In a week which started out researching homes of my ancestors in Victoria, BC and Birmingham, England, it ended with the news that my childhood home in Ottawa is for sale. Living across the river as I do, I have had the opportunity over the years to pass by the old home on Woodroffe Avenue and see how it looks now. And I must confess over the last several years I have felt that the people living there were rather careless, and the home was distinctly unloved. Reading the ad for the house I now know why, it is rented out. But the house itself was lovely when we lived there, so I expected to see in the listing, dated, but hardwood floors, two fireplaces, built in bar in spacious basement, large garden and in-ground pool. Instead it reads:
“Being sold “Where Is” and “As Is” Sellers Schedule “B” must accompany all offers. Builders and developers opportunity knocks large lot close to Wesstern Parkway. Bring your imagination and plans. Propery is currently tennanted and viewings may take some time to arrange. Home requires updating throughout or lot lends itself to two units or new large single unit. Seller makes no representations or warranties.” [listing here]
And so it seems that my old family home is seen more as value for its large lot than the rather nice house it was. I would be the first to say it needs updating, as I remember a viewing in the home in the mid-1990s when it was for sale, and I got to see its interior, and it does need a better kitchen configuration, and the upstairs bathroom needed new fixtures. But to see it torn down, which seems to be the gist of the advertisement is just plain wasteful, and of course sad.
Many reading this will say – of course you feel that way, you lived there. And yes my very happy memories of the house are a large part of the feelings I have for the thought that it could just be torn down and replaced with two dinky houses or a large McMansion. But there is more to that. There is a part of me that asks these questions every time people talk of removing old housing stock and replacing it with something more “modern.” And this goes back to a blog post I did on the tearing down of the grocery store on Woodroffe/Richmond and the lovely Victorian house next to it for a new condo development – which by they way they still have not built in the 4 years since they took down the older buildings. [link here]
Why should the older homes be removed for more intense building on the site? Why does “progress” have to mean the destruction of the past. I am sure that a lot of people see just a plain bungalow and forget that it too is part of history (and I do acknowledge personal history as well as neighbourhood). It was one of the first bits of newer construction in the area when it was built in 1961 by George Ostendorfer on a vacant lot. The neighbourhood before was essentially a few all-season homes surrounded by summer homes, some converted for all season use, and some not. 92 Woodroffe represents the change in the area with the creation of a more suburban neighbourhood with a lot of new construction in the 1960s. This too was the period when the cottages along the river were being expropriated by the federal government (NCC) and cleared to make way for the green space and the Parkway.
The house itself is a product of its time. The original layout of the three bedroom bungalow featured a garage at the front of the house, with the front door, next to it, reached by several steps. This layout changed within a few years, in 1965, with the garage being closed in, and integrated into the house, serving as an office for Mr. Ostendorfer, and accessed by the side of the house with its own door, and a door inside, off the front hallway. A carport was built at this time at the side of the house, situated behind the house’s frontage, and out of view of the street. The in-ground swimming pool was built in 1964.
My family moved into the house as its second owners in 1968, just before my brother was born. In the time we lived there we made no significant or structural changes to the house. The only change to be made in the house was the conversion of Mr. Ostendorfer’s former office into the master bedroom around 1974. A cedar closet was added to the room, on its interior wall. The house now had four bedrooms.
During our time in the house the neighbourhood around the house underwent several changes during the 1960s and 70s. Most significantly was the demolition of the cottages which were situated directly behind the house, on Orvigale. They were replaced by townhouses. One of the houses which overlooked the back yard situated on Deschenes added a second storey in 1978. The old CPR land remained undeveloped, and served the area as a shortcut to homes on Orvigale and Pooler. It was also a place of play for the local children. An apartment building went up on Richmond road, which we could see rise up from our back yards. The A&W nearby closed down and new businesses sprung up on Richmond Road.
We sold the house in 1980, and the new owners made a number of interior changes. Firstly, the wall which separated the old master bedroom and the living room was removed, creating a large room which spanned the whole width of the house. The house returned to having only three bedrooms. The wall separating the kitchen from the dining room was also removed, creating a much larger eat-in kitchen. In the basement, the large oil heater and tank was removed, and the WC at the foot of the stairs was expanded into its space to create a full bath. From the description in the ad for the sale of the house it appears a fourth bedroom has been added to the house – likely in the basement. I am not sure.
The CPR land next to the house was finally developed in 2004. A house, number 96, was constructed, and a path established at its side. The path, follows the length of the old track, and serves as a path to the houses on Orvigale and Pooler, like its predecessor. 92 Woodroffe Avenue stands as a testimony to the history of the neighbourhood of Woodroffe North, and of the suburbanization of the City of Ottawa.
But history aside, it is wasteful to just tear down a building just to build something new on the site. The destruction of the house would mean more crud to send to a landfill, and then there is the added costs (environmentally) of building the new house or houses. Why destroy when you could fix? Fixing might take a bit more imagination, but in the long run it means that the house remains, and the neighbourhood keeps its diversity in housing stock.