “Sappers’ Bridge,” 9 October.

————————, 1913. “‘Connaught Place’, Cabinet’s Choice of Name for Area Formed By Union of Sappers’ and Dufferin Bridges,” 24 March.

————————, 1925. “Muddy Sappers’ Bridge In the Seventies,” 18 July.

———————–, 1928. “Girl of Six Was the First Female To Cross Sappers’ Bridge Over Canal,” 23 June.

The Ottawa Evening Journal, 1910. “Widening of the Bridges,” 3 June.

———————————–, 1912. “Early Days In Bytown Some Reminiscences,” 27 April.

———————————–, 1912. “When Ottawa Was Chosen The Capital of Canada,” 4 May.

———————————–, 1912. “Bridge Is Blown Down,” 23 July.

———————————–, 1914. “Notable Stones In the History Of The Capital,” 16 March.

 

Earthquake!

28 February 1925

When most Canadians or Americans think of earthquake-prone areas, what first comes to mind is the west coast of North America, especially California, the site of many memorable earthquakes, including the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 which destroyed over 80 per cent of the city and killed roughly 3,000 people. Baseball fans of a certain age will also recall the Loma Prieta quake that hit the San Francisco area in 1989 and disrupted Game 3 of the World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics. 67 people lost their lives and close to 4,000 people were injured in that disaster. Property damage was estimated at $5 billion.

Both of these San Francisco earthquakes occurred on the 1,200 kilometre-long San Andreas Fault, the tectonic boundary between the Pacific Plate, which is sliding northward, and the North American Plate which is moving southward. The fault is part of the “Ring of Fire,” an area prone to earthquakes and volcanoes that follows the perimeter of the Pacific Ocean.  The Loma Prieta quake had a magnitude of 6.9 on the moment magnitude scale (Mw). The moment magnitude, which is typically used today, is calculated slightly differently from the older but better known Richter scale developed by Charles Richter in 1935. But both scales measure the magnitude of the earth’s movement as detected by a seismograph on a logarithmic scale. The moment magnitude scale is more accurate, especially for large earthquakes. The 1906 quake is estimated to have had a magnitude of 7.9 Mw. Although it was only one step larger on the logarithmic scale than the 1989 temblor, it released roughly 32 times more energy (101.5). A two-step increase in magnitude would release 1,000 times more energy (103).

Vancouver and Victoria are Canada’s most earthquake-prone cities. They are located in the Cascadia subduction zone, a 1,000 kilometre-long fault that stretches along the west coast from the top of Vancouver Island down to northern California. Three tectonic plates, the Explorer, the Juan de Fuca and the Gorda, are moving east under the North American plate. This area has been hit by several major earthquakes in the past, including a massive one in 1700 centred off of  Vancouver Island that had an estimated magnitude of 8.7 to 9.0 Mw. In other words, it released roughly 32 times more energy than the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and more than 1,000 times more energy than the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. In 1949, an 8.1 Mw tremblor hit the Haida Gwaii (formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands) region, north of Vancouver Island.

After the western metropolises of British Columbia, the next most seismically active cities are Montreal and, believe it or not, Ottawa. Both cities are located in the Western Quebec Seismic Zone which has two sub-zones, one along the Ottawa River and the other from Maniwaki, north of Ottawa, to Montreal. Incredibly, there is on average one earthquake every five days in this region. To the east of the Western Quebec Seismic Zone is the even more active Charlevoix Seismic Zone, located close to Quebec City along the St Lawrence. Here, one earthquake is recorded on average every one and one half days. Of course, the vast majority of the earthquakes in both zones are only small earth trembles that are scarcely noticed except by seismographs—but not always. A powerful earthquake with an estimated magnitude of 7 Mw struck the Charlevoix-Kamouraska area in 1663, followed by nine days of aftershocks.

Earthquakes, Natural Resources Canada

The Western Quebec Seismic Zone. The dots represent earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher since the beginning of the twentieth century. Source: Natural Resources Canada.

Seismic activity in this part of Canada is not well understood. Much of central-eastern Canada is covered by the Canadian Shield, a massive, ancient, and stable rock formation that makes up the interior of the North American Plate. Lacking plate boundaries, this is not a locale that one typically associates with earthquakes. According to Natural Resources Canada, eastern Canadian earthquakes are due to “regional stress fields” and are concentrated in areas of “crustal weakness.” The end of the last ice age, which had caused land once pressed down by the weight of glaciers to rebound, may be a factor. Some scientists believe that “post-glacial rebound stress” has directly caused earthquakes, or has reactivated old faults which have led to earthquakes.

Ottawa residents are likely to remember the moderate magnitude 5.0 Mw earthquake that struck the nation’s capital in late June 2010. The epicentre was located roughly 60 kilometres north of Ottawa near Buckingham, Quebec. It was felt in Toronto, Montreal and south to New Jersey in the United States. Damage was slight. Some windows were broken, and power was cut in parts of downtown. No injuries were reported.

This earthquake was reportedly the strongest Ottawa had experienced in sixty-five years. That earlier earthquake struck on 28 February 1925 at 9.20.17 pm Eastern Standard Time. The capital was shaken by a 6.2 Mw earthquake whose epicentre was located near Shawinigan, Quebec, 260 kilometres distant, in the Charlevoix Seismic Zone. So strong was the quake that it was felt more than 1,000 kilometres away. On the Modified Mercalli Index, which measures an earthquake’s intensity or effects as opposed to the amount of energy released, the earthquake reached level VIII (severe) (out of ten grades) in the area close to the epicentre. At this level, people panic, trees are shaken strongly, and there is widespread building damage, including fallen chimneys, walls and pillars.

While the epicentre of the 1925 earthquake was more than 200 kilometers further away than the 2010 earthquake, its effects on Ottawa were considerably larger owing to its increased magnitude. A 6.2 Mw earthquake is almost 16 times bigger than a 5 Mw earthquake and is 63 times stronger in terms of energy released.   After the earthquake, The Ottawa Evening Journal reported that the capital had not seen such excitement since Armistice Day that ended the Great War in 1918. Fortunately, there were no injuries and property damage was slight.

The 1925 earthquake lasted ten minutes or longer in some locales, though tremors apparently continued for several hours, keeping anxious citizens awake through the night wondering whether a still larger quake was still to come. Residents of Sandy Hill and Ottawa South were the worst affected in Ottawa, mostly likely because of the soft clay on which these neighbourhoods sit. Some people became nauseated by the rolling motion underfoot which was described like “the swaying of a rapidly moving train or the rolling of a small boat.” This was followed by an intense up and down bumping, accompanied in some areas by a low, thunder-like noise, or rumble. The earth’s movement was most strongly felt by those in the upper floors of apartment buildings, especially those situated close to the Victoria Memorial Museum (now called the Museum of Nature). At the Queen Mary Apartments on the corner of Elgin and McLeod Streets, walls and ceilings cracked, furniture bumped, plaster fell from walls, china rolled off of plate rails, and doors creaked. In the nearby Mackenzie Apartments, several windows broke while on the upper floors plaster dust covered furniture and mirrors broke. Many residents rushed from the building in panic. At the Victoria Memorial Museum, plaster fell from the walls. Oddly, cracks in the entranceway closed, making it the only building to have possibly benefited from the earthquake. The building, which was constructed on clay, had been plagued with cracks since it was completed in 1911. Indeed, the tower above the main entrance had to be removed a few years after the museum was completed for reasons of public safety owing to settling.

At the Auditorium on Argyle Street, the Ottawa Senators had just started the second period of a game with their arch rivals the Montreal Canadiens when the earthquake struck. With the teams locked 0-0, many of the rabid 8,000 fans in the Ottawa Auditorium didn’t at first notice anything was amiss. A loud noise that rattle the arena was attributed to an automobile that had just completed an advertising tour of the rink during the first intermission. According to The Globe newspaper, the arena vibrated violently. A crash, possibly due to a falling window, almost sparked a panic. However, once the vibrations eased, people settled down again to continue watching the game. On the ice, the Ottawa goalie, Alex Connell, thought he was becoming ill. A “shimmy” under his feet made him feel dizzy. He called out to his defencemen that he felt funny. (For those who are wondering, the Senators went on to beat the Canadiens 1-0.)

At the Lisgar Collegiate, a musical event was underway in the school’s auditorium. Miss Roxie Carrier was on stage singing a solo as the Belle of Antiquera in a production of the Spanish operetta “El Bandido.” When the earthquake struck and built in intensity causing the floor and walls to sway, members of the audience began to panic. Shrieks from the balcony brought people to the feet. Many started to head to the exits. However, the presence of mind of Miss Carrier, who calmly remained on stage, as well as the prompt response of the ushers and policemen settled the audience who returned to their seats.

In the hours following the initial shocks, in what may have been an international first, Ottawa’s radio station, CNRO of the Canadian National Railways, broadcasted full and authoritative news updates about the earthquake, relaying the latest information from the Dominion Observatory, which was monitoring the tremors with its seismograph, and from railway agents through the Canadian National Telegraphs. These news reports did much to allay the fears of area residents who were concerned for the safety of absent loved ones. Mr J. G. McMurtrie, superintendent of broadcasting at CNRO, said that the shock was plainly felt at their studio. Conditions were quite alarming for a time at their operating room on the roof of the Jackson building, one hundred and twelve feet above Bank Street.

Although Ottawa was badly shaken, damage was slight. Other cities experienced more serious effects. In Quebec City, there was a general panic. A section of Union Station’s roof was damaged and many windows were broken. Several poorly-built shacks on the city’s outskirts were reportedly flattened. In Montreal, a fire started in the furnace room of St James’s Basilica owing to a broken fuel line causing $10,000-15,000 damage. A stone church in St Hilarion, Quebec also collapsed. Although details are sketchy, newspapers attributed the deaths of two women to the earthquake, one in Trois-Rivières and another in Toronto, due to fright.

Roughly ten years later in November 1935, the same area, including Ottawa, was shaken by another serious earthquake, this time a slightly smaller magnitude 6.1 Mw tremblor centred in Timiskaming in the Western Quebec Seismic Zone 360 kilometres from Ottawa. Again, although the capital region received a good shaking, there was little damage.  The most significant effect was a landslide in Parent, Quebec which took out a section of the Canadian National Railway line.

With increased awareness of Ottawa’s vulnerability to seismic disturbances, work has been undertaken to assess and strengthen existing buildings, such as the Bank of Canada’s head office on Wellington Street, and the Museum of Nature on McLeod Street. Fortunately, the Parliament Buildings are constructed on solid rock and are less susceptible to damage from earthquakes. A major quake could however cause serious damage to historic masonry buildings in the Byward Market area. Timber-framed homes, even those that are externally brick-clad, are likely to fare relatively well as timber frames can flex in response to tremors. Natural Resources Canada’s website provides a useful list of things that can be done to protect our homes from damage in the event of a significant earthquake.

Some words of caution: when earthquakes occur, our natural reaction is to run outside. However, studies have shown that it’s better to drop down, and cover your head preferably close to an interior wall or, better still, under a sturdy table, and wait until the shaking stops. Being outside exposes people to the risk of falling glass, masonry and other debris, a particular concern in high-rise urban areas. If you are outdoors, get away from buildings. If you are in a car, pull over and stay away, if you can, from anything that might collapse such as buildings, overpasses or bridges. Good luck to all should “the big one” strike!

Sources:

CBC. 2011. 2010 quake led Ottawa to change policies, 23 June.

Earthquake Alliance, 2018. How to protect yourself in an earthquake, https://www.earthquakecountry.org/dropcoverholdon/.

Globe (The), 1925, “Eastern Canada and U.S. Shaken By Earthquakes,” 2 March.

Montreal Gazette (The), 1925. “Great Mass Of Rock In Earth’s Crust Slipped,” 2 March.

—————————-, 1925. “Seismic Narrative Told By Broadcast To Radio Fans,” 2 March.

—————————-, 1925. “Fought Blaze In Furnace Room Of St. James Basilica,” 2 March.

Natural Resources Canada, 2016. Earthquakes Canada,” http://www.earthquakescanada.ca/index-en.php.

Ottawa Citizen (The), 2017. “A major earthquake could hit Ottawa. Are we prepared?” 21 April.

————————-, 2017. “Magnitude 3.3 earthquake shakes Ottawa-Gatineau,” 14 August.

Ottawa Evening Journal (The), 1925. “Villages Are Terrified As ‘Quake Wrecks Church.” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Quake Closes Cracks In Victoria Museum,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Many Tenants Of Apartments Were Alarmed,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Ottawa Severely Rocked By Heaviest Earthquake Recorded For Centuries,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “Miss Carrier IS Heroine At School Event,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “First Shock Worst Down Quebec City,” 2 March.

—————————, 1925. “People Of Ottawa Relate Earthquake Adventures,” 2 March.

—————————, 1935, “Locate Centre of ‘Quake 200 miles From Ottawa,” 1 November.

—————————, 1935. “Ottawa Shaken Today By Three Earth Tremors,” 2 November.

Wu, Patrick and Johnston, Paul, 2000. “Can deglaciation trigger earthquakes in N. America?” Geophysical Research Letters, Vol. 29 pps.1323-1326, 1 May.

Ottawa Recycles

5 June 1972

If you were to do a word search for “recycling” in North American newspapers, you would find very little prior to about 1970. Before then the word simply did not exist in our everyday lexicon. But that dramatically changed with the growing awareness of the consequences of pollution. In 1965, U.S. President Johnson warned Congress that the burning of fossil fuels was leading to “a steady increase in carbon dioxide” in the atmosphere. He added that “pollution destroys beauty and menaces health,” and “the longer we wait to act the greater the dangers and the larger the problem.” Four years later, the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire (again). Startling images of flames shooting up from the surface of the river to engulf ships and bridges seared our collective consciousness. People began asking what they could personally do to help; recycling provided a partial answer.

This is not to say people didn’t care about pollution before then. People certainly did. In 1897, the editor of Ottawa’s Evening Journal complained about Ottawa’s high death rate and how it was affected by the lack of a system for disposing of the city’s refuse. “[T]here still remains the unsolved problem of disposing of house refuse, ashes, waste paper and an endless variety of more or less odorous and ornamental material which still disgraces our streets, pollutes our backyards, and in undergoing fermentative processes certainly endangers the health of the community.” But most viewed pollution as the unavoidable, albeit regrettable, consequence of industry, jobs and prosperity.

recycling 17-1-1900 toj

Government seeking tenders to collect waste paper, 17 January, 1900, The Ottawa Journal.

Recycling is nothing new either. Think of the traditional rag and bones man who scavenged for old clothes, bones, scrap metal, paper and other items. But the motivation was profit not pollution. Here in Canada, by 1900 the federal government was putting out the collection of its waste paper to tender to raise extra revenue. The first big city-wide paper recycling campaign in Canada was launched in Ottawa by the Laurentian chapter of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (I.O.D.E.). In September 1915, the Chapter asked Ottawa’s Board of Control for permission to place bins on Ottawa’s streets to collect bundles of old newspapers, magazines, catalogues, and writing paper for collection. Within weeks, red waste paper bins sprouted on Ottawa street corners. The collected paper was taken to a warehouse where it was weighed and sold. The proceeds were used to supply “comforts” to Canadian troops in the trenches in France. The Chapter also asked car owners to volunteer their vehicles to pick up paper bundles that were too heavy to bring to the collection bins. A depot on Kent Street was also open every Thursday for anyone to drop off their waste paper. Later, one could call “Queen 631” for a truck to come and pick up bundles of unwanted paper.

recycling 2-3-20 toj

Advertisement for waste paper in aid of injured soldiers, 2 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

The program was a huge success. During the war, the waste paper scheme collected more than 1,500 tons of waste paper, raising some $20,000 for Canadian troops. In 1920, the I.O.D.E. scheme was merged with a similar but newer paper pick-up organized by the Y.W.C.A. The merged program was named The Amalgamated Paper Schemes. But the joint enterprise folded the following year owing to a decline in waste paper prices that made paper collection unprofitable. Subsequently, other organizations, including the Boy Scouts, the Salvation Army, and church groups, organized paper drives when waste paper prices rose to profitable levels. In 1939, the Journal reported that 3,000 tons of paper were being collected annually in Ottawa worth more than $25,000. The prevailing price at that time was about $8 a ton, but reportedly had been as high as $30 a ton in 1932. Prices varied according to the quality of the paper collected. Old writing paper was twice as valuable as waste newspaper.

recycling 3-4-20 toj

Advertisement for the Amalgamated Paper Schemes, 3 March 1920, The Ottawa Journal

World War II saw a revival of regular waste paper collection in Ottawa. Within weeks of the outbreak of hostilities, Mrs Anna. W. Margosches organized a regular paper drive under the auspices of the United War Services, with the proceeds going to fund entertainment for troops stationed in the capital. Residents were asked to telephone “Paper Collections” at 3-4097 for a truck to come by and pick up bundles of waste paper. Bags were handed out in which to collect the paper. People tagged them “For the Soldiers Entertainment Committee.” The organization later expanded its collections to cover good scrap metals (iron, brass, copper, steel, aluminium) and glass jars and bottles. Tin cans were also accepted for a time but their collection was discontinued owing to low tin prices.

After the war, service organizations and church groups persevered with scrap collections. One particularly successful waste paper collection was organized by L’Association Missionnaire de Marie Immaculée that operated from the 1940s until well into the 1970s. It collected 125-185 tons of waste paper annually, netting $1,000-1,500 for charity and mission work each year. The Boy Scouts were also very active.

Large-scale, regular collections of waste paper resumed in the Ottawa area in 1970 in Kanata, then part of March Township. This time pollution control rather than profit was the prime motivation, though earning money rather than spending money on waste was a great additional incentive. At the beginning of November of that year, the March Township Council in partnership with Pollution Probe organized a three-month trial collection of waste paper. The “Save-A-Tree” program was later extended to twelve months before it was made permanent. Instead of putting paper out for regular garbage pick-up, a private contractor collected the waste paper twice monthly and sold it to the Florence Paper Company for $8-10 per ton. This was a recycling first in Ontario. In its first year of operation, the collection brought in 162 tons of paper, realizing a small profit which in 1972 the township and Pollution Probe put towards bottle recycling—another first in the province. The Village of Rockcliffe followed Kanata’s lead and introduced regular paper collection in September 1971.

In Ottawa, encouraged by the success of the Kanata program, the Glebe Community Association spearheaded by Mrs Luke and Mrs A. C. Holden organized a successful paper drive in late April 1971. In June, a similar paper collection was jointly organized by a number of Ottawa community associations. That same month, Pollution Probe in co-operation with the University of Ottawa and supported by a grant from the government’s Opportunities for Youth program, opened depots across the city for residents to drop of their waste newspapers through the summer.

The City of Ottawa finally got into the act with trial waste-paper collection scheme at the end of October 1971. Each week for four weeks, a different quarter of the city was targeted for waste paper pick-up. The first zone to be serviced was the area north of the Queensway, between Fisher Avenue and the Rideau River, to the city limits in the south. Controller Lorry Greenberg, who led the project, expected the project to be economically viable once residents became aware of the new scheme. In the interim the city was willing to bear a loss.

Participation was lower than expected. The Journal said Ottawa residents suffered from “ecological apathy.” To boost participation, the city enlisted the help of clowns, some of whom were kids from Canterbury High School, to stir up excitement in neighbourhoods and boost paper collection. But during the four-week period, the city collected a much lower than expected 428 tons of waste paper, and incurred a net loss of $6,294 although it did save an estimated 4,488 trees.

For a while it looked like a permanent scheme was going to be still-born. The pilot project had been greeted with ennui by the majority of Ottawa citizens, and had lost a considerable amount of money. However, the outlook radically improved when Ottawa’s garbage contractor, H.O. Sanitation, offered to pick up the paper at no extra cost to the city. To reduce labour costs, the contractor modified its trucks so that paper could be placed in segregated containers. This allowed garbage collectors to pick up waste paper at the same time as regular garbage. The City also received petitions, and hundreds of telephone calls from citizens urging it to introduce a permanent recycling program. Citizens that attended a public meeting on recycling were also encouraging. Thus, starting on Monday, 5 June 1972, Ottawa homeowners began to put out bundles of paper for curbside collection on their regular garbage days.

To break even, H. O. Sanitation needed to collect at least 40 tons of paper per day. That first Monday’s pick-up was a success. Some 70 tons of paper were collected. By the end of the first week, 350 tons of paper were sent to E.B. Eddy for recycling. There were problems, however. Some apartment superintendents were not co-operating in the separation of garbage. And only half of the garbage trucks had been modified. More seriously, daily collection amounts began to drop. It seems that the early success was due to some homeowners storing their waste paper in anticipation of the start of the program. Once that backlog had been picked up, the day-to-day collections fell. Also, many households were not recycling their waste paper, finding it easier to throw it out with the rest of their garbage.  Still, Ottawa’s recycling program was deemed a sufficient success for John Turner, the then federal Finance Minister, to “plant” a tree behind City Hall on Green Island in recognition of Ottawa being the first Canadian city to launch a city-wide waste paper recycling program. In fact, the tree had been planted a month earlier, and Turner just moved a couple of spadesful of soil around its base.

In December 1974, paper recycling screeched to a halt when the City suspended the program. One thing the city hadn’t counted on was a fall in waste paper prices brought about by the increased supply. E.B. Eddy had foreshadowed this possibility back in 1971 when it cautioned people that they were already getting all the used paper they could use to produce cardboard. The City did, however, start to recycle bottles and tin cans at three drop-off depots. An experimental monthly pick-up was also established in Manor Park. The glass, separated by colour, was crushed and sent to Montreal to be converted into new glass products. Tin cans that had been washed and flattened with their bottoms and tops cut out were stored until sufficient stocks warranted being shipped to Hamilton for reprocessing.

Despite early setbacks, the three cities of Ottawa, Nepean and Gloucester jointly introduced in 1987 the curbside Blue Bin program to recover recyclable household waste. The program was operated under contract with Laidlaw Waste Systems. In 1991, the City distributed backyard composers to Ottawa households in an effort to divert kitchen waste from city landfills. In 2010, Ottawa began the curb-side collection of organic wastes. Through its current black bin (paper), blue bin (metals and plastics) and green bin (organics) program, the City earned $10 million in 2016, and diverted tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Trail Road Waste Facility, thereby extending its life. According to City figures, 93 per cent of newspaper and 90 per cent of cardboard are recycled. Concurrently, 71 per cent of steel and tin cans, 64 per cent of aluminium cans, and roughly 75 per cent of plastic bottles are recycled.

recycling ottawa

Ottawa Recycling Bins, Junk the Funk.

Despite this success, Ottawa only diverted 44 per cent of its waste from landfills in 2016, a smaller percentage than the Ontario average, and far lower than Toronto’s diversion rate. Only 51 per cent of Ottawa households use their green bins for recycling kitchen scraps into compost owing to what has been called “the yuck factor.” A quarter of Ottawa citizens don’t recycle at all. According to Waste Watch Ottawa, the City could take a number of measures to improve its diversion rate through better education of its citizens, targeting multi-residential buildings, and the provision of larger blue and black recycling bins. The organization also recommends that the City consider the adoption of a user pay system for garbage, the mandatory use of clear plastic bags (bags containing recyclable items would not be picked up), and a reduction in the number of bags of garbage that would be picked up from a household each week.

Sources:

CBC, 2017. “City of Ottawa earned $10m from your paper, plastic in 2016,” 18 April.

Johnson, Lyndon B. 1965. “Special Message to the Congress on Conservation and Restoration Of Natural Beauty,” Public Papers of the Presidents Of The United States, 8 February.

Junk That Funk, 2017. Report Indicates Ottawa Needs To Improve The Recycling Effort, 17 September, http://junkthatfunk.com/report-indicates-ottawa-needs-to-improve-the-recycling-effort/.

Ottawa, City of, 2018. Recycling, https://ottawa.ca/en/residents/garbage-and-recycling/recycling.

Ottawa, City of, various years. “Minutes,” City Council.

Ottawa Citizen, 2017. “Green Bin Program’s ‘Yuck Factor’ still bedevils city hall,” 17 October.

Ottawa Journal (The), 1897. “Ottawa’s Death Rate,” 5 November.

————————–, 1915. “10 Boxes To Collect Papers For Soldiers,” 22 September.

————————–, 1915. “Our Soldiers At The Front,” 20 October.

————————–, 1917. “Waste Paper Scheme,” 28 February.

————————–, 1919. “Make The Waste Paper Tell,” 15 May.

————————–, 1920. “Waste Paper Collection,” 8 May.

————————–, 1921. “Increase Discount Get Taxes Quickly,” 9 February.

————————–, 1939. “Earn $25,000 Annually On Old Paper,” 18 Februa

————————–, 1939, “Seek Waste Paper To Secure Funds Entertain Troops,” 24 October.

————————-, 1940. “For The Troops,” 23 September.

————————-, 1940. “Want Waste Paper,” 12 November.

————————-, 1971. “What Are You Doing About Pollution?” 15 April.

————————-, 1971. “City To Consider Garbage Recycling,” 20 May.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Drive To Be Conducted Saturday,” 14 June.

————————-, 1971. “Paper Recycling Drive ‘Catching,’” 26 July.

————————-, 1971. “Rockcliffe Park paper pickup starts Sept. 22,” 16 August.

————————-, 1971. “Recycling details set,” 1 October.

————————-, 1971. “Ottawa paper pick-up breaks new ground,” 16 October.

————————-, 1971. “Eddy’s contends waste-paper war misleading,” 29 October.

————————-, 1971. “Waste paper collection drive lags,” 3 November.

————————-, 1971. “Ecological Apathy,” 11 November.

————————-, 1971. “Two Clowns With A Cause,” 22 November.

————————-, 1971. “Public Meeting called to study permanent paper pick-up plan,” 26 November.

————————, 1972. “Kanata recycling glass,” 27 January.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-ups to start June 5,” 10 May.

————————, 1972. “Out of the woods: Paper pick-ups set preservation of trees,” 2 June.

————————, 1972. “Paper recycling rolls off to a successful start,” 6 June.

————————, 1972. “City paper pick-up ‘verging on failure,’” 16 June.

————————, 1972. “Tough On The Ol’ Back,” 23 June.

————————, 1973. “Recycling,” 30 June.

————————, 1975. “City to continue glass, tin recycling,” 21 March.

Waste Watch Ottawa, 2017. Improving the City of Ottawa’s Waste Diversion Performance, https://ecologyottawa3.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/wwo-ottawa-waste-diversion-performance-sept-15-2017.pdf.