The early history of the Glebe Annex

By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, April 2023)

The area today known as the Glebe Annex used to be part of two villages – Orangeville and Mount Sherwood, both of which belonged to the township of Nepean (as did the city of Ottawa, until it officially incorporated as its own town in 1849).

Orangeville was in the area between what is now Booth and Bell, and Mount Sherwood between now Bell and Bronson. One newspaper report notes that in 1873, a general meeting was held to discuss the neighbourhood’s name. It was felt that the name Orangeville was detrimental to the new and growing area, and so the neighbourhood was renamed Mount Sherwood.

Orangeville was so named because the first settlers who came to the area were believed to be Orangemen – an order of Irish Protestants named after the Dutch-born Prince of Orange, King William III. The Orange Order was a secret society established in 1795 to maintain Protestant political control in Ireland. Orangeville was described as primarily working class and was the less prosperous village of the two.

Mount Sherwood was named after lawyer/judge/politician Levius P. Sherwood. How this piece of property came to belong to Sherwood was rather controversial. The land had belonged to Robert Randall, an American industrialist and loyalist, who bought land from the Ottawa River to Dow’s Great Swamp (now Dow’s Lake) from the Crown in 1809 to build an iron mill at Chaudière falls. However, Randall’s financial backers went bankrupt and so he himself was jailed for indebtedness. When he was released, he sued those he blamed for his incarceration, but he was unable to pay for his legal fees, so the land was taken from him and sold to pay for those outstanding fees. He was heartbroken and was embittered for the rest of his life, as evidenced by his tombstone which says, “he died of colonial misrule.”

The government wanted Randall’s property to build a military canal and storehouses. The Earl of Dalhousie, Governor-General of British North America, spoke of his plan to buy the property at an officer’s dinner, where an enterprising Captain LeBreton was present. LeBreton quickly hatched a scheme to buy the property himself to sell back to the government at a vastly inflated price. Not having the £499 required, he approached lawyer Levius Sherwood to split the cost and the land. LeBreton took what is now Lebreton flats, with Sherwood taking Mount Sherwood and the surrounding area in the 1820 land deal.

The Earl of Dalhousie was furious and refused to give in to the profiteering of LeBreton, moving the planned canal to avoid having to buy LeBreton’s property. Instead of the canal running straight from Dow’s Great Swamp, alongside Preston and east to exit at Richmond Landing, the length of the canal nearly doubled as it snaked east and exited the Ottawa River at what is now alongside the Parliament Buildings, incurring significantly higher construction costs.

While LeBreton became reviled among many, Sherwood escaped with his reputation relatively intact. Over time, both men began to divide the land and sell lots at a significant profit. Mount Sherwood remained empty for decades, until Sherwood’s son George started dividing lots to build homes in 1869, forming the village known as Mount Sherwood.

The village of Mount Sherwood started slowly but began to grow more quickly in the 1870s and 1880s as there was an increasing need for the working class to live within walking distance of the Chaudière mill. Mill workers represented about half the population, with labourers (particularly those working at the Central Experimental Farm) and tradespeople representing about one quarter of the growing neighbourhood.

As the population grew, it became clear that Mount Sherwood, while having amenities such as a postmaster, grocery, general store, butcher and local school, was not able to provide the same municipal services that Ottawa could provide. In the 1887 drought, for example, every well in the village ran dry. The city of Ottawa offered water and sanitary sewer services, as well as police services, fire protection, street lighting, paved (or at least crushed stone dust) roads and better health care. However, many balked at the increased taxation they would be subject to by joining the city, particularly in view of an increasingly high Ottawa debt load.

Ottawa’s first bid to annex the area was defeated in 1882, but was successful in 1888, and Mount Sherwood and Orangeville (along with Stewarton – part of Centretown, and Rochesterville – Little Italy) were annexed to the City of Ottawa on January 1, 1889, sparking the next phase of the neighbourhood’s development.