How Did Alta Vista Get the Way it is Today?
Reference: Alta Vista Visioning Study (1994)- Chapter 11
Alta Vista became part of the City of Ottawa in January of 1950 when the City annexed vast areas of land south, east and west of the original city boundaries. The land was originally owned by several long term farming settlers and a few smaller resident land owners. The Braddish Billings property extended from Crestview Road to Cunningham Avenue and from River Road (Riverside Drive) to Thessaly Circle and Lynda Lane. Dr. Barnhart owned the land north of the Billings property to Smyth Road. The land east of the Billings property was Bert Dowler’s farm. The land south of the Billings property was owned by Mr. Alex Roger (Woodcrest and Caton), Mr. Hugh Mix (part of Woodcrest and Braeside), Mr. Corliss Keyes (west side of Alta Vista Drive) and the McCann family (Guildwood Estates). The land below the hill and west of Mr. Braddish Billings’ property was owned by Ms. Sabra Billings. Riverview was in the hands of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation prior to 1950.
In the early part of the century, dirt roads existed at the current locations of Smyth Road, Pleasant Park Road (formerly Stanley Avenue), Billings Avenue and Kilborn Avenue. These dirt roads were there to service the existing farms. These roads extended approximately to Lynda Lane, except for Smyth Road which went to Russell Road. A few lots in the Braddish Billings property along Pleasant Park Road were sold after World War I to returning servicemen. These lots were deep enough to accommodate a barn or outbuilding for a horse and carriage, and small vegetable gardens. The white clapboard house on the north side of Billings Avenue, west of Alta Vista Drive was built by Braddish Billings for his brother before the turn of the century.
In the late 1930s, more housing was built on Peasant Park Road and Billings Avenue. The first house on Alta Vista Drive (formerly Churchill Drive) was built in 1940 on the southeast corner of Alta Vista Drive and Mountbatten (formerly Montgomery). No road existed there until several years later. After 1943, Billings opened Alta Vista Drive north and south to the boundaries of his property in order to develop lots. Other roads opened as lots were sold in the late 1940s and early 1950s. These lots sold at 10 cents per square foot. All lots, except those sold earlier, were 60 feet wide and 120 feet deep.
By 1950, Dr Barnhart had subdivided his property (now Faircrest Heights) and he sold the lots over a period of a few years. These lots and the Billings’ lots were all sold individually. In 1952, the C.M.H.C. subdivided Riverview Park in three stages. Stage 1 consisted of Alta Vista Drive, Abbey Road and Caledon. Stage 2 was east of Alta Vista Drive to the lands behind Riverview Public School and was sold in 1954 at $250 per lot (including all local improvements). In 1956, stage 3 (the remaining portion of Riverview) was sold. All these lots were offered to individuals, not to developers. The land on which the Alta Vista Towers (apartment) now stands was owned by the Grey Nuns. Originally they had a convent there and during World War II it was used as a convalescent hospital by the military. In the mid 1950s, it was sold to developers who built Alta Vista Towers. The strip of land on the northeast corner of Alta Vista Drive and Smyth Road was given at a nominal sum by the federal government to be used for buildings of national significance. The land across the road was originally used as a nursery by the National Capital Commission but was sold to the Red Cross for their current building.
The Dowler property was sold to Campeau and developed after 1960 with a small section (Thistle Crescent) developed by Simpson. Between 1952 and 1956, the land between Cunningham and Kilborn was sold as individual lots, except for Guildwood Estates, which was developed by Garand. Applewood Acres was bought from Miss Billings by Campeau in 1954 and developed by him. Apart from Applewood Acres and a small area west of Alta Vista school, all lots were individually purchased and built on by the owners. This gave the area its uniqueness as the houses were different from one another.
Because each original area owner (Billings, Barnhart, etc) laid out his area independently from his neighbour, no thought was given to access from one area to another. This has led to some of the traffic problems. The drop in the height of land on the west side posed a difficulty for road construction.
To protect the individuality of the area, a comprehensive zoning by-law was drawn up by members of the community with the help of City Hall. This became law in 1954. The zoning covered the area from Smyth Road to Randall and from the railway tracks to the open area east of Thessaly Circle and Highland Avenue. Since then, the city planning department has made various changes in set-back, height and open areas around a house with no consultation or input from the residents.
The hospital area, which began its plans in the 1960s, has had an enormous impact on the community. The land was acquired in the 1960’s and the Children’s Hospital for Eastern Ontario was opened in 1974, followed by the Ottawa General Hospital in 1980. Riverside Hospital opened in 1967 and the National Defence Medical Centre in 1962. Several years ago, plans for a life sciences project were announced and building started. The new Perley Hospital began construction in 1994. Upon completion of this facility, the veterans currently housed in the Rideau Veterans Home and the National Defence Medical Centre will be moved there and the Rideau Veteran’s home will be demolished.
The lands referred to as the “Greenways” were acquired before 1950 as part of the “Gerber Plan”. They were two corridors, running generally from Conroy Road to Industrial Avenue. Originally, the most easterly area was intended as a transportation corridor and the western one was to be an eastern parkway (road) to run further north than the Alta Vista area. The eastern parkway plan has been abandoned and the proposed Alta Vista Roadway (aka Parkway) is proposed for the most easterly corridor. The land along the Rideau River was the city dump in the 1940s and early 1950s, but with the building of Riverside Drive, it was covered with soil and landscaped into a park.
Alta Vista Public School opened in 1949 and in 1950 a community centre was opened in the school.
Alta Vista Housing Design
An excerpt from a blog post on Mid-Century Modern Ottawa Residential Design that highlights Alta Vista.
One of the biggest builders in Ottawa during the 1950s and 1960s was Campeau Construction, a name still known today, even though the builder is no longer active. Many of the houses in Alta Vista were custom built, but Campeau was one of the first builders to construct tract homes in the area. Beginning in the 1950s Campeau began building houses southwest of Kilborn Avenue and Alta Vista Drive, north of Randall Avenue. At the time, bungalows and one-and-a-half storey houses were most popular. Many of the “Victory Houses” built by Wartime Housing Ltd. for returning veterans after WWII were one-and-a-half stories, and the style soon became very popular for all builders. With time, the one-and-a-half storey house became less popular, and bungalows and split-level houses became the norm. An easy way to determine the age of houses on a street in Alta Vista is to look at the style of the houses. If there are many one-and-a-half storey houses, the houses on the street were probably built
in the early 1950s. Bungalows became very popular in the late 1950s and 1960s, and split level plans more popular in the mid-to-late 1960s.
The blog has lots of pictures of different models. It’s a fascinating read, especially for those that can identify with the houses and neighbourhoods.