Somerset Viaduct in history

Last day of service

On the last day of streetcar service in Ottawa in May 1959, a farewell parade was held of equipment and personalities. This picture is taken from the crest of the Somerset Viaduct, right at what is now the OTrain Trillium Line overpass.

Slightly downhill to the right the white building is now a Buddhist Temple; St Jean Baptiste priory can be see silhouetted on the left horizon; Preston Street runs across Somerset at the bottom of the hill.

Double click the picture to enlarge it. Notice the very decorative  railing on the left, just visible between the parked cars. And the decorative lampposts. (Recall a few stories back, we saw pic of the new Portland street lights that are very similar to these ones). The City declared the railing to have no heritage value and it was broken up when the road was widened in the 1970’s.

The road widening was never warranted for car traffic, so in the last decade the road was put on a diet, reduced once again to one motor vehicle lane in each direction, but now with a bike lane and wider walkways.

I recall trying back then to interest the city in the heritage value of the railings, or reusing them in the new park being designed for Primrose. Said park was recently redesigned and refreshed. Apart from the addition of a spray pad, the rest of the changes seem to me to be of decidedly dubious value.

I start to doubt my own memory of the railing on the Somerset viaduct, as I recall it was made of cast stone, with an aggregate finish, and quite decorative. It was a more aesthetic version of the concrete railing on Bank going over the canal at Lansdowne. Maybe the viaduct had both railings, either at different times, or had one type on part of the bridge and the iron railing only at the actual bridges over the railways. Anyhow, the City reacted in horror at the idea of reusing the stone railing sections in a park. About five years later they gave themselves a prize for doing just that at Strathcona Park (architectural salvage and historic repurposing, it is now called).  Later, they lavished lots of praise on reconstructions of the  concrete railing on Bank Street where it crosses the canal, and gave itself another prize.

As in all things municipal, class and wealth and trendiness play a prominent role.

Here’s another shot of that railing and lamp post, with a view of the north end of giant public works warehouse which has just been partially demolished:

Last day of service 4


If you stand on that bridge today, and look over the edge, you’ll see an interesting brick building with a vaguely Dutch front façade and a genuine slate tile roof. It now houses Orange Gallery. The City insists that building has no heritage value either.

Some things just don’t change.


5 thoughts on “Somerset Viaduct in history

  1. I remember waving good-bye to the streetcars on wellington in what is now called west wellington village. Their passage into history was likely another bow to what was considered a trend to modernize city transit at the time. Funny how light rail and decorative railings are making a comeback. If you live long enough……

  2. Great photos! A little less editorial carping would be nice, although the ability to gripe and wring ones hands (without offering constructive and sustainable alternatives) seems to be a prerequisite for the majority of those interested Ottawa heritage. Change and City Hall; our useless arch nemeses.

  3. I find reminiscences of past City stupidities to be entertaining and informative. The details may change but I suspect the form of the stupidities stays the same. “We don’t DO that.” followed a few years later by “We’ve had a GREAT idea!!11!”.

  4. “… an interesting brick building with a vaguely Dutch front façade and a genuine slate tile roof. It now houses Orange Gallery. The City insists that building has no heritage value either.”
    Until 1962, this was the corporate headquarters of the W.C. Edwards Co. Ltd., built after their huge mill complex and offices at the Rideau Falls were sold to the federal government in 1928.
    It was probably designed by John Pritchard MacLaren, architect of Rideau Branch Library, (also Dutch gabled), Mayfair Cinema and Christian Science Temple, all designated heritage buildings.
    The Edwards Co. also had a large planing mill and lumber piles adjacent to their HQ building, between Somerset and Wellington, that were replaced by the City Centre development in 1963.
    Company president Gordon C. Edwards lived at 24 Sussex Drive and his successor Cameron C. Edwards owned a summer home at Harrington Lake. Both became the PM’s official residences.
    The ornamental bridge spanned the Canadian National railway tracks serving both sides of the mill. The unusual lampposts on the bridge are the support poles for the streetcar wires.

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