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78 and 80 Wurtemburg Street

John Burroughs and Caius Roy

Caius Roy bought lot 41 (site of no 80 Wurtemburg) in July 1919 for $900, and John Burroughs bought the neighbouring lot 42 (site of no 78 Wurtemburg) in October 1919, also for $900.

Joseph Aimé Caius Roy was a clerk in the Money Order Department of the Post Office at a salary of $1300 a year – a stable but modest income for 1919. 36 years old, he lived with his wife Albertine Cliche, at 195 Bolton Street. From the records remaining, Roy seems to have been rather dramatic for a civil servant: his response to a form asking how much he could afford to pay on a mortgage was in effect “whatever it takes”; Over the course of three years he had two substantial run-ins with the Housing Commission (not without cause), with long letters and threats of lawsuits.

Burroughs was a clerk in the Department of Customs and Inland Revenue, 38 years old, with a salary of $1400 a year, single (but possibly engaged) and living at 195 Waller Street. Whether or not the two knew each other before, they seem to have gained each other’s trust after they bought neighbouring lots. Both applied to the new City of Ottawa Housing Commission to finance construction of their houses.

The Housing Commission of the City of Ottawa

In the face of a returning army, a housing shortage and a post-war economic depression, the Federal government launched in 1919 a “better housing scheme”, loaning the provinces $25 million for 20 years at 5% interest (commercial mortgage rates were then 7%). Ontario then added $2 million to its share of $8 million and gave it to municipalities for distribution.

As well as ensuring affordable housing, particularly for veterans, the scheme was also to promote good modern housing and encourage municipalities to introduce town planning: at the time there was no mortgage insurance, no building code, no site plan controls and no advance planning for installation of services such as water, sewers, parks, etc. Only in 1919 did the Province of Ontario give municipalities the authority to establish plans and set building standards (Elliot 1991). Municipalities were to use their share of the money to lay out model neighbourhoods, support cooperatives or limited-dividend housing companies and provide low-cost loans to potential owner-occupiers.

The scheme lasted roughly three years (1919-1922). Approximately two thirds of the housing units funded across Canada were built by municipalities and co-ops or companies, and one third directly by owner/occupants. Historians in general do not consider the program a success, and brand Ottawa’s experience in particular as a “spectacular failure to achieve the stated goals of the program” (Sendbuehler and Gilliland 1998).

The City of Ottawa established its Housing Commission in April 1919. After reviewing a number of sites (including the Davis estate) the Commission focused on developing three model subdivisions: Lindenlea, the Reid farm (Civic Hospital area) and the Parkdale Estate (possibly the area around the Royal Ottawa hospital) (OHC minutes Apr-May 1919).

Part of the funding, however, went in loans (mortgages in all but name) to individuals who intended to build and occupy their own house. Owners had to be residents of Ottawa (this requirement was waived for veterans), to own a lot outright (free of mortgages and other charges) and to have their site plans and building plans approved by the Commission’s own architect, W. E. Belfry, and for loans over $3000, by the Provincial architect as well. In the neighbourhood, the Commission financed the building of 503 and 505 Clarence as well as 78 and 80 Wurtemburg.  (RO abstracts for plan 102148, lot 20)

To promote “modern housing design”, the Commission offered a number of standard housing designs, some developed by Belfry for Ottawa, some developed for the Province, and maintained a list of available contractors (OHC minutes 1919). The designs were available for sale to anyone, and also used by speculative builders like W.H. Lett, the builder of 507 and 509 Clarence Street.

Roy and Burroughs Cooperate to Build their Houses

Roy applied in June 1919, supplying his own plans. Belfry was willing to accept them with modifications, but the Provincial architect was not: the house was too big for the lot, the rafters were too far apart, the stairs too steep, and “the cost of the house appears to us rather excessive”. Roy withdrew his plans and did not respond to repeated requests over the summer to re-file (OHC Roy file).

Burroughs applied in October 1919. He and Roy must have talked at this point, as Roy re-applied as well. Both chose Belfry’s standard plan “L” (later called “style 15”) though Burroughs had the plan turned sideways on the lot, and both requested additional windows, changes to the porch, etc. Both chose the same contractor from the Commission’s list, Cardinal and Brunet (OHC Burroughs and Roy files).

The Provincial architect had some concerns about the siting of the houses, notably the limited space between 78 and 80, and with the proposed use of 2×3” lumber for internal partitions, but with reassurance from Belfry, in November 1919 Roy and Burroughs were granted loans of $4000, the maximum amount allowed for a solid brick house, payable in instalments as building progressed.

Belfry inspected the completed house at no 78 on 22 April 1920. Burroughs moved in that spring, and in October wrote to confirm that all work had been done to his satisfaction. With that assurance, the Commission released the final instalment of the loan for payment to the contractor.

Roy’s experience at no 80 was not so positive. While using the same design and the same contractors, he had real problems, perhaps exaggerated by his temperament. As late as July 1920, when Burroughs had already moved into his house, Roy wrote at length to Belfry to complain that he could not move in: the roof and the foundation leaked, mouldings remained unfinished, window pulleys did not work, the wash basins were broken, and so on.

Belfry inspected the house in October 1920 and noted that most of the problems had been resolved, and that the plans had been carried out as contracted, with a few minor changes (e.g. addition of basement and attic windows). While he was concerned about the stability of the hot water tank and the size of the bay window (it was 4” deeper than designed) he advised Roy to accept the house and move in. Roy wrote again to Belfry in January 1921 to complain of leaks in the basement. By this point the contractor was desperate to be paid, and Belfry recommended that he sue Roy. Cardinal went to see Roy, and apparently they came to an agreement, as there was no lawsuit.

Although the contractors had tendered to deliver the houses as planned for $4000, both Burroughs and Roy had spent an additional $900 on their houses, and in November 1920 the Commission agreed to increase their loans to $4200. There seem to have been no further problems, and the loans were paid off at $28 each month, the discharge for both properties being registered in 1942.

Writing the Provincial Architect in 1919, Belfry commented that it was unlikely that there would be any development around 78-80 “in the immediate future” (Roy file, letter of 1919-08-02). Indeed, the houses immediately south of no 80 were not built until 1933, and those north of no 78 until 1928.

Life in the Neighbourhood, 1922-2015

The Roy and Burroughs Families

Both Burroughs at no 78 and Roy at no 80 owned their houses for over 50 years, both dying in 1972.

John Burroughs had met Alice Dumouchel of Aylmer at St Joseph’s Church in Sandy Hill, where he was a parishioner and she the organist. They married in 1920, just after the new house was completed, and had four children: John, Charles, Henriette (married John Hudson), and Cecile (married Louis-Philippe Landreville). Alice became organist of Ste-Anne, and both John and Alice were noted as active members of the parish. Alice died unexpectedly at home in 1954 aged 62 (Citizen 1954-11-11). John Burroughs continued to live in the house until his death 18 years later.

Caius and Albertine Roy lived in no 80 until 1961. Also members of Ste-Anne parish, they had no children of their own. In 1961 they moved away from Ottawa (possibly to Florida) and rented the house to John and Henriette Hudson, the daughter and son-in-law of the Burroughs. Mrs Roy died in 1969 at the Residence St-Louis, a nursing home at Hiawatha Park (now part of Orleans), and Mr Roy himself in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. in 1972. Both funerals were held at Ste-Anne, and they were buried in Notre-Dame cemetery (obituaries in the Journal 1969-05-20 and 1973-01-02).

Macdonald Gardens, a Stable Neighbourhood

Macdonald Gardens held its place as a well-maintained residential neighbourhood throughout the years between the wars. A study of income levels across the City in 1941 showed that Macdonald Gardens was in the highest of the three income bands used ($1700 and over) (Taylor 1985 map 9 p. 180). The many hospitals gradually closed during the 1920s as newer facilities opened, including the Civic Hospital (1924). In a dying gasp of the City Beautiful movement, a Federal District Commission (FDC) plan of 1937 proposed to drive a new street diagonally from the St Patrick Street bridge to Laurier Avenue and the Rideau Canal, but this idea died with the decision to move Union Station out of downtown.

The 1950s were generally difficult years for older neighbourhoods. Houses were run down after the tight money of the Depression and the war years. The new, planned postwar suburbs offered quality housing at cheaper prices and with easier financing than established neighbourhoods. More cars and suburban growth put more pressure on existing streets, so that Charlotte Street, for example, became a major traffic route between the eastern suburbs and downtown.

However The City’s 1958 survey of housing stock rated the area east of Cobourg Street as mostly “fair” – the best rating it would give to any area more than 20-25 years old (Ottawa 1962 map 14 “Housing Survey”). As Canada exchanged diplomats with more countries after World War II, the FDC’s policy of encouraging diplomatic missions to re-use old houses and institutional buildings certainly helped the area, attracting among other the Turkish Embassy and the Soviet Trade Mission.

The City’s first comprehensive zoning by-law was passed in 1964, and assumed that older areas, particularly run-down areas, would be re-developed at a much greater density. Typical of what was happening in other central neighbourhoods, the first effect of this policy was demolition of houses along the River (including the Borden House) and the construction of waterside highrises like the Watergate.

Ironically, it was just about this time that renovating older homes and living in the centre of the city was again becoming fashionable, sparking some controversy over its effect on affordable housing. In Macdonald Gardens a number of initiatives tied to the Lowertown East urban renewal project of the 1970s encouraged this trend: the rebuilding of St Patrick Street as an arterial, the closure of Charlotte Street to through traffic, the elimination of the street through the middle of Macdonald Gardens, renewal of services, streets and streetlamps, etc.

After Burroughs: turnover and renovation at no 78

As specified in the agreement with the Housing Commission, no 78 was of solid brick construction, i.e. two layers of brick tied together with rows of bricks laid cross-wise, with the upper storey stuccoed. The house was 22 X 29 feet in dimension with a small one-storey wing approximately 10 x 6 feet at the back (it’s possible that this may have been a later addition).

In 1948 Burroughs proposed replacing the small rear wing with a full two-storey addition across the back of the house. After discussion with the City and an architect, O.F. Brûlé, this was changed to a one-storey addition slightly offset, with a roof-top terrace.

The addition contained a bedroom with its own door to the outside, a dressing room and bath. It was constructed of solid brick with lath and plaster attached to the inside, resting on a full foundation of parged concrete block. A new door put through the original stone foundation gave direct access from the original basement to the new basement, while an upstairs window was converted to a door to give access to the terrace. The offset design left the original rear door clear for continued use, although it appears to have been closed off later (Building permits file, plans of July 27, 1948).

After the death of Caius Roy and John A Burroughs, John’s son Charles, already executor for his father, bought no 80 as well, and put both no 78 and no 80 up for sale in 1973.

Robert Thain, an employee of the Defence Research Board, and his wife Barbara bought no 78 for $35,000 and moved in, living in the house until 2003. In December of that year  Barbara became sole owner, sold the house immediately to Hugh Brennan for $305,000 and moved to a condo on North River Road.

Brennan, a lawyer and building contractor, intended to rent the house out, but kept it for only a year before selling in 1995 to Robert and Ann Gagné for $380,500 (Telephone call to Hugh Brennan, 2015). The Gagnés re-mortgaged the house in 2007, 2009 and 2010 before selling in 2010 to the present owners and residents, Simon and Christina Leadlay  for $509,000. Unfortunately there is a gap in the City Directories for this address, but it is known that Jerome and Mathilde Danober lived at the address sometime in this period, so presumably the Gagnés continued to rent it out.

Simon Leadlay does product marketing for Pace plc, a British manufacturer of products for the Pay TV and broadband service industries. Christina is managing editor of the New Edinburgh News as well as a writer and editor for Parliament Now. Simon and Christine live at no 78 with their two children, Rachel and Oliver.

After the Roys: turnover and renovations at no 80

An aerial photograph of 1928 shows that Roy had built a garage off the back lane. At that time car ownership was spreading, but was still far from universal. This appears to have been the only major change made by the Roys.  Also around 1927 newspaper was stuffed into the attic as a first attempt at insulation – not an unusual practice at the time (the papers were found during the renovations to the attic in December 2011). Otherwise the house remained as built, two layers of brick tied together by rows of bricks laid crosswise, the upper floor covered in stucco.

David and Catherine Preston, members of the Foreign Service, bought no 80 from Charles Burroughs for $33,000, and made a number of changes, notably a renovation of  the kitchen in 1974, including blocking off a former side door, installation of more insulation in the attic during the years of the energy crisis, and replacement of the garage. The older garage burnt down in 1975 while the Prestons were posted abroad, attributed to a prank by local kids that got out of hand. The Prestons contracted with Don Poirier to replace it with a wider garage of metal siding over a wooden frame (Building permits file, plans of Oct 25, 1975).

While assigned to Ottawa, the Prestons lived in the house (notably 1977-1980), and when posted abroad they rented it out, often to other Foreign Service colleagues. Known tenants during this period included three students 1981-83 and Cathy P. Ryan, an occupational therapist (1984-1985) (Telephone call with David Preston, 2014; City Directories)