Thursday, January 2, 2020

Wellington Street Part 1: Ottawa's earliest roads and their namesakes (1800-1826)

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To go beyond a simplified summary and conduct a thorough review of the history of changes to all the roads in Ottawa called "Wellington Street", we need to go back to Ottawa's earliest days as a settlement and where that all came from.

It's easy enough to say "Richmond Road was named after the Duke of Richmond and Wellington Street was named after the Duke of Wellington", but that doesn't answer the questions of who those people are and what relation they bore to Ottawa and to the people who built its first roads. So let's get into that.

The first European settlers

There's not much to say about the roads before European settlers come around. The Ottawa River itself was the main highway for the area so roads as we know them today weren't needed.2 In his book, "The Curse of LeBreton Flats: An Untold History of Ottawa", historian James Robinson claims that the Battle of the Long Sault,3 between the Iroquois Confederacy and allied French and Hurons, took place at the Chaudière Falls—specifically near present-day Bay and Wellington Streets—and that "long sault"was a generic term ("big jump" i.e. large rapids to go around) rather than the place currently referred to as Long Sault, Ontario.4 If true, those fighting (or preparing to fight) might have worn some sort of footpath in the vicinity of the future Wellington Street, although I admit that's quite a stretch. Let's move on.

In the late 1700s, Upper Canada was declared to be British crown territory and lots were granted to loyalist settlers.5 Nepean Township was established in 1792, 6 and became part of Carleton County in 1800.7 It (as "Township D") and three other townships ("A", "B", and "C") were surveyed in 1793-1794 by John Stegmann of York (Toronto),8,9 and it was later named in 1804 for Sir Evan Nepean, Secretary for Ireland.10 As we can see in this 1821 map of Nepean Township,11 the lots along the Rideau river are oriented 90 degrees from those along the Ottawa river.

Map of Nepean Township with the Ottawa River across the top and the Rideau River cutting diagonally from upper right to centre middle. Nepean Township forms roughly a square in the southwest corner of where these rivers meet, divided into stripes representing the about 25 Lots (east-west) and nine or so Concessions (north south). Along the Ottawa River, this pattern is rotated 90 degrees, and where the Ottawa and Rideau rivers meet, the area nearest the Rideau River receives the alignment of the Rideau River's lots.

There were issues with Stegmann's work. As described in The City Beyond:
In 1823, too, instructions were issued for a new survey of Nepean. It had been known for three years that Stegmann had surveyed only the outline of the township and the concessions fronting immediately on the rivers. Even there some of the boundary markers were no longer discernible. ... As settlers began to move into the interior the survey question became pressing. The running of the interior lines was begun by John McNaughton of Charlottenburgh and completed by Asa Landon, William Campbell, William Graves, and Reuben Sherwood.[26 "Crowder, Loyalists and Nepean, 13-14; Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Field Notes, vol. 47, 47-54."] In completing the survey of the lots along the Rideau, McNaughton followed Stegmann's original markers, perpetuating his survey errors. These mistakes were not discovered until Anthony Smalwell resurveyed parts of the Rideau lots for Col. By in 1830. Even then there was no general agreement that Swalwell's lines were accurate, and the Rideau lot lines continued to be a source of argument and litigation for decades."12
Some issues with this initial survey persist today. The lots along the Ottawa River were perpendicular to those along the Rideau River. Because these lots generally weren't annexed into Ottawa until after they had been laid out and built upon, the street pattern of each lot suited the whims of those developing it, and had to be retro-fitted into the larger road network after the fact (for example, both Somerset and Gladstone have awkward jogs at Booth and Bronson).

An initial attempt was made to settle Nepean Township by George Hamilton, who was initially granted the land in 1792 (hence the 1794 survey), but those who went out in attempt to settle the lands gave up after "finding it such a Distance from any settlement without any Road". Their request for assistance from the lieutenant-governor by building a road was not granted, and their land grant was revoked.13

On May 17, 1802, Jacob Carman14,15 paid "Ten Pounds, Halifax Currency" for 600 acres of land the Crown granted him in Nepean Township (most of Lots A and B in Concessions C and D). This land was along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers, and contained what would eventually become Parliament Hill. Carman sold it (having never even visited) in June 1812 for £12 to Thomas Fraser, who transferred it to his son, Col. Hugh Fraser, in 1822.16 Put a pin in that, we'll come back to it further down.

As for the first [white] settlers in future Bytown to actually live there, Robert Randall had been granted a patent for Lots 38 and 40 and a lease for lot 39 in 1809 (present-day Bronson-Carling-Bayswater-Ottawa River)16 and built a cabin there,17 but was shipped off to debtors' prison later that year. His story was told in a 1919 book that, being out of copyright, can be read online.

The 1927 book "Ottawa Past and Present" by A. H. D. Ross,18 who is cited by two others,19,20 claims dubiously that Jehiel Collins was the first to settle in LeBreton Flats in 1809, and that Caleb T. Bellows married Collins' daughter and the site to later be known as Richmond Landing was known as Collins' Landing from 1809 to 1811 and Bellows' landing from 1811 to 1818, when it became Richmond Landing. This information is not cited by Ross (nor by the others, except to cite Ross) and does not square with other known details, so don't take it as fact!

More reliably, Bruce S. Elliott citing primary sources (deeds and such) in "The City Beyond: A History of Nepean, Birthplace of Canada's Capital 1792-1990",21 describes an Inn and two shops around Richmond Landing in 1824 as the earliest known establishments on the south side of the Chaudière Falls (and even then, mostly as an extension of the Hull settlement). If that's the case, we can just move along. (Also, Bradish Billings is well known to have settled at what would become Billings Bridge in 1812.22) I was unable to find a photo of Richmond Landing in 1824, but here's one I took in 2011 as the Royal Canadian Navy Monument was being built in collaboration with the NCC (before the gold sphere was added to the top), seen through the Union Jack-shaped railing of the Portage Bridge. Victoria Island is at the left:

Seen through a greige bridge railing, a gravel pathway lined with spray-painted wooden stakes comes forward from underneath and extends to the midground, where a marble trapezoid, partially skirted in temporary protective plywood, comes out of the ground in a circular clearing. There is dense green foliage on either side of the path separated by a grassy verge. To the left is a water channel beyond which is the shore of an island, also densely foliated. In the background behind the monument on a bluff can be seen the Library of Parliament, Peace Tower, and Supreme Court of Canada. The sky is light blue with clouds.

In 1817, John Burrows Honey (using his mother's maiden name, Burrows23,24) settles Lot C, Concession C25 (the only lots not owned by Fraser or set aside as Clergy reserve26), which is bounded by what we now know as Wellington Street, Bronson Avenue, Laurier Avenue, and Waller Street, and builds a cabin at what we now describe as Wellington Street and Lyon Street and clearing a considerable portion of it.23,27 Back then it was mostly a forest. Seeking funds to chase an inheritance back to England, he offered the land to Philemon Wright, who declined, and in 1821 it was bought up instead by one of Wright's farmhands, Nicholas Sparks, for £95.28,29,23,26 The transaction took a few years to finalize, leading to confusion as to whether this transaction took place in 182126 or 1826;28 the Dictionary of Canadian Biography30 helps to untangle these accounts.

From Page 68 of Haig (1969) Ottawa: City of the Big Ears. Caption as it appears there: This plan was likely drawn in 1825 by Major G.A. Eliot of the 68th Regiment. It clearly shows Wrights town (or Wrightsville), the Chaudifcre Falls and the future site of Bytown. Note Sleigh Bay, also Lot B designated as Government Purchase. This is part of the extent of land purchased in 1823 by the Earl of Dalhousie, three years before construction of the Rideau Canal was approved by the British Parliament. Nicholas Spark’s property is defined as Lot C, extending to the far right of the map. Richmond Landing, Collins’ store and Lot 40 owned by Captain John LeBreton are depicted in the lower centre. Part of the route of the Road to Richmond may be traced from Richmond Landing. This is now the oldest thoroughfare in Ottawa.

The earliest roads

All this sets the stage for the earliest roads in the area. An 1816 Ordnance map is said to show a road south from Hog's Back to the St. Lawrence, south of Bytown but within the current City limits.31 Closer to our point of focus is one built in 1818 by Philemon Wright, originally called "Britannia Road", going from present-day Hull to Aylmer on the north side of the Ottawa River.29 The first road in Nepean Township was a road cleared through the forest from the landing at Chaudière Falls to a village about twenty miles inland, which appears as a dotted line in the above two maps. The road, landing, and village are all subsequently given the name Richmond.29,26 Richmond Road is relevant to this blog series because (SPOILER ALERT!) various parts of Richmond Road were eventually renamed Wellington Street.

Fittingly, the Village of Richmond was settled by soldiers from the Duke of Wellington's 100th Regiment of Foot, and their families, who had been stationed at Quebec along with the 97th and 99th regiments (discharged members of those units settled at March and Perth, respectively.29,32,33) The road "was commenced about September 1818, and the soldier-settlers worked desperately against the descent of winter while their families camped under primitive conditions and terrific hardship at the Landing".34

The word "road" should not be taken too literally when we refer to these earliest connections.35 The Richmond Road is described as a "narrow trail" through "dense woods"36 full of tree stumps that blocked ox teams37 and in July 1824 as "even in this dry season, very bad".38 Colonel Francis Cockburn, one of Richmond's aides, noted in his daily entries that the roads were impassable to wagons, and after Richmond's party stopped in Beckwith for the night, they would continue on horseback for seven miles, after which they'd have to finish the trek to Richmond Village on foot.39 After arriving at Richmond, the Duke dined, and set out for Wrightsville the next day. Richmond died in a barn only a few miles out of the town. Although he was buried in Québec, a cairn was built in his honour and still exists along the Richmond Road.

Eponyms of the earliest roads

Richmond refers to Charles Lennox, the Fourth Duke of Richmond who in 1806 succeeded his uncle Charles Lennox, the Third Duke of Richmond. Richmond was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1807 to 1813, and in 1818 was appointed as Governor General of British North America, arriving in the country on July 29 of that year. During an August 1919 tour of Lower and Upper Canada, Richmond died shortly after arriving at his namesake village following a three-day stop at the Perth settlement.40 The cause of death is generally said to be from a fox bite he received some months prior while trying to protect his dog, Blucher, two months prior; however, an alternate theory suggests alcohol abuse is more likely.41,42

Meanwhile, Arthur Wellesley (born Arthur Wesley in Dublin) was elected in 1807 as the Member of Parliament for Newport and appointed Chief Secretary for Ireland, and served in that role from 1807 to 1809. In this role he served in British Cabinet and was effectively the colonial ruler of Ireland, as opposed to the Lord Lieutenant position held by the Duke of Richmond at the same time which was more ceremonial. The two would have known each other well in these roles and are described as friends.39,44

Lieutenant-Colonel John By served with distinction45 in 1811 (then as Captain By) in the 1807-1814 Peninsular War, in which Britain supported Spain against France, under Wellesley, as did George Ramsay, Earl of Dalhousie (whose title, like Richmond's, was inherited following the death of his father of the same name).

In 1814, Wellesley was named the 1st Duke of Wellington, and would go on to great glory in the Battle of Waterloo, defeating Napoleon alongside the Prussian general Blücher. In 1818 he was appointed Master-General of the Ordnance, a title he held until 1827, in which capacity he was responsible for, among other things, the Royal Engineers. He actually had so many titles and honours that there's a separate Wikipedia page just for those (although none of the titles reflect that he opposed extending to Jews the same liberties he championed for Roman Catholics).

In his book, Haig writes, "The British Archives have in their custody documents and records leading to the final decision by the Duke of Wellington, in his capacity as Prime Minister of Britain, to proceed with the construction of the Rideau Canal."46 This claim is echoed in the Canadian Encyclopedia's article on Colonel By and the construction of the Rideau Canal. Robinson adds his own twist to the narrative: "On 29 July 1818, a new Governor [of Canada], the Duke of Richmond, arrived in Canada with instructions from London to improve the defences of British North America, and to expand inland navigation. The Duke [of Richmond] was a close associate and lifelong friend of the Duke of Wellington, who was then responsible for canal construction in the British Empire. A few months after Richmond's arrival in Canada, on 5 November 1818, the Duke of Wellington approved a plan to build the Rideau Canal."47 I speculate that Haig got confused by the titles, since it is well documented that John By was dispatched to begin work on the Rideau Canal in 1826, two years before Wellington became Prime Minister! Wellington was, however, supportive of the project in 1819 while Master-General of the Ordnance and wrote a memorandum to that effect.48

"But of more direct interest to us," continues Haig, "is the letter composed in 1826 by the Governor of Canada, the Earl of Dalhousie, directing Lt. Col. John By to establish a responsible settlement by the headlocks of the planned canal system."48

Dalhousie had bought the parcel from Col. Fraser (the one we put a pin in earlier) in 1823 for the Government use in the construction of the Canal,49,50 although it was his second choice. Dalhousie's first choice (which was instead snapped up by a guy named LeBreton, whom Dalhousie famously loathed ever after),51 the canal would have taken a much different route. This would have led By to lay out Bytown much differently than he did, and who knows where the main streets would have been.

Establishing Wellington Street and Bytown

So, to summarize the names: the Duke of Richmond was briefly (1818-1819) the Governor General of Canada. Prior to that, in the 1800s decade he was contemporaneously a colonial ruler of Ireland along with his buddy who would eventually be called the Duke of Wellington (in roles similar to Canada's Governor General and Prime Minister). Both the Earl of Dalhousie and Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) John By both served in the Peninsular War under the still-not-yet Duke of Wellington in the 1810s. Richmond and Wellington are mainly relevant because they are the namesakes for the two roads that are the subject of the story, and Dalhousie is only immediately relevant because of his role in selecting where the Rideau Canal would meet the Ottawa River. Oh, and while we're talking names, the Duke of Wellington refers to Wellington in county Somerset, which also happens to have a connection to modern-day Wellington Street.

Finally, the moment we've all been waiting for: the creation of Wellington Street! Haig put this part concisely: "Col. By designates two main thoroughfares for the community, Rideau St. in Lower Town and Wellington St. (named in honour of the Duke of Wellington) in Upper Town. He acquires a 33 foot strip of land from Nicholas Sparks and, with 66 feet of the property purchased by the Earl of Dalhousie in 1823, plans Wellington St. as a 99 foot thoroughfare. This width is 33 feet broader than the standard measurement of one chain, or 66 feet. By also makes Rideau St. a chain and a half wide, endowing the city to grow here with two primary arteries of lasting significance."52

Sparks' purchase in 1821 (or 1826) was regarded as a folly at the time, surrounded by heavy bogs and woods, and "bleak headlands overlooking the Ottawa River" to the north, and only a tavern and a store in the nearest hamlet,52 but with the establishment of Wellington and Rideau Streets along the north edge of his property, he saw a windfall, being able to sell lots adjacent to both the Rideau/Sussex commercial intersection and to the Uppertown residential district.53

Colonel By himself paints the picture—literally—of where things progress in building the Rideau Canal, and By Town along with it, in 1828. This closeup of the By Town section implies a more contiguous road system than actually existed, but that will be the subject of the next post.

Map (Sketch) of Rideau Canal drawn by Lt Col John By 1828-05-05, cropped to the intersection of Ottawa and Rideau Rivers with the nascent Bytown and initial canal locks. A yellow east-west line along the path of Rideau/Wellington Streets curves at its east end northwards and crossing the Ottawa River at the Chaudière Falls, where it intersects with Wright's Britannia Road (later Aylmer Road). At the curve, a less prominent line extends southward toward Hogsback and continues following the Rideau River. Obtained from

Tune in next time for Part 2: The west end's Muddy Trails to street rails (1828-1870s). The list of all posts (as each one is prepared) is in the Introduction post to this blog series. As always, I've done my best to filter out the wrong information and provide sources for the rest; corrections are welcome by email, tweet, or comment (all comments are moderated).

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