Demolished Ottawa: Union Station Bowles

It's cute, isn't it? Source: Malak Karsh / LAC Accession 1985-070, Container 27, Assignment 1228.
It’s cute, isn’t it? Source: Malak Karsh / LAC Accession 1985-070, Container 27, Assignment 1228.

Bowles Lunch was once legendary in Ottawa. The location on Sparks was once the haunt of many movers and shakers, while the Rideau location slung millions of lunch plates and became a local legend in its own right, attracting a varied clientele.1”75 Million Lunches Served In His Regime,” Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1947, p. 15; Eric Minton. “Remember the ‘Lunches? Uwanta, Bowles, Allen’s,” Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1972, p. 31.

When Ottawans spoke of Bowles, these were the locations that they tended to. Sparks (left) and Rideau (right). Sources: LAC Topley Series E, Accession 1936-270, Item E-138477 (left), LAC Topley Series C, Accession 1936-270, Item 149347 (right).
When Ottawans spoke of Bowles, these were the locations that they tended to. Sparks (left) and Rideau (right). Sources: LAC Topley Series E, Accession 1936-270, Item E-138477 (left), LAC Topley Series C, Accession 1936-270, Item 149347 (right).

One Bowles that doesn’t tend to warrant much mention is the small lunch counter that was adjacent to Union Station. The location represented, to put it mildly, a fantastic opportunity. Located just outside of the passenger loading square on the east side of Union Station, passengers could have a hot meal before leaving on their journey. Of course, the Bowles was not alone in that single-digit end of Besserer street: In 1942, Sam Froman converted his fruit store into an outlet of the Russell Lunch.2Dave Brown. “Below the Hill: A Worker Dies and Planning Goes Wrong,” Ottawa Journal, September 12, 1968, p. 52. The older Union outlet of Allen’s Lunch – part of the Keewatin Hotel – was also nearby on Little Sussex.3The original Allen’s was located in the Jackson Building. Ottawa Journal, January 9, 1934, p. 10.

The small building was constructed in 1922-23 along with the Rideau Bowles Lunch and Banque Nationale. As the lunch counter competition had not yet heated up inside of the passenger loading square, it was at first operated as an outlet of the Toronto-based United Cigar Stores, Ltd.4As opposed to the US-based “United Cigar Stores“. A full-page ad run in the the news, including The Citizen, represented the company’s attempts to distinguish the two.United1919 A search through the Might’s city directories shows that while it began as a United, it was quickly renamed to Union Cigar Store,5Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1925. and finally to Bowles Cigar Store, managed by Ernie Trudel.6Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1929.

After 10 years of sales, it appears that the cigar store concept had played itself out and one vice was exchanged for another: sugar. In 1933, the space was remodeled into Bowles’ bakery department, in charge of producing the restaurant’s cakes.7Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1933.

Departing passengers were greeted to the scent of baking cakes until 1939 when the greatly increased traffic of departing soldiers called for something a little more convenient. In that year, it was remodeled once again to serve as the Bowles Lunch Confectionery.8Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1940. Before long, the small confectionery had begun to expand its menu and sling regular plates. In 1948, the building received a new facade and Malak Karsh was hired to photograph the new exterior.9”Building Surge Sees 153 Permits For $1,154,000 Issued In June,” Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1948, p. 16.

STUFF. Image: City of Ottawa Archives CA-37613.
The rebranding of Bowles Lunch to Scott’s Restaurant had begun in earnest in 1955. Image: City of Ottawa Archives CA037613.

As the result of the purchase and subsequent rebranding of Bowles Lunch by Scott’s Restaurants, the tiny Bowles on Besserer was renamed Scott’s Dinette Restaurant in 1954.10Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1954. In the face of declining passenger rail use, changing tastes, shifting demographics, and the critical eye of the National Capital Commission, the small restaurant’s days would be numbered all the same: Scott’s Dinette slung its last plate of hash in 1963. It probably didn’t help that the small space, which necessitated the use of trap doors to access the basement, turned out to be a liability.11”Suffers Back Injuries Falling Into Trap Door,” Ottawa Journal, August 4, 1948, p. 8; “$975 Damage Award For Cafe Customer’s Trap-Door Tumble,” Ottawa Journal, June 13, 1949, p. 16. In 1954, Stanley Stewart, a 30-year employee of Bowles died after having been electrocuted by the industrial stand mixer he had been using on the premises. See “Two Men Die From Injuries,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1954, p. 1; “Funeral Saturday For S.H. Stewart,” Ottawa Journal, June 10, 1954, p. 39; “Jury Finds That Negligence Contributed to Baker’s Death,” Ottawa Journal, June 30, 1954, p. 3.

ENTER THE STATION. Image: City of Ottawa Archives CA030780.
The Bowles lunch, visible in this photograph of the funeral of E.F. Morgan on October 6, 1954. Image: City of Ottawa Archives CA030780.

On Christmas Day 1964, the building met its functional end: a fire and explosion ripped through the tiny premises. By that point it was no longer a Bowles Lunch (or a Scott’s Dinette), but was rather doing duty as a storage space for the Russell Lunch, which was next door. Consideration for its future was already a moot point: the National Capital Commission had expropriated the whole wedge, including the tiny Bowles long before.12”Fire Guts Former Restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, December 26, 1964, p. 4.

In 1965.
In 1965.

The expropriation and subsequent demolition was all in service of the Parkin Plan for the area, though dealing with automobile traffic in what was known as the plaza has been a longstanding concern. In 1945, for example, one Controller presented a sketch of a tunnel underneath the Banque Nationale building that would join Little Sussex and Mackenzie avenues, with a parking garage underneath Major’s Hill Park.13”City Approves Alberta Bond Settlement,” Ottawa Journal, August 29, 1945, pp. 1, 14.

Notes   [ + ]

1. ”75 Million Lunches Served In His Regime,” Ottawa Citizen, August 13, 1947, p. 15; Eric Minton. “Remember the ‘Lunches? Uwanta, Bowles, Allen’s,” Ottawa Journal, August 12, 1972, p. 31.
2. Dave Brown. “Below the Hill: A Worker Dies and Planning Goes Wrong,” Ottawa Journal, September 12, 1968, p. 52.
3. The original Allen’s was located in the Jackson Building. Ottawa Journal, January 9, 1934, p. 10.
4. As opposed to the US-based “United Cigar Stores“. A full-page ad run in the the news, including The Citizen, represented the company’s attempts to distinguish the two.United1919
5. Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1925.
6. Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1929.
7. Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1933.
8. Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1940.
9. ”Building Surge Sees 153 Permits For $1,154,000 Issued In June,” Ottawa Journal, July 14, 1948, p. 16.
10. Might’s Ottawa City Directory, 1954.
11. ”Suffers Back Injuries Falling Into Trap Door,” Ottawa Journal, August 4, 1948, p. 8; “$975 Damage Award For Cafe Customer’s Trap-Door Tumble,” Ottawa Journal, June 13, 1949, p. 16. In 1954, Stanley Stewart, a 30-year employee of Bowles died after having been electrocuted by the industrial stand mixer he had been using on the premises. See “Two Men Die From Injuries,” Ottawa Journal, June 9, 1954, p. 1; “Funeral Saturday For S.H. Stewart,” Ottawa Journal, June 10, 1954, p. 39; “Jury Finds That Negligence Contributed to Baker’s Death,” Ottawa Journal, June 30, 1954, p. 3.
12. ”Fire Guts Former Restaurant,” Ottawa Journal, December 26, 1964, p. 4.
13. ”City Approves Alberta Bond Settlement,” Ottawa Journal, August 29, 1945, pp. 1, 14.

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