Looking down the Rideau Canal towards the Old Post Office sometime between 1904 and 1913.

This postcard gives us a great look at the Old Post Office as it was rebuilt after a fire in February, 1904. People were as desperate to get their mail from the Post Office as we would be if we all lost our phones and computers, so rebuilding started right away. To save even more time the government decided to rebuild on the same spot and in the same style using parts of the older building, while adding one floor.

One big change was made, however. The decorative stone cladding on the outside was attached to massive concrete walls on the inside. That made the Old Post Office surprising hard to knock town when its time came in 1938. 

Possibly more interesting in this postcard is the tugboat, wharf, and warehouse on the left — a testament to the continuing use of the Rideau as a working canal in the years 1900 to 1914. 

The utility of the canal has in fact been much debated. We know, for example, that it was never used as the military supply line for which it was built 1827-1832. Then the railways arrived to siphon off its potential shipping and passenger business. It could have become huge in the realm of transportation. Nevertheless, the canal was heavily used by Ottawa’s lumber companies for barge shipments to the US and various “freight forwarders” used it to bring bulk commodities like coal and firewood to the city centre. Steamboat passengers were dropped off here, too.

The point, however, is not to argue about the commercial value of the canal, just to point out that the banks of the Rideau Canal south of the Plaza were very different in 1910 than they are in 2020. Now the west side of the canal is occupied by the National Arts Centre and Confederation Park. Then (with the exception of that tiny little greensward you see below the Post Office), the entire west side of the canal from Sappers’ Bridge to Laurier was used for commercial and industrial purposes. The entire east side of the canal, and maybe you can just make them out on the right side of the picture, was occupied by railway tracks. 

Hard to think of this area now as a onetime place of warehouses, train tracks and coal piles. And it looks so scenic in this postcard!