White House Apartments, Redux


Apartment, Centretown, Development, Elgin Street, Midcentury, Ottawa / Saturday, January 17th, 2015
We return to the front entrance of the White House Apartments. Image: January 2015.

If you will remember, last year I wrote about some of the “excitement” that took place in the apartment building that I live in. Although I provided something of a nice overview of the events of the property, I was wholly unclear about how the specific building came to be. For an unrelated purpose, I paid a visit to the City of Ottawa Archives and once I was finished collecting what I was looking for1M.A. Seymour’s “Ottawa Land Enquiry” (1953)., I decided to explore the open stacks in the city’s beautiful facility at 100 Tallwood Drive.

One question that I had rolling around at the back of my mind was whether or not I could finally locate the builder of the apartment that I live in. Searching through the Journal and my other usual sources resulted in nothing, so I had been left hanging. Nevertheless, as I was overstimulated in my exploration of the open stacks I came across the City of Ottawa Property Assessment rolls. This is what I wrote about the family in November 2013:

Much like the Mackenzie Apartments at McLeod and Elgin or the Harmon Apartments on Elgin, the White House Apartments were named after the owners of the home [who] previously occupied the lot. In this case, it was well-known local, Walter Russell White (1883-1961). Russell (as he was better known) spent most of his career working in the surveys division of the Department of Indian Affairs. Adding to his profile in social circles, he was a member of the Doric Lodge, the first president of the Ottawa Property Owners’ Association, active in the Ottawa Hunt and Curling clubs, and an upstanding and popular member of the Chalmers (now Dominion-Chalmers) Church.

His wife (Eva Alma, but always in print, “Mrs. W. Russell White”. Thanks patriarchy) certainly made a name for herself. She was featured hundreds of times on the local social pages, was exceptionally active in the city as the president of the Local Council of Women, and in 1940 was appointed at the official consumers’ representative on the Milk Board of Ontario. Probably a function of the [ideal] anonymity of the Civil Service, a search of the Journal’s database for “W. Russell White” yields 289 hits, the vast majority are in reference to her. While her name and good standing may have been anchored to him, it is her public profile that looms larger today.

On the whole, the family enjoyed a high profile locally and their son David even featured in the papers for thwarting a young purse thief in the summer of 1940. David would later be sent overseas with the Algonquin Regiment to fight in the Netherlands.

By the late 1940s, it appears that the family had moved on (to a home on MacLaren) and the home was subdivided into apartments. It was even used as a vaccination clinic at one point.  Beginning around this time, mentions of the White family being resident at this address came to disappear, with the sons growing older and moving on, [Russell] and Eva relocated to the stately home at 584 MacLaren, near Dundonald Park. Doubtlessly a sought-after and well-regarded address befitting a couple as prominent in the city as they were. Although I have not located any relevant information to suggest it, it seems most likely that the family held on to the property themselves.

That is just what I found in the property assessment rolls. On the 1957 assessment roll, every unit in the apartment is listed as vacant and the property owner is listed as Dabert Ltd., at 686 Somerset St. W.2City of Ottawa, Property Assessment, Ward 4 (Wellington), Volume 3, Reel 272. As with so many other businesses, this one was a also a portmanteau: Dave & Albert (Bert), two sons of Russell and Eva White. The family, in other words, did hang on to the property, which was listed as being in the possession of Eva White on the previous assessment.

Both Dave and Bert were well-known in the community. Once Dave returned from overseas he entered the real estate business, working with the Oliver Realty Company selling homes around the city3Ottawa Journal, December 22, 1950, p. 23.. It appears that he wasn’t long satisfied selling homes and by 1953, he had taken over the A.E. Shorter & Son hardware store down the street at 686 Somerset W.

Dave White Hardware was a fixture near the corner of Somerset and Bronson (the Petro-Canada today) for nearly a decade. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1954, Page 8.
Dave White Hardware was a fixture near the corner of Somerset and Bronson (the Petro-Canada today) for nearly a decade. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1954, Page 8.

Dave’s brother Bert was also involved in the real estate and building field, working in the mortgage and insurance field. First as an independent insurance broker and then attached to Ault-Kinney4Ottawa Journal, November 3, 1956, Page 36..

During the 1950s and 1960s, Ault-Kinney was a veritable force in Ottawa development. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 2, 1956, Page 36.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Ault-Kinney was a veritable force in Ottawa development. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 2, 1956, Page 36.

In addition to Dave White Hardware and Dabert Ltd., Dave also ran Canada Construction and Engineering, a company that constructed homes and small apartments mostly. Although it did not enjoy as large a presence in the local paper pages as many other local outfits, Dave appears to have made something of a name for himself in the industry all the same.

By the time Dave and Bert had the property at 161 Somerset transferred to them in 1956, the White family had long since decamped. Parents Russell and Eva had moved to their large home on MacLaren, the children grown up. The old family home had been split into a triplex and was fully rented for some years, but was getting worn. The brothers had an opportunity.

The White brothers were also innovative. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 10, 1956, Page 15.
The White brothers were also innovative. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 10, 1956, Page 15.

Although the project was, by any standard, a modest and relatively nondescript four-storey walk-up, the White brothers were able to get some media attention for their project. On November 10, 1956, a reporter from the Ottawa Journal stopped by to see that a massive plastic tent had been erected over the foundation.

For the first time in Ottawa’s construction history, plastic is being used to enclose a building while it is under construction. It will insure that work can go on in the coldest weather.

The project is a $165,000 four-storey apartment on the north side of Somerset street, just east of Elgin, undertaken by Dabert Limited made up Dave and Bert White of Ottawa.

Dave White gave credit to his construction firm, Panada [sic] Construction and Engineering Limited of Billings Bridge, for the idea of using plastic to complete a building despite severe Winter building conditions.

Ottawa Journal, November 10, 1956, Page 15

The tactic appears to have worked successfully. Although they did not make their deadline of being complete by March 15, the White House Apartments were ready for May 1 (1957) occupancy. The units, remain today more or less as described in some early ads5Though a shared television antenna would be more useful now than it likely was when it was removed at some point.. The bathroom tiles, for example, came in four colours – the sort of mid-1950s robin’s egg blue, pistachio green, soft yellow, and a blushy pink. For the record, I’ve got a pistachio unit.

 

 

IMG_6459.JPG
There it is: in all it’s pistachioey glory.

 

Notes   [ + ]

1. M.A. Seymour’s “Ottawa Land Enquiry” (1953).
2. City of Ottawa, Property Assessment, Ward 4 (Wellington), Volume 3, Reel 272.
3. Ottawa Journal, December 22, 1950, p. 23.
4. Ottawa Journal, November 3, 1956, Page 36.
5. Though a shared television antenna would be more useful now than it likely was when it was removed at some point.

6 Replies to “White House Apartments, Redux”

  1. This is the building my dad and uncle built which we found fascinating as kids. my sister and I ard also in the real estate business in Ottawa and the home at 584 MacLaren street is now owned by anither realtor. They have upgraded the building too. I aporeciate that you did all this research. You told me things about my family that I didnt know!

    1. Hi Wendy! I’m glad that I could provide a little! I always love to hear from the families of who constructed these buildings and it’s really great that you’ve remained in the family business.

      Cheers!
      -Chris

Leave a Reply