We’re on the last day of our tour of the Plaza in downtown Ottawa. We’ll end with two postcards, one now and one later, that show how the Plaza looked when what we’ve been calling the “Plaza Project” was finished.
I’m not sure where the photographer who took the original photograph for this view was standing, possibly the third or fourth floor of the Russell House hotel at Sparks Street. In any case, it shows how the east side of the Plaza looked in 1914, after the Chateau Laurier and Union Station were finished in 1912, and the Plaza Bridge replaced the Dufferin and Sappers’ bridges in 1913.
The new bridge was significantly wider than the old bridges combined. Sadly (because I liked it!) the big triangle in front of the Old Post Office was filled in. But even I have to admit that the result of these changes was the creation of a big, wide, and brand new public space that could be used for civic purposes.
During World War One the Plaza was often filled with tents, giant cash registers and other displays promoting the purchase of War Bonds. Afterwards, it served as a central gathering place for civic events like Winter Carnival and the annual Dog Derby. Most later pictures seem to show, however, that the most prominent public use of the space was parking! Imagine being able to park for free right in the middle of town. And pick up your parcels from the Post Office? Nifty!
Across the Plaza is the REA department store in what was later called the Daly Building. We’ll deal with the Daly building in a later tour. Right now we can just point to what you see in the picture. The new Plaza served as a fabulous gateway to a growing commercial district on Rideau Street.
For curiosity’s sake, I would also like to point to the lower right corner of the postcard. There we see a guy standing outside a hut. That’s where the Canadian Pacific track passed under the Plaza Bridge. Right behind the guy you see a lost feature of the city. As originally constructed, Union Station was set back from the Plaza, so that light could reach the basement offices. When the Plaza was later expanded again, this feature disappeared (and thanks for this note from Union Station expert David Jeanes). Take a look at this corner next time you are downtown to see how it’s been transmogrified over the years.