It wouldn’t necessarily occur to us today, as we sit at the tail end of a hot development market, but sometimes our fields of dreams don’t even get a backstop. That is, we can’t build even build it, so they don’t come – at least not until much later.
On October 4, 1904 Wilfrid Laurier stepped out on to the stage at Toronto’s Massey Hall to make a speech. Thought it began as it normally would, he would, near the end, let slip the line that would come to be a hallmark of his Liberal government.
I tell you that the nineteenth century has been the century of the United States’ development. The past one hundred years has been filled with the pages of their history. Let me tell you, my fellow countrymen, that all the signs point this way, that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada and of Canadian development.
Of course, the speech wasn’t specifically about Ottawa, but the city’s growth had been brisk along with the rest of the Dominion1The Dominion civil service had undergone tremendous expansion, with the Inside Civil Service growing from under 900 employees in 1901 to just over 4000 in 1911. See Taylor, John H. (1984). Ottawa: An Illustrated History. Toronto: Lorimer, Page 212. and confidence in the future was running high. With this rapid growth came a veritable small army of land speculators who wasted no time subdividing all available nearby land.
Speculators proffered visions of a luxurious and idyllic life away from (but still near) the city’s centre that filled the pages of the Citizen, Journal,and Free Press. Suddenly, Ottawans both old and new were invited to choose from potential new suburbs like Manor Park, Bannermount, Mapleview, Brantwood Place, McKellar, and of course Hampton Park2Examples of the advertisements were peppered throughout the local papers during those years. .
In addition to the promise of the sweet life, these prospective development all shared something else: they were all something of a bust to one extent or another. The Recession of 1913-15 kneecapped the housing development industry across the country and the First World War ensured that the price of labour and materials rendered construction cost-prohibitive. Unlike many of them, however, Hampton Park at least got a toe-hold.3In contrast, Manor Park, Bannermount, Maplewood, and most of Brantwood Place remained windswept and unloved until after the Second World War.
By 1932, only 30 of 200 lots in the subdivision had homes constructed on them.4”Want Annexation of Hampton Park by Ottawa,” Ottawa Journal, November 25, 1932, Page 14. In spite of being conveniently located along the OTC’s Britannia streetcar line (Byron), sales were slow. Interest appears to have picked up following the Federal District Commission’s announcement of the construction of Island Park Drive, though sales remained slack.
Though sparsely-populated, the residents of the subdivision were not entirely silent or anonymous. In November of 1932, a delegation appeared before the Board of Control with a petition representing nearly all of the owners, requesting that it be annexed by the City of Ottawa. Given its location directly on the border of the city and the fact that municipal services (water and sewer) were already being provided by Ottawa, it seemed a natural fit.5Ibid.
The following winter, the Board of Control obliged, and got the ball rolling with a request to meet with officials from Carleton County and the Township of Nepean. The Board’s assessment concluded that its inclusion would represent a net gain of about $3,000 for the city’s treasury. The subdivision’s total assessment was about $322,000.6”First Step to Annex Park,” Ottawa Journal, February 15, 1933, Page 5. Without going into much detail about the political joust, neither Carleton County nor Nepean Township supported the request and sought to block the Ontario Municipal Board from hearing the case.7”Appeal Decision Of Judge Daly,” Ottawa Journal, December 19, 1934, Page 13.
The hearing, which took place at the Carleton County Courthouse the following day, would see that the County and Nepean would emerge victorious in the dispute. OMB Chair C.R. McKeown found Nepean’s argument that the loss of Hampton Park would inflame the township’s already dire financial troubles further, wholly convincing. McKeown further concluded that he came away with the impression that the whole annexation request was little more than an attempt by Hampton Park Ltd. to drum up interest in the subdivision.8”Hampton Park Annex Refused: Municipal Board Finds Proposal Would Harm Nepean Twp. Seriously.” Ottawa Journal, December 21, 1934, Page 2.
As is the case with nearly all of these early boom-time subdivisions, however, it was really in the wake of the Second World War that development picked up. It would also only be a matter of a decade before discussion of annexation would emerge once again. By 1950, it (and a whole lot more) would be for keeps.
The “west end” was hot in the years following the War. Seemingly overnight, what were once the fields of Ottawa’s well-established farming families became the city’s hottest new communities. From barley to bungalows, from alfalfa to apartments, the landscape was rapidly shifting. It goes without saying that Ottawans also had a considerable appetite to shop. Carling Avenue was already the site of two of three of Ottawa’s malls (Westgate Mall (1954) and Carlingwood (1955), located about 2 miles apart). Though the Hampton Park neighbourhood was near Westgate, it seems that the railroad tracks (shortly thereafter the Queensway) would prove to be a formidable barrier.
The first occupant of the scrubby field at the corner of Carling Avenue and Kirkwood was a modern Dominion “Mammoth Market”, which opened in 19549Construction on the “Mammoth Market” had begun during the winter of 1953 and Dominion engaged in an outsized promotional campaign, which included prizes such as free groceries for a year and multiple 21″ television giveaways leading up to the grand opening in September. See: Ottawa Journal, February 3, 1954, Page 3; Ottawa Journal, July 28, 1954, Page 4; Ottawa Journal, August 11, 1954, Page 14. For the time being, residents of Hampton Park were able to get their groceries and other necessaries, but other neighbourhood services were still located inconveniently further afield.
With Westgate being a Montreal effort (Steinberg/Ivanhoe) and Carlingwood being a Toronto effort (Principal Investments)10Leaning, John (1957). The Canadian Shopping Centre. Thesis: McGill University, Page 85., another source of commercial development decided to enter the Ottawa market. It may have been the case that Hampton Park’s commercial potential was too small for the larger big-city developers (or simply too close for Ivanhoe). It was still probably too attractive for those smaller developers to pass up. Of course, for one reason or another, Ottawa’s own developers appear to have been less interested in non-residential suburban projects during this time.11Given how vociferously some of the residents of the newly-constructed subdivisions fought against commercial development, it may have simply been a case of the developers wanting to keep it clean. The residents of Glabar Park, for example, were initially unhappy with the prospect of the Carlingwood Shopping Centre being constructed, being promised a somewhat idyllic – commerce-free – lifestyle.
The first hints about the new shopping centre were reported during the winter of 1960. On February 13, both the Journal and the Citizen reported that the Library Board had planned to open its second mall branch at the location. The Carlingwood Branch had opened in January 1957 to great success and was the first public library branch in Canada to be located in a mall.12”City Library Extended to Hull People,” Ottawa Citizen, February 13, 1960, Page 5; “Library Board Okays Shopping Centre Branch,” Ottawa Journal, February 13, 1960, Page 14. During the late 1950s, the Library Board was excited about the prospect of locating branches in suburban malls. The excitement proved to be well-placed, however. The branch at Carlingwood was an immediate success and within weeks, the Board had put in a request for funding to purchase at least 3,000 additional books. Although it does not appear to have come to fruition, the board had desired to located a branch within the mall at Manor Park as well. See “Locating Branch in Carlingwood Centre,” Ottawa Journal, May 12, 1956, Page 4; “Carlingwood Library Needs 3,000 More Books,” Ottawa Journal, March 16, 1957, Page 3.
As the weeks and months progressed, additional information was published. The mall’s developer was Pyramid Commercial Products of Burlington, ON. Owned by contractor (and championship horse breeder) George Frostad,13Frostad hit the ground running in the contracting business. By 1949, returned from the war, he had constructed the arena at Brockville and his business took off from there. His Quonset-hut style arenas were somewhat novel for the late 1940s and were popular in smaller municipalities, such as Brockville. “Province Must Boost Purses Say Horsemen,” Ottawa Journal, December 12, 1967, Page 15; “29 story apartment building: High-rise near High Park approved by Board of Control,” The Globe and Mail, May 1, 1969, Page 5; “Bowmanville’s New Memorial Arena Officially Opened Saturday Night,” The Canadian Statesman (Bowmanville), March 10, 1949, Page 1; “More Than 3,000 Attend Brockville Rink Opening,” Ottawa Citizen, February 26, 1951, Page 24; “New Memorial Civic Centre Formally Opened At Brockville,” Ottawa Journal, February 26, 1951, Page 22. Pyramid had spent the last decade constructing hockey arenas and malls around the province. London, and Peterborough had already been a site for their projects and the developer would quickly move on to Windsor. Spurred on by their successes, Frostad would by the end of the 1960s, establish himself directly in the competitive Toronto market as well14Looking at the lot today (Bloor West, between Indian Grove and Parkside), it appears that Frostad did not get his way. I’m not well-enough familiar with Toronto’s construction controversies, but it seems a little strange given the small sea of contemporary slabs nearby. For the opposition to his apartment tower project near High Park, see The Globe and Mail, May 1, 1969, Page 5, August 6, 1969, Page 5, September 11, 1969, Page 1, March 21, 1970, Page 5, and April 10, 1970, Page 5..
Unlike the Bennett Brothers (Principal Investments), Frostad cannot necessarily be characterized as an aggressive negotiator or salesman.15The Bennetts were a curious mixture of reclusive, yet aggressive. As Peter C. Newman put it in his Maclean’s feature” “While they remain in the background, the shy Archie Bennett and his even shyer brothers sponsor promotions that lean heavily on showmanship.” See: Newman, Peter C. “Canada’s Biggest Landlords – The Bennett Brothers and Their Principal Investments Ltd.,” Macleans Magazine, February 4, 1956, Page 52. This showmanship was most certainly on display for both the Carlingwood and Billings Bridge openings. There was little of significance done to drum up interest and the project’s details weren’t reported on regularly. Frostad clearly did not have the ear of reporters at the Citizen or Journal in the same way that Assaly, Campeau, Bennett Brothers, or Ivanhoe did. Nevertheless, he did run classified ads in both Ottawa dailies and in those across the province. Indeed, both the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star ran ads seeking tenants for Ottawa’s little Hampton Park Plaza.
In October of 1960, more details were released. The sketch plan was published and the $1,000,000 mall was to be completed by the summer of 1961. Unlike the “big show” down the road, Hampton Park was more a local service mall, and had space for 19 stores.16”New Million-Dollar Shopping Centre,” Ottawa Journal, December 5, 1960, Page 19; “New $1-Million West End Shopping Centre Ready By June,” Ottawa Citizen, December 5, 1960, Page 7. As was standard practice during the period, Hampton Park also featured a 24-lane bowling alley, the Queensway Lanes17Citizen, Ibid..
Architects for the mall – advertised as Ottawa’s first two-storey mall! – were Wall, Yamamoto, and Matthews, also of Burlington.18Perhaps not coincidentally, located at the same address as Pyramid Commercial Products: 571 Brant St. The firm specialized in malls and later added civic buildings to the repertoire. The simple midcentury modern design is competent, if understated. None of Watson Balharrie’s favoured pie crusts or Los Angeles-inspired googie designs were present. Hampton Park had a job to do.
Even by the superhuman (and often slipshod and corrupt) building standards and practices of the immediate postwar period, June of 1961 was likely somewhat hopeful. Nevertheless, Ottawa’s first two-storey shopping centre was set to open by the end of October. Of course, Queensway Lanes opened several weeks earlier and it had joined the well-established Dominion supermarket.
The mall’s starting lineup was more-or-less what was expected of a neighbourhood mall. The Bank of Nova Scotia greeted shoppers, there were clothing stores, a Beamish, a coin laundry, a drycleaner, and a restaurant: Macie’s Steakhouse (managed by Carl Petrovich, already a well-known and friendly face at the wildly popular Carlingwood Restaurant). The second storey was occupied by an CMHC branch office and the architectural firm of Noffke, Ingram, and Sherriff.19Yes, that Noffke. See Ottawa Journal, October 25, 1961, Pages 22-24. Also, to be expected, Ted Grant was hired to take some commercial shots for several of the businesses.
For the most part, Hampton Park Plaza has lived a quiet existence. Vacancies have been filled quickly and consistently over the ensuing 50 years, it appears to have been a well-located, planned, and executed project. It also appears to have been Pyramid’s only foray into the Ottawa market.1961-10-25-grand-opening-spread-pages-22-24
One (very) minor controversy that popped up occurred one year after it opened when the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) announced that it would open a liquor store in the plaza20”Liquor Store in Hampton Park Plaza,” Ottawa Journal, September 21, 1962, Page 1. following the successful reformation of Ottawa’s west end as “wet” following the liquor vote that winter21Strongest support came from the newer apartment-dwelling residents while the strongest opposition came from the Tory-loyal detached homeowning parts of Westboro. See: Jackman, Peter. “53-Year ‘Dry Wall’ Crumbles: West End Goes Wet, Wet, Wet,” Ottawa Journal, January 22, 1962, Pages 1,5; “Two Ridings: Grits See ‘Trends’ in Liquor Vote,” Ottawa Journal, January 25, 1962, Page 3.. As the 19th and final tenant, it was likely planned for some time but held until the vote was completed. In other words, the LCBO was the cherry on top.
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