Although many of them have been converted into apartments for decades, Centretown remains home to a large number of stately homes, constructed during the Victorian, Edwardian (VII), and early Georgian (V) periods. Of course, it wasn’t the working-class families of Lebreton Flats or Eastview constructing these homes to live in. It was Ottawa’s then burgeoning commercial class and the few well-positioned, well-paid members of the Inside Service taking up residence in these homes.
Pictured above is the home at 474 Cooper Street, just a few lots west of Kent. Although quite beautiful (if in need of a little care), it is a pretty standard design for the time and, if I had to guess, was likely (or largely) sourced from an existing pattern book.
After six months in the Cecil, they were able to move into their new home. Source: Ottawa Journal, May 2, 1910.Robert Nathaniel Bates was born at Prescott in 1881 to Joseph and Juliet (Lighthall) Bates. Robert married Mabel Asquith in 1909 and for a time took up residence in the HotelCecil on Sparks. The newlyweds needed a nest, however. Once construction was completed in 1910, they moved in to their home at No. 474 Cooper. It appears that it was a reasonably straightforward purchase: Bates was earning $5000 a year at the time.
As with a number of entrepreneurial families, the Bates’ were involved in a number of enterprises. Robert and his father Joseph, for example, founded and ran the Crown Oil & Gas Company, enjoying some limited success in 1909 in oil and gas exploration. It appears that 1909 would it its only real notable year, however. The company is not mentioned again in the local papers, although Crown’s activities were later continued. In any event, both Robert and his father seem to have had other, much larger, plans.
First and, perhaps most interestingly, Bates entered the patent medicine game in 1907 selling “Electric Beans”, seemingly iron supplements, which promised to energize and vitalize the listless. A half-page ad published in local newspapers offered a narrative of how scientists discovered this plant material that energized the blood and – miracle upon miracles – those who take the beans experienced a whole new life and a rosy glow to go with it.
Advertisements for these Electric Beans were run in the Ottawa Journal until 1918 and materials were published directly by the Electric Bean Chemical Company until at least 1920. It appears that Electric Beans were merely a sideline or a single act for Robert. Along with his father, it appears that they had more conglomerate aims.
In the summer of 1910, Robert and his father formed the British Canadian Industrial Co. Ltd. British Canadian appears to have been largely an attempt to bring all their different activities into a single incorporated body, not the least of which the Electric Beans and oil and gas properties. This would also help them to raise capital.
British Canadian’s future looked bright in those early days. After their first year, expansion plans were made. Source: Ottawa Journal, May 23, 1911.Not three months later, British Canadian’s new business was announced. Fitting for an Ottawa business, British Canadian created a whole new company (with a $2,000,000 capitalization) called the International Land and Lumber Company. Throughout the year, Bates had been raising funds, both domestically and internationally, in order to purchase a timber limit around Lac St-Jean, Quebec.
For a time, it appeared as if British Canadian and the International Land and Lumber Company were going to become a significant corporate presence in Ottawa, Canada, and even noted abroad. Robert had been tremendously successful in raising funds, making contacts, and interesting some important persons. Within three years, both Bates-run companies had grown considerably.
While under the control of Robert Bates, it appeared that the sky was the limit. That is, of course, where the story takes a turn.
In March of 1920, local papers reported that Robert had died while away on business in London (UK). While his cause of death does not appear to have been published, his entry into Beechwood Cemetery registers lists the cause of death as asphyxiation. He was just under 39 years old, clearly with much ahead of him.
From there, the wheels began to come off British Canadian and International Land. In 1921, high-ranking corporate officer S. A. Huntington departed for Leamington, ON to establish a fruit farm. Two years following, the Toronto General Trusts Corporation, trustee for the International Land and Lumber Company’s bondholders began to investigate the company’s affairs.
Toronto General Trusts’ investigation uncovered that much of Bates’ fundraising energies – aside from his work in England – were focused on investors of modest means in rural Eastern Ontario and Quebec. Once the company’s larger debts were paid (the investors in England, the Government of Quebec), it did not appear to be good news on the horizon for these smaller investors.
The following year, in 1924, the company began bankruptcy proceedings in earnest. With that, it was all gone. Today, very little of any physical reminder of Bates’ entrepreneurial life exists. Neither office building is standing (both burned), and neither is his home at death, 248 O’Connor. His first home, at 474 Cooper, however, remains standing and truly is one built on the strength of Electric Beans.
As you continue south down Elgin, the commercial feel begins to dissipate and the residential character the neighbourhood once had is able to show through: if only a little. With both the east and west sides of the street lined with 3 and 4-storey apartments (common along the city’s former streetcar routes), it would be easy to miss this comparatively small home between the Mackenzie and the Holbrook apartments on the street’s west side.
Although it is now part of the collection of buildings that comprise 388 Elgin (namely the Holbrook, Mac’s/Parkdale Apartments, and the detached home at the rear on Gladstone), this wasn’t always the case. 408 Elgin’s first owner was Humane Society Inspector James Lemoine. A lifelong resident of Ottawa, Lemoine began his working career with the Bronson Lumber Company, making his way up to foreman. A career with Bronson was not enough, however. In 1899, Lemoine partnered up with James Currell and formed the Electric Transfer Company. Lemoine and Currell operated in the city’s highly-competitive baggage transfer market for some years before selling the business to Roy Brownlee.
Lemoine was appointed to the position of Inspector in 1908. He seemed to approach the job with some gusto and was often the face of the Ottawa Humane Society when it came to the enforcement of early animal cruelty laws.
His tenure in that position did not last a long time. On December 17, 1915, Lemoine died of pneumonia at 55 years old and was interred at Beechwood Cemetery. His widow Elmira (“Minnie”) and children Ethel, Florence, Harold, and Isabella then moved to a home at 102 Argyle. Harold, the only son, died from wounds he received during World War 1 in 1917.
In more recent years, Ottawa’s local historians have become more interested in Miss Harmon’s School for Girls. Most materials pertaining to the operation of the school are centred on its final location at the corner of Elgin and MacLaren. By far the best of these I know of is found on URBSite.
The details surrounding the closing of the school tend to be unarticulated for the most part. Additionally, the nature of Miss Harmon’s death, being a suicide, is not generally discussed.
Operating a business – any business – is quite a challenging undertaking. With new competitors emerging with varying regularity, client tastes and demands always changing, and a whole host of other issues that may – at any given time – prove challenging to the regular needed cash flow of your operation, it isn’t easy. Miss Harmon appeared to be poised to handle any and all comers to the field of women’s education in Ottawa.
Miss Abby Maria Harmon, the youngest daughter of Daniel Williams Harmon and Elizabeth [Lizette] Laval [Duval], was born in Vermont around 1838. By the time Abby was born, her father Daniel had been long retired from the fur trade (Northwest Company) and had indeed already published his journals. According to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he never did achieve much in the way of success after he left the trade and returned to his home state. He died five years following her birth, in 1843.
At some point between her father’s death and 1861, Abby relocated to Montreal. Perhaps due to some connections her father had with (former) Northwest Company colleagues, she appears to have taken up a position teaching at a ladies’ boarding school in the Golden Square Mile at 31 Beaver Hall.
That arrangement did not last long, however. Abby Harmon soon relocated to the recently-selected capital of the United Canadas. In 1862, she established the Harmon Ladies’ School with the help of Agnes Lloyd, who subsequently married Pembroke hardware dealer W.A. Hunter.
The 1871 Census lists Abby Harmon as a resident of Victoria Ward and working as a Preceptress. Between 1875 and 1892, her school was located at 49 Daly, home to The Union Mission for Men since 1912.
Regardless of its location, Miss Harmon’s school in Ottawa was a resounding success. Aside from remaining in business continually, she did seem to attract a lot of notable clientele, including Hugh John Macdonald’s daughter, John A. Macdonald’s granddaughter. At the end of each school year, the Journal and Citizen would report the successes of the pupils. Unsurprisingly, the young women present on those lists had a number of notable family names – Lyon, Lewis, McKay, and Wright, to name a few examples.
Miss Harmon was also somewhat involved in local politics that concerned her business. In December of 1891 she petitioned the city for tax exempt status. The reason being is that she saw the private religious schools as competition that had the advantage of not paying taxes. The Journal noted that the owner of a ladies’ school in Montreal was not only successful in winning the exemption, but that she also secured the costs. It appears, however, that her own petition fell on deaf ears and she restructured and incorporated her business, moving it to the corner of Elgin and MacLaren the following year (beginning that year, her advertisements claimed that the school was “Incorporated in 1892”).
Finally, Miss Harmon was also exceptionally active in the community, holding a number of positions with a large number of charities attached to the Presbyterian Church in Ottawa.
The trouble, it seems, was in Miss Harmon’s personal life.
On September 20, 1904 it was reported that Miss Harmon had taken her own life by jumping off the Interprovincial (Alexandra) Bridge. The Journal reported that there were witnesses to the jump, which took place at 11:40PM. When her body was recovered in the morning by an E.B. Eddy employee, a note was recovered from the pocket of her skirt:
“Dr. MacCarthy killed me with his theory of keeping boarders. Send my body to Rogers’ morgue, Rideau street, and from there to Montreal, to Kate.”
For his own part, Dr. MacCarthy was reported in the Journal article as having recommended to Miss Harmon that she stop taking on boarders as she was getting older and was quite tired. Although she was convinced to stop teaching a few years earlier on that basis, she missed it and returned to the classroom. While her financial position was generally stable, she did not see it that way and apparently felt that not accepting boarders would lead to her financial ruin.
“Dr. MacCarthy attributes her rash act to nervous prostration and mental depression which produced insanity.”
The Journal established a narrative whereby nobody noticed anything different about her behaviour with the exception that she had dressed herself alone that day. Something that she had apparently been unable to do in three years. Outside of that abnormality, she seemed exactly as she always was.
At least in Ottawa’s educational circles, Miss Harmon cast a long shadow. Once news of her suicide had spread, the Ottawa Ladies’ College closed for the day as an official act of mourning.
Reprinted in the Journal, the Montreal Star eulogized Miss Harmon thusly:
A teacher who has been the successful educator of two and even three generations of pupils, and to whom the passing years have brought and ever increasing measure of public esteem and confidence cannot fail to occupy a unique position in any community. Such was the case with the late Miss M. A. [sic] Harmon is Ottawa, whose tragic death in a moment of mental derangement was reported in our news columns a few days ago.
The pupils of Miss Harmon are to be found to-day in every part of the Dominion, many occupying social positions of prominence; and wherever her name is mentioned the thought will arise of the kindly, painstaking and judicious teacher and the sincere and sympathetic friend.
Miss Harmon’s school had become almost an historic institution of the Capital of the Dominion, antedating as it did the removal of the seat of government to that city; and, under the influence, grew up to womanhood the daughters of hundreds of the leading citizens of the place.
The children of former pupils replaced their mothers in the course of years, and in a few cases the grandchildren sought their education under the same wise and genial auspices.
Miss Harmon was a firm believer in a thorough English education. Her aim was to develop at once the intelligence and the character, rather than to impart a show of knowledge and transitory accomplishments. Everything in her system of education was solid as far as she could possibly make it so. Her own character was compacted of firmness and kindliness; and the public had learnt to place unlimited reliance on her judgement in all that related to the welfare of her scholars.
In the inexpressibly sad death of this estimable lady there is a lesson for the strong not to overtax their strength; for in the human constitution, as in everything else, there is a breaking point. To approach that point is dangerous; to touch it means collapse, perhaps absolute and fatal.
However that may be, to have been, through a long life, patient in purpose, steadfast in aim, patient in well-doing and indefatigable in the performance of duty; above all to have been a source of strength and moral upbuilding to others; is to leave a record which no clouds gathering round the last stage can ever obscure.
It does appear that, in general, most accepted that her psychiatric issues were precipitated by her penchant for overwork.
Miss Harmon’s will was probated a few weeks later and was valued at approximately $20,000. The will, which was dated July 20, 1904 (eight weeks previous to her suicide), made a large number of bequests to a variety of individuals and charities. Some of these charities included the Widow and Orphans’ fund of the Presbyterian Church, St. Luke’s Hospital, the Protestant Orphans’ Home, the YWCA, and the Home for Friendless Women.
The legacy left by Abby Harmon would be much larger than the number of cash bequests she left in her will, however. In the spring of 1905, a number of prominent Ottawans – including but not limited to J.W. Woods and George Perley – met to develop a new ladies’ college as “the work done by Miss Harmon should be continued and not allowed to die out”.
Although misspelled, Miss Harmon’s name also lives on in the name of an apartment building that was later constructed on the site of what was the playground for her school.
By way of relation, the autumn of 1904 would see another teacher pass on. On October 13, the Journal reported that Miss Annabella MacLeod had passed on. Like Miss Harmon she was an educator and also like Harmon, MacLeod’s father, John MacLeod, was in the fur trade, a chief trader of the Hudson’s Bay Company. Tragically, also like Miss Harmon, her death appears to have come at the end of a depressive episode (although due to a physical medical issue). According to the report in the Journal:
Since the death of her younger sister, Miss Annie, last July, Miss MacLeod has been in a feeble state of health, although she continued at her work of teaching up to Wednesday afternoon. Yesterday pluresy developed, and she was unable to rally.
At a later date, I will continue the tale of how influential citizens of Ottawa were able to continue Miss Harmon’s work in the city. In a subsequent piece, I will continue to track the physical development of the building that once housed the school.
This one will just be a quick hit for you this gloomy Sunday afternoon.
It really doesn’t take a powerful suggestion for me to engage in some research on something. Sometimes it’s just a question that pops into my head when walking by, sometimes it comes from a question that someone asks me, and other times, it could be as innocuous as being followed on Twitter or Instagram. In this case, it was a 70-30 split between the last and the first. The Gilmour Inn followed me on Twitter, I wondered, and I searched. Although I am aware it was not the same for many people, when I was young, one of the most important lessons that I was taught was that an unanswered question is one of the saddest things in the world (*cue violins*). This boundless curiosity has caused me untold amounts of joy, has helped to satisfy the curiosities of others, and has put others to sleep. Of course, if you’re represented in the latter group, you’d probably not be reading this.
The house at 431 Gilmour was constructed around 1895 for Zaccheus J. Fowler, the Chief Engineer for Grand Trunk subsidiary, Midland Railway Company of Canada (and previously of the Indiantown Branch of the Intercolonial Railway in New Brunswick). Though it was originally addressed as 389 Gilmour, the growing city necessitated the renumbering of many blocks throughout the city, this one being no exception.
At some point after 1909, the property was sold by Fowler to fellow New Brunswicker, the prolific and Honourable George. E. Foster, who remained resident there for some time. By 1923, the property had been picked up by William Charles Mitchell, the former publisher of the Ottawa Free Press and local property owner (who, at his death, owned the Ottawa Free Press building at Elgin and Queen and the nearby Shorncliffe Apartments, among others). Following his death in 1927, his son Fred and his family took up residence in the home. The couple remained there until the death of his wife Florida in 1941. After than, he sold the home and moved into a hotel on Bank, where he died in 1945.
While I’m unsure of the specific course of events following the sale of the house in 1941, the home was, by 1942 or 1943, converted into to the Canadian headquarters for the Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union (Russian: Телеграфное агентство Советского Союза), shortened to “TASS” in English. TASS wasn’t itself an intelligence agency. It was just the newswire service agency responsible for the collection of national and international news for Soviet newspapers. Unlike the Canadian Press, Associated Press, or Reuters, it enjoyed a monopoly in that position. It nevertheless was frequently used by the NKVD/KGB and GRU for intelligence-gathering purposes.
On July 24, 1942, the Montreal Gazette reported that, much like its New York office, TASS official Nicholas Zhivaynov was poised to open a Canadian headquarters in Ottawa. As this was during World War 2 and the Soviets were allied (albeit with trepidation given the official public ideology), so an office for their wire service probably wasn’t considered much of a threat.
That, of course, all changed with the defection of Soviet cipher clerk Igor Gouzenko. Without recounting the entire event, Gouzenko was working for the Russian foreign service at 14 Range Road. He became concerned when it became clear that the Soviet government was spying on the Canadian, hoping to acquire nuclear secrets from the United States. When Gouzenko first attempted to inform the RCMP and the national media he wasn’t believed. When some “officials” (the NKVD) attempted to pay him an unfriendly visit at his apartment (511 Somerset, Apartment 4) it became clear that his story may have had some merit. It was this event that served as sort of the official kickoff to the Cold War.
The resulting Royal Commission to Investigate the Facts Relating to and the Circumstances Surrounding the Communication, by Public Officials and Other Persons in Positions of Trust of Secret and Confidential Information to Agents of a Foreign Power (quite a mouthful, hence it being better known as the Kellock-Taschereau Commission) uncovered what was then very startling information. Leaving most of the specifics of the event to the Cold War historians, the Commission’s findings, which were tabled later in the year, uncovered that Zhivaynov, working out of the TASS office was a central figure in the whole intrigue.
In spite of the Commission’s findings, the agency remained active in Canada (as it does today), though after it became clear in 1949 that another one of their agents was at least questionable. Subsequently their reporters had to prove clean in order to receive their Press Gallery credentials.
It appears that the TASS office quickly relocated from 431 Gilmour as my searches tend to result in regular classified ads (ie. goods for sale, rooms for rent) and local information (obituaries) at that address for several decades. In 1979, Annice Kronick relocated her “decorators studio” business, Accents Incorporated, to that address from 323 Somerset W. By the mid-1980s, it was the Raven Café (specializing in live folk and blues), and after that the Savana Café.