The Mackenzie Apartments are a familiar sight at the corner of Elgin and McLeod, In the years leading up to the First World War, the properties just north of Appin Place (the current site of the Museum of Nature) became ripe for new development. If you’re the same sort of nerd that I am, it’s likely that you’ve downloaded and indexed the fire insurance maps available at LAC. Between the 1901 edition and the 1912, we can see that within the two surrounding blocks, the St. Cado, Virginia, Elgin, Kenniston, the Warrington, and Mackenzie Apartments had been constructed.
In my own experience, the name given to apartment buildings can either be chosen for obvious reasons, like the name of a monarch, leader, or after an exotic or luxurious locale, or other times, the chosen name is less obvious to anyone by the builder or perhaps contemporaries. In the case of The Mackenzie, it may be a little more of the latter than the former. This is in spite of “Mackenzie” being a common enough name in the Canadian experience.
As it would turn out, The Mackenzie, like the Harmon Apartments or the White House Apartments (161 Somerset, where I live) was most likely named for the previous owner of the property. On October 26, 1899, the Journal reported the death of Constable John B. McKenzie (note the different spelling: accuracy wasn’t always considered, something that was the case with the Harmon Apartments on Elgin).
A familiar figure will be missed from the By ward market. John B. McKenzie is dead. He passed away yesterday afternoon and his market constableship will know him no more.
For nine years, Constable McKenzie has been the city’s faithful servant, the guardian of the law and order on the market, and in any little disputes which arose between sellers and purchasers he was generally appealed to, and his decisions were mostly always considered fair.
I have not been able to locate any relevant information about who constructed the apartment, the architect, builder, or the cost.
When looking through back issues of Journal and the Citizen for evidence about the construction of apartment buildings, it feels like more buildings were opened to greater fanfare than they were during the 1950s later. Of course, when you’re in an era where 12+ storey buildings were erected regularly, a small three-floor walk-up is unlikely to warrant much more than a larger-than-normal ad in the Classified section. As a result, these smaller modernist walk-ups tend to be lent a certain unassuming or anonymous character that the towers were not. My own casual (untested) observation is that they were as likely to be unnamed as named and the ads name no landlord or company. In an era when towers were popping up, they often escaped mention in the weekly real estate section.
As the federal bureaucracy continued to grow into the 1960s and 1970s and, more importantly, further professionalize, a new class of civil servant came to need accommodation in Centretown. No matter which way you slice it, bachelor apartments have not normally been popular for raising a family. Builders of apartments in Centretown, however, identified the trend of the unmarried young professional. During the late 1950s, builders began to construct buildings that consisted entirely of bachelor units. The building that I currently live in is an example (I’ll be writing about that one soon) and 92 MacLaren is another one.
Unfortunately, I have been unable locate the designer or the owner of the building. When it was constructed, the owner hired Kevin Mullins, a local real estate agent to fill it. The units were rented out for what appears to be the going rate for a bachelor unit at $89 – $92.50 a month. Although there were indeed a number of landlords who advertised that their bachelors were suitable for two people, others were certain to advertise them as Single Occupancy.
The concept of the Pink Collar Ghetto has been used in a number of ways. In Ottawa, it may be used to describe women’s in-office experience, but also outside the office. When searching through city directories, unmarried women (and men, of course) are commonly present. When I was looking for information about this building, I located in the Journal some interesting evidence of the idea. In the Spring of 1960, a resident of the building, Miss Diane Chevrette won the civil service beauty competition and was crowned the “RA Queen.” Below is an excerpt from the Journal’s article on the event:
Miss Diane Chevrette, a vivacious receptionist with the Department of National Defence’s administration branch, was crowned RA Queen of the Year at last night’s annual RA Revue.
The 23-year-old blue-eyed blonde smiled, posed and walked her way to the top honours during a competition that had the judges chewing their pencils for three and one-half hours.
She is the daughter of Judge Armand Chevrette and Mrs. Chevrette of Montreal and has been in the Civil Service since January. She lives at 92 MacLaren street.
A tie among the three finalists delayed the final decision 15 minutes and caused one revue official to remark that it was the “closest contest on record”.
Runners-up were Miss Myrna Hunter, 21, of Victoria, British Columbia (Miss Defence Research Board), and Miss Margaret Brant, 18, of the Mohawk Indian Reservation near Belleville (Miss Department of Indian Affairs).
Miss Chevrette, who tips the scales at a dainty 125 pounds, stands five feet, seven inches in her stocking feet. Vital Statistics? “I’m not sure.”
She was named queen after treading the boards with 31 other civil service hopefuls.
– Ottawa Journal, May 10, 1960, Page 21.
Aside from the crown and the sash, her victory was topped off with $200 and “a custom made dress by Dupont”. Having just finished some time working for the Public Service, I don’t think that a beauty competition was part of the yearly social calendar…
Another young woman resident at 92 MacLaren made the news for a different reason a few years later, in 1966. That winter, the “Traffic Fixing Case” was followed by the Journal whereby a Mrs. Helene Harrison was accused of being paid to remove “traffic offence reports from police files.” One of the star witnesses was a Miss Elaine Joss, resident of 92 MacLaren, and personal friend to Mrs. Harrison. Not only did the accused officer, Leo Provost, resign as things got hot, but Miss Joss was also later fired from the police department for failing to uphold her statement against him as the investigation continued. In the end, Harrison was acquitted.
Kevin Mullins, Assessment Fighter
Kevin Mullins, the real estate agent who was hired in 1959 to fill the units at 92 MacLaren enjoyed what seems to have been something of a successful career in real estate. His name showed up frequently in advertisements and he seems to have been mostly involved in the sale of detached and semi detached housing from Manor Park to the west end. He did, however, seem to develop a certain sympathy for – and rapport with – the owners of apartment buildings.
During the early 1970s, however, be began to split his time between sales and also operated as a real estate consultant, specializing in appealing the property tax assessments of apartments on behalf of landlords. In the Citizen, a profile piece was published in the August 25, 1972 issue:
Kevin Mullins isn’t a household name.
But in the small world of land developers and municipal taxmen the 43-year-old real estate consultant cuts a wide swath.
His one-man campaign to get justice for hard-pressed apartment owners and tenants culminated Thursday in the Ontario Municipal Board decision ordering Nepean Township to repay $1.25 million in taxes to Minto Construction Company Limited.
Befitting a rugged individualist who isn’t afraid to fight bureaucracies, Mr. Mullins is paid wel[sic] to take the risks. Hiss[sic] fee is 50 per cent of the first-year tax savings of his clients.
A specialist in representing property owners facing expropriation, Mr. Mullins likes to operate independently of governments and prefers to negotiate rather than fight.
In the mid-1960s he appealed several property assessments on behalf of Ottawa apartment owners and won. “I didn’t know why but I was getting what I wanted.”
But on once case he felt he was brushed off by the assessment department. He became angry and took the city to court.
– Ottawa Citizen, August 25, 1972, Page 4.
So the legend was born. During the late 1970s, when the property tax system was in flux, Mullins was retained by a number of landlords to fight the changes. During this time, it appears that there was a switch to the full property value system (that I believe we are under now) and the rate charged to high rise apartments was, in some cases, more than twice the rate paid by small apartments, owner-occupied dwellings, commercial, and industrial rates. It had long been Mullins’ mission to see that a unit-was-a-unit-was-a-unit and that all properties were assessed at an equal rate. In addition to that, it had been only three years since Ontario had introduced its rent control regime and large apartment-owners felt additionally hard-done-by.
Although not all major landlords were opposed to the change (perhaps most significantly, the Campeau Corporation was not and Regional Real Estate preferred to tilt against the rent control regime), Mullins acted as the spokesman for other larger owners like Urbandale and Sun Life. In what seems to have been his slightly bombastic style, Mullins was quoted in the Journal on September 1, 1979, assessing the new system as “the worst, most disgraceful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Unfortunately from there, I am uncertain what the outcome of Mullins’ efforts were as – if I remember correctly – apartment buildings are still assessed at a different rate are detached homes.
Note: This piece is a revised and expanded version of the comments that are attached to this picture shared on my Instagram account. In the interest of ensuring that I have more materials up on this site (which I have been sorely lacking in), each image with a #didyouknowseries hashtag on Instagram will have an expanded version here on this site. That way, I can add more context and information and avoid the temptation to shoehorn 100+ word stories into the Instagram comment facility.
It comes as no surprise that the growth and development of Ottawa the city tracks with the growth of the government. Any tensions that existed between Town and Crown were largely resolved in the period following the First World War insofar that the Crown was clearly dominant and the Town was largely along for the ride. Given its central location, each of these successive waves of government expansion may be readily seen in Centretown’s built environment.
For a variety of reasons that I will not rehash here, the federal government became increasingly involved in social welfare programming during the Great Depression. The facilitation of these new programs and public works requires, of course, a larger bureaucracy to manage them, which attracted a large number of people to the city. Indeed, between 1921 and 1941, the population increased from about 107,000 to 154,000.
As a result of this population growth, a large number of apartment buildings were constructed in Centretown during the 1930s. There are dozens of 3-4 storey walk-up apartments of that vintage in the neightbourhood between Bank and the Canal. A number of builders took part in this Depression-era development including such builders as Snear Miller and the Shenkman family.
In November 1934, The Journal reported that J. Harold Shenkman (son of Wolf Shenkman, patriarch of the Shenkmans, still active in development today) had purchased for $6,000, property on Elgin from Edgar L. Horwood. On September 29, 1936, the Journal reported that Shenkman had taken out a $23,000 building permit at city hall and had planned to construct a three-storey apartment in the near future. As with most such apartments of the time, construction was of cinder block with a brick veneer. Unfortunately, I have yet to find out who the architect or designer was. The name “Park Square” chosen, no doubt, due to the fact of it being along Park Avenue, and to evoke the luxury of London’s (UK) Park Square neighbourhood.
Much like with other apartments constructed during the 1930s, respectability was the name of the game. For those of us looking back, the social section of newspapers are an excellent source of information about the activities and movements of individuals and families whose local stature warranted the attention of paper’s staff. When, for example, the paper would report on a wedding, they would normally be informed where the newlyweds would be living. On September 20, 1937, the Journal reported the wedding of Reita Faith and Wilbert Schroeder:
Rev. F.S. Milliken officiated at the marriage ceremony on Saturday afternoon, of Reita M. Faith, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Faith, and Wilbert H. Schroeder, son of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Schroeder, of Ottawa.
The bride was given in marriage by her father, and was attended by Miss M. Merkel, as bridesmaid. Mr. Clifford Bacon was best man.
The bride wore an attractive costume of coral rust velvet, made on long lines, with a jacket of the same. The neckline was in softly draped cowl effect, and the skirt ended in a small train. She wore a coronet of the same velvet, and carried Johanna Hill roses.
The bridesmaid wore a pretty costume of riviere blue satin, with a jacket of the same. She wore a Dutch cap of the same blue crepe, and carried Talisman roses.
Mrs. Faith, mother of the bride, wore a handsome gown of black velvet, with a black velours hat, and Talisman roses.
Mrs. Schroeder, mother of the bridegroom, also wore a beckoning black velvet dress, with black hat, and a shoulder knot of roses.
Following the ceremony, a wedding reception was help at the Summer home of the bride’s parents, in Kingsmere, where Autumn leaves and white asters were used to adorn the rooms. During the reception, Mrs. Walter Faith played several piano selections.
Mr. and Mrs. Schroeder left on a motor trip through the White Mountains to New York City. The bride travelled [sic] in a bottle green tailored suit, a green velours hat and matching accessories, and handsome Japanese sables. They will reside in Park Square, Elgin street.
Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Bunyon, of Montreal, were out-of-town guests.
This was the basic formula for each of these “reports” on the weddings of local middle-class individuals and in hundreds of cases, they were to take up residence in a Centretown apartment. If I had more ready access to relevant city directories, I’d search for evidence of more well-known Ottawans who resided at the address. Nevertheless, a number of respectable couples took up residence at Park Square during the period.
The Journal’s property sales column (which tracked all property sales in the city above $3,000) featured the Shenkman frequently. Always developing, wheeling and dealing, properties were bought and sold at a rapid pace. By 1947, it was reported that Shenkman had sold Park Square to a Mr. M.K. Emerson for $55,000.
As it ages, rental housing tends to hit something of a low in its ability to attract “desired” tenants and therefore maximum income (something that comes easier when it’s new or when it’s old enough to have “charm” or “character”). This is part why so much of the lower-cost housing around was constructed between the 50s and the 70s. This period, of course, does represent an opportunity to either house low income families and individuals, or for a developer to renovate/demolish in an attempt to generate more income.
During the mid-1970s, the fledgling Centretown Citizens (Ottawa) Corporation had identified Park Square as one to purchase to accomplish the former. As the following article published in the Citizen in 1974 illustrates, it was not achieved. Indeed, getting started in non-profit housing was altogether difficult. I am transcribing the entire article below as it contains materials of interest to a number of urban affairs issues.
Frustrated in repeated efforts to win federal funding for non-profit housing, a Centre Town citizens’ group is appealing to Urban Affairs Minister Barney Danson.
The Centre Town Citizens’ (Ottawa) Corporation hasn’t a single project to show after more than a year of trying.
The group hopes Mr. Danson can bring about changes in policy and attitude of Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, spokesman Brian Bourns said Monday.
“You get sick after a while of just beating your hear against the wall.”
Binding regulations, bureaucratic delays and unfavourable market conditions have blocked attempts to buy or build rooming houses, apartments and family housing, said corporation president Irving Greenberg, former developer and unsuccessful NDP candidate in two federal Ottawa Centre campaigns.
The group’s brief to Mr. Danson states: “We are led to suspect that we are being put through a variety of hoops for some, as yet unspecified period of time and that if successful the (CMHC) branch office will consider us worthy of serious attention.”
Con Leclerc, assistant manager of CMHC branch office, countered Monday that many of the group’s difficulties stem from an effort to use land ownership to stabilize Centre Town for family housing, when the tool should be zoning.
Nevertheless, he said, he’s convinced family housing could be developed there under present CMHC financing formulas. The citizens group says inflation has rendered CMHC limits unrealistic.
The CMHC and the citizens should be on the same side. The stated aims of both corporations include helping to provide housing for people with low incomes.
When it started last year, an offshoot of the Centre Town Community Association, the Citizens’ group had high hopes of making use of the new section of the National Housing Act which allows non-profit and co-operative housing bodies to tap CMHC for 100 per cent financing – a 10 per cent grant plus a 90 per cent preferred-rate mortgage.
But it has struck out so far with proposals to buy and repair a 24-unit rooming house at 183 Waverley St. to erect family apartments on a Gilmour Street lot and to buy and run a 16-unit apartment building at 425 Elgin St.
The brief to Mr. Danson says delays in CMHC consideration of proposals have torpedoed deals and inflated selling prices and CMHC insistence on rent reductions after purchase isn’t realistic in an inflationary market and the emphasis should be on long-term stability.
Also CMHC preference for housing needing little repairs isn’t much help in reversing a trend towards deterioration and the CMHC branch office has little idea what its executive committee will approve and thus uses the Centre Town proposals for “kite flying.”
In fact, many of the people involved in the citizens’ corporation have also been active in producing a neighbourhood plan which would downzone large sections of Centre Town to retain families and low-scale housing.
Mr. Greenberg said the citizens’ corporation has a board of about 15 directors which includes three architects, a lawyer, a retired real estate agent and the YMCA’s director of housing.
It did not require out-of-the-ordinary foresight to see the the expansion of the welfare state following the war would come to apply significant development pressure to Ottawa’s Centretown neighbourhood. Developers and urban renewal advocates alike (often one in the same) were quick to point out that Ottawa was absolutely full of dilapidated housing that was, in effect, a menace to public health.
Other local historians (for example, the Midcentury Modernist) have published excellent overviews of the situation and I don’t intend to replicate their work. Instead, I am focusing on one developer in particular that appeared to be somewhat quick out of the starting gate relative to a number of his competitors in the postwar development boom – at least in that swath of Centretown between Elgin and Bank.
Between 1952 and 1966, Centretown came to be the home of The Russell (255 Metcalfe), The Beach-Carleton Hotel Apartment (26 Nepean), The Algonquin (225 Lisgar), and The Algonquin Annex (196 Metcalfe). The builder and manager of the properties was James “Jimmy” Russell Beach of, well, the Beach Family. Without going into too much detail, the Beach family had been a major presence in the industrial history of eastern Ontario. Beyond the factories that were operated in Cornwall, Barrie, Smith’s Falls, and Winchester, the family also owned and operated the Beach Foundry in Hintonburg and Beach Motors.
Before getting into the construction of apartment blocks for himself, Jimmy and his father James (until his death in 1940) constructed a number of single homes, duplexes, and triplexes around Ottawa. Furthermore, he operated as a builder for others in the city, constructing the 13-unit walk-up at Bronson and Second in the Glebe and, one of my personal favourites, The Chelsea Apartments at 283 MacLaren in Centretown.
With his family’s industrial background and his own in heating refrigeration, Beach was able to establish himself as something of an innovative builder. The Russell, constructed in 1948, was considered somewhat novel for eschewing the normal steel frame in favour of poured concrete. In an admiring, yet snickering article published in the Citizen on May 14, 1948 staff writer Marshall Yarrow remarked:
The traditional steel girder framework is missing from this new block. Instead, the concrete is poured into forms from the basement to the roof, making a solid wall of foot-thick concrete all the way up.
Trouble was, it was found that the concrete used to ooze through the places where the two planks joined in the forms. And here is was that somebody figured out that, if it’s true as the ads say, that certain types of nail varnish can make a man come forward, it ought to be able to make concrete stay back.
And it did. Where the planks met the crack was covered over with thick paper firmly plastered down with nail polish. When the vibrator packed the soft concrete down into a solid mass, nary a bit sneaked through where the crack had been.
Of course, Beach’s innovations did not end there. His next significant tower project, the Beach-Carleton Hotel Apartment (completed in 1958), proved his innovations did not stop at unconventional uses for beauty products. In general, apartments blocks (like houses), had their heating units in the basement. Perhaps looking to maximize the usable space for parking or units, Beach decided to place the heating unit on the roof. Speaking to people who have lived in the building, it seems like the decision wasn’t a bad one.
So far as the building itself is concerned, it’s a fairly standard modernist block, but with a few smart details. The most attractive of these, in my opinion, is the louver windows. Fortunately, unlike The Algonquin and Algonquin Annex, the windows haven’t been replaced with modern ones (though I’m sure it will come), so the originally-intended style remains.
The Beach-Carleton, with its buff brick and louver windows.
As time has progressed, a great number of these postwar apartments in Centretown have changed hands. Some of these developers went on to greater things, others, who felt that Ontario’s rent control regime had cut into their revenue-generation goals, divested themselves of their rental properties and entered the owner-occupied market. For their own part, the Beach family has remained in control of these four properties and they continue to house hundreds of Ottawans to this day.
There is one thing that I neglected to mention in my discussion one of the chapters in the story of Robert Campeau and Charlotte Whitton. From 1926 until 1963, she lived at 236 Rideau Terrace, at the corner of Acacia Avenue.
Rooke & Schnell described Whitton’s new home:
Coincidental with this realization of professional ambition was the most of Whitton and Grier from their modest apartment on James Street into 326C[sic] Rideau Terrace, a charming lead-windowed house in an elegant and quiet neighbourhood near Government House. The home that the two women created was largely a reflection of Margaret’s tastes. While the study was Whitton’s domain, ‘elsewhere Margaret ruled.’ The furniture consisted of pieces of old French of exquisite design, a petit-pont stool, Irish candles in old brass, numerous china figurines from a variety of countries, and splashes of green potted ivy and indoor flowers, ‘and over it all a sense of muted color, a delicacy and daintiness, for Margaret’s favorite colour was pastel green, and in her bedroom … and in the living room the same softness.’ In contrast, Whitton’s study was cluttered with parliamentary papers, statutes, pamphlets, scrapbooks, numerous sharpened pencils for writing her drafts, and a library of 1,000 volumes, one-tenth of them about Elizabeth Tudor. Portraits of Elizabeth decorated the walls. and the queen’s death mask was kept on a shelf. 
Whitton and her partner, Margaret Grier, would spend more than twenty years living at the address together until 1947, when Grier passed away.
Whitton’s distaste for Campeau and his work was already well-established, and it may well have been that his successful move to construct the unwanted residential tower on her doorstep provided enough motivation for her to consider a change of scenery. In 1963 (the year the Towers was completed), Whitton decamped her house on Rideau Terrace and purchased a home at 1 Renfrew Avenue in the Glebe adjacent to Central Park. She remained there until her death in 1975.
 P.T. Rooke and R.L. Schnell (1987) No Bleeding Heart: Charlotte Whitton, A Feminist on the Right. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, p. 67.
 Ibid, pp. 67-8.
 Rooke & Schnell (1987) notes that it was 1967, while a number of other sources indicate the date to be 1963.
These four six-plexes, located at 69, 73, 77, and 81 Putman Avenue, were erected some time around 1949-50. In May of 1949, an L. Beaudoin was issued a building permit by the City of Ottawa for $112,000 (approximately $1.125 million today). The June 11, 1949 edition of the Ottawa Citizen, reporting on Ottawa’s postwar housing boom, noted that the 207 building permits totaling $2,067,501 were issued that year – the highest since 1922.
As with most of Ottawa, the postwar housing boom re-shaped the city both quickly and dramatically and the development of housing along Putman Avenue, while much less grand, may be considered indicative. Between 1902 and 1922, for instance, aside from laying the street itself, very little activity took place. Indeed, during the mid-1930s, it was a nice place to pick flowers. By 1956, however, numerous apartments had been constructed.
In addition to the apartments pictured above, some of 1949’s construction highlights included:
an addition to the Oblate’s Main Street Seminary on Main ($500,000);
addition to the Coliseum at Lansdowne ($383,855);
renovations to the Bank of Nova Scotia at 121 Rideau St. ($125,000);
renovations to the Dominion Bank at 214 Sparks St ($300,000); and
an addition to the Lady Evelyn School at 63 Evelyn Ave. in Old Ottawa East ($166,336).
The most significant and dramatic changes to the hilly terrain between Purman Avenue and Rideau Terrace were still to come, however. In a later post, I’ll discuss Robert Campeau’s Champlain Towers (which loom over the neighbourhood) and Springfield Mews (which replaced Charles Craig & Son Greenhouses).