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Early Days in Westboro Beach

On January 9, 2006 Westboro Beach Community Association launched a 250 page book Early Days in Westboro Beach – Reflections and Images by Bob Grainger that transports readers via voyageur canoes, railway cars and suburban streetcars on a journey of inner city exploration and reflection.

Through archival research, active archaeological digging and the taped interviews of hundreds, Bob Grainger and his dedicated team on the Westboro Beach Historical Committee worked for ten years to discover how the Westboro Beach community has engaged and reflected Canada’s opportunities and values from the earliest times.

Discover corduroy roads, streetcar suburbs, and the night life of the Trocadero Club. Meet Westboro’s early leaders, entrepreneurs, and characters like Senator James Skead, Westboro’s first industrialist, and Sam Ford, a 30’s style Westboro Beach developer and club owner.

Bob Grainger, a Westboro Beach historian, author, editor, analyst, and resident has written a complete, thoughtful and illustrative history of one of Ottawa’s oldest and most active communities – Westboro Beach.  The book, complete with pictures from public and private collections, has been published by the Westboro Beach Community Association with support from the City of Ottawa and local sponsors.

To purchase a copy please contact Bob Grainger at 613-725-1063. The book price is $35.

Historian Bob Grainger

Robert Grainger, Ph. D., has been the Chairperson of the History Committee of the Westboro Beach Community Association for the past ten years and was the lead in authoring a book on the history of our community. After a career as a statistical analyst and manager for Statistics Canada, Mr. Grainger retired four years ago to focus more time and attention on the collection of information relating to the history of the Westboro Beach neighbourhood. Mr. Grainger also brings editorial skills to this project – he is a former Editor of the “Anglo-Celtic Roots”, the quarterly journal of the British Isles Family History Society of Greater Ottawa (BIFHSGO).

Over the history of the project, several other persons have also contributed their time and talents to the successful completion of the book – a PH.D. student in History at Carleton University, a library researcher with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, another statistical analyst with Statistics Canada, and a former newspaper editor. These neighbourhood residents have combined their skills to collect a formidable array of information about the history of the area.

Westboro Beach is a component of the community of Westboro which was originally a part of the Township of Nepean. Over the 150 years of its existence, the village of Westboro has been known by a variety of names. It was originally Birchtown and Baytown, and then became Springbrae. In recognition of the importance of the lumber mill which was built in the community by Senator James Skead in 1869, the community changed its name to Skead’s Mills. With the destruction of the mill and increasing interest in selling the village as the locale for suburban housing developments, the community once again, in 1899, changed the name, this time selecting Westborough, later shortened to Westboro. The community became a Police Village in 1905, and developed as a streetcar suburb of Ottawa. It was the site of the Nepean Township Hall, with the Nepean Bell in the tower of the Townhall at the intersection of Richmond Road and Churchill Avenue. In 1950, the village was annexed into the City of Ottawa.

The village and the neighbourhood have been witnesses to and participants in a great deal of important Canadian history. The early explorers, fur-traders and voyageurs passed by on their way into the interior of the continent. Later, the river was the conduit for the flow of square timber, lumber and pulp logs from the upper reaches of the Ottawa watershed to the mills of the Chaudière. The neighbourhood was the site of an impressive steam sawmill and later, two lumber yards – the residents of the area were closely linked to activities along the river.

The first chapter of “The History of Westboro Beach” establishes the continental-scale historical context – the exploration of North America, the fur trade, the forest industries, and the beginnings of settlement. The next chapter looks at the neighbourhood when Westboro was known as Skead’s Mills, when the economic and social life of the community was centred on the lumber business along the river. Chapters three, four and five constitute the heart of book – chapter three examines the history of residential development in the three different components of Westboro Beach – Clarella Park, Summerland, and Westboro Beach East; chapter four documents the history of community life at the beach; and chapter five describes the nature of general life in the neighbourhood during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. A final chapter paints a picture of the neighbourhood in the latter 1960s, and then enumerates and describes the factors and forces which have been affecting life in Westboro Beach for the last forty years.

The text is based on a large amount of original research carried out at libraries and archives in the Ottawa area – Library and Archives Canada, the Ottawa Room and the Ottawa Public Library, the library of the National Capital Commission, the City of Ottawa Archives, Nepean Museum and the Land Registry Office. In addition, approximately 65 persons were interviewed, producing more than one hundred hours of taped conversation. These interviews were transcribed and the information was organized to produce a picture of normal, day-to-day life in the community in the early days of the twentieth century.

Westboro Beach is a neighbourhood which is presently experiencing stresses associated with intensive residential redevelopment. It is to be hoped that the publication of this history of the neighbourhood will stimulate an appreciation on the part of residents and municipal planners of the special character of the community. A knowledge of the unique history of the neighbourhood may lead to more sensitive development proposals.