When railways ruled Ottawa

Critics of Greber’s urban plans for Ottawa can always find things we regret, or sort of regret. Replacing the cross town tracks with the Queensway may not, in retrospect, have been the best course of action.

If not, where would that freeway have gone? Any volunteer neighbourhoods saying “put it here, put it here”?

We do forget, or never knew, just how dominated by railways we were. Ottawa was a genuinely an industrial city at one time. Greber instructed the NCC what to tear out. And they were successful in removing most industry from town, indeed from any existence at all, since it didn’t just move to the suburbs, it packed up and died. It’s like manual labour and physical product was  is a anathema to the white collar civil service and policy fabrication.

Lets look at Dows Lake and Commissioners Park area in 1928:

dows, no streets, 1928

The old Bronson swing bridge over the canal is at the very bottom right. Bronson and Bronson Place were straight.

The new QE parkway is very close to the Lakeside Terrace manors, and swung straight across Dow’s Lake to join the end of Preston Street, avoiding the lumber yards where Commissioner’s Park was to someday be planted. Prince of Wales drive, coming in from the bottom left, went straight to join Carling nearer Booth Street.

Here’s a version of the same aerial photo with the eventual street plan superimposed on it:

dows with streets 1928

There are small squares all over the Kippewa and Manawaska streets are stacks of lumber. There are no houses on Fourth Avenue.

Look at the same view thirty years later, 1958, with the NCC half way through Commissioners Park:

1958 dows

The cross-lake causeway is gone, some trees are planted although not many near Preston street. The old Prince of Wales running through the park remains ghosted by a row of trees. The old Dows Lake Pavillion is there, and the wartime “temporary buildings” have appeared. We still have the old swing bridge on Bronson at the Canal.

Fifty five years later, in 2014 the world has become colour:

2014 aerial

The new high level Bronson bridge is in at the Canal, there is a new dows lake pavillion, the trees have grown in Commissioners Park, the temporary buildings have become … a parking lot.

How did the railway tracks get to the lumber yards by the lake? They came across Carling from the NRCan blocks. A very small shunt engine moved the loads of lumber around the yards. Even in 1928 motor cars had the right of way on Carling at the grade crossing, and the locomotive had to toot toot as it approached and yield to car traffic.

Here’s another slice of 1928 showing the yards on the north side of Carling, where NRCan is now. Today’s road pattern is superimposed to help figure this out:

1928 nrc yards

The NRCan yards exited onto the main cross town railway tracks where the Queensway is now, and also swung down the Champagne right of way just west of Preston. The NCC hadn’t yet dug a ditch to throw in the railway tracks, so there were numerous sidings, and crossings.



4 thoughts on “When railways ruled Ottawa

  1. Very interesting discussion on rail to road transition

    The transition along the Richmond Road from river ,to road , to rail, to Parkway road from 1811 to date can be found in the book : River, Road and Trail- Woodroffe memories, Woodroffe North Community Association 2011.

    Ira Honeywell ( Nepean’s 1st settler) 1st farm in 1811 at Woodroffe and Richmond Road was only accessible by the Ottawa river , then the Richmond (toll) Road ( 1830) , then by Rail 1870 – 1967, then Street car ( 1900-1959),and finally the Parkway ( 1967). Woodrooffe Village ( Now Riverpark ) established in 1905 was expropriated and cut in two to provide an entrance to the Parkway.

    The current Linear ( Tramway Park) between Richmond Rd and Byron is all that is left of the original rail and streetcar lines.

    Phase II of the new LRT ( 2018- 2023) From Dominion to Lincoln Fields will run up the Linear park from Cleary, returning Woodroffe to it’s rail routes

    1. the parkway exit at woodroffe was supposed to be temporary, while the NCC built the remaining section out to Carling Avenue, but suburban motorists didn’t like the connection midway between Woodroffe South and Pinecrest/Greenbank (pending yet another extenstion of the ORP along Pinecrest Creek to Baseline/Woodroffe where the transitway runs now) so the Woodroffe exit was kept open blighting the residential community there. And unfortunately the NCC plans to keep the woodroffe exit open in its revisions to the ORP planned for 2019 onwards. Alas.

  2. The negative impact of the Parkway on the Woodroffe community is well documented in the book I referenced. The biggest current problem of the Woodroffe entrance to the Parkway is cars speeding down Woodroffe making it dangerous to cross; and the cars stacked up at Richmond during evening rush hour making it almost impossible to exit the community. This will get worse when the new Azure Condo at Richmond and Woodroffe is built.

    There has some talk with our Councilor Mark Taylor about putting in Speed humps to slow down traffic and possibly a new signaled pedestrian crossing near Rice near the entrance to the Parkway,

    As far as the NCC is concerned, the plans for the Linear park include an additional pedestrian crossing at Woodroffe, which apparently is scheduled for construction at the same time as LRT Phase II construction start in 2018, when the LRT trench is buried between Dominion and Cleary. The NCC will apparently be evaluating a 2 lane Parkway option for this part of the parkway. How this will impact the rush hour traffic on Woodroffe remains to be seen.

    In addition the new LRT route from Cleary to Lincoln Fields which will run along Richmond rd ( which is also to be a “Complete Street” with separated cycle lanes) will cross the Richmond – Woodroffe intersection. How the LRT trench construction will impact the traffic that currently goes through this intersection remains to be seen. I cannot see how Woodroffe can remain open when the trench is being dug, which also raises the question how do we get out of our community when this happens.

    We live in interesting times

  3. Re the causeway across Dows Lake. When the ice goes out and the water levels are still low, the line of the causeway is marked by a foundation of rubble stone which follows the same alignment as the roadway in the first image. Rather than remove the causeway, it looks like just the top layer was scraped off leaving all of the foundation.

    Great post Eric. Any chance of a similar review of the area to the north where the roundhouse was located? (now Tom Browne arena)

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