Our previous postcard showed what the Plaza was expected to be like in 1913. This one shows more of what it was actually like in the years 1905 to 1912, before the Plaza Project was completed.
We have Sappers’ Bridge on the left, leading to Sparks Street. Dufferin Bridge on the right, leading to Wellington. In the middle is what always seems to have been called the Old Post Office even in its own time. Both the Dufferin Bridge and the Post Office were part of a previous “Plaza Project” that got underway in 1873.
Until then, Wellington Street ended at a cliff above the Rideau Canal, which was an extension of the bluffs around Parliament Hill. I don’t yet have a good document explaining the reason for the new bridge, but you can easily imagine that it was going to be built sooner or later. In this case, sooner meant the choice of Ottawa as the capital of Canada, followed by the construction of the Parliament Buildings. That’s when Wellington first took shape as a street. It was only natural that it should be carried over the canal to Rideau Street, if only as a convenience for politicians heading to the hotels and taverns in the Market!
More or less the same explanation (minus the taverns) applies to the Post Office. This was the Age of Mail. The arrival of all those politicians and their families, as well as various government departments and their civil servants meant a huge increase in the volume of mail to be sorted and delivered. A new post office was needed, and it made perfect sense to build it in the centre of town near the Parliament Buildings.
The Post Office was designed by architect Walter Chesterton in a handsome “Italianate” version of the Second Empire Style (think Napoleon the Third). Completed in 1876, it had three special features. The first was a central tower said to echo the main tower of the East Block. In the tower was the clock citizens used to set their watches (the clock on the Parliament Buildings was regarded as unreliable).
A second feature of the Post Office was a basement floor that opened out directly onto the Rideau Canal. This was for the officers of the Inland Revenue Department, originally housed in the building, who could stroll out to the canal boats to levy custom duties or bring items into the basement for inspection.
The third unusual feature of the Post Office is the setting — by which I mean the giant empty triangle between the Dufferin and Sappers’ Bridges that came to a point on the other side of the canal at Rideau Street. This is my favourite feature of old Ottawa. I love it! And I’m looking for a better postcard.
In the meantime, there’s one more thing to note about the Post Office. It suffered a major fire in 1904. So desperate was the city for its mail, it was rebuilt in the same stye, on the same site, using parts of the original. Since the amount of mail had increased so much over the years, the powers-that-be took this opportunity to add an extra floor to the building, making it five stories high, as you see here.
Want a Free Lost Ottawa Book?
Join our mailing list and keep up to date with the latest Lost Ottawa news. Plus get our free book!