Sunday, March 20, 2005

A Brief History of Overbrook

Early signs of development of our community are evident on a map of Gloucester Township published in 1876. A large tract of land is shown owned by Fred & Samuel Sparks. They are part of the well known family that was one of the original Bytown pioneers. This property extends from the Rideau River east to the current St. Laurent Blvd., straddling both sides of a road that would later become Donald Street. In 1865 a fine double house had been constructed of limestone near the Rideau River by Nicholas Sparks. It still stands today at 936-940 North River Road. Other tracts of land are owned by Mrs. D. McArthur, the Sharp family, Alex Anderson and the Whellans.

One of the tragic events of this time period is a fire that apparently started in the bush of Gloucester Township, and raced through the area of Overbrook. Courtney C.J. Bond discusses it in his book Where Rivers Meet: An Illustrated History of Ottawa, published in 1984.

The summer of 1870 was dry, and by August Gloucester township reported bush fires. Fires then broke out on the north shore, as flames in Gloucester roared to the edge of the Rideau opposite Sandy Hill. By the 17th of August, the skies were overcast with smoke, and the air of the city was unpleasant. Telegraph poles on the north shore burned down, breaking direct communication with Montreal. The Ottawa Times tells how on August 19 the capital came under threat of destruction:

Early in the morning it was announced that the fires in the woods, of which we had heard so much during the past few days, were rapidly approaching…Families of refugees might be seen entering the city. Farmers walked wearily along, carrying all their worldly wealth upon their backs, and followed by their wives and little ones.

The fire swept through the centre of Hull in a mile-wide swath. Mill owners became alarmed. The Ottawa City Council organized a vigilance committee and called able-bodied people to fight the flames in the western suburb of Rochesterville. It also issued a proclamation closing all places of business.

The 60th Rifles and the Garrison Artillery marched to Hull; mill workers were sent out with wagons. The Times reporter went west through the suburb of Sherwood to “Lewis’s Dam,” the low St-Louis embankment impounding the north side of Dow’s Lake. James Purcell, the foreman of Baldwin’s mill, instructed his 100 men to cut through the dam, thereby releasing water to hold the fire from the western suburbs. Driving back to the city in hub-deep water, the reporter saw people burying their treasures. he wrote: “As we go to press the horizon in rear of New Edinburgh is crimson with the reflection of the fierce fires raging in that quarter.”

As the flames died down the next day, citizens tallied the damage. Chelsea village in the Gatineau hills was untouched, but residents along the river had been forced to take refuge on rafts. In March township the “Horaceville” Estate was spared, but Major-General Lloyd’s “Bessborough” and the Monk family’s “Beechmount” were devastated shells. Although the countryside was burned into “one vast, blackened, burned, dismal-looking field,” Ottawa was unscathed.

In 1875 one of the first bridges over the Rideau was built not far from the intersection of Presland Road and North River Road by W.H. Hurdman. He was Reeve of Gloucester Township from 1877-78. In 1906 the “Hurdman” bridge was replaced by one of the first bridges in Canada to be built of reinforced concrete.

The Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York visited Ottawa in 1901. Upon the death of King Edward VII they acceded to the throne as King George V and Queen Mary. Within a year the first reference to Overbrook is found on a map published by Thorburn & Abbott. The community of Overbrook is found consisting of seven streets. Two of these streets appear to commemorate the newly crowned King And Queen, with a third commemorating the consort of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert. King George, Queen Mary and Prince Albert Streets run east from the Russell Road (now North River Road) to about the current location of the Overbrook Community Centre. Marion, Sharp and Vera Streets are also shown. The old CP rail tracks dissect the community, where the Vanier Parkway is currently.

Overbrook was beginning during a very difficult time in the history of Ottawa. A typhoid epidemic swept through Ottawa in 1909, with a more serious onslaught in 1911, with 67 deaths by April of that year. The disease abated, but the following year 20 people had died by July. The city’s water supply was suspected as the source of the problem. In 1915 a pumping plant was built on Lemieux Island and the water brought over by a pipe suspended from a bridge. (For an online historical overview of Ottawa, go to the Bytown Museum website.)

On a map published by the City on June 26, 1912 King George, Queen Mary and Prince Albert Streets are shown running all the way to the current St. Laurent Blvd. Another railway line, identified as the Canadian Northern Railway, is also shown, following the hydro line right of way from just north of the current RCMP building to cross St. Laurent Blvd just south of Cyrville Road. The eastern boundary of the City of Ottawa is the Rideau River. Overbrook could be considered one of Ottawa’s newest “suburbs”.

Also in 1912 was the first reference to Overbrook in the Might’s City Directory. Overbrook is described as a “District lying east of the Rideau River between Cummings Bridge and Hurdmans Bridge and immediately south of Eastview.” Below is a list of the first 25 residents listed in the Directory. Do you see any names you recognize?

Last Name First Name Occupation Address
Ambridge O painter Russell Road
Anderson John gardener Russell Road
Baker Fred labourer Columbus Ave.
Brown Herb Queen Mary St.
Davidson Thomas carpenter Glen Ave.
Foubert Evered carpenter Prince Albert St.
Gladman William tinmaster King George St.
Glead Philip carpenter King George St.
Glen John K. carpenter King George St.
Gougeon F builder Russell Road
Leduc Charles stonemason Russell Road
Leduc Charles Jr. stonemason Russell Road
McManus Robert butcher Russell Road
Nicholson John furnaceman Olga St.
Potter David builder Prince Albert St.
Potter Ellen (widow of Thomas) Prince Albert St.
Ramsay Henry Russell Road
Sharpe George farmer Glen Ave.
Smith John carpenter King George St.
Sylvester William florist Russell Road
Syms Fred Queen Mary St.
Taggart William gardener Russell Road
Valiquette M tanner Russell Road
Warne George painter Russell Road
Wright George gardener Russell Road

By 1918 the first reference to the “Overbrook Annex Public School”, located on King George St., is found. Isabelle Waterman is listed as the Principal. The Directory lists 79 other people in Overbrook. In 1919 we find the first reference to the Overbrook Post Office. John Sedvall is Post Master. Also in this year Laura E. Bradford replaces Isabelle Waterman as Principal of the Public School and 120 people are now listed in the Directory. By 1921 Clinton Pharoah has replaced John Sedvall as Post Master and almost 200 people are shown residing in Overbrook.

There were problems, however, as development spread east across the Rideau River. The most notable issue for development in this area was flooding of the River. The flood plain was quite extensive, as detailed in the Report of the Federal Plan Commission published in 1915, otherwise known as the “Holt Report”. All of the current parkland west of North River Road is shown as subject to flooding. Here is how it was described at the time:

The area flooded by the Rideau River is situated for the most part on the east and south bank of the river. It extends all the way from Minto Bridge, through Eastview, to Bronson Avenue. Between the Minto Bridge and Hurdman’s Bridge, the flooding is almost altogether on the east bank of the river. From Hurdman’s Bridge to Bronson Avenue, it extends along both sides of the river. The total area flooded according to the elevations is about 1,050 acres.

The “Holt Report” also recommended that Somerset Street be identified as a major arterial road, extending across the city to the east, bringing traffic from Montreal. For this reason they recommended that bridges be built across both the Rideau Canal and Rideau River. This is why what we currently know as Donald Street was identified as Somerset Street until after the Second World War.

The first map so far found to detail a boundary for Overbrook was published by the City in 1936. On it Donald Street is referred to as Somerset Street.

Interesting demographic statistics of 1941 are discussed in Jacques Greber’s Plan for the National Capital, published in 1948.

Community Earnings/yr Home Values % home ownership
Overbrook $1,480 $2,750 88.5%
Ottawa $1,760 $4,570 29.4%
Hull $1,070 $2,370 36.5%
Pointe Gatineau $980 $1,160 66.7%
Rockcliffe $4,100 $13,080 72.4%
Eastview $990 $1,840 40.0%
Westboro $1,600 $2,680 58.9%
Woodroffe $1,430 $2,600 44.8%

Compared to the other “suburbs” of Ottawa, Overbrook appears to be doing quite well. What particularly stands out is the very high percentage of home ownership.

On January 1, 1950 Overbrook was annexed by the City of Ottawa together with other large sections of Gloucester and Nepean Townships. In the annexation documents Overbrook is referred to as a “Police Village” and identified as part of “Township School Area #2. It states that “Overbrook….maintain(s) their own volunteer Fire Dept. with a Hose motor, and receives help from Gloucester Fire Dept. when required.” It also had a playground consisting of a “parcel of land (measuring) 180′ X 650′, 3/5 improved. One softball diamond, one hockey rink, (and) temporary huts.”

The City Library has several copies of old issues of the Overbrook News on file from the eighties and early nineties.

No comments:

Post a Comment