“from the Nordic Circle, to the Rideau’s waters, this flood was made for you and me.”

“This is a dilly of a pickle!” Flooding of the Nordic Circle and of Bowesville Road was an annual event. This photo is dated April 8, 1954. City of Ottawa Archives, Item CA003837.

Until it was successfully controlled, that the Rideau River flooded each spring was not a surprising fact to Ottawans. Although the degree to which it did varied considerably over the years, that it did at all was largely a sure bet.

When Nordic Circle was first subdivided, it was given the name 'Place Bon Homme'. Source: Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 403.
When Nordic Circle was first subdivided, it was given the name ‘Place Bon Homme’. Source: Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 403.

“Place Bon Homme” was the name given to the subdivision off Bowsville Road, nearly half a mile west of Billings Bridge, owned by Hugh Braddish Billings,1H.B. Billings was the youngest son of Braddish Billings, one of the first settlers in the district. See: “Braddish Billings Died at His Home In His 73rd Year,” Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1934, pp. 1,2. the clerk and treasurer of Gloucester Township. As a late act of land speculation, Billings had the subdivision laid out in 1923. No lots were sold between it being deposited and it falling into the possession of Carleton County on account of tax arrears after Billings’ death in 1934.2Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 403, Reel 4AR83.

A decade following the initial subdivision, no additional buildings had been constructed. Image: NAPL / uOttawa Flight A4568, Image 34, May 5. 1933.
A decade following the initial subdivision, no additional buildings had been constructed. Image: NAPL / uOttawa Flight A4568, Image 34, May 5. 1933.

Outside of the single house which had already stood on the property (Parcel C on the subdivision plan), the only other building to be constructed was Cowan’s (Ottawa Dairy’s) Ice House. It was constructed in 1922 against the vigorous and spirited opposition of the Ottawa South Municipal Association. They felt that the “ice house has spoiled the view beyond the Rideau river, and is in itself an ugly monument.”3”Protest The Site Of An Ice House,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1922. For about 20 years the ice house stood alone on the lot and, given the lack of development in the area more generally, it came to serve as a sort of navigational point for local reporters to situate readers when nearby events took place.4See, for example, “Five Are Hurt As Automobile Is Overturned,” Ottawa Journal, July 10, 1934, p. 18.

In 1939, following a loss of the subdivision to tax arrears, Place Bon Homme was redivided. Source: Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 437.
In 1939, following a loss of the subdivision to tax arrears, Place Bon Homme was redivided. Source: Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 437.

Although it cannot be known for certain, that Point Bon Homme/Nordic Circle was a difficult sell may have been that it was prone to flooding and ice jamming during the spring months. In 1936, for example, the Journal reported that the Bowesville road near the Ottawa Dairy ice house had been flooded, but that it was ultimately passable.5”Blasting Removes Threat to Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, March 21, 1936, p. 13. Even relative to most parts of the Rideau within the city, the small peninsula-like piece of land seems to have been under water for much longer than others in the spring.6”Drop Now Shown In River Levels Near the Capital,” Ottawa Journal, March 23, 1936, p. 3. Water levels during the 1938 floods (a particularly bad year) reached homes along Cameron and Seneca Avenues in Ottawa South, prompting the city to blast the ice. As would become increasingly common in coming years, residents took to using boats to get around the flooded areas. The ice house was reported to have been surrounded by four feet of water that year.7”Now Blasting New Section Of Rideau River,” Ottawa Journal, March 23, 1938, pp. 1, 12. Moreover, the blasting of the ice at Billings was a new attraction, which brought out many spectators.8”Extensive Damage By Flood Waters,” Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1938, p. 2.

By 1945, Nordic Circle had become a veritable community. Image: uOttawa / NAPL Flight A9616, Image 26, October 28, 1945.
By 1945, Nordic Circle had become a veritable community. Image: uOttawa / NAPL Flight A9616, Image 26, October 28, 1945.

Out of context, it would seem to be quite curious – and even absolutely foolish – that so many homes would be constructed on a subdivision that, while there are numerous possible reasons for it to have been unsuccessful, was laid out on a piece of land that was particularly prone to flooding during the spring months. Although the severity of flooding varied year over year, and even 1936 and 1938 demonstrated, it was a good bet that the waters would rise, dozens of families chose to construct (or lease) homes there.9That the flooding was an expected annual occurrence was reported on in the Ottawa Journal in the 19th century. For example, see “Closing Up St. Andrew’s Street,” Ottawa Journal, April 19, 1886, p. 2.

The Rideau Floods brought around thousands of gawkers. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1913, p. 1.
The Rideau Floods brought around thousands of gawkers. Source: Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1913, p. 1.

By the early twentieth century, the Rideau floods (and subsequent blasting of the ice) had become something of a spectator event in Ottawa. “Thousands” of spectators would make the trip to Eastview and to Billings Bridge in order to see just how high the water had risen. Moreover, as speculators had pushed out to the fringes of the city and closer to the river, advertisements reflected the flood-resistant nature of the higher position chosen. An ad run by St. Germain & Fraas encouraging Ottawans to “think about” the Ridgemont subdivision (Bank and Ridgemont, near Walkley)10Ottawa Journal, August 10, 1910, p. 9. opened it with “[located] on high table lands where property destroying, and inconveniencing spring floods can never reach it.”11Ottawa Journal, April 26, 1913, p. 26. When the ice blasting came to town in 1938, the event drew numerous spectators.12”Extensive Damage By Flood Waters,” Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1938, p. 2.

A market that is fortunately (or sadly, depending on your perspective) unavailable to OC Transpo today. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1911, p. 2.
A market that is fortunately (or sadly, depending on your perspective) unavailable to OC Transpo today. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1911, p. 2.

There were a number of reasons for these early 20th century speculative subdivisions to fail. Some simply speculated too far ahead (Ridgemont was “ahead of its time”, only being developed in earnest during the 1950s) and others were simply in a poor location. The context that I alluded to above is the acute housing shortage that Ottawa, like most Canadian cities, Ottawa found itself in once the Second World War had finished. A combination of a gutted construction industry during the Depression and material and labour diversions for the war effort acted as a potent stew and ensured that the city figuratively woke up one 1945 morning with too little shelter and too many people.13Most estimates showed a shortage of between 5,000 and 6,000 units. See: “Ottawa Housing Committee Told of Need for 5,000 Units,” Ottawa Journal, October 19, 1946, p. 26; “Study Water Supply at Lansdowne Park,” Ottawa Journal, October 23, 1946, p. 23; “Say 2,000 New Homes in Ottawa During 1947 ‘Not Impossible’,” Ottawa Journal, October 24, 1946, p. 10; “Cannot Cure Housing Ills By Flouting Law – St. Laurent,” Ottawa Journal, October 25, 1946, p. 3; “Pickering Adjourns Housing Committee Meeting After Hanratty Refuses to Keep Quiet,” Ottawa Journal, October 25, 1946, p. 13; “Housing for Emergency Cases Assured in Ottawa – Pickering,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1946, p. 7. None of this is to suggest that the City of Ottawa was either alone or even a leader in housing initiatives. As a national problem, the federal government was front and centre, with provinces contributing in various ways. Also see Humphrey Carver. Houses for Canadians: A Study of Housing Problems in Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1948; Otto J. Firestone. Residential Real Estate in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951. The Veterans’ suqatters’ movement, as in many North American cities, was in effect by 1946.14See “Cabinet Discusses Ottawa Seizures: Consider Taking Action Against Frank Hanratty,” Ottawa Journal, September 25, 1946, pp. 1, 12; “Veterans Brush Aside Police Cordons to Seize Barracks,” Ottawa Journal, September 25, 1946, p. 13; Joe Finn. “Hanratty And Bleakney To Face Court Charges: Hanratty Started Hunger Strike in Dank City Jail Cell,” Ottawa Citizen, September 26, 1946, pp. 1, 14. Ottawa was hardly unique in this regard: returned soldiers occupied the Hotel Vancouver for the same purposes. For more about the Squatters’ Movement, see Jill Wade. “‘A Palace for the Public’: Housing Reform and the 1946 Occupation of the Old Hotel Vancouver,” BC Studies 69-70 (Spring-Summer 1986): 288-310, Magda Fahrni. Household Politics: Montreal Families and Postwar Reconstruction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005): 124-144. Ottawa also ran an emergency shelter program that was not only a financial disaster, but proved itself to be underwhelming at best.15Cassie Doyle. Municipal Initiatives in Housing, 1900-1970, City of Ottawa. Ottawa: City of Ottawa Non-Profit Housing Corporation, December 1982. In that context, most any pre-existing subdivision upon which a veteran, or really, any family, may place housing was attractive.

Private Thomas Fleming points out the flooding. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1947, p. 3.
Private Thomas Fleming points out the flooding. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1947, p. 3.

In that context, Nordic Circle (Avenue) was as good a choice as any. The subdivision had already been approved, and the Billings’ were willing sellers. The first lot was purchased by James and Elizabeth Ryan in September 1943 for $200 from subdivision owners, Amelia and Maria Billings.16Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 437, Reel 4AR85. Through 1944, 1945, and 1946, some two dozen families constructed homes and settled in to their new riverfront properties. It seems to be the case that while the spring of 1946 saw some mild flooding, the year was a lucky one. 1947 on the other hand…

The water rose and continued to rise. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1947, p. 2.
The water rose and continued to rise. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1947, p. 2.

On April 2, 1947, the Citizen reported that while the Rideau appeared to be holding still overall, at Nordic Circle, “many of the homes were surrounded by water and basements and ground-floors had been flooded.” Residents had boats at the ready and Bowesville Road (Riverside today) was impassible to regular vehicular traffic, but they were not yet needed in general. So long as the rains held off, the flood would not be as severe as feared.17”Rideau Floods: All Depends on Rainfall,” Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1947, 2.

Supper's on. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1947, p. 13.
Supper’s on. Source: Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1947, p. 13.

On April 7, the Journal reported that ice jams at both Billings and Cummings bridges caused water levels to rise sharply beginning on Sunday evening. At Billings, water had risen to cover Bowesville Road and the field to the south and had filled nearby basements with five feet of water. The flood was implicated in a landslide at the nearby Ottawa Brick and Terra Cotta Company’s yard, which destroyed the stables, killing seven cows in the process.18”Rideau River Floods Isolate Billings Bridge Families,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1947, pp. 1, 12. Waters continued to rise through the night, adding an another foot of water by the time the Journal’s evening edition had been released. This isolated nearly one hundred families in the Billings area, including most of the stragglers at Nordic Circle, which had been evacuated due to the water levels reaching the first floor of the homes there. As a testament to adaptability, however, milk and bread deliveries continued, albeit by rowboat, rather than by truck or carriage.19”Boats Deliver Bread and Milk At Billings Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, April 8, 1947, pp. 1, 10.

City of Ottawa Archives
“This is a dilly of a pickle!” Flooding of the Nordic Circle and of Bowesville Road was an annual event. This photo is dated April 8, 1954. City of Ottawa Archives, Item CA003837.

The Rideau’s waters continued to rise the following day, with some seventeen additional inches being added to the height of water. While seeing milk and bread being delivered by boat may have been something of an amusing sight on Tuesday, the situation had become downright desperate at Nordic Circle by Wednesday. Some residents of the low-lying neighbourhood had scooped fish from their yards, moved furniture to the second floor to avoid water damage, and more families were forced to evacuate entirely, with some sleeping in their vehicles.20”Billings’ Bridge Men Scoop Fish In Back Yards,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, pp. 1, 16; “Sleeps in Truck,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, p. 28.

City of Ottawa Archives
Nordic Circle residents prepared for floods by getting furniture and valuables up high. This picture is dated April 4, 1955. Image: City of Ottawa Archives, Item CA031954.

By Thursday, desperate Nordic Circle residents took it upon themselves to blow up the ice jam without civic aid or guidance. The Citizen reported that W.E. Murray lead a small team of neighbours, inserted fifteen sticks of dynamite, detonated them, and were rewarded with the ice moving down the river and a consequent lowering of water levels. That locals had to take it upon themselves to control the floods was not entirely appreciated. In true Ottawa fashion, resident and municipal official alike noted that the Dominion could have done much more to control the flood.21”Flood Victims Blasting,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1947, pp. 1, 16. The Journal reported that the Red Cross was stationed nearby to provide relief to families who were in distress.22”Bowesville Road Closed By Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 10, 1947, pp. 1, 16. As 20 more families had evacuated their homes that day, the service had become very much needed. Those who had lived in the Billings area for a long time were confident that the year’s flood was the worst one in at least 20 years.23”Police Rescue Family in Overbrook Floods,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1947, p. 12.

City of Ottawa Archives.
In spite of best efforts, Nordic Circle residents had to throw in the towel. The photograph in this case is dated April 6, 1954 but residents were evacuated by boat in the same way in 1947. Image: City of Ottawa Archives, Item CA031999.

Although the ad hoc dynamiting of the ice jam on the 10th was helpful in the immediate, it was only a temporary measure. Waters continued to rise on Friday the 11th, more families evacuated their homes, and the Red Cross arranged emergency shelter.24”Arrange Shelter For Families Being Forced Out,” Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1947, pp. 1, 16. The Rideau’s current had been measured at 35 miles per hour, which as the Citizen reported, “threatened to damage dwellings beyond repair and sweep others from their flimsy foundations.” Once again, the Nordic Circle was an outlier here in that its evacuation was nearly complete, rather than individual.25”Raging Rideau River Forces Families Out,” Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1947, p. 13.

Both the Journal and the Citizen were run with numerous pictures of the floods. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, p. 16.
Both the Journal and the Citizen were run with numerous pictures of the floods. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, p. 16.

The Rideau flood reached its peak on the 12th being more than eight feet above the normal summer high water level. Absent heavy rain and unexpected warmth, officials were confident that it would soon subside. The Department of Transport did its part as well, by opening the gates and allowing the Rideau Canal to fill in. As the worst seemed to be over, attention was turned to implementing anti-looting patrols, tending to existing needs (food, blankets), and preventing further damage from free-flowing ice.26”Flood Peak Reached,” Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 1947, pp. 1, 16. The Journal struck a more cautious tone, quoting the Department of Transport’s engineer, A.R. Whittier, who said that the results of opening the Rideau Canal “will be negligible.”27”Expect Rideau Flood Peak Late Sunday: Hope Cold Snap Might Slow Surging Waters,” Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1947, pp. 1, 22.

The 1947 caused absolute misery. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1947, p. 1.
The 1947 caused absolute misery. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1947, p. 1.

“There was blue-skied happiness for Rideau River residents in the Ottawa district today as they saw the flood waters receding – permanently, they hoped – and began to rehabilitate their homes.” Once the weekend had passed, it appeared to be the case that the worst of it was over and water-weary Ottawans were able to dry out and assess the damage.28”Make Check On Flood Damage,” Ottawa Citizen, April 14, 1947, pp. 1, 16.

CAPTION
The level of damage was high and the costs were human and animal alike. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1947, p. 3.

As the damage came to be assessed, questions arose about the potential for aid. That these were largely veterans who suffered so much damage to their homes, local media turned its attention to the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Journal reported that the “majority of these veterans have sunk their entire gratuities and re-establishment credits in small homes in the area” and that “scarcely a single on of these homes escaped flood damages.” That the DVA had no specific provision in law to provide relief was problematic, though each service did have a benevolent fund.29”Consider Aid To Veterans Hit By Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, pp. 1, 14. Perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, the DVA official’s answer of “Act of God” was not easily accepted by the Journal, which pointed out that DVA officials often OK’ed the use of re-establishment funds to purchase a property/home in question and asked whether the “department in that case [could be] held liable for giving unsound advice to the veteran.” The answer? “Only if flooding of the area was a usual thing.” Of the families at Nordic Circle, 90% were headed by a World War II veteran.30Ibid, p. 14. For the most part, however, it appears to be the case that it was taken with grim humour. The Citizen, speaking to a few residents, pointed out a sign on the Bowesville Road barricade that read “lots for sale. Cheap. Running water in every room.”31”Rideau Flood Recedes, Several Homes Ruined,” Ottawa Citizen, April 14, 1947, p. 13.

As the Nordic Circle was arguably the hardest hit neighbourhood, it was also the last to see the waters subside. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, p. 1.
As the Nordic Circle was arguably the hardest hit neighbourhood, it was also the last to see the waters subside. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, p. 1.

As Nordic Circle residents began to clean up, dry out, and assess the damage, it must have been uncomfortable for some that the proud Ottawa tradition of viewing the floods and icebreaking had continued apace.32”Thousands at Billings Bridge And Hog’s Back View Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, p. 3. Through the days following the flood’s crest, more families returned to their homes at Nordic Circle, assessed the  damage, and dried themselves – and their lives – out.33”Flood Conditions Much Improved, Officials Report,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 16; “Fresh Water Is Big Problem For Nordic Circle Folk,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 16. In spite of a freak April snow storm that dropped 6.5 inches on the city,34”Yesterday’s Snowfall Sets Up April Record,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 13; “Wednesday’s 6.5-Inch Snowfall Worst Storm in 40 Years,” Ottawa Journal, April 17, 1947, p. 28. the river’s level continued to drop.35”Nine-Inch Drop In Rideau River Is Recorded,” Ottawa Journal, April 17, 1947, p. 14. The runoff from the snow storm and subsequent warming weather did add six inches to the river, but the trend was undeniable: the Rideau’s water levels were lowering.36”Late Snowfall Raises Rideau Six Inches,” Ottawa Journal, April 19, 1947, p. 17.

While the flood may have been over, it was then that the hard work began. Nordic Circle residents’ ability to return to their homes was contingent on their homes being dried out enough that it did not pose a health hazard. Should that hardship not have been enough, the community wells that watered the neighbourhood were declared contaminated by Gloucester Township. Although water was trucked in, the amount was neither sufficient, nor was it brought to the homes individually.37”Shortage of Drinking Water Hits Flood-Soaked Nordic Circle,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1947, p. 24. Should those difficulties had not been sufficiently challenging, the Rideau’s waters rose again during the first week of May, reminding Nordic Circle residents that the threat was always present.38”Water Rising Again On Hunt Club Road,” Ottawa Journal, May 3, 1947, p. 32.

Once the May threat had passed it was time for residents to start talking aid. A group of Nordic Circle ratepayers struck a committee and made representations to Gloucester Township in order to find a way to prevent the worst of the flooding. Reporting in the Citizen made it clear, however, that Nordic Circle residents had not come looking for recompense:

“The committee spokesman [Charles P. McCarthy] said that no one had bought property in Nordic Circle under misrepresentation that the area did not flood in the spring. ‘Neither are we looking for any redress from the flooding we endured this spring,’ he stated.”39”Aid Of Gloucester In Flood Control Asked,” Ottawa Citizen, May 6, 1947, p. 4.

As control of the Rideau had been something dealt with in the Greber Plan,  Gloucester Township agreed to strike a future meeting with representatives from Ottawa, Eastview, and Overbrook in order to study the issue further.40Ibid.

A map published in the Journal depicting the areas that tended to be threatened by spring floods. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1955, p. 3.
A map published in the Journal depicting the areas that tended to be threatened by spring floods. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1955, p. 3.

The 1947 flood was not the only threat to the Nordic Circle. It was also in that year that the Federal District Commission expropriated much of the lands along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers as part of the plan to construct the parkway system. It was reported that property owners in these locations were generally cooperative and that their homes would remain undisturbed until they were ready to construct the parkways.41”FDC Takes Over Border Land On Rideau, Ottawa Rivers,” Ottawa Journal, July 28, 1947, p. 3; “FDC Says Owners Co-operating On Expropriation,” Ottawa Journal, September 29, 1947, p. 11; Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plans 403, 437, Reels 4AR83, 4AR85; Report of the Ottawa Planning Area Board on the Future Development of the City of Ottawa and its Environs, December 1947.LAC RG 34 Vol. 286 File 2-11-I(1). The Citizen reported in January 1948, however, that the prices offered by the FDC in Nordic Circle drew complaints for being “far below market value.”42”Residents Claim Prices For Land Are Very Unfair,” Ottawa Citizen, January 24, 1948, p. 4. After much delay, haggling, and back-and-forth, the last homes in the neighbourhood had been razed by 1957.43I have not tracked all of the Tenders for Demolition, but the last I have been able to locate was dated June 1956. As the 1958 aerial above illustrates, no structures remain, though Riverside Drive has not yet been constructed. See Ottawa Journal, December 27, 1949, p. 24; Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1950, p. 27; Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1955, p. 29; Ottawa Journal, June 8, 1956, p. 53.

1958.
1958.

The 1947 flood was not the last flood faced by those living on the Nordic Circle. The FDC, true to its promise, did not bother residents until it was ready to construct its scenic parkway. Most of the families that faced the 1947 flood remained in the small neighbourhood, continuing their lives. What this also meant was that these families had the opportunity to face many more spring floods. The flood of 1948 was not as severe for the city at large, though, as would become a regular affair, it was serious enough for those at Nordic Circle.44”Two Feet Of Water In Some Cellars At Billings Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1948, p. 1; “35 Homes Lie in 8 Feet of Water, 225 Persons Are Forced Out,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1948, p. 17. 1949 was also less severe across the region, though Nordic Circle remained the stand-out flood area in that year as well.45Spring Waters Receding In Ottawa Area,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1949, p. 10; “The Citizen Gets Through In Rideau Flood Zone,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1949, p. 1 (image depicting the Citizen being delivered to a Nordic Circle resident by boat); “Rideau Water Floods Across River Road,” Ottawa Journal, March 28, 1949, pp. 1, 16; Ottawa Journal, March 29, 1949, p. 1; “Deny Charges Flood Victims Are Short of Drinking Water,” Ottawa Journal, March 30, 1949, p. 19; Ottawa Citizen, March 30, 1949, p. 3; ‘Victim’ of Floods Waited Too Long Goes to Frying Pan,” Ottawa Journal, March 30, 1949, p. 11; “Nordic Circle Volunteers Trying to Break Ice Jam,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 1; “Refuse to Blast Ice From Rideau At Nordic Circle,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 20; “Nordic Circle Flood Threat Over for Year,” Ottawa Journal, April 1, 1949 p. 47; “Residents At Nordic Circle Dislodge Ice Jam,” Ottawa Journal, April 1, 1949, p. 3; “Rideau Homes Safe If Rain Does Not Come,” Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1949, p. 12. The floods of 1950,46See “Rideau Spilling Over: Nordic Circle Homes Cut Off,” Ottawa Journal, April 4, 1950, pp. 1, 16; “Flood Peak By Sunday On Rideau,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1950, pp. 1, 20; Ottawa Citizen, April 6, 1950, p. 21; “Rideau Flood Threat Eases With Cold Snap,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1950, pp. 1, 18; “Warmer Weather to Bring Up Waters, But Worst of Floods Over,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1950, p. 3. 1951,47”Now At Flood Stage: Believe Peak Has Passed,” Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1951, pp. 1, 16; “Rideau River Spilling Over in Three Places,” Ottawa Journal, April 2, 1951, p. 3. 1952,48”‘No Floods’ Mr. Hunter Says Warily,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1952, p. 18; “Flooding Grows Worse,” Ottawa Citizen, April 3, 1952, p. 20; “Rideau Flood Danger Over, Ottawa’s Level Threatening,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1952, p. 16. and 1954,49”Ice Floes Hit Homes,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1954, p. 16; Ottawa Journal, April 8, 1954, p. 20; “Flood Waters Are No Threat Even If Today Miserably Wet,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1954, p. 26. were also not as severe on the whole, but as usual, Nordic Circle stood out. The 1955 flood was expected to be bad, and, prefaced by the warning they received before they began to build homes in 1945, the City even warned Nordic Circle residents that they would be on their own this time.50”Prepare for Bad Flooding,” Ottawa Citizen, January 17, 1955, p. 1; “City Won’t Assist Anyone If Nordic Circle Flooded,” Ottawa Citizen, January 25, 1955, p. 1; “Board Warns Nordic Circle Residents,” Ottawa Journal, January 27, 1955, p. 22; A letter to the Journal’s editor opened with “As a resident of Nordic Circle and a survivor of eight floods, I would like to know what is behind the city’s refusal to supply boats, drinking water, or any other service should a flood occur this Spring.” See Ottawa Journal, January 28, 1955, p. 6; Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1955, p. 32; “Floods Prediction To Hasten Opening Of Rideau Canal,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1955, p. 20; “Opening Rideau Canal to Divert Flow,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1955, p. 19; “Next 3 Days to Tell Rideau Floods Story,” Ottawa Journal, April 2, 1955, p. 3; “Rolling in Sunshine: Rideau Waters At Danger Peak In Next 24 Hours,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1955, p. 1; “Controllers Wrangle Over Interference: Rideau Waters Start Receding After Hitting Dangerous Level,” Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 1955, p. 1; Nordic Circle was once again singled out: “Families Forced Out By Creeping Floodwaters,” Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 1955, p. 21; “Ottawa Optimistic Over Flood Controls,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1955, p. 20; “Rideau Still Rising But Under Control,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1955, p. 24; “Charge Donaldson Interfered In Flood Evacuation,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1955, p. 18; “Rivers Begin to Subside,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1955, p. 1; “Donaldson Denies Charge Of Interference,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1955, p. 3; “Flood Waters Danger Passes,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1955, p. 1; “River Level Down 2 Feet,” Ottawa Citizen, April 9, 1955, p. 20.

1971-33-16
A much later photograph of workers blasting the ice in the spring at Cummings Bridge. Image: E. Taylor / CMHC 071-33 Image 16, E. Taylor March 17, 1971.

By the spring of 1956, there were but a few families who remained at the Nordic Circle. It was in that year that the City’s spring ice blasting program had really begun to take shape as a sort of practical and scientific endeavour.51”Lack of Carry-Off Adds To Rideau Flood Threat,” Ottawa Citizen, March 24, 1956, p. 20; “Fear Flood in Rideau Flow Takes Big Jump,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1956, p. 37; “Workmen Fight To Stem Floods As Rideau Rises,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 1956, p. 1. In addition to the practice of having workers go out on to the ice, drop charges, and detonate them, the City made use of a helicopter to drop them on the ice that year.52”Using Helicopter To Bomb River Ice,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1956, p. 41.

CMHC
A much later photograph of workers blasting the ice in the spring at Cummings Bridge. Image: E. Taylor / CMHC 071-33 Image 5a, E. Taylor March 17, 1971.

Along with the development of the National Capital Commission’s53The Federal District Commission was renamed the National Capital Commission in 1959. Rideau River parkway (ie. Riverside Drive), came the designation of the cleared Nordic Circle as a park.54Reports in the Ottawa Journal indicate that Nordic Circle “park” as open for both swimming and fishing. See “Week-Ender, Picnic, Camping Spots Within 30 Miles of Ottawa, Hull,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1962, p. 23; “Stuck for Somewhere to Go? Check These City Area Spots,” Ottawa Journal, April 27, 1963, p. 37. The name “Nordic Circle” has not lived on, however. The crown-owned, NCC-managed park (with parking lot) is unnamed,55It is not even marked with a “P” for parking on the official NCC map, let alone given a name. and otherwise contains no nod to the neighbourhood which stood on the land for a brief decade.

In the present. Image: 2015 Google Maps.
In the present. Image: 2015 Google Maps.

The ice management system that began to find its feet during the 1950s is, of course, still in place. Ottawa’s ice blasting tradition has kept up. While the predictable spring floods have been brought under control, the blasting remains a popular event for Ottawans to observe. The City of Ottawa even issues press releases in order to alert the public as to when the charges will be set off.56See B.A. Reid, L.W. Torrens, and D.B. Hodgins. Environmental Review of Ice Management Operations on the Rideau River in Ottawa. 1995; Rideau River Roundtable, Research and Monitoring Committee. State of the River Report. Ottawa: Rideau River Roundtable, December 2001; For footage of recent ice blasting operations, see this video.

Nordic Circle was first identified as a park on the National Capital Commission's 1961 map.
Nordic Circle was first identified as a park on the National Capital Commission’s 1961 map.

Notes   [ + ]

1. H.B. Billings was the youngest son of Braddish Billings, one of the first settlers in the district. See: “Braddish Billings Died at His Home In His 73rd Year,” Ottawa Journal, February 6, 1934, pp. 1,2.
2. Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 403, Reel 4AR83.
3. ”Protest The Site Of An Ice House,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1922.
4. See, for example, “Five Are Hurt As Automobile Is Overturned,” Ottawa Journal, July 10, 1934, p. 18.
5. ”Blasting Removes Threat to Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, March 21, 1936, p. 13.
6. ”Drop Now Shown In River Levels Near the Capital,” Ottawa Journal, March 23, 1936, p. 3.
7. ”Now Blasting New Section Of Rideau River,” Ottawa Journal, March 23, 1938, pp. 1, 12.
8. ”Extensive Damage By Flood Waters,” Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1938, p. 2.
9. That the flooding was an expected annual occurrence was reported on in the Ottawa Journal in the 19th century. For example, see “Closing Up St. Andrew’s Street,” Ottawa Journal, April 19, 1886, p. 2.
10. Ottawa Journal, August 10, 1910, p. 9.
11. Ottawa Journal, April 26, 1913, p. 26.
12. ”Extensive Damage By Flood Waters,” Ottawa Journal, March 24, 1938, p. 2.
13. Most estimates showed a shortage of between 5,000 and 6,000 units. See: “Ottawa Housing Committee Told of Need for 5,000 Units,” Ottawa Journal, October 19, 1946, p. 26; “Study Water Supply at Lansdowne Park,” Ottawa Journal, October 23, 1946, p. 23; “Say 2,000 New Homes in Ottawa During 1947 ‘Not Impossible’,” Ottawa Journal, October 24, 1946, p. 10; “Cannot Cure Housing Ills By Flouting Law – St. Laurent,” Ottawa Journal, October 25, 1946, p. 3; “Pickering Adjourns Housing Committee Meeting After Hanratty Refuses to Keep Quiet,” Ottawa Journal, October 25, 1946, p. 13; “Housing for Emergency Cases Assured in Ottawa – Pickering,” Ottawa Journal, October 26, 1946, p. 7. None of this is to suggest that the City of Ottawa was either alone or even a leader in housing initiatives. As a national problem, the federal government was front and centre, with provinces contributing in various ways. Also see Humphrey Carver. Houses for Canadians: A Study of Housing Problems in Toronto. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1948; Otto J. Firestone. Residential Real Estate in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951.
14. See “Cabinet Discusses Ottawa Seizures: Consider Taking Action Against Frank Hanratty,” Ottawa Journal, September 25, 1946, pp. 1, 12; “Veterans Brush Aside Police Cordons to Seize Barracks,” Ottawa Journal, September 25, 1946, p. 13; Joe Finn. “Hanratty And Bleakney To Face Court Charges: Hanratty Started Hunger Strike in Dank City Jail Cell,” Ottawa Citizen, September 26, 1946, pp. 1, 14. Ottawa was hardly unique in this regard: returned soldiers occupied the Hotel Vancouver for the same purposes. For more about the Squatters’ Movement, see Jill Wade. “‘A Palace for the Public’: Housing Reform and the 1946 Occupation of the Old Hotel Vancouver,” BC Studies 69-70 (Spring-Summer 1986): 288-310, Magda Fahrni. Household Politics: Montreal Families and Postwar Reconstruction (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2005): 124-144.
15. Cassie Doyle. Municipal Initiatives in Housing, 1900-1970, City of Ottawa. Ottawa: City of Ottawa Non-Profit Housing Corporation, December 1982.
16. Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plan 437, Reel 4AR85.
17. ”Rideau Floods: All Depends on Rainfall,” Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1947, 2.
18. ”Rideau River Floods Isolate Billings Bridge Families,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1947, pp. 1, 12.
19. ”Boats Deliver Bread and Milk At Billings Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, April 8, 1947, pp. 1, 10.
20. ”Billings’ Bridge Men Scoop Fish In Back Yards,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, pp. 1, 16; “Sleeps in Truck,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1947, p. 28.
21. ”Flood Victims Blasting,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1947, pp. 1, 16.
22. ”Bowesville Road Closed By Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 10, 1947, pp. 1, 16.
23. ”Police Rescue Family in Overbrook Floods,” Ottawa Citizen, April 10, 1947, p. 12.
24. ”Arrange Shelter For Families Being Forced Out,” Ottawa Journal, April 11, 1947, pp. 1, 16.
25. ”Raging Rideau River Forces Families Out,” Ottawa Citizen, April 11, 1947, p. 13.
26. ”Flood Peak Reached,” Ottawa Citizen, April 12, 1947, pp. 1, 16.
27. ”Expect Rideau Flood Peak Late Sunday: Hope Cold Snap Might Slow Surging Waters,” Ottawa Journal, April 12, 1947, pp. 1, 22.
28. ”Make Check On Flood Damage,” Ottawa Citizen, April 14, 1947, pp. 1, 16.
29. ”Consider Aid To Veterans Hit By Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, pp. 1, 14.
30. Ibid, p. 14.
31. ”Rideau Flood Recedes, Several Homes Ruined,” Ottawa Citizen, April 14, 1947, p. 13.
32. ”Thousands at Billings Bridge And Hog’s Back View Floods,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1947, p. 3.
33. ”Flood Conditions Much Improved, Officials Report,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 16; “Fresh Water Is Big Problem For Nordic Circle Folk,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 16.
34. ”Yesterday’s Snowfall Sets Up April Record,” Ottawa Citizen, April 17, 1947, p. 13; “Wednesday’s 6.5-Inch Snowfall Worst Storm in 40 Years,” Ottawa Journal, April 17, 1947, p. 28.
35. ”Nine-Inch Drop In Rideau River Is Recorded,” Ottawa Journal, April 17, 1947, p. 14.
36. ”Late Snowfall Raises Rideau Six Inches,” Ottawa Journal, April 19, 1947, p. 17.
37. ”Shortage of Drinking Water Hits Flood-Soaked Nordic Circle,” Ottawa Journal, April 21, 1947, p. 24.
38. ”Water Rising Again On Hunt Club Road,” Ottawa Journal, May 3, 1947, p. 32.
39. ”Aid Of Gloucester In Flood Control Asked,” Ottawa Citizen, May 6, 1947, p. 4.
40. Ibid.
41. ”FDC Takes Over Border Land On Rideau, Ottawa Rivers,” Ottawa Journal, July 28, 1947, p. 3; “FDC Says Owners Co-operating On Expropriation,” Ottawa Journal, September 29, 1947, p. 11; Ottawa Land Registry Office, Plans 403, 437, Reels 4AR83, 4AR85; Report of the Ottawa Planning Area Board on the Future Development of the City of Ottawa and its Environs, December 1947.LAC RG 34 Vol. 286 File 2-11-I(1).
42. ”Residents Claim Prices For Land Are Very Unfair,” Ottawa Citizen, January 24, 1948, p. 4.
43. I have not tracked all of the Tenders for Demolition, but the last I have been able to locate was dated June 1956. As the 1958 aerial above illustrates, no structures remain, though Riverside Drive has not yet been constructed. See Ottawa Journal, December 27, 1949, p. 24; Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1950, p. 27; Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1955, p. 29; Ottawa Journal, June 8, 1956, p. 53.
44. ”Two Feet Of Water In Some Cellars At Billings Bridge,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1948, p. 1; “35 Homes Lie in 8 Feet of Water, 225 Persons Are Forced Out,” Ottawa Journal, March 22, 1948, p. 17.
45. Spring Waters Receding In Ottawa Area,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1949, p. 10; “The Citizen Gets Through In Rideau Flood Zone,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1949, p. 1 (image depicting the Citizen being delivered to a Nordic Circle resident by boat); “Rideau Water Floods Across River Road,” Ottawa Journal, March 28, 1949, pp. 1, 16; Ottawa Journal, March 29, 1949, p. 1; “Deny Charges Flood Victims Are Short of Drinking Water,” Ottawa Journal, March 30, 1949, p. 19; Ottawa Citizen, March 30, 1949, p. 3; ‘Victim’ of Floods Waited Too Long Goes to Frying Pan,” Ottawa Journal, March 30, 1949, p. 11; “Nordic Circle Volunteers Trying to Break Ice Jam,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 1; “Refuse to Blast Ice From Rideau At Nordic Circle,” Ottawa Journal, March 31, 1949, p. 20; “Nordic Circle Flood Threat Over for Year,” Ottawa Journal, April 1, 1949 p. 47; “Residents At Nordic Circle Dislodge Ice Jam,” Ottawa Journal, April 1, 1949, p. 3; “Rideau Homes Safe If Rain Does Not Come,” Ottawa Citizen, April 2, 1949, p. 12.
46. See “Rideau Spilling Over: Nordic Circle Homes Cut Off,” Ottawa Journal, April 4, 1950, pp. 1, 16; “Flood Peak By Sunday On Rideau,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1950, pp. 1, 20; Ottawa Citizen, April 6, 1950, p. 21; “Rideau Flood Threat Eases With Cold Snap,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1950, pp. 1, 18; “Warmer Weather to Bring Up Waters, But Worst of Floods Over,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1950, p. 3.
47. ”Now At Flood Stage: Believe Peak Has Passed,” Ottawa Citizen, March 31, 1951, pp. 1, 16; “Rideau River Spilling Over in Three Places,” Ottawa Journal, April 2, 1951, p. 3.
48. ”‘No Floods’ Mr. Hunter Says Warily,” Ottawa Journal, March 26, 1952, p. 18; “Flooding Grows Worse,” Ottawa Citizen, April 3, 1952, p. 20; “Rideau Flood Danger Over, Ottawa’s Level Threatening,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1952, p. 16.
49. ”Ice Floes Hit Homes,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1954, p. 16; Ottawa Journal, April 8, 1954, p. 20; “Flood Waters Are No Threat Even If Today Miserably Wet,” Ottawa Journal, April 14, 1954, p. 26.
50. ”Prepare for Bad Flooding,” Ottawa Citizen, January 17, 1955, p. 1; “City Won’t Assist Anyone If Nordic Circle Flooded,” Ottawa Citizen, January 25, 1955, p. 1; “Board Warns Nordic Circle Residents,” Ottawa Journal, January 27, 1955, p. 22; A letter to the Journal’s editor opened with “As a resident of Nordic Circle and a survivor of eight floods, I would like to know what is behind the city’s refusal to supply boats, drinking water, or any other service should a flood occur this Spring.” See Ottawa Journal, January 28, 1955, p. 6; Ottawa Journal, February 28, 1955, p. 32; “Floods Prediction To Hasten Opening Of Rideau Canal,” Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1955, p. 20; “Opening Rideau Canal to Divert Flow,” Ottawa Citizen, March 20, 1955, p. 19; “Next 3 Days to Tell Rideau Floods Story,” Ottawa Journal, April 2, 1955, p. 3; “Rolling in Sunshine: Rideau Waters At Danger Peak In Next 24 Hours,” Ottawa Citizen, April 4, 1955, p. 1; “Controllers Wrangle Over Interference: Rideau Waters Start Receding After Hitting Dangerous Level,” Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 1955, p. 1; Nordic Circle was once again singled out: “Families Forced Out By Creeping Floodwaters,” Ottawa Citizen, April 7, 1955, p. 21; “Ottawa Optimistic Over Flood Controls,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1955, p. 20; “Rideau Still Rising But Under Control,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1955, p. 24; “Charge Donaldson Interfered In Flood Evacuation,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1955, p. 18; “Rivers Begin to Subside,” Ottawa Journal, April 7, 1955, p. 1; “Donaldson Denies Charge Of Interference,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1955, p. 3; “Flood Waters Danger Passes,” Ottawa Journal, April 9, 1955, p. 1; “River Level Down 2 Feet,” Ottawa Citizen, April 9, 1955, p. 20.
51. ”Lack of Carry-Off Adds To Rideau Flood Threat,” Ottawa Citizen, March 24, 1956, p. 20; “Fear Flood in Rideau Flow Takes Big Jump,” Ottawa Journal, April 5, 1956, p. 37; “Workmen Fight To Stem Floods As Rideau Rises,” Ottawa Citizen, April 5, 1956, p. 1.
52. ”Using Helicopter To Bomb River Ice,” Ottawa Journal, April 6, 1956, p. 41.
53. The Federal District Commission was renamed the National Capital Commission in 1959.
54. Reports in the Ottawa Journal indicate that Nordic Circle “park” as open for both swimming and fishing. See “Week-Ender, Picnic, Camping Spots Within 30 Miles of Ottawa, Hull,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1962, p. 23; “Stuck for Somewhere to Go? Check These City Area Spots,” Ottawa Journal, April 27, 1963, p. 37.
55. It is not even marked with a “P” for parking on the official NCC map, let alone given a name.
56. See B.A. Reid, L.W. Torrens, and D.B. Hodgins. Environmental Review of Ice Management Operations on the Rideau River in Ottawa. 1995; Rideau River Roundtable, Research and Monitoring Committee. State of the River Report. Ottawa: Rideau River Roundtable, December 2001; For footage of recent ice blasting operations, see this video.

3 Comments

  1. The headlined 1913 flood severely damaged the last wooden Billings Bridge. It was that event that prompted the building of the current Billings Bridge, which opened on September 2, 1915. The building appearing in the 1933 air photo is not the Ottawa Dairy Ice House. Another ice house? The Ottawa Dairy Ice house appears in the 1945 air photo a little further west on Bowesville Road opposite to the current location of the RA Centre.

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