Local History

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is a remarkable website: an interactive blog which juxtaposes photographs from Ottawa’s past with photographs from the Ottawa of today.

Here, for example, is 96 to 102 Wellington Street, in 1938 and in 2014. Use your mouse to move the slider to the right to reveal the photograph from 1938; move the slider to the left to reveal the 2014 photo. The beauty of brick and stone masonry, with arched windows and doors to soften and humanize the building’s lines, versus the cold utilitarianism of completely regular rectangles of glass.

And here is the Ottawa Public Library at the corner of Metcalfe St. and Laurier Ave., circa 1900 (I believe this Carnegie library opened in 1906) and in 2013. Again, use your mouse to move the slider from left to right, and from right to left, to reveal how a beautiful neo-classical building was replaced by, in siteowner Alexandre Laquerre’s terms, “another one more along the lines of brutalism.” It is to weep.

As I mentioned in my post on the “Lost Ottawa” Facebook group, I find it rather depressing to view the photographs of older Ottawa buildings that were demolished in the name of “progress” and “development:” in my opinion, the wanton destruction of heritage buildings to make way for soulless concrete blocks and generic condo towers is an ongoing scandal in Ottawa’s urban planning. Needless to say, I can only agree with Ottawa Past & Present’s tagline: “We believe this city could be better.”

Ottawa Passé & Présent/Ottawa Past & Present is the work of Alexandre Laquerre, an engineer who has lived in Ottawa since 2006, and whose interest in architectural heritage was first inspired by his dismay over the destructive effects of the Dufferin superhighway (l’autoroute Dufferin-Montmorency) on the downtown core of his native Quebec City. The website is clearly a labour of love; and also, I think, a gift to the Ottawa public.

“Lost Ottawa” Facebook group

If you’re on Facebook and you’re interested in Ottawa local history, you should definitely subscribe to “Lost Ottawa,” which bills itself as “a Facebook research community devoted to images of Ottawa and the Outouais up to the year 2000.”

I have to say that, much as I enjoy seeing “Lost Ottawa” images turn up in my Facebook feed, I sometimes find it rather depressing. In the 1960s and 1970s, Ottawa lost so many of its beautiful older (19th- to early 20th-century) buildings to “progress,” and “development,” and ugly, utilitarian, Stalinist-style architecture.

Okay, “Stalinist-style” is admittedly a tad hyperbolic, but still. It is sad to see what Ottawa has lost of its built environment, through lack of respect for/attention to the principles of sane and sound historic preservation. No, we cannot save every building, and some older buildings are probably not worth saving. But this does not mean that we should tear down any old building whatsoever, in order to make way for the construction of yet another condo complex. And yes, times change, and the original purposes of older buildings become obsolete. But from this concession to the imperatives of change, it absolutely does not follow that older buildings are, by definition, useless obstacles to the realization of contemporary needs and goals. Many older buildings can and should be refurbished to meet new purposes, instead of bulldozed into the ground to make way for soulless concrete blocks.

Anyone with a Facebook account can join “Lost Ottawa” by clicking “Like” on its front page.

Ottawa Valley Slang

Growing up in Ottawa, and with an Ottawa Valley Irish background, I used to say bucko all the time (for boy, my boy, boyoguy, dumb**se), but with very little sense whatsoever that this was a corruption of the Irish búachaill. Well, now I’m cookin’ wit gas, because I’ve discovered an Ottawa Valley glossary.

(My paternal grandfather, who would not suffer fools gladly, used to say “amadán” in a certain tone, and this was the Irish for “fool”).

An Ottawa Valley glossary.

Safe home - What would you give to hear Mum say that once more?

O, what wouldn’t I give to hear my Mum say “safe home” once more?

 

Our Roots/Nos Racines: Canadian local histories

Our Roots/Nos Racines is an online collection of Canadian local histories in both English and French. Well worth searching if you are looking for ancestors in Canada. I have certainly found a few good leads in a couple of local Ottawa-area histories that I’ve discovered at this site.

A word of caution on local histories: while local histories can be extremely valuable (they can help to establish or confirm the whereabouts of an individual or a family, for example), their information can be a bit loose and vague. Wherever possible, you should verify the information by consulting church records, vital records, census records, and so on.

But on the other hand: the vague and possibly inaccurate information that you find in a local history can offer valuable clues, which can point you in the direction of more reliable sources to pursue.

For example:

When I first found a reference to the marriage of Pat Killeen and Bridgit Gallaghan in Garfield Thomas Ogilvie’s Once Upon a Country Lane: A Tribute to The Gaelic Spirit of Old West Huntley, Carleton County, Ontario, Canada (which I discovered at Our Roots/Nos Racines), I didn’t even know that the surname Gallaghan (Galligan) belonged in my family tree. I was searching for Killeen; and Galligan/Gallaghan hadn’t yet crossed my radar screen. And while the approximate marriage date (circa 1846) given in Ogilvie’s local history was off by about 13 years (Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan were married on 28 February 1859, as I was later to discover), that reference to a Bridgit Gallaghan opened up a whole new line of inquiry, and led me to the discovery of another branch of my family tree.

Marriage of Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan.

Marriage of Patrick Killeen and Bridget Galligan. Fitzroy Harbour Mission, 28 February 1859. Ontario, Canada, Catholic Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1747-1967 at ancestry.ca.

Btw, Appendix H (“Irish Proverbs, Folklore, Maxims and Humour”) of Ogilvie’s Once Upon a Country Lane includes a maxim that my dad (a father of four daughters, but no sons) sometimes used to cite: “Your son’s your son ’til he takes a wife; your daughter’s your daughter all of your life.” However, I’m pretty sure my dad used to render it as: “A son is a son ’til he takes him a wife; but a daughter’s your daughter all the days of your life.”

 

Aside

A local chant, as told to me by my mother:

Perth! Perth! Get off the earth!

and let the green grass grow.

Smiths Falls! Smiths Falls! Get off the walls!

and let the pictures hang.

Perth = Perth, Lanark Co., Ontario. Smiths Falls is also in Lanark Co., Ontario.

John Vallely (1861-1935)

John Vallely was a son of Michael Vallely and Mary Ryan. He was born in Lanark Co., Ontario in 1861, and emigrated to Grand Forks, North Dakota about 1882. In 1889 he married another Canadian emigrant to North Dakota: Anna Lillian (“Lila”) Moran (1861-1915), daughter of Alexander Michael Moran and Mary Ann Leavy.

This photograph comes from Clement A. Lounsberry’s North Dakota History and People: Outlines of American History, vol. 3 (Chicago: The S.J. Clark Pub. Co., 1917), which I discovered through a google search.

John Vallely (1861-1935)

John Vallely (1861-1935)

Local, regional, and state histories will often provide useful biographical information about prominent (male) citizens, and will occasionally even supply a photograph. The biographical coverage of such histories is typically skewed toward businessmen, politicians, and other local worthies, and is therefore extremely unrepresentative of the area’s population as a whole (no labourers; no humble farmers; and almost no women).