Ken’s Bygone Sandy Hill

Daly was considered the street of Ottawa

Ken Clavette

Library and Archives Canada

Along with supervising the building of the Rideau Canal, Colonel John By was tasked with laying out a town plan for what would in time become Ottawa. The “Upper town” was west of Barracks Hill (Parliament Hill) and “Lower town” was east of the canal. Upper town was on the high cliffs, and it quickly became the home of the English Protestant class. Lower town, largely built on drained cedar swamp, was settled by the Irish and French Roman Catholics that came to labour on the canal and stayed to build a city. In short order, with its ByWard market, it became the commercial centre of what was then Bytown.

With the growth of the lumber industry, Lebreton Flats became Ottawa’s first suburb with both workers and owners building homes close to the mills at Chaudière Falls. Sandy Hill would be the creation of those coming to build a capital of the new nation Canada. When in 1865 the civil servants began to arrive and search for homes, they found the available land was filling up quickly. It was to the sandy hill south of Rideau they turned to fill their needs. These newcomers gave our community a distinct feel; it was mixed both religiously and in language. It also developed a reputation of elite-ness. No street more so than Daly Street, which would later become an Avenue to match the stature of the residents.

In November of 1925 the Ottawa Citizen took a look back to 1878, providing us with a detailed view of the individuals and the homes that spread east from the canal to Charlotte Street on Daly. As the Citizen reporter noted, “It must not be assumed that everybody who lived on Daly Street had large bank accounts,” but “generally speaking, the street was the place of residence of people who were ‘somebodies’ either in the civil service, in the professions, in politics, or in the wider avenues of commerce.”

Library and Archives Canada

The article makes for an interesting read of the bygone days of Sandy Hill, and it gives us an idea of how our community got the reputation it did. How often have I heard, “Oh you live in Sandy Hill,” said with an air that assumed I had a large bank account.