Life on Banting Avenue: gypsies, apple trees, and dirty laundry

Dr. Ira Hamilton sits on the steps leading down to the river in front of his house, at the very western end of Banting Avenue. This location had a steep slope down to the river and was a very popular sledding spot for children in the winter.Photo courtesy of Pat (Hamilton) Oosterbann.

This final column about Banting Avenue focuses on the day-to-day life of the neighbourhood. In conversations with people who grew up on Banting Avenue, it is clear that it was seen as a delightful place to live – a quiet secluded corner of the city, with forest and meadow and the river shore to provide perfect opportunities for exploring and games.

The woods on the shore of the river behind the Thomson-Cole-Rochester farm were wonderful for climbing and games of chase and hide-and-seek.Occasionally, these same woods contained caravans of gypsies and camps of itinerant homeless who inspired wonder and more than a little trepidation in the minds of younger children.  The Thomson-Cole-Rochester farm tempted children with apple trees and fields of asparagus, the seeds of which were spread by the wind, providing tasty eating in the spring. The Waterman children and Gail Hobbs saw the neighbourhood as a paradise.

But it was the river that was the greatest attraction – to the adults but particularly for the children. There were sandy beaches for swimming and sunbathing, and for canoeing and boating. When the children were a bit older, they would venture out to explore the log booms, which kept the logs off the beach. In the winter, the children would skate on the river after their fathers had verified the thickness of the ice and cleared the snow.

The railway was a defining element of the neighbourhood as it separated the residents from the rest of the city. Trains went by four times a day: long freight trains  and passenger trains speeding into the city or on their way to Toronto. In the 1940s, these huge steam locomotives could attain 100 km/hr. The coal burning monsters produced clouds of black soot which could quickly ruin a fresh wash hanging outside on the line. The trains were a source of wonder but also danger. There was a report of a Producer’s Milk truck demolished at the crossing at Cleary Avenue, and the worst train accident in the history of Ottawa took place here in 1913.  Evelyn (Kennedy) Waterman recalled a close call one day when she was wandering home from school lost in thought. She was only saved by the shouts of the crew, warning of the approaching train.

Bob Grainger is a retired federal public servant with an avid interest in local history. KT readers may already know him through his book, Early days in Westboro Beach – Images and Reflections. He’s also part of the Woodroffe North history project and is currently working on the history of Champlain Park and Ottawa West. Do you have any memories to share about Banting Avenue? If so we’d love to hear them


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