Description of Historic Place
The Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District comprises many blocks of residential and institutional development within Ottawa's central core. The district is immediately north of the Byward Market, south of the Ottawa River and east of the Rideau Canal. Lowertown is one of the earliest settlement areas in the City of Ottawa, with development starting in 1827 and continuing until the beginning of the twentieth century. The dwellings in Lowertown West demonstrate a wide range of architectural types. The richness of the heritage character of Lowertown West is strongly related to the variety of these buildings, their various materials, scale and form, and the layering of additions and alterations which have occurred over time.
Lowertown West was formally recognized under Part V of the Ontario Heritage Act by the City of Ottawa in 1994 (By-law 192-94).
Lowertown West is associated with the early settlement of Bytown (later Ottawa) and exhibits a unique architectural character. Lowertown's general form derives from the distribution of land in 1827 when Colonel John By laid out Bytown as an Upper and Lower Town. Streets were principally east-west between the Rideau Canal and the Rideau River, with north-south connectors as needed. This original street grid is primarily intact today, although some of the names have changed to commemorate prominent figures in the development of the area. After the Vesting Act in 1843, land was finally granted with deeds of ownership and institutions gained a greater prominence in Lowertown, most notably the Roman Catholic Church. The ensuing development of Lowertown was largely speculative, driven in part by the coming of the railway in 1854, and by the expansion of the city after the announcement of the choice of the national capital in 1857.
Lowertown experienced another boom period starting in the 1870s, despite a crushing depression that greatly affected its working class inhabitants. During this period, Sussex drive was built up and the Catholic institutions expanded. The boom period was abruptly stopped at the outbreak of World War I and little further development took place until the urban renewal projects starting in the 1960s.
The heritage value of Lowertown West is also derived from its associations with the histories of the working class Irish and French settlers of Ottawa. Most inhabitants of Lowertown were itinerant labourers, working on the canal in the earliest years, or connected with the squared timber trade. The early population of Lowertown was more than half Irish Catholic, with the remainder being French Canadian. However, toward the end of the 19th century, the French presence in Lowertown grew as the Irish Catholics moved to other parts of the city. While overall ethnic and religious profiles remained fairly stable in Ottawa, occupational profiles shifted strongly as the Civil Service tripled its employees between 1900 and 1910 and Lowertown quickly evolved from a labourer's neighbourhood to one which served government employees.
Lowertown West exhibits variety, scale, coherence, sense of place and landmarks within its architectural composition. The age, style, or architectural attractiveness of individual buildings is less important to the urban character than the aggregate urban quality that results. The range of building materials, proportions, setbacks, and profiles varies considerably along each street, but an overall similarity emerges from the diversity that dignifies the older buildings and embraces the newer ones.
Most of the buildings are vernacular in character and cannot be clearly identified stylistically. The richness of the heritage character of Lowertown West is strongly related to the variety of these buildings, their various materials, scale and form, and the layering of additions and alterations which have occurred over time. The effect is one of generally small scale buildings, with patterns of lot occupation, building forms and styles that have evolved but do not differ dramatically in urban effect from their historic precedents. These qualities are distinctive to the area, are representative of the earliest phases of settlement, and are a unique part of the city's heritage.
Sources: Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District Study, May 1993, City of Ottawa
Character defining elements that contribute to the heritage value of the Lowertown West Heritage Conservation District include its:
- large variation of vernacular architectural styles and expressions
- early “workers' cottages”, commonly one-and-a-half or two-and-a-half-storey double houses with central or side chimneys, built using traditional materials and techniques
- single or double houses of the mid 19th century with front gable, wood verandas and distinct wood decorative elements
- flat roofed structures of the late 19th century, which predated the modern apartment complex and often included wood verandas and carriageways
- use of various local materials, including wood, brick veneer and grey stone
- primarily low density residential streets marked with institutional buildings
- grand scale institutional buildings, mainly in the Gothic Revival and Second Empire styles
- dominant institutional landmarks, most notably those of the Roman Catholic Church
- general form and land distribution that recalls the original survey by Colonel John By for the English Crown in 1827
- east-west street layout with north-south connectors, as originally planned by Colonel By
- relatively intact streetscapes built to a human scale
- layout as the first settlement area in the city of Ottawa
- features that reflect the original French and Irish working class settlers of Bytown