457 Likes, 72 Comments, 108 Shares, 23,000 People Reached

This downtown scene shot in 1940 was was the most popular picture on Lost Ottawa for the first week of October. 

It’s a zoomed-in detail of a larger picture from the Canadian National Images of Canada Collection at the Canada Science and Technology Museum (a collection we digitized when I was archivist there).

I like this shot because there is so much Lost Ottawa in it. We’ve got Sparks Street with all the signs that used to hang over the sidewalks. We’ve got streetcars. A really good indication of how tough it was to ride your bike between the streetcars and the parked cars, which is to say you could barely fit. And no one wore helmets in those days, of course! 

Then there’s the Post Office on the northwest corner to Sparks Elgin, which we now think of as having always been there, but which was only one year old when this picture was taken. As a matter of fact, it’s not a post office anymore, it’s part of the PMO. Which leads to some pretty odd conversation whenever anybody asks where the post office for actually mailing things is.

Them: “Where’s the post office?”

You: “Across from the Post Office!”

But the thing I liked most about this picture is the traffic warden standing there in his uniform, with his white hat, hand in the air, directing the traffic around War Memorial Island. No need for traffic lights with this guy on the job! His main job was to make sure the streetcars were able to turn in and out of Sparks without accidents because there were no traffic lights. Can you imagine that situation today?

People liked the picture for its sense of the city as it was, and were concerned with where the shot was taken from, as well.

(CSTM CN X-13159)


Paul: What an awesome picture. Busy, busy Sparks Street. There appears to be a policeman directing traffic. Parking on both sides of the street! Street signs are interesting. Plus, fantastic streetcars. Oh my! No air conditioners? Ah, yes! Central air, also called open windows. 

Danny: Beautiful, how our capital was so rich in heritage and culture. I love the lights and signs on the buildings. Sad to see it all go. Those streetcars? What a beauty they were what a mistake to get rid of them.

Judy: Our buildings were so much more beautiful back then!

Steve: A general statement, or do you dislike way the buildings in the pic have aged?

Judy: I am not a big fan of glass, metal and harsh angular architecture.

Nash: The old buildings certainly had more personality and charm, not cold and bland like most of today’s.

Lise: Lovely photo. Life was so much slower then. I’m not too keen on modern glass buildings either. I’m a Victorian at heart.

Rita: So beautiful… I feel like I was there.

Mike: When Ottawa used to be great with beautiful buildings. Now just a vast wasteland downtown.

Mark: Bank street is especially ugly. I work down that street and it’s such a mishmash of old and new. There’s no cohesiveness to it.

Mike: I now live in Victoria and this city hasn’t changed. All the old buildings are still here and its what makes this town beautiful ! Ottawa blew with their “urban renewal!” 

Randy: It’s a really neat photo, but I didn’t realize that Sparks Street had that much of a slope to it. Maybe it’s just camera or lens distortion? I did notice the single brave cyclist negotiating the streetcar, steel rails and auto traffic without a helmet. What is the building with the tall spire in the center background ? 

Ian: Christ Church Cathedral is at the current west end of Sparks Street. Was there another church at that end of Sparks with a tall spire that is now gone?

Jaan: No, only Christ Church.

Christopher: What would the photographer’s vantage point have been? Since the war monument went up in 1939, could that be where he/she was perching?

Trevor: Perhaps old city hall?…..

Glenn: The old city hall burned in 1931 and it was further south, where the NAC is today.

David: Drone …

David J: Probably taken from the roof of Union Station. Great depth of field with the Mercury statue on the Sun Life dome and Christ Church Cathedral spire in the distance. The depth of field makes the hill west of Metcalfe look steeper. The signs on the left include Robertson, Pingle & Tilley pianos, Windsor Hotel, Murphy Gamble department store, with the Ottawa Citizen beyond (with flagpole). The nearer building with flagpole was the old C.A. Ross department store which at this date housed the Royal Bank before it moved to the Windsor Hotel site.

Steve: I agree, the photo was probably taken on the top of the Union station just behind the dome, the back of the Corry Block, or the Transportation building. I dont know which had the height for this view.

John:  Looking at the perspective in the photo, the photographer was about four or five stories up. The old post office had the location and height but was demolished in 1938. I agree that this leaves Union Station as likely spot. I don’t think Corry Building is possible without getting Union Station in the shot.

Aerial shot of Connaught Plaza 1940 showing line of sight

Looking down on possible sites for the cameraman, from GeoOttawa.

Steve: A photo from the post office would not be able to see much beyond the OE building, since Sparks Street bent a bit to go to Sappers Bridge. A closer look rules out the Corry and Transportation buildings. The camera would need to be up high on the very back of the station. Much clearer on a big monitor. All of the essential parts are present in the GeoOttawa 1928 aerial picture. The thing that surprised me when I drew the line extending Sparks street, was that it was perfectly aligned with Besserer Street. It makes sense, but it was never obvious to me.

Sheldon: Is that the Beacon Arms I see down Sparks?

Richard: The hotel sign says “Windsor Hotel” Just past it you can see the “Murphy Gamble” sign.

Denis: Great eyesight! Back in the 1940s my father was working for Murphy Gamble. By the 1950s he was the store’s general manager, or whatever they called them back then!

Shane: Barry, wasn’t dad’s shop (Imperial Optical) down there?

Barry: It was in the Hardy Arcade.

Richard: I never knew that Spark Street was open to regular traffic in the past.

Ruth: It closed in 1967 as a Centennial project.

Mark: The extended story is that, “starting in 1960 the street was closed to traffic in the summers in an attempt to improve commerce.” It became a permanent pedestrian mall in 1967.

Trevor: Slightly different angle and photography vantage, from Google for 2015:

Corner of Sparks and Elgin 2015

The corner of Sparks and Elgin, more or less as it looks today.