By Sue Stefko
(Appeared in the Glebe Report, December 2022)
The handsome, red-brick Lakelander towers have graced the Glebe Annex skyline at the corner of Carling Avenue and Cambridge Street South for more than 30 years.
The site, previously 279 Carling Avenue, had belonged to the Ottawa Suburban Roads Commission, which had a road implement shed and storage garage on the site. From 1919 until 1969, the commission was responsible for maintaining and upgrading major roads to the capital such as Merivale, River and Dunrobin. Perhaps most famously, the commission abolished tolls on roads into the city, to the great relief of farmers who paid multiple tolls to bring their goods to market. The commission also operated a quarry on the site of what is now 299 Carling – it produced crushed and screened stone for road maintenance.
Clarksmith Developments eyed the property for its tremendous view of Dow’s Lake. This fit the company’s vision of developing on “superb locations” – those on the water or with water views. The company, founded in 1984, already had projects on the Rideau River, the Rideau Canal and River Road. Real estate agent Bob Blake, who worked as a sales agent for Clarksmith, described the company as being ahead of its time for its vision of waterfront luxury. At the time, properties with water views were not yet in high demand, although their popularity has continued to grow.
Clarksmith got its start doing renovations mostly in the Byward Market and downtown core, before building some single-family homes and then specializing in multi-unit dwellings such as condominiums, apartments and townhouses. However, those multi-unit dwellings were not like the condominiums built today – they often had generous setbacks and were carefully landscaped, designed to fit into the surrounding environment. Many of the units were substantial in size, containing two and three bedrooms, large eat-in kitchens and luxuries such as wood-burning fireplaces.
A May 1998 Ottawa Citizen article touted the Lakelander as a laudable example of a Clarksmith development. “Picture a three-bedroom condominium, with two full bathrooms, including a whirlpool bathtub, fireplace in the living room, two terraces with a view of Dow’s Lake and even a skylight window in the bathroom, and you have a pretty good idea of what it is that Clarksmith Developments has to offer.” In 1989, the building won the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders’ Association award for the best mid-rise, four-to nine-storey building.
Clarksmith was also famous for being headed by two women, Helene Amyotte and Erica Smith, and was often described as Canada’s only women-led development firm. The company was happy to take advantage of this unique position, stating that as women were really the buyers, they knew and created what women wanted. Gender did not always work to their advantage, however – co-founder Erica Smith noted that banks were initially hesitant to them lend money.
Despite the Lakelander’s eventual success, the build was not without controversy. The project was approved in 1988 over the objections of the Dow’s Lake Residents Association which represented the area at the time. The association protested that the buildings were too tall and would dominate the skyline, especially since they were on the area’s highest point of land.
There were also concerns that the building would reflect traffic noise from Carling Avenue into the Dow’s Lake community. The association fought the development at Planning Committee, bringing a petition signed by 20 residents, opposing Dalhousie Ward Alderman Mac Harb, who supported the building.
Although the company won that battle, Clarksmith soon started to falter. In its next development, Waterbrooke, the company tried to cut costs by doing its own
construction. That backfired – construction costs grew out of control, and the project went into receivership. Clarksmith sold the site of its Ottawa River location, Commodore’s Quay, in an attempt to stay afloat, but the company never fully recovered. This was in part due to the rapidly changing financial landscape – 1990 marked the beginning of a significant recession in Canada, as inflation spurred the Bank of Canada to dramatically hike interest rates, causing home prices to crash by 30 per cent and some developers to go bankrupt.
The Lakelander, one of the company’s final projects, still stands as a testament to Clarksmith’s vision – beautiful, practical and built to last.