Here we are at the last stop on our postcard tour of what we’ve been calling the Plaza, and which people of Ottawa called Connaught Plaza, Connaught Place, or even Connaught Place Plaza after it was finished in 1913.
I like this particular image. It’s accurate in the symbolic sense that the Plaza did come to be dominated both architecturally and socially by the Chateau Laurier.
The image is also full of accurate little details about life at the time. For instance, once the Great Triangle was filled, and before automobiles became a menace, you could stroll from the shade of the Post Office across the Plaza to the Chateau. There you could to catch a horse-drawn cab, have lunch on the terrace, or take the stairs down to the tracks below and get the streetcar to Hull (look for the little domes under the tower of the Chateau). You might have to avoid a horse and buggy or two, not to mention the streetcars, but you could easily walk over to Rideau Street to shop at the REA department store — maybe for a nice new straw boater!
Most of all, I like this image for it’s romantic atmosphere, full of citizens peacefully going about their business. The Long Nineteenth Century had been one of peace and prosperity and the growth of the capital. Between 1900 and 1914, people had also embraced the idea of “civic improvement” aimed (it’s often said) at turning Ottawa into “the Washington of the North.” The new Plaza was one of the jewels of the program.
This picture shows people enjoying their new Plaza while they could. World War One was about to begin. Then came the scourge of the Spanish Flu, a short depression, a brief period of prosperity, the Great Depression, and finally World War Two. It would be some 30 years before things returned to “normal.”
What happened to the Plaza in all this time? Well, the Plaza would see at least three more major transformation in the century after 1914, all involving massive demolitions. And that’s another reason I like this picture. It not only captures the improving spirit of the Edwardian Era. It captures one of the last times people were able to add to Ottawa’s civic fabric, without having to destroy and re-weave it.