On February 4, 1961, the elder statesman of Ottawa’s United Church community was destroyed by fire. The fire, reputedly the result of an unfortunate meeting between an electric heater and stacks of dry paper, resulted in $500,000 in damage. When it became clear that Ottawa’s developers were not interested in blending the ecclesiastical with the commercial (as they would later be with St. Andrew’s), Dominion United’s congregation and the nearby Chalmers voted to merge. If you’re attending the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, this should ring a bell.
As the Journal did not publish on Sundays, the following were published the following Monday (February 6).
The resulting wreck. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1961, Page 1.
The Journal’s photographers, Dominion Wide (an apt name), were on hand to witness the Ottawa Fire Department fighting the losing battle. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1961, Page 21.
The gallons of water made no difference. Once the flames got a hold of the structure, that was it. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1961, Page 21.
From above, the situation did not appear to be any better that winter. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1961, Page 21.
Following the destruction of the church services were held in a number of locations around the city. Immediately following, they were held in the Capitol Theatre. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1961, Page 3.
This aerial shot of the smoking remains of Dominion United also shows the extent to which Ottawa’s Downtown area had been changing. In the immediate foreground was Ottawa’s first parking garage, the Queen Street Carpark. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 4, 1961, Page 21.
Occasionally, it will be a single image that really tells the human story. In this case, at least in my own opinion, it was this picture. Shot by Ted Grant, one of the guiding lights of photojournalism and then employee of the Andrews-Newton Agency, this picture of Mayor Charlotte Whitton really does communicate the feeling of loss in the community.
As winter melted into spring and the rubble had been cleared, the property’s status changed. No longer considered to be religious grounds by the City of Ottawa’s standards, the lot was then assessed at the foregoing commercial rate. This was somewhat unpopular among church leadership and the congregation. While this service-protest combo was happening, the Church was fighting the assessment in front of the Court of Revision.
In addition to the estimated 200 participants, a number of people were reported to have observed the occasion in silence.
It appears that the protest did not work, nor did the church find a developer to work with as part of some sort of Private-Ecclesiastical Partnership. As noted above, the congregations of both the Dominion and Chalmers congregations voted to merge.