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CityScapes: Ottawa

Coming of Age

Transportation

Photograph of Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company horse car number 4

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Ottawa City Passenger Railway Company horse car no. 4, undated

The people of Bytown/Ottawa had always travelled by horse and buggy, by boat, or on foot. With the title of "Capital," however, came the need for improved transportation. The city was excited to see the first train arrive on Christmas Day 1854. The Oxford steamed into New Edinburgh on rails made from maple hardwood. (The money for iron rails had run out before finishing the last stretch from Billings Bridge.) Ottawans would have to wait some 15 more years for public transportation, however. In 1870 the Ottawa City Passenger Railway Co. began to operate 20 horse-drawn passenger tramcars along city streets. These tramcars were replaced by sleighs in the winter. Electric streetcars were introduced by the Ottawa Electric Street Railway Company in 1891.

Photograph of Ottawa Electric Railway Company open electric car number 10 in front of the Langevin Building, Wellington Street, circa 1900

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Ottawa Electric Railway Company open electric car no. 10, in front of Langevin Building, Wellington Street, circa 1900

Tragedy struck in the early 1900s when a young boy on his way to school was hit and killed on Albert Street by the number 37 streetcar. It is said that his mother became distraught every time she saw the number seven on a streetcar and in hearing this, Thomas Ahearn, a partner in the Ottawa Electric Railway Company, ordered that the number seven be removed from all Ottawa streetcars.

The Telephone

It was also Thomas Ahearn who arranged to have a telephone switchboard installed in the Parliament buildings in 1882, with 50 lines to various offices. A temporary telephone linking Government House with the Public Works Department had been put in in 1877. After experiencing recurring failures with the telephone, Prime Minister Alexander Mackenzie asked that it be taken out. As the story goes, Lady Dufferin, wife of the governor general, asked to be given a private line so that a talented employee in the Marine Department could continue to serenade her guests via the telephone.

Ottawa's first telephone directory came out in 1879 and listed 8,550 subscribers. Before this, residents' addresses and businesses could be found in the various city directories that had been published since 1861.

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Police and Fire Services

Fed up with the thefts, fights and riots that gave Bytown its rough and rowdy reputation, residents formed the Bytown Association for the Preservation of the Public Peace in 1835, comprised of 200 voluntary constables. A regular police force was not established until 1863. Police Chief Thomas Langrell and his 10 constables were paid according to the number of arrests made. In 1865 they were placed on salary, receiving uniforms the next year.

Fire services were provided by insurance companies that would confirm that a property was insured by them before a fire would be put out. In 1836, the residents of both Upper and Lower Town bought their own fire engines and these were operated by whichever citizens happened to be available. An official volunteer fire brigade was formed in 1837, followed by a municipal fire department in 1849. The first three fire stations were built in 1853 and equipped with three new fire engines.

Photograph of fire engine THE CONQUEROR, with firefighters, 1874

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The Conqueror fire engine, with firefighters, 1874

In 1860, Upper and Lower Town were each equipped with a 2,340-pound hook-and-ladder cart. The municipal budget did not allow for horses, so the carts had to be pulled by 20 men. In 1864, there was a fight over which hook-and-ladder team would be named Number 1 Company. To settle the dispute, a race was held on Rideau Street, between Sussex and Wurtemburg streets. The Lower Town team won the race and the title.

It was not until 1874 that a professional fire brigade was established. Fire Chief William Young oversaw 18 professional firefighters at five stations. Each station had one two-wheeled reel, holding 500 feet of hose and pulled by one horse.

As a result of several fires in the dry summer of 1870, along with the great Chicago fire of 1871, the need for waterworks became more pressing. A waterworks system was approved. Construction commenced in 1874 and Ottawa homes received their first tap water, drawn through a wooden pipe from the Ottawa River. Prior to this, residents carried their water from the Ottawa River, from community wells, or paid a water carrier to deliver it wooden barrels.

On April 26, 1900 a seemingly innocent home fire across the Ottawa River in Hull was to result in catastrophe. Winds quickly spread the fire, leaving much of Hull in ruin. The fire continued its way along the wooden bridge over the Chaudière Falls, igniting huge lumber piles and the J.R. Booth sawmill. The fire swept southward, taking seven lives and nearly 2,000 homes (leaving 8,000 homeless) as well as most of the Chaudière mills before it was extinguished.

Photograph of the Hull-Ottawa fire

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View of the Hull-Ottawa fire

Photograph of a smoke-filled Queen Street, Ottawa, looking west during the Hull-Ottawa fire of 1900

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View of Queen Street, Ottawa, looking west during the Hull-Ottawa Fire of 1900

Photograph of the LeBreton Flats area after the Hull-Ottawa fire, 1900

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Aftermath of the Hull-Ottawa fire showing the LeBreton Flats area, 1900.

The rebuilding of Ottawa began immediately, resulting in 750 new buildings by the end of the year. In the following years, Ottawa continued to prosper and grow as a government city.

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