Saturday, May 30, 2009

111 Sussex, Part one

[Edit: On September 19, 2011, the former Ottawa City Hall at 111 Sussex was renamed the John G. Diefenbaker building in honour of Canada's 18th Prime Minister.]

In honour of Doors Open Ottawa, which this year is being held on the weekend of June 6-7, I'm posting some photos of one of the buildings open for tours during Doors Open 2009, the City of Ottawa Archives, Main Branch, located at the former City Hall at 111 Sussex Drive. (Also open for Doors Open is the City's Traffic and Parking Operations building, which I've blogged: part one, part two, part three.)

I took these photos on a sunny Friday afternoon in late April, on a visit to the City's archives, which are housed in the building.

I've broken up this series into three posts: the old building, the southwest side of the addition, and the northeast side of the addition.

So without further ado, here is the old City Hall at 111 Sussex:

The building was constructed in 1958, a time when a City Hall was expected to be a large stone-type building with Romanesque columns and whatnot. Ottawa took a gamble to build its new City Hall in the Modern style that it did.

The Ottawa City Hall was designed by Rother, Bland, Trudeau - the leading architect being John Bland, an influential modernist who taught at McGill, and the Trudeau being Charles, brother of the Prime Minister. The addition is by Moshe Safdie and Associates.

At the front of the building, a two-storey walnut-lined hall protrudes from the, front supported by square columns. Whitton Hall, as it was named, was used as the council chambers until the addition was built on the back of the building. At the front is a large aluminium crest of the City of Ottawa, and an official viewing platform (i.e. where powerful people stand to watch parades go by). Now that the building is being used by DFAIT (the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade), the former chamber has mostly been converted to cubicles, leaving no public building or facility named for Ottawa's first female mayor.

Inside, the original Modern first floor was restored when the Safdie addition was added. Previously, it had been cannibalized by the City for extra offices.

In the centre of the first floor is a marble-walled core containing the elevators and some offices. An inscription lists the mayors of Bytown and the (pre-amalgamation) City of Ottawa. The hanging orb lights are reflected in the polished marble.

The centrepiece of the foyer is the lovely spiral staircase leading up to the second floor. You can also see that the hallway extends around the full length of the back of the building:

At the back is a courtyard surrounded by the old building, at right, and the new buildings. While the old building was one of the first to use aluminium on exterior trim, the windows have been replaced. The stone rectangles used to house the heating and air conditioning units, and the short row of middle windows can no longer be opened.

That's it for now. Tune in at noon on June 1 for part two. In the meantime, don't forget to plan your visit to Doors Open Ottawa!

Monday, May 25, 2009

263, 267 and 271 Besserer Street to be demolished (Sandy Hill)

Tomorrow, the City's Planning and Environment Committee will be considering the demolition of three Besserer Street properties, 263, 267 and 271 Besserer in Sandy Hill.

From the Report:
263 Besserer Street

The building at this property is the most westerly building of the three and City records show that it is occupied by a two storey duplex dwelling. It is vacant and was constructed in 1892. It is a Category II building on the City's Heritage Reference List, which means that this building has been identified, as being of heritage interest but it has not been officially designated under Part IV or Part V of the Heritage Act.

267 Besserer Street

This is the middle building of the three and it is a two-storey single detached dwelling. It is also vacant and was constructed in 1892. It is a Category III building on the City of Ottawa Heritage Reference List...

271 Besserer Street

This is the most easterly of the three buildings. Like the other two, it was also constructed in 1892 and is two storeys in height. City records show it has been used as a duplex dwelling. Like the building adjacent to the west, this building has been listed as a Category III building on the Heritage Reference List...
The report shows a site map, but doesn't have photos of the buildings themselves. I had taken some last time I was in the area, so here they are:

They're clearly dis-used and the balconies have been removed.

Apparently, they've been empty for a while and vandalized while the property owner waits for the right time to develop the whole block (including Steve's Music and Nate's Deli on the Rideau side) into another mega-condo, like this one a couple blocks over, which has taken the place of Mexicali Rosa's and whose conjoined twin is currently under construction:
There's still no planned timeline for the replacement building to be built, and the demolition of these three 1890's houses is merely to keep them from being inhabited. Reminds me of the boarded-up buildings at Bay and Nepean, which could have remained in use for the many years they've sat there empty.

Hopefully new residences will be built in less time than it has taken to rebuild Lebreton Flats.

Sandy Hill heritage photographers should snap some shots of these buildings while they're still there.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Down, down, down conculsion: Laurier Computer

This is the fourth post on the 150 Slater development, and the last in the Down, Down, Down series (the name needs to be retired).

On the lot where 150 Slater is being built were a number of buildings, all now demolished. In the first Down, Down, Down post, I detailed (among other demolitions) the building at the corner of Slater and O'Connor, which housed the Café Deluxe and O'Connor Smoke Shop.

In Down, Down, Down Update 1, I detailed the Premier building. More historical information about that building:

"The Premier Apartments were built in 1938 for David Epstein, a developer specalizing in apartment buildings. His most notable project is to be found at Bank and Central Park. Architect W.E. Noffke introduced the Spanish Colonial Revival style to Ottawa in the years prior to WWI. Twenty-five years later he was still employing some vestiges of it at the Premier-using a fringe of red clay roof tiles over the third floor balconies, twisted wrought-iron railings, and glazed terra cotta panels flanking the storefonts."
In Down, Down, Down Update 2, I detailed the other two buildings fronting on O'Connor, and I also posted a couple of photos of the former Laurier Computer building. This last is the focus of today's post, and it perhaps has the richest history.

Laurier Computer building

I hadn't realized that this building was going to be demolished also, so I hadn't taken any "before" photos of it, and I regrettably had no incidental shots of it in my collection. Luckily, when I walked into Laurier Computer's new location next door, Martin Yshikawa had a couple that he e-mailed me. Here's how it looked before demolition:

There were also some carved inlays in the front. Here's one of curling stones:

And here's one of a badminton racket and birdies:

So what were those doing on a computer store? Well it wasn't a computer store for its entire life. For a long time, it was actually an indoor sports facility, called the Rideau Winter Club. A building this small? No! In the '60s(?) it was chopped down to one storey and pretty shallow off Laurier.

It actually went to the back of the lot, as you can see in this aerial shot from 1948 or 1950. You can see the arched roof of the Winter Club (with a more square fronting on Laurier, highlighted by the yellow rectangle). You can also make out the old Carnegie Library, and the two other older buildings demolished for the 150 Slater project:

There are a few other buildings still in the neighbourhood, in fact. I've highlighted them in the image below. Compare them with this 2007 version composed of modified images from the City of Ottawa's eMap application:

As you can see, the Rideau Winter Club had a much taller and longer profile, and you can even make out in the eMap aerial shot the outline of the foundation still going all the way back to the lotline.

So knowing that that was there, we can find other evidence of the building's size. Here's some on the building next door:

The roofline of the shortened Laurier Computer building is evident from the height of the graffiti, but less obvious is the shadow from the Rideau Winter Club's former roofline, about 2.5 storeys above the top of the graffiti. They chopped off all but the first storey, and shortened the depth from the streetfront considerably.

As mentioned above, the foundation of the Rideau Winter Club is still there--the surface parking was essentially on the building's first floor level. It stretches all the way to parking lot of its rear neighbour:

You can see closeup of foundation composition. Clearly not a modern concrete mix:

When they chopped the top of the buliding off, they kept a couple feet height of the I-beams along one side to serve as fenceposts, as visible here with smaller fenceposts added in between:

Here's empty foundation hole. It appears they had built a new rear foundation wall on the shortened building. You can see that the I-beams along this back wall were not as big as the ones for the taller former building:

Along the ledge between the hole and the next building over are some very old soda pop cans and bottles that somehow survived decades, albeit dirty and rusty. It takes a good eye and some tools to distinguish them from behind the fence, but I could identify the ~1960 10oz cans second on the list here:

There were some 10oz sprite cans, Canadian versions of the US 1960 version shown here:

The above cans are so old, they didn't have pull tabs; you had to open it with a can opener (the kind that creates a triangular opening).

I could also identify a slightly more recent can with a foil pull tab, with multiple holes revealed by it, like the 10oz/284mL aluminium can pictured fourth down on this page (no date range on that page):

I also saw a couple intact bottles, including a gin bottle with some liquid still inside and its cap still on, and a pepsi bottle that looked similar to the one in the second-last photo on this page:, but the logo has larger swooshes, like in the top logo on this bottle:

On the side of the hole opposite this ledge were some more leftover structures, shown here before the rubble was cleared away:

Laurier Computer has relocated next door (how convenient!). I'd like to thank Martin Yshikawa at Laurier Computer ( for the photos of the Laurier Computer building and inlay detail.

I'm eager to see the excavation of the basement. What other treasures are to be found underneath?

(If you have photos, perhaps from a family album, of the former Rideau Winter Club, I'd be very interested in borrowing it to scan it!)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Centretown Heritage Project

Welcome to the Centretown Heritage Project!

The Centretown Heritage Project is designed to commemorate the history of Centretown, as well as the history of the Centretown Citizens Community Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2009.

The website for the Centretown Heritage Project,, is currently being hosted on the Images of Centretown Blog. Simply follow the link to to see all posts with the CHP label.

The CHP will eventually branch out to include on-site posters of locations of interest, interviews of people who were involved throughout the history of the community, and clippings from old editions of the Centretown Buzz.

Update: the CHP video on the early history of the Centretown Citizens Community Association is now online:

If you'd like to get involved with the Centretown Heritage Project, please contact me at

Elgin & Somerset hot patch

I'm trying to avoid the omnibus blog posts, and keep to one topic per post. Here goes...

In October 2007, some road workers were applying a hot patch to the South-West corner of Elgin and Somerset, presumably to cover the cracks and to reduce the depth of puddles that form there in rainstorms. According to the weather network, October 26 had a high of 15.8C and a low of 2C, and 4.4mm of precipitation. This photo was taken around 10:30 in the morning.

Here we can see them laying down the tar adhesive, painting it with a brush within a border made with a thinner brush:

Here's the finished patch job at 3:15 that afternoon. Looks spiffy. Nice and smooth. (Still no sign of rain... Did it even rain that day?)

I guess it must have rained that day, because that patch is long gone. By September '08, most of it was gone. In this photo, you can still see a little right at the corner of the sidewalk, and on the near side of the sewer grate. (Also note the old facade on the Scrim's Florist building)

As of this past Friday, the patch was all gone. And then some. More of the asphalt beneath is crumbling away.

While we're in the neighbourhood, a gratuitous shot of St. John's church in that oddball snowstorm we had on April 6.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Calling all urban design geeks!

"Midcentury Modernist" has been involved in Centretown issues for over 30 years, and he is my primary mentor in the history of Centretown.

I've been encouraging him to join the blogosphere, and to contribute directly to the Centretown Heritage Project blog posts here on Images of Centretown, instead of just feeding me information.

Well, he's gone one step further, and has started his own blog:

So far, he's got a post lamenting some losses in the ongoing renovations of the Warren Arms building (below), and one on the fountain in Confederation Park, which used to be in Trafalgar square (and a photo to prove it!)

We don't have nearly enough of this type of blog in Ottawa.

If you are interested in blogging about Centretown (or your central Ottawa neighbourhood), whether on your own blog or on this one, let me know. I've given M-M a start, and I've helped Eric Darwin (West Side Action) fix some problems on his blog.

Just drop me a line at

Friday, May 15, 2009

Images of Gladstone

I'm taking a little break before I sit down and hash out the last in the "Down, Down, Down" series to post some vignettes of Gladstone Avenue.

One of the first posts on this blog was a Before & After of the building that now houses the re-Cycles Bicycle Co-op. Well there was another shot from the series in the photo where I got that "then" photo that looked familiar. This one (qualifying this post to be in the Centretown Heritage Project series).

Though the roads and buildings have changed (for example, the patio on the foregound building and the windows on the background building), they are all still there. You can compare the pattern between the second-storey windows on the middle building to confirm it's the same building.

That building is, of course, the Majestic Cleaners on Gladstone at Bay, where once stood Dey's Skating Rink. A plaque had been erected on the corner to commemorate it, but it was destroyed in April '08:

Funds were raised and a new podium was installed, with the engraving,

Patinoire Dey's Skating Rink

1896 ~ 1920

The Ottawa Hockey Club defeated the Montreal Victorias at this site on March 10, 1903to bring Ottawa its first Stanley Cup / C'est sur ce site que le club de hockey d'Ottawa a remporté sa première coupe Stanley après avoir défait les Victorias de Montréal le 10 mars 1903
As seen here:

On the same block is a house with a ground-level retail space that has been vacant for some time, formerly housing the Overseas Electronics store. For some reason, I really like this photo (in fact, this whole post started because I wanted to post this one photo):

And a couple of houses down, these gentlemen were repairing a porch:

If we continue Westward, we get to the former Pawn-Da-Rosa pawn store, across from Cambridge Street Elementary. Better known as the Yellow House:

As I first found out from David Reevely, this house had been slated to be demolished "next month" in July 2008 and replaced with some townhouses, but evidently that fell through. The City told the building owner that he had to clean up the graffiti on the outside of the house a month before it was slated to be demolished. So Gary Stunden, agent for the building's owner, Ali Shafiei, decided to paint it yellow, partly as a gimmick, and partly to tease the City for doing something as silly as ordering him to clean it up with only a month left until it was demolished. Almost a year later, who's laughing now?

Ralitsa Doncheva created a short film called "This House Will Not Be Here Tomorrow," which you can watch below, or follow the link to watch it on Youtube in High Quality:

While we're on the topic of Yellow + Gladstone, here's a shot of the yellow Auto-Mini folding bike with a child seat that is also an institution on Gladstone, at Bank Street:

That's in the same neighbourhood as Gladstone and Kent, which I photographed in This post leading up to a CCCA meeting.

Moving further West from the Yellow House, we get to the Gladstone theatre. I had previously posted about the Facade reconstruction of the Gladstone, and the Light Rail Now! event at the Gladstone, which features a nice shot of the building with "Light Rail Now!" in the marquee.

Continuing past the O-Train tracks, we get to the 1924 Enriched Bread Company building. The Enriched Bread Artists have a good writeup on the history of this building on their website.

And lastly we come to Sherbrooke Street, at the former Sherbrooke Grocery, which closed after many years. I vividly recall a story in the Citizen where the owner announced his retirement, but I can't for the life of me find it. If you have a link, I'd appreciate it. The closest I can find is this reference in Miss Vicky's Offhand Remarks, where she says that the ground floor will be converted to offices:

So that's a little taste of Gladstone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Down, Down, Down Update 2

This post is the third in a series on the Slater/O'Connor site, following Down, Down, Down, where I discussed, among other things, the O'Connor Smoke Shop demolition, and Down, Down, Down Update 1, where I reviewed the demolition of the Premier building at the 150 Slater site.

In today's post, I'd like to talk more about the 150 Slater site in general, including the other three buildings that were demolished, and what they plan to build there. Thanks to Martin from Laurier Computer, I'll have another post looking specifically at the former Laurier Computer building (which has a surprisingly rich history!), as part of the Centretown Heritage Project.

So to review, here's the site as it was when it was still active (taken from my Picasa Web Album for 150 Slater). There's the Cafe Deluxe and O'Connor Smoke Shop building at the corner, the Premier building at the far end, and the Computer Supply house and injet refill store in between:

Here's the hole where the corner building used to be, taken from behind. You can see the Telus building in the background: (A sign on the parking lot next to it indicates that the Telus building is getting a new LEED Gold neighbour, 199 Slater (PDF), by Broccolini construction)

Here are the other three buildings awaiting demolition. A fence has been erected in the road for a buffer zone for the demolition vehicles. The sign on the computer supplyhouse has been removed:

And here's the hole where the middle two buildings had been. It's interesting to see how differently they were built: the far one had a foundation of poured concrete with some heavy duty steel rebar; the near one was just a brick foundation.

Also note the wooden forms for the Computer Supplyhouse foundation are still there, suggesting it may have been built second, and the gap was too narrow to remove them. Whether it was built to last doesn't matter much now, I guess.

It's surprising just how big these foundations are. The stores look so small from the outside, yet when you stand in front of their vacant foundations, it's like standing next to an Olympic-size swimming pool (as always, click to see full size):

While most of the rubble had been cleared from the hull of the toner shop, a bunch of it had collected in the outside stairwell. We can also see the inside basement wall, with some notice boards and other things. The Premier building is still standing in the background in this shot:

When the wall to that stairwell was taken out, it left an opening under the stairs (which have a surprisingly flimsy construction; I'd expect outdoor stairs like that to be concrete all the way through, not to be supported by a wooden frame). A pigeon was using the gap as a makeshift roost. I could only get a photo of it as it was flying away:

Eventually, all five buildings on the site were demolished, the last one being the Premier building (which in the photo below is the pile of rubble on the far right). Here we can see through from the corner building, across the former computer buildings, all the way to the former Laurier Computer building. A troupe of yellow diggers lie in rest, awaiting their next meal of rubble; three neighbouring buildings form a concrete wallpaper backdrop:

Lastly, the rubble of the Laurier Computer building, which I'll discuss in more detail in my next post. Here you can see the Mondrian building under construction in the background on the left, the Premier building still standing on the right, and a pile of rubble in the middle. It's interesting to see the graffiti tags floating at the second storey-level on the next building over. They're very respectably spaced from each other:

One of the girders from the Laurier Computer building had been unceremoniously bent down into the pit of the now empty foundation hole. The twisting and the rust turned it into a curious peice of incidental art:

Lastly, here's a rendering of the building that will go up on this site, the new headquarters of Export Development Canada. You can see some incidental shots of the old building in the previous photo and others. I happened to discover links to the plans on the SkyscraperPage forums.

Stay tuned for more!