Laurentian Terrace: The Dominion’s Residence for Women in Ottawa


Apartment, Charlotte Whitton, Development, Ottawa, Sussex Drive / Tuesday, February 10th, 2015

At the top-right, Laurentian Terrace. Home to countless female civil servants between 1943 and 1964. Image Source: Lost Ottawa [Facebook].
At the top-right, Laurentian Terrace. Home to countless female civil servants between 1943 and 1964. The round section is the cafeteria. The larger building to the left is the former Dominion Printing Bureau and if the image were taken today, the National Gallery is what you’d see. Image Source: Lost Ottawa [Facebook]. Colour correction, my own.
As Canada’s war effort continued through the early 1940s, the number of civil servants increased along with it. Many men were serving overseas and hundreds of young women were hired (after an initial lull) to work as stenographers and other junior administrators. When they arrived in the city from around the country (or left their parents’ Ottawa homes), they needed shelter.

In all of its glory. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1962, Page 17.
In all of its glory. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1962, Page 17.

Ottawa did not easily absorb this increase, however. The city was already in the midst of an acute housing shortage and a small army of young single women relocating to Ottawa in order to serve their country from the home front only served to inflame the shortage. As much as Ottawans had opened their homes, it was still insufficient. This is, of course,in addition to the social discomfort with the notion of their living unsupervised in the city. They may be tempted, after all, by the flesh or buy things on credit. 1Patrizia Gentile, in her MA Thesis (1996) entitled Searching for ‘Miss Civil Service’ and ‘Mr. Civil Service’: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests, and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, explored in detail these anxieties.

In May of 1943, the Journal reported that the new $330,000 residence, with accommodation for 360 for women would be open fairly soon and that it would be restricted to ‘Grade 1 Girls’: those who were making $70 per month or less. Room and board were to cost $8 per week. The new hostel, located at 360 Sussex across from the Basilica and which was to be named Kent House, was renamed Laurentian Terrace before opening: the name was “considered more suitable and distinctive.”2Ottawa Hostel for Grade 1 Girls,” Ottawa Journal, May 5, 1943, Pages 1, 14.

Although I'd have liked the 1958 aerials to have captured the parcel, it did not. A comparison between 1965 (when Laurentian Terrace was being demolished), 1976 (when the much-wanted tour bus parking lot was present), and 1991, shortly after the completion of the National Gallery. Images: geoOttawa.
Although I’d have liked the 1958 aerials to have captured the parcel, it did not. A comparison between 1965 (when Laurentian Terrace was being demolished), 1976 (when the much-wanted tour bus parking lot was present), and 1991, shortly after the completion of the National Gallery. Images: geoOttawa.

As additional preparations and details were worked out, the Civil Service Commission circulated posters around government offices to drum up interest.

Poster advertising the availability of rooms at Laurentian Terrace, June 1943. Source: LAC RG 17 Volume 3681 File W-4-40.
Poster advertising the availability of rooms at Laurentian Terrace, June 1943. The Hunter Building was located on O’Connor between Queen and Albert. If you’re curious, the Midcentury Modernist has a story about it on his site [Part 1 & Part 2]. Source: LAC RG 17 Volume 3681 File W-4-40.
One of the features of Laurentian Terrace was that it would be governed – at least in part – by a committee made up of residents. This committee would work in conjunction with management.3Ottawa Hostel for Grade 1 Girls,” Ottawa Journal,May 5, 1943, Page 14. As much as they were young women, they were not exactly passive. The initial committee was not, for example, impressed with the distinctly military grade of furnishings offered up by National Defence and the YWCA.4”Hostel Group Fought Economy – Thompson,” Ottawa Journal, May 11, 1943, Pages 1, 12.

The dispute over the quality and type of certain furnishings appears to have been quickly put to rest and it was announced that the hostel would open on June 19.5”Entry to Hostel Extended to $90 Girls in Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1943, Page 12. In spite of a recent minor pay raise (to $65 per month after six months), it was the price of room and board that was the largest cause for complaint. On June 2, the Journal reported that “[another] girl remarked she was not at all pleased ‘particularly because of the new hostel.’ Asked to explain she said that a Grade 2 would find the $8 weekly rate at Laurentian Terrace ‘hard enough to handle’, but for Grade 1’s[sic] to live there was almost out of the question”6”Civil Service Bonus Payments Will Date Back to April 1,” Ottawa Journal, June 2, 1943, Page. 20..

The woman interviewed by the Journal was, of course, quite right7At $8 per week ($32 per month), Laurentian Terrace originally cost its tenants nearly half of their wages. Grade 1 women were paid up to $70 per month ($17.50 per week). Women working in industrial occupations during the war made an average of $19.33 per week. No matter which way you slice it, these were somewhat expensive lodgings. Table source: Statistics Canada Table E60-68.
earnings
. Rather than reduce the price, which was considered to be “the minimum rate that can be charged in order to maintain a high standard of food and accommodation,” accommodation was opened up to Grade 2 women who were making as much as $90 per month. Under the previous limitation, applications were only trickling in8”Entry to Hostel Extended to $90 Girls in Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1943, Page 12..

The cafeteria at Laurentian Terrace was a little spartan. Source: Newsletter of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Volume 9, No. 12. July 31, 1964. Source: LAC MG 26-N3 (Lester B. Pearson Files) Volume 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.
The cafeteria at Laurentian Terrace was a little spartan. Source: Newsletter of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Volume 9, No. 12. July 31, 1964. [LAC MG 26-N3 (Lester B. Pearson Files) Volume 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.]
Once the eligibility was extended to those Grade 2 Girls, the five-winged residence’s halls began to fill – if still considerably more slowly than anticipated9”240 Rooms Vacant in C.S. Hostel,” Ottawa Journal, June 22, 1943, Page 17.. The sticking point remained the price. Although it was acknowledged that the meals were likely better in the Terrace, many women were apt to prefer the lower cost of living with a roommate somewhere else in the city. The savings in that situation were considerable to some – $5 a month in many cases10”Slash in Hostel Rates Urged by Civil Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 23, 1943, Pages 1, 12. and many young women who roomed outside the Terrace were more than happy to do so. This was to say nothing of the numerous Ottawa families who were able to earn some extra money by opening their homes11See Catherine Carroll (1993). “Working in the Government,” in Ruth Latta (ed.) The Memory of All That: Canadian Women Remember World War II. Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, Pages 37-47..  Some of the women were much more worried about the rules of the hostel, preferring instead a greater measure of personal freedom and autonomy12”Ibid; Although, it was not as if the rules were particularly effective it seems. Referring to Laurentian Terrace’s status as a “target” for “lust-crazed bachelors”, hostel superintendent Winnifred Moyle was quoted, suggesting that “[even] the hotels give them our number… it’s extremely annoying, and we certainly don’t encourage it.” As quoted in Patrizia Gentile (1996). Searching for ‘Miss Civil Service’ and ‘Mr. Civil Service’: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests, and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973. MA Thesis: Carleton University, Page 59..

This brochure from June of 1943 outlines the rules and expectations of Laurentian Terrace Residents. Source: LAC RG 17, Vol. 3681, File W-4-40.
This brochure from June of 1943 outlines the rules and expectations of Laurentian Terrace Residents. Source: LAC RG 17, Vol. 3681, File W-4-40.

It appears that the powers-that-be relented and the rates were reduced to $7 per week when three rented a room, narrowing the gap between private market averages and the government’s offerings13At least for those for whom three wasn’t a crowd. “Ottawa Girls’ Hostel Opens,” Ottawa Journal, June 23, 1943, Page 2; “Cabinet Minister Visits Hostel Finds Rate Charged Proper One,” Ottawa Journal, June 24, 1943, Page 3.. Although the debate over the price never did go away entirely, the Dominion was satisfied with the rate at which it was being filled. By July, there were 125 tenants residing in the hostel14”125 Girls Now In Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, July 3, 1943, Page 20.. Laurentian Terrace was officially filled to capacity by the end of July15”All Rooms Spoken For At Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, July 22, 1943, Page 11..

Coverage in the Journal and the Citizen was nevertheless kind to the facility, stressing the “comforts of home” and lack of “institutional” feel16”New Hostel Puts Accent on Home Comforts for Girls,” Ottawa Journal, June 19, 1943, Page 5.. Aside from some early logistical issues that plagued the cafeteria17”No Rushing for Meal At Girls’ New Hostel,” Ottawa Citizen, June 22, 1943, Page 3., and the need for some more entertainment options18”Terrace Girls Desperate for Piano,” Ottawa Journal, October 18, 1943 Page 2; “Citizen Reporter Enjoys Week-end Visit to Laurentian Terrace Hostel,” Ottawa Citizen, November 19, 1943, Page 14., it appeared that things were off to a good start.

Laurentian Terrace and its residents were commonly profiled in the local papers. Source: Ottawa Citizen, May 21, 1947, Page 17.
Laurentian Terrace and its residents were commonly profiled in the local papers. Source: Ottawa Citizen, May 21, 1947, Page 17.

Things were generally considered to be in hand and most reporting seemed to be in line with that above. Most stories were about the day-to-day lives of the women of Laurentian Terrace. Perhaps not unexpectedly, life inside the women’s hostel was something of a source of fascination for both Journal and Citizen reporters. For the Laurentian residents who were desirous of more personal freedom, they received their opportunity in 1944 when the leap year allowed them to play the “sly wolves” to men’s “gentle lambs.” For that purpose, no events were planned on February 29th19”Ottawa Men Had Better Beware ‘Wolves’ on Leap-Year Prowl,” Ottawa Journal, February 29, 1944, Page 10.. Most reporting on the Terrace’s events was in this lifestyle vein20Everything that tends to remain fodder for women’s magazines today featured as well. Decreed by “Fashion and the Prices Board,” no less. “Ottawa Girls Keep Silhouette Trim by Vigorous Exercise,” Ottawa Journal, March 7, 1944, Pages 1, 10..

Once again, however, the women of Laurentian Terrace demonstrated that they were not interested in simply accepting what they were given. Indeed, even as breathless pieces extolling the virtues of the menu and life within the hostel’s walls were being published, all eleven resident members of the Laurentian Terrace Council had resigned in protest21”Resign in Protest From Council,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1944, Page 1..

Residents of Laurentian Terrace "relax in one of the comfortable common rooms." SOURCE: NEWSLETTER OF THE CENTRAL MORTGAGE AND HOUSING CORPORATION, VOLUME 9, NO. 12. JULY 31, 1964. [LAC MG 26-N3 (LESTER B. PEARSON FILES) VOLUME 166 FILE 352/C397.11 LAURENTIAN TERRACE.]
Residents of Laurentian Terrace “relax in one of the comfortable common rooms.” SOURCE: NEWSLETTER OF THE CENTRAL MORTGAGE AND HOUSING CORPORATION, VOLUME 9, NO. 12. JULY 31, 1964. [LAC MG 26-N3 (LESTER B. PEARSON FILES) VOLUME 166 FILE 352/C397.11 LAURENTIAN TERRACE.]
In effect, resident members of the Council felt as if they were little more than  “boarding school girls,” and that if they were paying such a high price to be there, they should getting a little more value for the dollar. Complaints were leveled against the quality and choices of food and against management for its inability (or unwillingness) to deal with vermin.22Ibid.. The resigned committed was quick to add, however, that they liked living at Laurentian Terrace, but their complaints were not being heard by management23”C.S. Girls’ Council Explain Criticism Of Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, March 9, 1944, Page 12..

In spite of Laurentian Terrace management’s best efforts, the dispute gained the attention of Norman McLarty, the Secretary of State and minister responsible for the operation. Though the Journal reported that McLarty had agreed to probe the source of discontent, he later denied the report24”McLarty Agrees to Probe Hostel Dispute,” Ottawa Journal, March 14, 1944, Pages 1, 12; “McLarty Denies Statement Made On Hostel Probe,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1944, Page 11., claiming that:

The board of management of Laurentian Terrace is thoroughly competent to make any investigation that is required, and I have no thought ow[sic] any such probe into the so called Laurentian Terrace dispute. I have the utmost confidence in both the board and Miss Cruikshank.

It is a matter of regret that The Journal has seen fit to stir up a matter of this kind which can cause only embarrassment to those who are concerned.

“McLarty Denies Statement Made On Hostel Probe,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1944, Page 11.

Although McLarty consciously remained out of the dispute, the resigned committee’s tactic appears to have worked and Laurentian Terrace Board Chairman, B.J. Roberts, agreed to investigate more closely the complaints. He arrived at the conclusion that the problem was more one of clashing personalities and miscommunication and the issue was effectively put to bed25”Clashing Personalities Caused Laurentian Terrace Trouble,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1944, Page 21. The next time the Journal printed an article about the Terrace, it was about the creation of a new bible study class for the women. It appears that the issue was firmly put to bed. “Laurentian Terrace Girls Have Bible Study Class,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1944, Page 2.. It appears that the Dominion’s will carried the day, as the hostel turned an operating profit during those years26”Laurentian Terrace Made $27,644 Profit,” Ottawa Journal, February 13, 1946, Page 12..

From there, it appears that the seas were effectively calmed and Laurentian Terrace continued to operate without much in the way of conflict.

As the war wound down and the Civil Service continued to grow, demand for additional hostel space grew as well. Beginning in 1945, stories about Laurentian Terrace became increasingly positive27”Illness at All-Time Low For Girls in Ottawa Hostel,” Toronto Star, March 21, 1945, Page 13. and demands were made for more of such hostels28”More Hostel Space Sought,” Ottawa Journal, February 23, 1945, Pages 1, 8; “One Good Hostel Deserves Another,” Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1945, Page 8; “Many Girls Are Seeking Entry to Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1945, Page 10; There were more demands for housing in general. The shortage that existed before the war had become critical in the intervening years. “Heckling Enlivens Legion Meeting for Vets,” Ottawa Journal, April 26, 1945, Page 22; “Dunbar Says Drew Government Upholds Fair Play For Labour,” Ottawa Journal, May 18, 1945, Page 5.. In spite of the conflict and controversy at the outset, the hostel turned out to be a popular option for the young women who came to make up an increasingly large proportion of the Civil Service. Indeed, Laurentian Terrace was seen by some women as just about the only positive aspect to being in Ottawa29”Letters to the Editor: A Western Girl Writes,” Ottawa Citizen, October 13, 1945. Page 24.

Laurentian Terrace: a popular choice. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 11, 1948, Page 3.
Laurentian Terrace: a popular choice. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 11, 1948, Page 3.

Just as the laurel leaves were donned, however, the wartime bills were beginning to be tabulated and justifications were demanded for the continued existence of all wartime temporaries – including Laurentian Terrace30”Buildings to Stay – Must Justify $7,600,000 Cost, Ottawa Citizen, March 3, 1949, Pages 1, 10.. As it would be, so long as the hostel continued to turn a profit, it would remain as safe as ever. It was nevertheless transferred to the CMHC in 1949.

Through the 1950s, this wasn’t an issue. The hostel remained standing, filled with women, and a source of numerous stories for the local papers. Characterized as “Girls’ Town”31”Life at ‘Girls’ Town,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1950, Page 3. and a “dream world,”32Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1950, Page 3 [Pictures]. this home to 360 women was endlessly attractive to reporters. Especially those seeking to titillate local bachelors (who were eventually temporarily admitted to their own wing as the number of women seeking residence diminished33”Girl Town Getting Men,” Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1950, Page 14.).

It goes without saying that the attention was not always wanted. Source: Ottawa Citizen, August 1, 1950, Page 13.
It goes without saying that the attention was not always wanted. Source: Ottawa Citizen, August 1, 1950, Page 13.

In spite of their desire for a more private life than they were receiving, the cheery (and often cheeky) profiles of a residence filled almost entirely with women continued largely unabated34In addition to the profile from the Montreal Gazette below, there were numerous others. “Home to 300 Girls Here Is Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1961, Page 22; “International Atmosphere At ‘Terrace’,” Ottawa Journal, March 21, 1961, Page 19; “300 Govt. Girls Find Home In Ottawa’s Laurentian Terrace,” Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, March 22, 1961, Page 7.

Duncan Cameron's images (in the grid above) were used by the Montreal Gazette in 1949. Source: Montreal Gazette, June 3, 1959, Page 10.
Duncan Cameron’s images (in the grid above) were used by the Montreal Gazette in 1959. Source: Montreal Gazette, June 3, 1959, Page 10.

In spite of all efforts to increase the number of residents in the hostel – which included allowing men to stay in one wing, opening it up to low-paid civil servants in other levels of government, and even opening it up to women from other governments’ embassies – Laurentian Terrace struggled to break even (let alone turn the sort of profits that it did during the war and into the first part of the decade). Combine that with the fact that it was a temporary building, built on the basis of being temporary, even the minor repairs35In 1959, the CMHC issued tenders for interior painting, in 1960, for painting of the cafeteria, and in 1961 for new cafeteria equipment. Ottawa Citizen, July 10, 1959, Page 38; Ottawa Journal, March 3, 1960, Page 32; Ottawa Journal, September 2, 1961, Page 29. made by the CMHC were challenging to the financial health of the operation. It was perhaps then no accident that, as the repairs began in 1959, that the hostel took its first loss. As permanent and homey as Laurentian Terrace may have felt, the $322,000 building was at the end of its life36”Temporary Historic Sites,” Ottawa Journal, November 5, 1962, Page 6..

By the early 1960s, the writing was on the wall. It was just not considered good value to provide housing services like this. Source: The Royal Commission on Government Organization ("Glassco Commission" 1962), Volume 2, Chapter 10 ("The 'Make or Buy' Problem"), pp. 343-44.
By the early 1960s, the writing was on the wall. It was just not considered good value to provide housing services like this. Source: The Royal Commission on Government Organization (“Glassco Commission” 1962), Volume 2, Chapter 10 (“The ‘Make or Buy’ Problem”), pp. 343-44.

Therefore, in 1962 the Royal Commission on Government Organization – better known as the Glassco Commission, recommended that Laurentian Terrace be put on the chopping block. ‘Girls Town’, as reporters from the Journal were sometimes fond of calling it, was about to be no more.

The closure of the money-losing 'Girls Town' was significant news. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1962, Page 17.
The closure of the money-losing ‘Girls Town’ was significant news. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1962, Page 17.

J. Grant Glassco’s recommendation for closure was a popular one among the governing classes and a prolonged and to-the-last-minute campaign to keep Laurentian Terrace open resulted in failure.

Even urgent telegrams sent as followups to the considerable correspondence were unable to move Pearson. Source: LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.
Even urgent telegrams sent as followups to the considerable correspondence were unable to move Pearson. Source: LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.

All that effort, and Pearson responded with a definite (if somewhat regretful) “no”. The CMHC’s analysis was considered solid, and the private market was seen to be now more than able to cater to the young women of the civil service. It likely did not help matters that the rents then charged to stay at Laurentian Terrace were considerably below market rates. Popular coverage characterized the government as a “sugar daddy.”37”Government Quits Sugar Daddy Role,” Ottawa Citizen, May 27, 1964, Page 13. Laurentian Terrace had been charging $69.50 for a single and $55.50 for a double since 1958. Prevailing rents for a bachelor around the city ranged from $75 for those further afield to $95 in the core.

In spite of a full-court press that involved letters and protests, the decision was made. Source: LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166, File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.
In spite of a full-court press that involved letters and protests, the decision was made. Source: LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166, File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.

In this issue, as with so many others, once it died at the Prime Minister’s desk, that was the end. Neither the chorus of residents nor the efforts of the Civil Service Association of Canada (one of the forerunner unions of the Public Service Alliance of Canada) were able to keep it open. A week after the above letter was sent, the CMHC’s closing date of October 1, 1964 was made definite38The CMHC was not wholly unsentimental about the residence’s closure. In the company newsletter of July 31, 1964, it published a feature about the Terrace, hitting on many of the same positive notes that was par for the course in its coverage.
1964-Profile-Page-5LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.
. The adoption of the Glassco recommendation was fairly definite in its own right as, but by closure, Laurentian Terrace’s population had been reduced to 20739”Fewer Guests: Oct. 1 set for closing of Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Citizen, May 25, 1964, Page 1..

In death as in life, Laurentian Terrace's demolition garnered considerable attention. In this case, it was from the selling off of anything that could be from the former residence. Here, an advertisement for the sale of furniture. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 7, 1964, Page 9.
In death as in life, Laurentian Terrace’s demolition garnered considerable attention. In this case, it was from the selling off of anything that could be from the former residence. Here, an advertisement for the sale of furniture. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 7, 1964, Page 9.

The bonanza began. Shortly after closure, the CMHC catalogued all saleable materials and local dealers were given the opportunity to sell it off.

Everything must go. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 20, 1964, Page 19.
Everything must go. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 20, 1964, Page 19.

Similarly, once the building was deconstructed, all usable materials were sold off as well. At the very least, it did not all make its way to the landfill.

The deconstruction of Laurentian Terrace was caught in the 1965 aerial photographs of the city. Source: geoOttawa.
The deconstruction of Laurentian Terrace was caught in the 1965 aerial photographs of the city. The large building on the left was the Dominion Printing Bureau, which was also not long for the world. Source: geoOttawa.

As the Centennial celebrations of 1967 approached, the site of Laurentian Terrace (and its much larger neighbour, the Dominion Printing Bureau) came to be highly sought after. Such a beautiful setting, just off of Nepean Point would be perfect for any number of exciting new public works.

One of the first rumours (that was quickly put to rest) was that the demolition of the Printing Bureau and Laurentian Terrace would make way for a sorely needed new Mint. It was logical, as the existing Mint was seen as well-past its best-before and a new one was sorely needed. In the fall of 1963, however, the smart money was on it crossing the river into Hull. Nevertheless, the removal of those buildings from the site would “fit the plan to primp and polish the Capital for the Centennial”40”Two Sites Studied For Royal Mint,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1963, Page 1..

The first serious proposal for the site was to host the National Arts Centre. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 28, 1963, Page 1.
The first serious proposal for the site was to host the National Arts Centre. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 28, 1963, Page 1.

The first proposal for the site that gained significant traction was the National Capital Arts Alliance’s selection for the new National Arts Centre. The $20,000 105 page final report was submitted in October of 1963 and suggested that a $9,000,000 centre be placed on the site that would not only see Laurentian Terrace and the mothballed Dominion Printing Bureau buildings demolished, but also the War Museum and Archives buildings demolished to make room. The site was chosen on the basis that it was the only one that met all of the criteria of the new centre. With a sense of urgency, the authors of the report set a deadline of January 1, 1964 for a decision to be made41”$9,000,000 Arts Centre Urged For Sussex Drive,” Ottawa Journal, October 28, 1963, Pages 1, 9. The Journal, showing some booster spirit, ran the story on the front page with an uncharacteristic star border and with an accompanying photo of the nearby Macdonald-Cartier bridge under construction. The proposal was wildly popular among many in Ottawa, including the Theatre Foundation of Ottawa (whose president was Sam Berger)42”Foundation hails arts centre plan,” Ottawa Citizen, October 31, 1963, Page 4..

Perhaps something to be expected, but Ottawa's firebrand mayor Charlotte Whitton wasn't so sure she liked the proposed location. Image: Ted Grant / Library and Archives Canada. Accession 1981-181 NPC, Item 61-1180, fr. 25-30.
Perhaps something to be expected, but Ottawa’s firebrand mayor Charlotte Whitton wasn’t so sure she liked the proposed location. Image: Ted Grant / Library and Archives Canada. Accession 1981-181 NPC, Item 61-1180, fr. 25-30.

Ottawa’s mayor at the time was none other than Charlotte Whitton and, given her track record, it would perhaps be expected that she would have a different idea about where the new arts centre should be placed. And she did. Backed by the city’s Board of Control and the Sparks Street Development Association, her preferred location of the east side of Confederation Square was suddenly thrust on to the front pages of the papers and into the popular imagination. Although there were a number of other sites floated, it really came down to Sussex versus Elgin43Though Sussex remained the clear winner on technical grounds. “Where should Performing Arts Centre go?” Ottawa Citizen, January 11, 1964, Page 23. The other potential sites were the site of the former OTC garage on the block bounded by Albert, Kent, Sparks, and Lyon (recommended by Jacques Greber and approved by the Theatre Foundation of Ottawa); roughly the current site of the Rideau Centre (preferred by Transport Minister George McIlraith and local MPs Jean Richard and Lloyd Francis; Another federally-owned lot on the eastern approach to the Macdonald-Cartier bridge, the current site of Fort Pearson (no single identified champion)..

Decisions, decisions. Charlotte Whitton laid out a 9-point defence of her advocacy for the Confederation Square site. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 14, 1964, Pages 1, 36.
Decisions, decisions. Charlotte Whitton laid out a 9-point defence of her advocacy for the Confederation Square site. Source: Ottawa Journal, January 14, 1964, Page 36.

I won’t go into too much detail about the event, because the Midcentury Modernist has already done that in his 9-part series about the development of the Rideau Centre44As one of the most important undertakings of urban development in Ottawa’s recent history, I’d say that all nine parts should be read. Chapter 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09.. Part 4 specifically details the decision made to place the National Arts Centre where it is today, on Confederation Square. Once again, Whitton adroitly saw her vision through45For her reasoning, see “Mayor Defends Choice Of Ottawa Arts Centre Site,” Ottawa Journal, January 14, 1964, Pages 1, 36; Richard Jackson, “Up out of the cloud of dust,” Ottawa Journal, June 17, 1965, Page 7..

It's really worth reading about how the heart of Ottawa came to appear as it does today.
It’s really worth reading about how the heart of Ottawa came to appear as it does today. Source: URBSite

With the National (then Performing) Arts Centre being relocated to Confederation Square, one of the most beautiful sites in the whole region was once again open to suggestion. Of course, without a strong need for use, the site remained underused for nearly twenty years. It appears that through the later 1960s and 1970s, the highest use for it was as a parking lot, chiefly for Mint and War Museum employees, but as well as for tour buses46”Tourist Buses: Parking Spot Needed,” Ottawa Journal, June 12, 1965, Page 4.. A small park was also constructed on the corner of Sussex and St. Patrick, as a sort of visual buffer47”A small park and a large principle,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1974, Page 6..

By 1976, the small park had been reduced in size. Image: geoOttawa, 1976 aerial.
By 1976, the small park had been reduced in size. Image: geoOttawa, 1976 aerial.

I’ll leave the story of the National Gallery of Canada for another day, but it what was ultimately constructed on the site. Construction on the $128 million gallery commenced in 1985 and was completed in 1988.

Almost exactly 20 years after the demolition of Laurentian Terrace, the property found a new - higher - purpose: the site of the beautiful National Gallery of Canada. Image: geoOttawa, 1991 Aerial.
Almost exactly 20 years after the demolition of Laurentian Terrace, the property found a new – higher – purpose: the site of the beautiful National Gallery of Canada. Image: geoOttawa, 1991 Aerial.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Patrizia Gentile, in her MA Thesis (1996) entitled Searching for ‘Miss Civil Service’ and ‘Mr. Civil Service’: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests, and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973, explored in detail these anxieties.
2. Ottawa Hostel for Grade 1 Girls,” Ottawa Journal, May 5, 1943, Pages 1, 14.
3. Ottawa Hostel for Grade 1 Girls,” Ottawa Journal,May 5, 1943, Page 14.
4. ”Hostel Group Fought Economy – Thompson,” Ottawa Journal, May 11, 1943, Pages 1, 12.
5. ”Entry to Hostel Extended to $90 Girls in Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1943, Page 12.
6. ”Civil Service Bonus Payments Will Date Back to April 1,” Ottawa Journal, June 2, 1943, Page. 20.
7. At $8 per week ($32 per month), Laurentian Terrace originally cost its tenants nearly half of their wages. Grade 1 women were paid up to $70 per month ($17.50 per week). Women working in industrial occupations during the war made an average of $19.33 per week. No matter which way you slice it, these were somewhat expensive lodgings. Table source: Statistics Canada Table E60-68.
earnings
8. ”Entry to Hostel Extended to $90 Girls in Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1943, Page 12.
9. ”240 Rooms Vacant in C.S. Hostel,” Ottawa Journal, June 22, 1943, Page 17.
10. ”Slash in Hostel Rates Urged by Civil Service,” Ottawa Journal, June 23, 1943, Pages 1, 12.
11. See Catherine Carroll (1993). “Working in the Government,” in Ruth Latta (ed.) The Memory of All That: Canadian Women Remember World War II. Burnstown, ON: General Store Publishing House, Pages 37-47.
12. ”Ibid; Although, it was not as if the rules were particularly effective it seems. Referring to Laurentian Terrace’s status as a “target” for “lust-crazed bachelors”, hostel superintendent Winnifred Moyle was quoted, suggesting that “[even] the hotels give them our number… it’s extremely annoying, and we certainly don’t encourage it.” As quoted in Patrizia Gentile (1996). Searching for ‘Miss Civil Service’ and ‘Mr. Civil Service’: Gender Anxiety, Beauty Contests, and Fruit Machines in the Canadian Civil Service, 1950-1973. MA Thesis: Carleton University, Page 59.
13. At least for those for whom three wasn’t a crowd. “Ottawa Girls’ Hostel Opens,” Ottawa Journal, June 23, 1943, Page 2; “Cabinet Minister Visits Hostel Finds Rate Charged Proper One,” Ottawa Journal, June 24, 1943, Page 3.
14. ”125 Girls Now In Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, July 3, 1943, Page 20.
15. ”All Rooms Spoken For At Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, July 22, 1943, Page 11.
16. ”New Hostel Puts Accent on Home Comforts for Girls,” Ottawa Journal, June 19, 1943, Page 5.
17. ”No Rushing for Meal At Girls’ New Hostel,” Ottawa Citizen, June 22, 1943, Page 3.
18. ”Terrace Girls Desperate for Piano,” Ottawa Journal, October 18, 1943 Page 2; “Citizen Reporter Enjoys Week-end Visit to Laurentian Terrace Hostel,” Ottawa Citizen, November 19, 1943, Page 14.
19. ”Ottawa Men Had Better Beware ‘Wolves’ on Leap-Year Prowl,” Ottawa Journal, February 29, 1944, Page 10.
20. Everything that tends to remain fodder for women’s magazines today featured as well. Decreed by “Fashion and the Prices Board,” no less. “Ottawa Girls Keep Silhouette Trim by Vigorous Exercise,” Ottawa Journal, March 7, 1944, Pages 1, 10.
21. ”Resign in Protest From Council,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1944, Page 1.
22. Ibid.
23. ”C.S. Girls’ Council Explain Criticism Of Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, March 9, 1944, Page 12.
24. ”McLarty Agrees to Probe Hostel Dispute,” Ottawa Journal, March 14, 1944, Pages 1, 12; “McLarty Denies Statement Made On Hostel Probe,” Ottawa Citizen, March 15, 1944, Page 11.
25. ”Clashing Personalities Caused Laurentian Terrace Trouble,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1944, Page 21. The next time the Journal printed an article about the Terrace, it was about the creation of a new bible study class for the women. It appears that the issue was firmly put to bed. “Laurentian Terrace Girls Have Bible Study Class,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1944, Page 2.
26. ”Laurentian Terrace Made $27,644 Profit,” Ottawa Journal, February 13, 1946, Page 12.
27. ”Illness at All-Time Low For Girls in Ottawa Hostel,” Toronto Star, March 21, 1945, Page 13.
28. ”More Hostel Space Sought,” Ottawa Journal, February 23, 1945, Pages 1, 8; “One Good Hostel Deserves Another,” Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1945, Page 8; “Many Girls Are Seeking Entry to Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1945, Page 10; There were more demands for housing in general. The shortage that existed before the war had become critical in the intervening years. “Heckling Enlivens Legion Meeting for Vets,” Ottawa Journal, April 26, 1945, Page 22; “Dunbar Says Drew Government Upholds Fair Play For Labour,” Ottawa Journal, May 18, 1945, Page 5.
29. ”Letters to the Editor: A Western Girl Writes,” Ottawa Citizen, October 13, 1945. Page 24
30. ”Buildings to Stay – Must Justify $7,600,000 Cost, Ottawa Citizen, March 3, 1949, Pages 1, 10.
31. ”Life at ‘Girls’ Town,” Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1950, Page 3.
32. Ottawa Journal, March 8, 1950, Page 3 [Pictures].
33. ”Girl Town Getting Men,” Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1950, Page 14.
34. In addition to the profile from the Montreal Gazette below, there were numerous others. “Home to 300 Girls Here Is Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1961, Page 22; “International Atmosphere At ‘Terrace’,” Ottawa Journal, March 21, 1961, Page 19; “300 Govt. Girls Find Home In Ottawa’s Laurentian Terrace,” Quebec Chronicle-Telegraph, March 22, 1961, Page 7
35. In 1959, the CMHC issued tenders for interior painting, in 1960, for painting of the cafeteria, and in 1961 for new cafeteria equipment. Ottawa Citizen, July 10, 1959, Page 38; Ottawa Journal, March 3, 1960, Page 32; Ottawa Journal, September 2, 1961, Page 29.
36. ”Temporary Historic Sites,” Ottawa Journal, November 5, 1962, Page 6.
37. ”Government Quits Sugar Daddy Role,” Ottawa Citizen, May 27, 1964, Page 13. Laurentian Terrace had been charging $69.50 for a single and $55.50 for a double since 1958. Prevailing rents for a bachelor around the city ranged from $75 for those further afield to $95 in the core.
38. The CMHC was not wholly unsentimental about the residence’s closure. In the company newsletter of July 31, 1964, it published a feature about the Terrace, hitting on many of the same positive notes that was par for the course in its coverage.
1964-Profile-Page-5LAC MG 26-N3 Vol. 166 File 352/C397.11 Laurentian Terrace.
39. ”Fewer Guests: Oct. 1 set for closing of Laurentian Terrace,” Ottawa Citizen, May 25, 1964, Page 1.
40. ”Two Sites Studied For Royal Mint,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1963, Page 1.
41. ”$9,000,000 Arts Centre Urged For Sussex Drive,” Ottawa Journal, October 28, 1963, Pages 1, 9. The Journal, showing some booster spirit, ran the story on the front page with an uncharacteristic star border and with an accompanying photo of the nearby Macdonald-Cartier bridge under construction
42. ”Foundation hails arts centre plan,” Ottawa Citizen, October 31, 1963, Page 4.
43. Though Sussex remained the clear winner on technical grounds. “Where should Performing Arts Centre go?” Ottawa Citizen, January 11, 1964, Page 23. The other potential sites were the site of the former OTC garage on the block bounded by Albert, Kent, Sparks, and Lyon (recommended by Jacques Greber and approved by the Theatre Foundation of Ottawa); roughly the current site of the Rideau Centre (preferred by Transport Minister George McIlraith and local MPs Jean Richard and Lloyd Francis; Another federally-owned lot on the eastern approach to the Macdonald-Cartier bridge, the current site of Fort Pearson (no single identified champion).
44. As one of the most important undertakings of urban development in Ottawa’s recent history, I’d say that all nine parts should be read. Chapter 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 07, 08, 09.
45. For her reasoning, see “Mayor Defends Choice Of Ottawa Arts Centre Site,” Ottawa Journal, January 14, 1964, Pages 1, 36; Richard Jackson, “Up out of the cloud of dust,” Ottawa Journal, June 17, 1965, Page 7.
46. ”Tourist Buses: Parking Spot Needed,” Ottawa Journal, June 12, 1965, Page 4.
47. ”A small park and a large principle,” Ottawa Journal, September 26, 1974, Page 6.

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