No better place to start a postcard tour of Ottawa than the centre of town. Here’s a postcard that shows how it was imagined that the centre of the city would look in 1913, when what I will call the Plaza Project was finished.
I say “imagined” because the J. Valentine Company (whose postcards we will be using on these tours) was apparently in such a hurry that they couldn’t wait for the project to actually finish. Instead they used a rendering prepared by American artist Richard W. Rummell sometime between 1907 and 1911.
The picture is a bit whacky in some regards. For example, this version of the plaza never did get that statue and fountain in the middle (a good idea that never happened!). Also, the arches supporting the plaza are impossibly wide. The arch on the right was barely wide enough for one track to pass through.
Nevertheless, the picture does a good job of capturing the planning objective of the Plaza Project which was, in effect, to reinforce the centrality of the plaza in the life of the city. That centrality was first established in 1826, when the Sappers’ Bridge was constructed over the Rideau Canal. For decades, it was the only way over the canal, so everyone passing from upper to lower town had to use it. In the 1860s the horse railway passed through it. In 1890s every Ottawa streetcar line ran through it. In the meantime, the Dufferin Bridge was built to connect Wellington to Rideau, and the Central Post Office built there on the west bank of the canal.
Centralization continued in 1896, when J.R. Booth brought the tracks of his Canadian Atlantic Railway almost all the way up the east side Sappers’ Bridge. In 1901, streetcars from Hull arrived via the newly completed Alexandra Interprovincial Bridge, which brought Canadian Pacific passenger trains as well.
The centralizing trend led to the three main elements of the Plaza Project, which are depicted in white in the postcard. Part One was the completion of a magnificent new train station on the plaza’s east side. Part Two was the building of the Chateau Laurier across the street from the station. Part Three was the filling in of the triangle between the Sappers’ (front) and Dufferin (back) bridges over the Rideau Canal to create a brand new central civic space. It was to be called Connaught Plaza after the Duke of Connaught, the third son of Queen Victoria, who was Governor General at the time.