Fire Station No. 6


Ottawa, Sussex Drive / Friday, April 12th, 2013
Sussex Ave (between Stanley and John) c. 1940 and 2013.
Sussex Ave (between Stanley and John) c. 1940 and 2013.

Ottawa’s built-up areas have undergone a rather dramatic transformation in the last few decades. Although most popular discussions may sound more like “I remember when those were fields” or “we used to play on those rocks”, there are a number of areas in Ottawa that were either returned to fallow or converted into park land. Lebreton Flats [1] is easily the most famous example and the former CFB Rockliffe (CFB Ottawa North) is the most recent notable example of what was once a settled part of the city being now (largely) deserted. Although it never did reach that extent and may not be considered to be the same, the three blocks along Sussex Drive between Stanley Avenue and MacKay St. are nevertheless considerably more verdant than they were a short forty years ago.

For long-time residents of New Edinburgh, this history is no secret. Once the site of numerous mills and other industrial activity, the neighbourhood of the Prime Minister, Embassies of France, South Africa, Spain, and Vietnam, and the Governor General is now almost entirely residential. There are numerous industrial, commercial, civic, and institutional organizations that once called this part of Ottawa home and I hope to explore them in turn. Today, however, I’d like to present a short discussion of Fire Station No. 6.

No. 6 Firehall - North Sussex
Fire Station No. 6

The Fire Station No. 6 that is pictured above and to the right was not the first version. The 1888 Goad’s Insurance Plan of Ottawa (1901 Revision) shows the No. 6 Fire Station at 37 Sussex, in between a confectionery and a hotel and sharing a block with the Ottawa Street Railway Company’s car shed and – at the time – stables, hay storage, and oat storage. I have yet to find an image of the original facility.

On July 25, 1907, a fire broke out at the W.C.Edwards & Co. factory and planing mill across the street. [2] The fire caused what was “conservatively estimated” to be $350,000 ($7.1 million+ today) in damage. [3] In addition to Edwards’ numerous facilities, the fire destroyed C.J. Neate’s grocery, Michael Foley’s Rideau Hotel, and the Blackburn Mica Factory. Fire Station No. 6 was also lost. This was not considered to be a major loss as, while it was in good condition, it was “one of the oldest, having been erected when New Edinburgh was annexed to the city.” [4]

1902 Goad’s Atlas (1912 Revision)

The 1902 Goad’s Insurance Plan of Ottawa (1912 Revision) shows that the new No. 6 Fire Station was enlarged considerably, taking over the nieghbouring lot formerly occupied by the Rideau Hotel.

It does not appear that the new station was designed with permanence in mind, however. Within the next couple of decades, the station was considered to be too small, ill-equipped [5], and in a location that rendered its ability to protect Ottawa from fires ineffective. [6] The 1929 Ottawa Sewer Explosion, which tore through the city along with the destruction by fire of City Hall in 1931 may have shown the inadequacy of the city’s emergency services and shortcomings of its political fragmentation. [7] Of course, it may also be understood that the Depression made such expenditures both politically and functional difficult.

A report in the Citizen appears to have implied that the fire Chief had been advocating for a new facility for some time. By 1935, the city had already secured permission from the Province to issue a $20,000 debenture ($340,000 today), pending the sale of the old station, in order to construct a replacement in a better location. [8] Discussions took place in the following year, with the potential site for the new No. 6 being on three city-owned lots at the corner of MacKay and Vaughan (precisely where it was constructed) being suggested by Alderman S.S. Slinn. [9]

With the election of a new City Council in 1936 [10], the Fire Department’s pleas for a new station began to gain more traction. [11] On September 1, 1937, the Board of Control, on the advice of Mayor J.E. Stanley Lewis, recommended that Council proceed with the issuance of a $20,000 debenture for that purpose. [12] The following week, City Council approved it themselves. [13] The Ontario Municipal Board approved the issuance of the debenture. Planning then commenced for the construction of the new Fire Station No. 6, at the corner of Mackay and Vaughan, as Council had discussed nearly two years prior. [14, 15]

Station for sale. Ottawa Evening Citizen – October 25, 1938 (Page 16)

While the previous condition of selling the now old No. 6 on Sussex was off the table, it nevertheless remained surplus and a potential source of revenue for the city. Unsurprisingly, the asset turned out to be difficult for the city to divest itself of. When Canada joined the Second World War on September 10, 1939, the Dominion Government began to construct and expropriate buildings across the city in support of the war effort. Perhaps sensing an opportunity, Controller Finley McRae recommended that perhaps the now empty No. 6 would be of use. Of course, the Dominion could have it, with the “same consideration and compensation given to any other city.” [16] As it would turn out, the Dominion would have a use for it: in the Spring of 1941, it became the new wartime headquarters of the No. 1 Ordnance Store Co., Royal Canadian Ordnance Corps Reserve Army. [17]

Once the war was over, the building was once again surplus. Once again, however, the building found a new purpose. The conversion from Fire Station to Ordnance Corps headquarters left it in better shape and potentially of more utility. On June 1, 1954, the Ottawa Valley Nursing Assistants Centre opened its doors. [18] Its mission was to alleviate the shortage of Nurses that existed in Ontario and train girls with only their Grade 8 certificate to become a Nursing Assistant. This would reduce the pressure on the Registered Nurses working in hospitals, nursing homes, and the VON. An article in the Ottawa Citizen characterized the facility as a “miniature hospital.” [19]

I have been unable to locate when the Nursing Assistants Centre closed its doors. It does not appear that it remained in the old fire house for long, however. Although it was still advertising in 1958, it appears that the Province abruptly cut funding to the facility. On September 9 of that year, Charlotte Whitton, using her column On Thinking It Over, pleaded for a stay of execution, characterized the move as “drastic“, and concluded with a suggestion that it was a poor political move “with an Ontario electing in the offing and Her Majesty coming and all.” [20] It seems that the two classes which were in progress were able to complete, and during that time, there may have been some reconsideration as additional classes graduated.

1956 Fire Insurance Map

By 1965, however, most of the lot had been cleared.

Aerial Image (1965) Source: City of Ottawa (http://maps.ottawa.ca/geoottawa/)
Aerial Image (1965)
Source: City of Ottawa (http://maps.ottawa.ca/geoottawa/)

 

[1] Jenkins, Phil (1996). An Acre of Time. Toronto: Macfarlane, Walter, and Ross.
[2] “Early Morning Blaze at Edwards’ Mill Costs $350,000.” Ottawa Citizen. July 25, 1907, p. 1. (Part 1, 2, 3, and 4).
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “Court Costs Of Sewer Explosion Case $7,501.72.” Ottawa Citizen. May 30, 1934, p. 4.
[6] “Fire Chief Sees Parking Danger On Sparks Now.” Ottawa Evening Citizen. February 6, 1935, p. 1.
[7] Taylor, John H. (2001). “Engineering, audit, and fire: Governance and modernity in depression Ottawa,” in Keshen, Jeff; St-Onge, Nicole. Ottawa: Making a Capital. University of Ottawa Press. pp. 333–345.
[8] “Con. Lewis Secures Action On Scheme, Engineers to Report.” Ottawa Citizen. July 17, 1935, p. 4.
[9] “Proposed as Site for New No. 6 Fire Station.” The Evening Citizen. December 15, 1936, p. 9.
[10] Taylor (2001), pp. 344-45.
[11] “Sons Replace Fathers Who Are Incapacitated On City Fire Brigade.” Ottawa Evening Citizen. May 5, 1937, p. 5.
[12] “Board Recommends Debenture to Build New Fire Station.” Ottawa Citizen. September 1, 1937, p. 5.
[13] “Council Approves Pension Fund For Staff of Library.” Ottawa Citizen. September 8, 1937, p. 5.
[14] “Discuss Plans For New Fire Station To Replace No. 6.” Ottawa Evening Citizen. February 22, 1938, p. 18.
[15] I intend to discuss the construction and tenure of the New New No. 6 at a later date.
[16] “Asks Have Government Pay for All Buildings.” Ottawa Evening Citizen. October 27, 1939, p. 13.
[17] “Mobilizing Field Park Units For Active Duty.” The Evening Citizen. March 12, 1941, p. 17.
[18] “Nursing Assistants Train In Old Fire Hall.” Ottawa Citizen. June 10, 1954.
[19] Mackay, Jeanne. “Nursing Assistants’ Course Opens Door To Wider Field.” Ottawa Citizen. January 6, 1956, p. 24.
[20] Whitton, Charlotte. “To Ontario’s Health Minister.” Ottawa Citizen. September 9, 1958. (Part 1 and 2).

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