Book Review: River, Road and Rail — Woodroffe Memories

From time to time, the residents of a particular neighbourhood  will try to sum up their perspective on the history of their  corner of the world for anyone who wants to read or watch or listen.

On November 10 this past year, it was the turn of the people of Woodroffe, via the pages of River, Road and Rail — Woodroffe Memories, launched with fanfare at the Carlingwood Mall by the Woodroffe North Community Association. It is co-authored by Katherine Day, Philip Goldring, Bob Grainger, Wayne Jackson and Peter Jenkins.

Personal opinion: this book might just be the best-organized and best-presented neighbourhood history I’ve seen. The approach of the authors here is two-pronged: First, taking in the “big picture” story, and then using the point-form edition of that history as a way of framing the perspectives of residents past and present.

The authors break the contents down into four chapters, beginning with the history of the region going back to the geological sculpting of over ten thousand years ago, and ontinuing through the First Nations’ settlement of the area. From there, things quickly move forward to European contact and on through first the French and later British claims to the region.

That last transfer of political control brought into being Nepean Township, as discussed elsewhere on this blog. From there, the narrative picks up speed even as it goes into greater detail, avoiding the pitfalls of either glossing over or bogging down in minutia, detailing the early settlements and continuing onward to finish with annexation by Ottawa in 1950, one of several events where opinion remains divided over the benefits to the community.

The second chapter picks up from there, laying out the effects of the Gréber Plan on the neighbourhood. The creation of the Ottawa River Parkway cut off direct walking access to the riverfront despite the fact that since earliest settlement, residents had taken the unfettered enjoyment of the riverbank almost as a birthright. But the Parkway process did not stop there.

There were also two waves of expropriations, wiping out entire blocks of the former village. Among the many benefits of this book is the inclusion of photographs, gathered from personal and official archives, of the appropriated and demolished buildings, richly detailing what was lost to the Parkway construction process in “before”, “during” and “after” images.

The third chapter combines a time line of the history of Woodroffe with personal reminiscences of dozens of current and former residents. These “Memory Lane” tales provide a human dimension to that history that might otherwise have gone missing, and you’ll find some hidden treasures unearthed here, especiallyif you know someone who has lived in Woodroffe.

The final chapter deals in “Memory Themes”; certain objects of interest to the authors and residents that kept recurring during their research and interviews: local landmarks of religious, commercial, cultural and personal significance.

Rounding out the book are several appendices: literal, informal minutes from an early meeting of the “W.A.” (Women’s Association?); a listing of active community associations; another detailing place and street names and how they changed over the decades; a historical listing of Richmond Road addresses in the Woodroffe area; and a much briefer version of the neighbourhood time line.

As a resource on Ottawa history, this volume makes an excellent addition to anyone’s bookshelf.

For details on where and how to purchase, please check with the WNCA website.