Ken’s Bygone Sandy Hill

Where all legal bigwigs met, one century ago

Ken Clavette

The Albion Hotel, as pictured in The Ottawa Citizen on September 8, 1934.
Photo 1875 — LAC C-002230

In 1862 the gaol (jail) was built at 75 Nicholas St. Ten years later the province would build a Court House on Daly Avenue. Sometime before that there was a hotel on Daly with its origins covered in the mists of time. By the 1870s the Albion Hotel would be the location where all in the legal community would meet to eat, drink, and often have a case settled and presented to the judge after lunch. If a jury could not reach a verdict, they would be taken across Daly to be kept at the Albion over night. William McSeveney, who grew up on Nicholas Street, wrote in Lost Ottawa, “the coppers, the Magistrates, court clerks, and yes the criminals all drank here, sometimes at the same table.”

In 1957, the Ottawa police abandoned their deteriorating station on Queen Street and moved into a new headquarters building at 60 Waller St. Now all the city’s legal community was on the doorstep of the Albion. It would not be unusual for the police to turn up requesting some of the patrons to cross the street to join a line-up parade if they needed to identify a suspect. And of course, the hotel was a good place for an after-shift drink or two.

By the 1970s and 80s the pressures on the now aging buildings meant changes were coming. The first to depart was the jail, moving out to Innes Road in 1972. The building and its ghosts remain now as a backpackers hostel. The next to leave was the police station to a new building on Elgin Street in 1983. The courthouse was closed by the province and sold to the City of Ottawa — and in 1985 became the Arts Court. That left only the old Albion Hotel and it was too far away from those who once worked in legal Ottawa. On Friday, July 13, 1984, the bartenders pulled their last pints as the community held a wake to say farewell to a venerable institution. The City gave a heritage designation to the exterior of the Albion as it was included as part of the Novotel Ottawa hotel. The walls now hold The Albion Rooms, a cocktail bar and restaurant.

What remains was once a part of a larger establishment with a long and storied history in Sandy Hill. There are many Albion stories still to be told.

The Albion Rooms today. Perhaps you’ve been here for a cocktail or two?
Photo Ken Clavette