By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, October 2018)
What Ottawa looked like in 1889, in the aftermath of the annexation and introduction of the newly created Dalhousie Ward. Source: Ottawa: An Illustrated History by John T Taylor, Lorimer Publishing Jan. 1986, page 114.
While the term the “Glebe Annex” is a relatively recent one, at one time in our community’s history, we were indeed annexed – from Nepean Township to the City of Ottawa.
In fact, Ottawa itself used to be a part of Nepean, and it wasn’t until 1849 that it became incorporated as a town, becoming a city of 10,000 people in 1855. Soon the new city decided that it wanted to grow – at the expense of its home township of Nepean. Many believe the impetus for such a move started with what was called the “Panic of 1873,” a global depression that lasted until 1879. In Ottawa, a number of commercial, industrial and agricultural ventures failed, sending the jobless rates soaring. Former workers, no longer able to pay the city’s high tax rates, began leaving the city for the township, where taxes were much lower, squeezing the remaining taxpayers yet further.
Tax grab or not
As Ottawa began to explore the idea of increasing its tax base by annexing a number of neighbouring areas, including Mount Sherwood (now the Glebe Annex), there was sharp debate. Some landowners, particularly those who could afford to pay Ottawa’s higher taxes, were in favour of the annexation, due to an expected increase in their land values, as well as the increased services that the city promised, including health (communicable diseases were a major issue), police and fire protection. A large number of Nepean residents, however, felt that this was nothing but a tax grab. They felt that Ottawa was trying to make up for lost tax revenue and wanted to saddle them with the debt incurred by providing what was seen to be generous services to its citizens. In 1882, Ottawa’s bid to annex more than 2,000 acres of Nepean suburbs was defeated.
Five years later, however, the issue was to rear its head again. This time it was brought up by Stewarton (now the southern portion of Centretown) residents, who put forward a petition for annexation after a house on Ann Street (Gladstone) was allowed to burn to the ground in 1886 when firefighters turned around at the city limits. Once again, however, the debate raged fiercely.
Rochesterville (today’s Little Italy) soon followed suit, starting its own petition to join the city, creating Annexation Committees, who tried to drive a hard bargain with the city. In return for annexation, they wanted a fire station, municipal water, policing services (as required), city lighting and sewage. (The issue of municipal water was a pressing issue for the area – in Mount Sherwood, many wells began to run dry in the drought of 1887, and they had to obtain drinking water from City of Ottawa fire hydrants.) While pro-annexationists knew that the costs to the city of meeting these demands would be significant, they felt, “the City would gain in prestige and importance more than it would lose by the temporary increased expenditure.” (Ottawa Journal, March 17, 1887)
Soon Mount Sherwood joined in and the two villages began to work together on the issue of annexation. They put forward petitions, laying out their “terms” by which they agreed to be annexed, and together proposed to become their own ward to have a collective voice within the city, even proposing their own name – West End ward – along with the number of councillors (three) they felt they should be entitled to. Demands began to grow. The two villages called for their own police station and added sidewalks to the existing wish list. Presciently, a Mr. Fitzgerald from Rochesterville was in support of annexation, largely because of the fire services Ottawa would provide, given the fact that the village was surrounded by a “tinder box of lumber,” which would devastate the village should it ever catch fire. (Sadly, even being part of the city and having access to those services did not save them from that fate, as was seen by the devastation wrought by the Great Fire of 1900.)
But not all were united in their desire for annexation. Rochesterville’s influential JR Booth opposed it in order to keep taxes low, as did many residents. Many were also opposed to taking on part of Ottawa’s significant ($2 million) debt. A popular opposition petition was raised in answer to the pro-annexation petition, and a number of public meetings were held in order to openly debate annexation.
At the end of the day, the pro-annexationists won out. Although some say that it was imposed against the wishes of the majority of residents, city council approved the annexation in January 1888, with the annexation itself taking place on January 1, 1889. And so, Mount Sherwood, along with Stewarton and Rochesterville, added 1,000 acres and 700 voters to the City of Ottawa, under the newly named Dalhousie Ward. Today, while Dalhousie Ward no longer exists (although a community association still bears the name of its historic roots), Dalhousie South Park is a remnant of the name originally bestowed upon this community as a new entrant to the City of Ottawa in 1889.
This concludes a series of articles on the history of the Glebe Annex neighbourhood. To read the previous entries, please see the Glebe Annex website: glebeannex.ca/category/history/ To suggest new stories, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Sue Stefko is president of the Glebe Annex Community Association.