History

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.

37 thoughts on “History”

  1. Just happened upon your fine webpages as I was researching my Roger/Smyth ancestors..
    A wee correction to your text: “The land south of the Billings property was owned by Mr. Alex Rogers (Woodcrest and Caton)…” …The name Roger is incorectly spelled with an “s”. My grandad Alexander Roger liked to say “no “d”, no “s”. We are of a Scottish background and are frugal with our letters.”
    – Jean Roger

  2. Hello,

    one of our family friends used to work for the “veteran’s hospital” on the corner of Alta Vista and Main St.. I was wondering if you’re aware of this building and what it is today?

    thanks,
    Lawrence

    1. do you mean Alta Vista and Smythe?
      – Don’t think that Main intersects Alta Vista
      – sorry, do not know of any veteran’s hospital at this location (which now has Cdn Blood Services and Conference Board)

  3. The veterans hospital is ndmc which covered the whole area bound by alta vista and smyth roads plus the veterans were also in whats now rideau veterans home which originally ran from the smyth entrance along smyth to the childrens hospital, A group of bungalow style buildings. i think theres one left near rogers house at the childrens hospital. I used to deliver the ottawa citizen and journal there to the old vets.bishoplegal@magma.ca

  4. I am working on a project for the Gloucester Historical Society and I am trying to identify all place names on former Gloucester territory. This includes Alta Vista. I am facing challenges in identifying the original subdivision names in some cases and others the precise location. One of the names I am having difficulty with is Whitehill Heights on Kilborn Avenue, but I am not sure exactly where. There was a banquet hall by the name of Whitehill Glade that existed from the late 1940s to the early 1960s and I presume they were both in the same area. Another from 1968 is King’s Park, south of Pleasant Park and 1/2 mile east of Alta Vista. Forest Hill was also from the same year but on Kilborn Avenue about the same distance from Alta Vista. The builder in both cases was Simpson. I believe Ascot Heights is the newer housing just west of the Alta Vista/Kilborn intersection on the former McCann property. Willowdale Heights was south of Randall Avenue as far as Heron Road. I am looking for obsure development names and nicknames new and old. Did Lamira Street have a development name? What are the names of the newer developments on the former transportation corridor north and south of Walkley Road? I believe one is Alta Vista Mews to the north of Walkley. The hope is to publish a book on Gloucester Place Names and the goal is to have this complete by the end of 2012. I presently have 545 names.

    1. Am afraid I can’t help you on your project but appreciate your keeping the web site informed about it. Your note will be posted and if anyone reading it has some comments or answers to your questions, they are encouraged to do so

    2. The former Whitehill Glade restaurant/banquet hall was located at what is now 2216 Old Lilac lane (corner of Old Lilac Lane and Crocus Ave.). It was converted into a residence by Dr. Denis DesJardins, and was noteworthy for its copper roof (since painted, unfortunately, by a subsequent owner). I imagine that Whitehall Heights might be that area immediately west of Alta Vista Drive around Kilborn Avenue, or South of Kilborn.

      1. Thank you for the additional information. I have since learned that Whitehill Heights is immediately north of Kilborn Avenue and west of Niagara. You can distinguish it from the adjacent Campeau Applewood Acres development by the housing style. Whitehill Heights consists of all brick bungalows while the Campeau project is mostly two storey houses.

    3. The area north of Walkley was Urbandale Acres.The area near Sharel park was called Sharel Subdivision.These homes were built by Capital Quality Construction and Knight Homes. Capital was later known as Edstan homes, and built in Hawthorne Meadows.The area west of Jefferson was the farm of Art Heron. Across the road lived the Finns in what is now Herongate..The Art Heron farm is now Guildwood estates.

      1. Thank you Brian for the additional information on subdivision names in the Alta Vista area. This information will be included in the Gloucester Place Names Project and credited to you. Thanks again.

  5. Riverside Drive was a pioneer road. A road of sorts existed between Black Rapids and Billings Bridge soon after the Billings family arrived to bypass the rapids at the former and at Hog’s Back. Gloucester settlement first started along the Rideau River and a road was needed to serve the pioneers. I have a copy of a letter that details the improvements that were made in 1836 between New Edinburgh and South Gloucester via Billings Bridge and Hog’s Back. Prior to the 1950 annexation, Riverside Drive was known as Bowesville Road south and west of Billings Bridge and River Road, north and east of there. Twinning of Riverside Drive first started to emerge about 1960 between Billings Bridge and Hog’s Back to serve the new federal Confederation Heights complex. This eliminated a dangerous narrow hump backed bridge over the railway tracks near today’s Vincent Massey Park (the O-Train line). It was extended to the Smyth Road bridge when it opened in 1966 and further extensions were made in the years since then. Prior to the opening of the Queensway in 1960, Riverside Drive connected directly to the River Road in Overbrook and Vanier. That latter section was known as the Russell Road in the old days, which split with Riverside Drive just south of Hurdman’s Bridge. Russell Road then travelled to the east and south connecting up to its current route.

  6. I remember the Grey Nuns Convent and Garden. The convent itself was large and grey and very imposing for a child but….in the front it had the most beautiful walled garden. Unfortunately I doubt anyone took care of it when I was a child and of course it was eventually torn down but, I remember it as a wonderful place to be. Also beside the convent is where the neighbourhood children did their sledding and tobogganing in the winter! I remember the magical times we had on that very super hill in the cold and snow. What memories. How great it would be to have pictures!. We were on Abbey rd in the early 50′;s and it was tough slogging through the snow to walk 2 blocks to the Grey Nun Slope 🙂

  7. There will be a Jane’s Walk held in the Alta Vista area this year. It will depart from the Independent Grocer’s parking lot at Bank Street and Alta Vista Drive at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 5, 2012. The topic of discussion will be Bank Street South and the Lost Village of Ellwood. The walk proceeds southward to the former site of the village and ends at Bank and Johnston Road. The host of the walk is Glenn Clark, Vice-President of the Gloucester Historical Society. Come for a leisurely walk and learn a bit about the history of the area and share your opinions of the state of this section of Bank Street today.

  8. In regards to the old land fill dump area’s that being riverside,alta vista & hurdman I wanted to ask how old were these dumps?Where there other area’s around old bytown that filled area’s with early settler garbage?The reason I ask is because I seem to come across several old fragments of 1920/30’s bottle pieces from time to time and would think there were earlier dumping area’s.
    Wayne.

    1. I understand there was also a landfill around the area of North River Road just north of Montreal Road also along the Rideau River. It appears that city planers though it was a good idea to dump waste beside the rivers in the early part of the last century.

  9. Can someone give me some contact information , I would love to speak to someone on the phone regarding next year’s Alta Vista Garage Sale?

    1. Garry Lindberg is the AVCA contact for the garage sale (and posted the garage sale addresses for the web site map) at
      dglindberg@yahoo.com
      – you can send suggestions to him
      – we don’t post phone numbers on the web site
      – for more direct contact, why not attend a future meeting of the AVCA executive? (note next one is in September)
      Third Tuesday of the month @ 7:30 – AVCA monthly meeting – Rideau Park United Church (Alta Vista @ Cunningham). AVCA monthly meetings are held almost every third Tuesday of the month from September to May. Check the home page for the next meeting

  10. I would imagine that Garand Homes proposed the street names. Bernard Garand recently retired from the family business, but to my knowledge he is still alive. Pierre Garand currently manages the company, and might have your answer,

  11. The Braddish Billings plaque will be officially unveiled on Wednesday, August 21, 2013 at 10:00 a.m. by Mayor Jim Watson. The plaque is located at the north end of Billings Bridge in Linda Thom Park on the west side of Bank Street. All those who are interested, are welcome to attend.

    Braddish Billings was the first permanent settler of Gloucester Township. He built a log shanty in 1812 on the south shore of the Rideau River just east of Bank Street and brought his new wife, Lamira Dow back from Merrickville in 1813. His third home, so familiar in the Alta Vista area, is a National Historic Site and was completed in 1829. Mr. Billings arranged a subscription to build the first Billings Bridge at the current location in 1830. This was the first bridge to cross the Rideau River in the Ottawa area. Mr. Billings and his descendants held numerous public offices over a period of several decades and it was for this reason that the Gloucester Township hall was located just south of Billings Bridge from 1850 until 1962.

  12. I heard that my house was built over a creek in the 1960s and prior to that in the 40s and 50s before there were houses on our block, it was a skating rink in the winter. I am wondering if there are any photos of Orchard Avenue, Webster Road, Reeves Cr. and Kilborn when it was a creek/ice rink?

  13. This is a very interesting read – I couldn’t find this information anywhere else in my Google searches.

    One thing that I may add – Braddish Billings II’s property, though largely developed individually, also has a handful of houses built by an intriguing developer named Chalmers, who has also built the Billings Estate District.

  14. This is a very interesting read – I couldn’t find this information anywhere else in my Google searches.

    One thing that I may add: though the Braddish Billings II property was subdivided by the owners themselves, who sold the lots individually, there’s a cluster of houses around Mountbatten (Montgomery) Avenue that was developed by Chalmers, who built the Billings Estate District and other clusters of houses throughout Alta Vista. I’m interested because I live in one of his houses. Would you know when he started building his houses in the Braddish Billings property?

  15. Hi there I was wondering if anyone knows the history of who built the huge bungalows on Chattaway and Dowler streets? They seem to be an anomaly on that side of Alta vista, as a small pocket of extremely large homes. Any info would be appreciated..

  16. I am curious as to the origins of Cunningham Avenue and Cunningham Park in Alta Vista. One of my ancestors ran Cunningham’s Inn in South Gloucester & the first townhall meeting of South Gloucester was held there in 1832. He also contributed to the building of the “Farmers’ Bridge”, later renamed Billings Bridge, over the Rideau River linking South Gliucester to Bytown. Would Cunningham Acenue & Park be named adter this individual? Thanks for any info you can provide!

    1. I cannot answer this specific question, however, a model was made of Cunningham’s Inn, that was originally located on the old Bowesville Road on the site of the airport. That model is may be seen at the Gloucester Museum, which is only open for Doors Open on the first weekend of June.

      1. Thank you Glenn Clark! I’m looking forward to visiting the museum & hope to uncover more info on the Cunningham, Gilligan & Christopher families. Warm regards, Lynn Marie Cunningham

  17. Who were the original builders of the three Alta Vista Towers on the old nuns property. they are currently managed/owned by Paramount Properties.
    Thank you

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