By Dave Allston –
Hintonburg and Mechanicsville have particularly deep francophone roots. While both neighbourhoods still feature a bilingual population, it may surprise some to know that for most of their history, these two areas were mainly French-speaking, at some times, significantly so. Several notable events (and people!) in the history of the community helped shape this development. Today, only an odd street name or two gives recognition to these early francophone influences. Though the neighbourhood has changed and evolved, the impact of these early community leaders and the events that shaped the area’s strong French heritage cannot be denied. This Early Days column will look at one such individual whose contributions to the community over a 60-plus- year period undeniably helped shape the neighbourhood we know today.
September of 1870 saw the opening of a passenger station and the first rail travel out of the LeBreton Flats and Hintonburg area (the Canada Central Railway line to Carleton Place and beyond, then a year later the St. Lawrence and Ottawa Railway south towards Billings Bridge). Industry arrived in the area virtually overnight as the railroad ignited the rural farming area in the west end. As well, major lumber mills opened in the area along the line.
Capitalizing on the need for homes for the mill and rail workers, prominent lumber merchants, Blasdell and Baldwin, acquired the land north of the CCR line (now Scott Street) in 1872 and subdivided it into small builder lots. They named their new community, Mechanicsville.
Lots began to sell almost immediately and the workers built basic wood-frame houses. This was, of course, pre-electricity, pre-water, and pre-sewers and homes were expanded as the workers could afford it. The workers were largely French, and thus Mechanicsville in the 19th century (and even into the 20th century) was over 80% francophone.
One of the first to invest in Mechanicsville also became its dedicated champion. François-Xavier (F.X.) Sauvé was born in April 1842 in Montebello, Quebec, where, as a young adult, he honed his craft as a stonemason. One of the projects he worked on was the expansion of the Manoir Papineau on the Chateau Montebello property. He moved to Ottawa by the mid-1860s, likely for the opportunities in construction. Ottawa was growing significantly as a government town. His work was so respected that he was hired as one of the stonemasons in the construction of the original Parliament Buildings.
F.X. married Marie Poirier around this time, and together they had two children. The family must have seen promise in the new Mechanicsville neighbourhood, purchasing lots on Carruthers Avenue and constructing one of the first three houses in the subdivision. This house still stands today at 85 Carruthers and may be the oldest still standing in Mechanicsville.
F.X. eventually acquired many more properties throughout Hintonburg and built at least ten houses on Carruthers and Stonehurst alone. He was one of the first to build multiple dwellings on the original 50-feet wide builder lots, building on half lots and duplexes on those half-lots. He gifted homes to his family members and maintained others as a landlord.
His real estate acumen eventually brought him in as a partner with the Ottawa Land Association for a time, which acquired hundreds of acres of farmland that now make up Hintonburg and Wellington Village.
One of his friends and closest business associates was G. B. Greene, one of the principals of the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company (which managed log driving on the Ottawa River) and namesake for the infamous steamboat that provided excursions at Britannia through the first half of the 20th century.
F.X., and later his son Frank Jr., were significantly involved with the union of Bricklayers, Masons, and Plasterers – the earliest trade groups. He was also heavily connected with the affairs of the local community and was busy with local community organizations and as a trustee of the local separate school board.
F.X. was one of the original members of Saint-François-d’Assise parish when it was first established in 1890. He helped the Capuchin Fathers construct the original church in 1891 and contributed to the Stations of the Cross inside the church. (The Stations of the Cross is a 14-step devotion; a series of images depicting Jesus Christ on the day of his crucifixion to help Christians make a spiritual pilgrimage through contemplation and prayer.)
One of F.X.’s final jobs involved the construction of the new Saint-François-d’Assise church in 1914, immediately to the east of the original. His role was likely on the coordination side. A small chapel was built in the basement of the new church, where the original Stations of the Cross were moved. F.X. was also one of the original members of the Third Order of St. Francis, an association of those who live according to the ideals and spirit of a religious order, without taking religious vows.
His death on February 5, 1935, at the age of 92 marked the end of an era for Mechanicsville. His final service was held inside Saint-François-d’Assise, the church he helped build.
The descendants of F.X. Sauvé likely number in the hundreds today, and many still reside in the neighbourhood. Family names such as Derouin, Gauthier, Matthews, and of course Sauvé, to name a few, can trace their family history back to F.X. Sauvé.
Some of the stories of the important, yet largely unknown francophone history of Kitchissippi are just beginning to surface. I’m working with the Wellington West BIA on their new “Gallery 150” project, a large public display of local history along the side of GT Express at Wellington and Pinhey. The launch is scheduled for November 27 and the first set of photos will focus on Hintonburg at the turn of the century, including the Great Hull-Ottawa Fire of 1900, which destroyed most of Hull and LeBreton Flats. A large number of residents displaced by the fire chose Hintonburg as a place to rebuild, which increased the size of Saint-François-d’Assise Parish from an initial congregation of 550 to 2,080 by 1907. That year, Hintonburg, a predominantly French community, was annexed to Ottawa. In fact, as late as the 1951 census, 65% of Hintonburg residents claimed French as their mother tongue.
It is thanks to community builders like F.X. Sauvé that Hintonburg and Mechanicsville have such a unique and successful history; a story that continues to unfold today.
Dave Allston is a local historian and the author of a blog called The Kitchissippi Museum. His family has lived in Kitchissippi for six generations. Do you have memories of when the circus came to town? We’d love to hear them! Send your email to firstname.lastname@example.org.