“Thank-you for the coffee, Monsieur Dugas. I shall miss it when I leave Casablanca.”


Apartment, Development, Midcentury, Ottawa / Friday, October 23rd, 2015
The Casablanca Apartments at 1 Hamilton Avenue in Hintonburg. Image: October 2015.
The Casablanca Apartments at 1 Hamilton Avenue in Hintonburg. Image: October 2015.

As I have been somewhat distracted lately, my work on these stories has been even more slack than it was by the end of the summer. I have, nevertheless, been beavering away behind the scenes and will have a medium-length story about the Franconna Apartments on Frank street as well as a really long piece about the former Pestalozzi College. Until then, here’s a really quick one about the Casablanca Apartments at 1 Hamilton Avenue in Hintonburg.

Hintonburg's more industrial roots were showing at the time. Less so today. "D" is for "development". Image: geoOttawa, 1958 Aerial.
Hintonburg’s more industrial roots were showing at the time. Less so today. “D” is for “development”. Image: geoOttawa, 1958 Aerial.

The 1950s and 1960s was generally an era in which modest apartments would be constructed on any available or inexpensive land. The severe housing shortage, which had begun during the Depression, had not yet been licked and a considerable number of programs and policies were in put into place in order to encourage private sector residential construction.

This scene, shot from about a block away, was the sort of context in which the residents of The Casablanca would be living in. Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-004788-W.
This scene, shot from about a block away on July 2, 1954 (the roof of Sperry Gyroscope), shows the sort of context in which the residents of The Casablanca would be living. Doubtlessly convenient if you worked at the Beach Foundry. Source: City of Ottawa Archives, CA-004788-W.

These policies resulted in not only developers getting in on the action, but also contractors, dentists, lawyers, and really anybody that had some money to invest. So long as the plot of land was at least somewhat accessible to the established built-up areas,1When construction began in 1951, J.P. Chenier’s Carling Court Apartments were considered to be quite distant. it was likely that there would be a builder to take advantage of the situation.

In March of 1962, Charles Lynch reported that work on the new apartment begun. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1962.
In March of 1962, Charles Lynch reported that work on the new apartment begun. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1962.

R.A. Dugas was a Hintonburg contractor who had been active for about 15 years. From his yard at 290 Parkdale, he had been famously involved with Albert Dore Ice,2In addition to the linked article, see Ottawa Journal, May 10, 1950, p. 41. Dugas constructed two homes for Albert Dore, who found himself at the guilty end of violations of the Wartime Income Tax Act that year. the Lans Garden Restaurant,3Ottawa Journal, August 24, 1949, p. 9. and Rolly’s Men’s Wear on Wellington.4Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 33. Dugas’ firm has also constructed a number of other buildings in the neighbourhood, including two gas stations.5Including what is now Leone’s Service Centre at 1480 Scott and the British-American station on Island Park Drive. See “$7,000 Filling Station,” Ottawa Journal, March 5, 1946, p. 8; “Nepean’s February Building Permits Total $110,875,” Ottawa Journal, March 7, 1947, p. 7. After a period of what appears to be relative inactivity, he announced a project that was considerably larger than before.

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Dugas burst on to the scene in 1962 with his highly modern 26 unit building. The Casablanca. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 27, 1962.

Using the lot directly behind his yard at 290 Parkdale, Dugas began to construct his $172,000, 26-unit raised apartment building. The building’s design, somewhat uncommon to Ottawa, appears to be closest in description to the famous Chicago “Four Plus One“.6I haven’t engaged in in-depth research on the topic, but that’s the design which seems to match the closest. The Dingbat, which dots Los Angeles and is generally limited to two storeys is another similar style. The idea is that the first level is the lobby and parking. The Journal’s Charles Lynch, whose regular column in that paper tracked real estate development in the city, first reported on Dugas’ plans in the Spring of 1962.7Charles Lynch. “Real Estate,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1962.

The Casablanca peeks out from behind the Beach Foundry on November 29, 1966. Source: Kitchissippi Museum / City of Ottawa Archives, CA-24661.
The Casablanca peeks out from behind the Beach Foundry on November 29, 1966. Source: Kitchissippi Museum / City of Ottawa Archives, CA-24661.

Dubbed the Casablanca Apartments,8Although Casablanca Morocco has been the site of considerable political maneuvering during the time leading up to the construction of the apartment, it’s most likely that Dugas chose to name his project after the movie. Dugas advertised it along the lines that most apartments were at the time.

Large quiet, modern apartments with wall-to-wall carpets. Coloured ceramic tiled bathrooms. Large mahogany kitchen cupboards. Walk-in closets. Individual heat controls. Individual air cooling system. Balconies. Elevator. Parking. Large sun deck. Large lockers. Automatic washer and dryer. Free television antenna hook-up. Absolutely sound-proof and fireproof.

The galley kitchen designed for a woman. Source: October 27, 1962.
The galley kitchen designed for a woman. Source: October 27, 1962.

The kitchens were a highlight in advertisements as well.

This spacious kitchen was planned for a woman with the utmost in convenience and step saving. More cupboard space than necessary. Beautiful refrigerator, with will width freezer. An electric range that makes cooking a pleasure.

Dugas didn't have to go far for the electric ranges in the building's 26 units. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 27, 1962.
Dugas didn’t have to go far for the electric ranges in the building’s 26 units. Source: Ottawa Journal, October 27, 1962.

As was the tradition, Dugas announced his new apartment in the local papers with a large advertisement that featured the building’s features and amenities. Manufactured at the Beach Foundry across the street, he certainly didn’t have a long way to go for the electric ranges in the units and the enamel panels on the exterior.

The Casablanca, in Hintonburg's industrial context. Source: geoOttawa, 1965 Aerials.
The Casablanca, in Hintonburg’s industrial context. Source: geoOttawa, 1965 Aerials.

Of course, the Beach Foundry wasn’t the only industrial neighbour. The Sperry Gyroscope Company (Sperry-Rand in later years) was its neighbour down the street at 3 Hamilton Avenue. Why live away from work when you could practically live at the plant? The units began renting in September.

If the assembly of electric ranges didn't twirl your clock in the neighbourhood, then Sperry Gyroscope was always looking for skilled radium painters. Source: Ottawa Citizen, May 6, 1955, p. 39.
If the assembly of electric ranges didn’t twirl your clock in the neighbourhood, then Sperry Gyroscope was always looking for skilled radium painters. Source: Ottawa Citizen, May 6, 1955, p. 39.

It would normally be here that I’d list the architect and discuss some of his or her previous works. Unfortunately, as was so often the case with these kinds of apartment, I have no idea. Even Dugas himself isn’t exactly a clear picture. For the Casablanca’s design, he could have made use of one of the commonly-used and easily-available plans or he could have retained the services of a local architect. None of the sources I have consulted mentioned one though and, as a contractor, it is likely that he had someone he worked with in these situations.

Steve Penfold would indicate the Golden Horsesho provenance of donut shop culture in Ontario. Perhaps the working class attraction to Canada's favourite pastry was nice widespread than assumed. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 30, 1962.
“Visit. Eat. Compare.” Coffee and donuts from Len’s Mobile Canteen would surely bring them in. Steve Penfold would indicate the Golden Horseshoe provenance of donut shop culture in Ontario. Perhaps the working class attraction to Canada’s favourite pastry was more widespread than assumed. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 30, 1962.

It did not take long for Dugas to dispose of the apartment. By 1969, the registered owner was Mrs. Rose (Edith?) Viner, wife of Harry Viner. During the winter that year, Mrs. Viner was brought up before the local magistrate, Judge Thomas Swabey and ordered her to comply with the fire marshal’s orders to bring the building up to fire safety standards or else face thousands in fines.9”Magistrate Issues Warning To Hamilton Ave. Landlady,” Ottawa Journal, January 21, 1969. Two weeks later, she was fined $510 and Swabey suggested that he’d recommend that the building be shut down should be repairs not be carried out.10”No Repairs, Landlord Fined,” Ottawa Journal, February 4, 1969. Although not clearly related, the couple was later cleared of a charge for rental reductions under the Property Tax Reduction Act in connection with a unit rented in the building.11”Landlord Cleared on Charge,” Ottawa Journal, February 21, 1969. Shortly after, in his column, Charles Lynch reported that Viner was set to “begin work on a $7,000 addition to [the] apartment at 1 Hamilton Avenue.”12Charles Lynch, “Real Estate: Variety of Contracts,” Ottawa Journal, February 22, 1969. Aside from that, The Casablanca has lead an unassuming life.

While it wasn't known at the time, the writing was on the wall for Beach and the Casablanca would get more of the setting that an apartment like that was imagined to be in. Source: geoOttawa, Aerial 1976.
While it wasn’t known at the time, the writing was on the wall for Beach. In addition to a merger with Admiral, the politics of the early 1980s saw operations shift to Montreal. The Casablanca, however, would get more of the setting that an apartment like that was imagined to be in. Source: geoOttawa, Aerial 1976.

The tension between Ottawa-the-city and Ottawa-the-capital is a theme that runs through its entire history. As important as the timber trade was to the city (especially to its founding and previous to its selection as capital), it may not be considered to have ever been a real industrial centre. Nonetheless, as small a proportion it may have represented in time, Ottawa was the location to enough industrial activity. Unlike some of the struggling industrial towns elsewhere in Ontario or the Rustbelt states, the virtual disappearance of industry from Ottawa’s centre was as much a matter of deliberate design as it was of a matter of changing economies.

There was no space in the Greber Plan for industrial areas to be mingling with others in a proper capital. Even light industry was dirty, noisy, smelly, and they were simply not considered accepted alongside the city’s dominant industry. By the time these elements to the Greber Plan were implemented, North American shipping and logistics had changed sufficiently that if an outfit was going to produce in Nepean, Gloucester, Goulbourn, or March, it might as well do so in Don Mills, Concord, or Laval. In those places, they were closer to other industries. Closer to the large markets. By the 1980s, firms with deep roots in Ottawa took their leave: the Beach Foundry (Armada) moved to Montreal and Morrison-Lamothe relocated to Scarborough, for example. The planning models that forecasted demand for industrial land on the outskirts of town were woefully optimistic and much of that land set aside hasn’t been filled for that purpose to this day.

So long and thanks for all the enamel. The Beach Foundry was demolished and scrapped during the Fall of 1981. Source: Ottawa Citizen, September 15, 1981, p. 58.
So long and thanks for all the enamel. The Beach Foundry was demolished and scrapped during the Fall of 1981. Source: Ottawa Citizen, September 15, 1981, p. 58.

In this sense, Dugas’ Casablanca Apartments can be seen as a witness to change. Dugas himself saw the light industry along Parkdale north of Scott at Tunney’s Pasture13For example, Rupert McClelland’s window and sash factory. replaced by the federal complex that was constructed there and the Casablanca has stood watch over the 15 acres surrounding, witnessing the Beach Foundry’s disappearance and replacement with Holland Cross. Its long-term neighbour, Sperry-Rand, decamped for sunnier climes in 1999. Of course, it hasn’t entirely gone away, the headquarters of Autoclear subsidiary Scintrex Trace (explosive detection equipment) occupies Dugas’ former space and beyond.

Notes   [ + ]

1. When construction began in 1951, J.P. Chenier’s Carling Court Apartments were considered to be quite distant.
2. In addition to the linked article, see Ottawa Journal, May 10, 1950, p. 41. Dugas constructed two homes for Albert Dore, who found himself at the guilty end of violations of the Wartime Income Tax Act that year.
3. Ottawa Journal, August 24, 1949, p. 9.
4. Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 33.
5. Including what is now Leone’s Service Centre at 1480 Scott and the British-American station on Island Park Drive. See “$7,000 Filling Station,” Ottawa Journal, March 5, 1946, p. 8; “Nepean’s February Building Permits Total $110,875,” Ottawa Journal, March 7, 1947, p. 7.
6. I haven’t engaged in in-depth research on the topic, but that’s the design which seems to match the closest. The Dingbat, which dots Los Angeles and is generally limited to two storeys is another similar style. The idea is that the first level is the lobby and parking.
7. Charles Lynch. “Real Estate,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1962.
8. Although Casablanca Morocco has been the site of considerable political maneuvering during the time leading up to the construction of the apartment, it’s most likely that Dugas chose to name his project after the movie.
9. ”Magistrate Issues Warning To Hamilton Ave. Landlady,” Ottawa Journal, January 21, 1969.
10. ”No Repairs, Landlord Fined,” Ottawa Journal, February 4, 1969.
11. ”Landlord Cleared on Charge,” Ottawa Journal, February 21, 1969.
12. Charles Lynch, “Real Estate: Variety of Contracts,” Ottawa Journal, February 22, 1969.
13. For example, Rupert McClelland’s window and sash factory.

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