This started out as another one of the “Street Names” stories.
Once my digging began, though, it turned into a story about a neighbourhood that most people in Ottawa can’t place. Its history is little-known.
Where do you find this district? Well, just to the east of the train station, branching off of Tremblay Road, are two sets of side-streets. Uniquely for Ottawa, they are alphabetized.
There is Avenue K and Avenue L, then the interruption of Belfast Road, followed by Avenues N through U.
The omissions will be explained as we go along.
This kind of nomenclature is not unique among Canadian cities. Saskatoon has had such street names since the 1880s. Ottawa’s “alphabet village” came along some two decades later, or so we’re told by the maps we have from those days.
In the beginning, though,the neighbourhood wasn’t even part of Ottawa. That came later. And it has been known by at least three names over the past century.
On September 18, 1911, the former township of Gloucester registered the sub-division of Bannermount. Originally the property of one Nicholas J. Tremblay, it appears that the development was expected to serve as a home to the workers of at least two of the railways then operating in the region, the Montreal & Ottawa and the Ottawa & New York. The development backed onto the Ottawa & New York tracks that crossed the Rideau River just south of Hurdman’s Bridge as it was then known.
The Avenues were alphabetized from the beginning: Avenues A through H, J through U. If the developers had plans for more beyond U there doesn’t appear to be a record of it.
And until that development was registered, the road that these avenues branched off from wasn’t called “Tremblay Road”, but rather Cyrville Road. Apparently, that was the original name of the road. Yet another name change in a city whose history has been filled with them.
After 1912, it was known as Nicholas Street. As it was then in the township of Gloucester, this could be done with no worries about duplicating the name of downtown Ottawa’s better-known Nicholas Street. In the Ottawa Citizen in May of that same year, we can find ads for homes in Bannermount paid for by one Andrew McA’Nulty, with nine already drawing in rental income. Even more amazing: the down payment requested by Mr. McA’Nulty for the lots themselves?
Yet not much ever got built there, despite the railroad work that grew up. The tracks went from their original owners’ hands to the CNR. Gloucester reclaimed many of the lots by 1941 due to tax arrears and tried to re-sell them.
The city of Ottawa eventually expanded across the Rideau River to the east, into the land surrounding Bannermount, annexing it along with the territories north and south of it, and by the 1950s, modest single-family housing finally started going into the eastern end of the subdivision.
About the same time, the neighbourhood was renamed “Eastway Gardens”. The likes of MapArt, Pathfinder Maps, and Google Maps still use that label to this day. Avenues A through D were wiped off the map to make room for the Riverside Drive-Queensway interchange built in 1960. Also in that year Avenue M was replaced by Belfast Road, which connected the industrial park north of the Queensway to the one south of it. More letters disappeared as the new train station forced the removal of Avenues E through H by 1967.
The Urban Neighbourhood Survey of 2008 came up with its own boundaries for the neighbourhoods of the city, of course, and lumped this little collection of side streets in with a bunch of light and medium-industry districts under the moniker of “East Industrial”, a name that hasn’t caught on outside planning circles.
Many of the small apartment buildings and houses built in the district during the 1950s are still there. Others were leveled for one reason or another, or converted to business use. Avenues N through U still have a good concentration of homes though, and there is Cecil Morrison Park with its wading pool, and tennis and basketball courts to serve the people who live there. Transit is not much of an issue with two Transitway stations within walking distance. As for shopping, there is the Train Yards mall built on some of the former CNR yards directly across the rail tracks by way of Belfast Road to the south, and the St. Laurent Mall to the east by way of the footpath leading to the Transitway stop, assuming that you’re not interested in using Route 18 for other local needs. Of course, for inter-city transit, there aren’t many residential districts in all of Ontario that are closer to a mainline train station.
I’ve heard people accuse this neighbourhood of looking “sterile”. Perhaps it is, if you are looking only at Avenues K and L, the two that are west of Belfast Road. That’s where most of the demolitions happened, which opened up gaps that were turned into day-parking for workers at the train station or the office buildings at Pickering Place; used car lots have also done business here over the years.
It might not always be easy on the eyes, but in fact there is a gritty kind of character to the area, and it even has an Ottawa landmark, the well-known White Horse restaurant at Belfast and Tremblay.
And here’s an interesting note to close on: next year, it will be a century since the registration of the original plans for “Bannermount”. Might be time to restore that name to its place of honour?