Trillium Book Award Author Readings June 16

A halt, which is empty: 402 McLeod Street, Stewarton (part one)

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402 McLoed Street

By rob mclennan

When Centretown was first developed in the mid?1800s, it was home to a number of smaller villages, including Ashburnham and Stewarton. Stewarton was bounded by Gladstone and Bronson avenues and Isabella and Bank streets. The community was founded by William Stewart, and a number of Stewarton?s streets were named for his children, including Flora, William and Isabella. When Stewarton was annexed by the City of Ottawa in 1887, it was home to fewer than 500 people.

Most of Centretown was developed between 1875 and 1912 and many of the early residents were wealthy enough to build brick homes. Bank Street was the community's main commercial strip from the beginning. One of the earlier businesses to be found along Bank Street was Scrim's Flower Shop, which opened in 1875. Scrim?s is still operating today, but it has moved to Elgin Street. In 1891, the electric streetcar made its first appearance in Ottawa, and this spurred further development along Bank Street. (

After ten and a half years on Somerset Street West, and some 15 combined years in Ottawa's Chinatown, I compose a poem on our brand-new residence, a third-floor walk-up on McLeod Street, three doors west of Bank. A poem and a growing manuscript, "A halt, which is empty." Over the course of the 2011 Labour Day weekend, Christine McNair and I moved into the third-floor apartment of a Victorian house on McLeod Street, in an area once known as the Village of Stewarton, at what was, in the mid-1800s, the southern boundary of the city. We took the apartment from her brother, since relocated to Toronto, given that his job for the Liberal Party of Canada ended with the results of the last election. I had spent most of the previous fifteen years in that corner of Ottawa?s Chinatown, the former site of the Village of Rochesterville, half a block up the hill from the once-hamlet of Nanny Goat Hill. With ten and a half years in that apartment on Somerset West, it accounted for more than a quarter of my life so far, including the bulk of my thirties; its main feature being the first and only time I lived alone, sans parents, partner, child or roommates. My mother once commented that until certain of her hospital stays, she hadn?t a bedroom of her own, moving directly from one shared with a sister into marriage at 27.

Six weeks of packing, a month of moving, carrying thousands of books up a third-storey walk-up. Do the poems shift as easily as the composition site, or with the same amount of difficulty? The furthest east and south I?ve lived in some time. The condominium complex at the corner of Bank Street grows, complete with the salvaged front of the former Metropolitan Bible Church. From my new office at the back of our apartment, I scratch out this fragment, part of a longer poem, "Now that fall has fully broken in," writing:

The moment sight and sound pours, treeline
disappears. Broken arrow, pinpoint

north. Gladstone carwash whirs, condos incomplete.
We morph. Men, who punch earth for a living,

one of several questions.

McLeod Street runs west to Bronson Avenue and east through Ottawa?s Golden Triangle, with a slight half-block break at Cartier, to the Queen Elizabeth, parallel to the Rideau Canal. I recall the early 1990s, when writer George Elliott Clarke lived somewhere in the Golden Triangle, the residential space east of Elgin Street up to the Canal, when he worked on the Hill for a Nova Scotia Member of Parliament. McLeod Street was named for McLeod Stewart (1847-1926), an Ottawa lawyer and Mayor from 1887 to 1888, laid to rest at Beechwood Cemetery. It was apparently thanks to his advocacy, in part, that Rockcliffe became a public park. The Ottawagraphy site ( writes: "He was a life member of the board of the Protestant Orphans? Home and was one of the founders of the Protestant Home for the Aged. He was the first president of the Agricultural Society, a charter member of the Rideau Club, president of the St. Andrew?s Society, and chief of the Caledonian Society. In business, he was president of the Stewart Ranch Company, president of the Canadian Anthracite Coal Company, and president of the Canada Atlantic Railway. Mayor Stewart was also one of the original officers of the Governor General?s Foot Guards." Impressive, indeed.

McLeod Stewart was son of William Stewart (1803-1856), who, according to Wikipedia, was born in Corbost, Isle of Skye, Scotland, but settled in Glengarry County with his parents and siblings in 1816, to move, once a young man, into Bytown in 1827. A ?businessman and political figure in Upper Canada and Canada West,? William Stewart became one of the city's early landowners and lumber barons, alongside such notables as Booth and Eady, and he helped found what later became the Ottawa Civic Hospital on Carling Avenue. The Stewart family home, a large Gothic house known as Appin Place, was situated where the Canadian Museum of Nature now sits, just east of where we open endless boxes, and the surrounding land once known as Stewarton, sitting at the southernmost boundary of Ottawa. William Stewart, whom Ottawa poet William Pittman Lett (1819-1891) referenced in a section of his long, narrative poem, ?Recollections of Bytown and Its Old Inhabitants? (?CITIZIEN? Printing and Publishing Company, 1874), writing:

Crossed the Canal below the Bridge,
And then struck up the rising ridge
On Rideau Street, where Stewart?s Store
Stood in the good old days of yore;
There William Stewart flourished then,
A man among old Bytown?s men;

William Stewart, after whom Stewart Street in Sandy Hill was named. Shirley E. Woods, Jr., in her book, Ottawa: The Capital of Canada (Doubleday, 1980), wrote:

In 1828 Louis-Theodore Besserer, a notary from Quebec City who had served in the War of 1812, was granted a large parcel of unproductive land south of Rideau Street. His block, known as Sandy Hill, was bounded on the west by Waller Street (adjacent to Nicholas Spark?s property), to the south by Laurier Avenue, to the east by the Rideau River, and to the north by Rideau Street. Besserer was an absentee landlord, thus the area was neglected, save for a handful of squatters, until William Stewart became his agent in 1838. Stewart, who subsequently attained political prominence, laid out a street plan for Sandy Hill and began to sell lots in a businesslike manner. One of the streets in this old residential district still bears his name. Besserer eventually moved to Bytown in the 1840s and built a substantial stone house — with a kitchen in the basement, serviced by a dumb-waiter — at the corner of King Edward and Daly avenues.

Given his involvement, especially in comparison to Besserer?s, it seems slightly frustrating that Stewart is now less known than the absent and distracted Besserer. Two years after William Stewart?s widow, Catherine, died in 1900, the eight acres where the Museum of Nature sits was purchased by the Canadian Government for $73,000, thus carving up the original 75 acre stretch he had purchased in 1834 for only £300. Woods Jr. writes, ?William Stewart died in 1856 and his acreage, named Stewarton, was subdivided into lots in 1871. Many of the streets in the vicinity of the museum, such as Flora, William, Isabella, McLeod, and Catherine, were named for the Stewarts? nine children.? Might Ann have been one of hers as well? In the new Ottawa Archives building in the west end, I discover this, in the small folio CENTRETOWN Heritage Conservation District Study Winter 1996-1997:

South of By?s property lay Lot F, Rideau Front, land purchased by William Stewart in 1834. Stewart died in 1856, and his family ignored this property until Ottawa became the nation?s capital. In 1868, Mrs. Catherine Stewart developed it as her country estate, building a substantial residence known as Appin Place (Fig. 12). Three years later she had the remainder of the property surveyed into town lots, naming several of the streets — Frank, McLeod, Catherine, and Flora — after her children. The area around Appin Place was quickly settled as the community of Stewarton (Fig. 13). It boasted a local post office, a general store and 250 residents by 1877.

William Stewart?s village, by that time annexed into the city, was spared the flames that caught a fifth of the city — some 3000 homes — in the Great Ottawa Fire of Thursday, April 26, 1900. Originating across the river's provincial boundary, the flames crossed from Hull at the Chaudiere Falls, consuming lumber baron J.R. Booth?s formidable mansion as well as fifty million board feet of his lumber, spreading west into Mechanicsville from LeBreton Flats and south to Dow?s Lake. It was only the bluffs at Bronson Avenue that saved the flames fanning east, into downtown. The entire city, it seems, built on the backs and the banks of what came before, of old villages, family estates and aboriginal land claims. Villages, lost to fire and rebuilt, redeveloped, losing Rochesterville, Orangeville, Ashburnham, Mount Sherwood. Mechanicsville, at the fire?s western edge. In terms of fire, at least, the Village of Stewarton remained untouched, slightly to the east. For the age of some corners of the city, there are remarkably few buildings that predate the 1880s.

How did we get here. Accidents we make,

Bookshelves, bridge.

A stone will hold will hold it hold
to 1900.

Listen, grievance. We speak in the room.

Goldfish, alight.

Alberto Manguel wrote an essay that talks of unpacking his library into its new space, a converted barn in rural France. Unpacking my boxes of criticism, history, less than half of my poetry and a fraction of fiction in a shared two-bedroom in Centretown is not the same. So many boxes I?ve optimistically sent to storage, until a space large enough to shelve them all. Temporarily, we say. We tell ourselves. I enter the archive, seeking out pieces that might reference our new area, but there is remarkably little, considering the wealth of Ottawa-based writers and writing. Poet michael dennis, who moved from Peterborough to Ottawa somewhere in the early 1980s, wrote a month of poems in a bookstore window a few blocks north of our new home. In what is now the Herb & Spice on Bank Street, dennis sat in the window of the long-deceased Avenue Bookshop from January 7 to February 7, 1986, composing his poems for jessica-flynn (not one cent of subsidy press, 1986). During the same era, there was Ottawa?s third and final (until 2014, at least) poet laureate, Patrick White, writing unremarkable poems that reference the Glebe, Ottawa?s oldest neighbourhood, which now overlaps what was Stewarton?s southern boundary. He referenced the Rideau Canal, riding an obvious eastern edge of the neighbourhood, in poems such as ?Railroads and Waterways? from The God in the Rafters (Borealis Press, 1978):

Walking here beside the still canal
Where the willows lean out to wash their hair
Like my sisters under a kitchen tap.

This is the closest they come. Still, poems populate the neighbourhood. You might not think it, but they are here, hidden. Sometimes buried. Colin Morton points out a long poem by longtime Ottawa City Councillor and writer Clive Doucet, writing out his childhood in Before Star Wars (Black Moss Press, 1981), that ?Gladstone / street / was our backyard.?:

Ottawa is a dark city
in the winter months.
Flashes of grey light from a
classroom window;
dark as I trudged home
along Gladstone Street.

In the same piece, Doucet later wrote: ?The Gods / of Gladstone Street / were all / hockey players.? Few seem to recall that where the laundromat now stands at the north-west corner of Gladstone and Percy was once Dey?s Skating Rink, where Ottawa?s hockey team, then the Silver Seven, won their first Stanley Cup. It was years before a plaque appeared, and it was quickly stolen. The one that sits outside is a replacement. A fragment of my ?ottawa poems (blue notes)? from The Ottawa City Project (Chaudiere Books, 2007), references this fragment of Gladstone, slightly west of where Doucet once played:

or gladstone where they played
the stanley cup

no rink in sight

; a laundromat, a plaque

eroding years away like teeth

Ann Street was renamed Gladstone, around the turn of the century. But when did street turn to avenue? Doucet?s poems appear to complicate the question. This neighbourhood where Elvis Presley performed in 1957, at the Auditorium on Argyle, one of only three performances he gave, north of the border. The same venue where the Ottawa Senators held home games, after Dey?s Skating Rink had disappeared. Sixty years without a team, and we?re still one Stanley Cup short of tying Toronto?s Maple Leafs? eleven wins. Argyle Street?s auditorium is long gone, replaced with the YMCA. Closer to home, the condominium rises up at the north-east corner of Bank and McLeod, the early-morning hammer pounding steel beams further into bedrock throughout our first few residential weeks, from the entirety of September, and October.

Imagine, in 1865, what is now McLeod Street was the southernmost boundary of the City of Ottawa. Robert Haig, for the ?1879? entry to his Ottawa: City of the Big Ears (Haig and Haig Publishing Co., 1969):

The Great Dominion Exhibition is held this year, attracting many visitors to Ottawa. The fields used for the Exhibition are later turned into a permanent park, now Lansdowne Park, named after the Marquis of Lansdowne, Governor General from 1883 to 1888.

Many citizens question the location of the park so far out in the country. Ottawa at the time does not extend much beyond Bank St. and Maria St. (later Laurier Ave. West.). Southwards, Bank St. is a dusty trail with open fields on either side, but there is a toll gate where McLeod St. now intersects Bank and all must pay to use the road. A three-plank boardwalk runs down one side, but it comes to an end somewhere about McLeod St. and from there on it is country walking.

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009), as well as the travel volume, Ottawa: The Unknown City (2008). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at

Photo of rob mclennan by Stephen Brockwell

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