Centretown’s Apartments, Civil Servants, and the Great Depression

Chamberlin (Chamberlain) Manor. Image: March 2016.

If you’ve had a chat with me in the last year or so, there is a good chance that I found occasion to slip something about apartments, Centretown, or both into the conversation. It should come as no surprise that during the Depression, construction of all sorts ground to a virtual halt. If you were take a look around the neighbourhood during those years, it would appear that someone forgot to let a small group of developers know that the party was over.

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What’s Cookin’ at Metcalfe Court?

To the left, the glistening and recently-constructed home of Fred Cook, journalist and Mayor of Ottawa between 1902 and 1903. Image: Bytown Museum, 1902.
To the left, the glistening and recently-constructed home of Fred Cook, journalist and Mayor of Ottawa between 1902 and 1903. Image: Bytown Museum, P1902.

Metcalfe street was once more akin to the Montreal’s Golden Square Mile than to the mixed-use neighbourhood that it is today. After having been subdivided, the Colonel By Estate’s lots were quickly purchased by local merchants and politicians who constructed large homes, some of which, like the Booth House or Birkett’s Castle, were quite ornate and continued to be appreciated today.

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A Ticket at Frank and Elgin (1960)

An officer writes a ticket at the corner of Elgin and Frank streets, 1960. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Accession 1981-181 NPC Series 60-695A.
An officer writes a ticket at the northwest corner of Elgin and Frank, 1960. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Accession 1981-181 NPC Series 60-695A.

Another photograph that caught my eye from the “Meter Maids” collection: this time, one of the new recruits writing a ticket at the corner of Elgin and Frank. One thing that stood out to me here is the Kenniston Apartments in the background, previous to the conversion of its basement to commercial and restaurant spaces.

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Citicom and Timberlay Went A’Courtin’

Somerset Court, 30 years in. Image: Google Maps.
Somerset Court, 30 years in. Image: Google Maps.

The Somerset Court condominium, located on Somerset Street West just off Elgin, recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. Designed by architect Barry Hobin, it was a joint project of Robert McElligott’s Timberlay Developments and Toronto’s Citicom, which was probably best known until the late 1970s for its parking lot business. Since Robert Smythe tackled the ins and outs of the condominium’s development in a 2012 URBSite article, I will discuss it only briefly. Instead, I focus on Timberlay, Citicom, and the brief partnership they enjoyed during the middle years of the 1980s.

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Victoria Restaurant, 321 Bank (1978)

Victoria Restaurant, 321 Bank Street, July 4, 1978. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Series 79-01-1083.
Curtains drawn, topless dancers 6 days a week, and Darth Vader beckons passers-by into the new Discotheque. The Victoria Steak House, 321 Bank Street, January 4, 1978. Image: Ted Grant / LAC Series 78-01-1083.

A little Bank Street ephemera: the Victoria Steak House opened for business in 1977 and closed at some point in 1978. In its short time, it seems to have had a rough ride. What seems to have begun as an attempt at a quality steak house quickly came to cater to the market it was in during those years.

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