Streetcar ghosts appear in the expected places. Like just under the surface of of asphalt road. This pictured pile of streetcar ties leads to whole complex story of my house.
Right at the corner of now-Albert and now-City Centre Avenue is a strange little triangular corner holding a turn lane. This used to be where the whole road turned to run over the now-OTrain tracks and connected in a straight line to West Wellington in Hintonburg. The wooden bridge over the tracks exactly paralleled the current ramp up to the second level of City Centre Building. The start of both of these are both shown on the far left edge of the air photo picture below.
The streetcars, however, turned sharply off Wellington onto Champagne Avenue and entered the Champagne Streetcar Barn, built around 1928. The streetcar barn is centred in the 1965 picture below, with long bright white skylight rectangles on its roof. Streetcars entered the building from Champagne, and exited onto Elm at the right corner of the building, and went up Elm to Preston (shown on the far right edge of the photo) , and then on to their routes.
The right 20% of the building has a much lighter coloured roof than the rest of the building, that’s because it is an addition. It has an interesting rationale.
There are two houses abutting the streetcar barn on the east end (right side of the building in the air photo). The one facing Elm was a tiny house akin to an oversize shipping container; the other house, facing Primrose (which appears to peter out and narrow as it approaches the back side of the barns) is now my house.
It was built c1902, and appears to have the same owner until 1925. Then he sold it to the folks who lived in it until 1981, when I bought it. We can speculate why the original owner sold. Because in 1928 the streetcar barn opened its doors. This was before the addition was built on the east (back side) of the barn, and it looked roughly like this:
The architect’s sketch is rather fanciful, locating the barn in the neighbourhood for reference but not for accuracy. The end of the building with the chimney is the “front” at Champagne Avenue. Elm Street runs along the left side of the sketch, (shown as the bottom edge in the track diagram, as the angle of view has rotated).
The back of the building was also all barn doors with 16 tracks leading out of the building, turning sharply south, delivering the cars onto Elm. Those are the doors shown in the third portion of the photo above, with the camera person standing on Elm to take the picture, looking northwest.
So the original builder of my house in c1902 had windows and side yard facing industrial properties, mostly lumber and coal yards. Then around 1925 the barn project gets going. He sells out. And the new owner, three years later, gets to have bedroom windows facing directly unto the switching yard on the east side of the barns. Where street cars started out for daily service at 5am. In the process, driving over dozens of switches, frogs, and turnouts.
A tad noisy, no doubt.
Look at that track diagram again and imagine all those streetcars heading out every morning. Those turning tracks are just 15′ from my bedroom window.
I just ran upstairs to my third floor and took this photo out the bedroom window. The brick wall in the foreground is the eastern edge of the Champagne Streetcar Barn addition; the flat roof shows the size of the addition; the roof beyond, several feet lower down, has only a few skylights left, the up-bumps in the roof showing where they used to be. That’s the City Centre building in the near distance, on the west side of Champagne / City Centre Avenue.
So hundreds of streetcars would have left those barns every morning, screeching and clacking as they turned towards Elm. And throughout the night, maintenance cars, snow plows, electrified broom cars, and other vehicles would have come and gone. Did anyone in this house get any sleep?
Alas, all those outdoor switches and joints caused ongoing maintenance issues for the electric railway company, particularly in winter, so eventually the Addition was built putting the switch yard inside the building, and restoring peace to the adjacent houses. Which is maybe why the elderly machinist I bought the house from lived here for the rest of his life.
Rather like me.
See what stories a pile of road construction debris can spark?
you can see various old air photos of Ottawa at maps.ottawa.ca, there is a dial you can select the year you want to see. Other maps on this site also show property lines, which is very useful for amateur planners.
the photo of the streetcar barn is a page from The Story of Electric Railway Transit in Canada’s Capital City,