Who Lives Here? Green beauty in McKellar Park 

By Andrea Tomkins – 

The door of 651 Rowanwood Avenue swings wide open and there’s Rosemary Cotroneo with a ready smile. Rosemary and Joe are the proud owners of a lovely bungalow at Rowanwood and Dovercourt and they’re quite possibly the nicest couple you’ll ever meet. 

Many readers might recognize Joe as the owner of Pub Italia on Preston Street, which will be celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. 

Joe and Rosemary were both born and raised in Ottawa. (In fact, they were born two weeks apart and may have crossed paths in the nursery at the Civic Hospital.) Joe grew up on Preston Street. Rosemary grew up in Centretown, one of eight children in an Irish family. The two met on a blind date at Joe’s brother’s wedding in 1971. 

Their first date had a rough beginning. Joe picked Rosemary up in his red 1965 Mustang, which failed to make a favourable impression on her conservative father. “I think my father nearly had a heart attack,” recalls Rosemary. 18 months later they were engaged. 

They were married in 1973 and their first home was an apartment at Baseline and Woodroffe. They lived there for two years before they bought their first home on Western Avenue. It was a busy time in their lives. 

“We had the house on Western, we had three boys under four, and Joe was in business for himself,” says Rosemary. “We just hit the ground running.” 

They moved to Black Friars Road and Knightsbridge area around 1980, primarily for the schools although they appreciated the parks and transit service in the area as well. Carlingwood Mall just a hop skip and a jump away, as was the Parkway and the Queensway. 

The family lived on Black Friars until four years ago, when they moved to the bungalow on Rowanwood. By all accounts, it sounds like it was destined to happen. Joe and Rosemary had admired the Rowanwood home long before they purchased it. Their daily walks often took them right past it. 

“Every time we walked by there was an older couple outside, always with their garage door open. Rose would say, ‘if ever that house goes up for sale, I want to go see it,’” says Joe. “It had never been for sale, in all of the years we’ve lived here,” adds Rosemary. One day in June 2014 she noticed it was up for sale. “I went immediately home to phone Joe,” she recalls. They went to an open house on a Sunday and bought it that week. As it turns out they bought it from the man who built it; the original owner. 

They undertook some renovation work when they moved in. The kitchen got a major facelift and Joe enlarged an opening from the kitchen into the dining area. 

One aspect that sets this home apart from others in McKellar Park is the green colour accenting the exterior of the house. This was the original colour, which was changed at some point to brown. (Rosemary made sure it went back to green!) 

The home is a charming mix of old and new. A timeless (yet new!) modern kitchen features gleaming marble countertops and black and white cabinetry. The vintage tiles in the upstairs bathroom are a shade of teal that belongs in a 1960s House and Home magazine. They didn’t have the heart to replace them. “They were perfect,” says Joe. “We had to keep them!” 

[Click images to enlarge.]

A full basement features a retro style bar, as well as a large living area complete with bedroom and bathroom for when family comes to visit. 

Perhaps the best way to describe the interior is “open concept with walls.” The front entrance opens to a light-filled living room and the dining room is a few steps further back, unless you take the kitchen route which leads to a sunken family room that looks out into the back yard. The bedrooms and main bath are at the back of the home. 

Of course, a story that mentions Joe Cotroneo also has to include his restaurant, Pub Italia, a popular destination on Preston Street.  He describes it as “something that just kind of started.” 25 years ago he was working in the electrical business and knew he couldn’t realistically continue in this line of work. The space for the restaurant was available and things came together. “It was a moment of insanity,” quips Rosemary. She adds that they knew “nothing” about the restaurant industry, only that they liked to go out. 

When the pub first opened it featured a coffee roaster, but within a short span of time he got rid of the roaster and started specializing in Belgian beers and collecting religious decor for the pub. The rest, as they say, is history.

As if Joe hasn’t been busy enough over the years, he’s also an avid collector. On April 14, Joe hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony for his Italian Moto Museum, located in a former machine shop behind the Dollarama on Somerset St. W. Imagine rows of classic cars, motorcycles, mopeds, bicycles, and all kinds of car-related collectibles. 

Joe’s collection began like many collections do, with one acquisition followed by another. “At first it was my own thing just for myself,” says Joe. Now it’s bigger! For the time being, the museum is open by appointment only as he mulls over its future.

Joe and Rosemary have lived in the McKellar Park area for over 40 years. Back then, they liked being able to visit some local shops, walk to the grocery store and to the park. Some things haven’t changed. 

“We take these things for granted because we’ve been here so long, but we wouldn’t want to live anywhere else,” says Rosemary.

The KT “Who lives here” series takes a closer look at some unique homes and the people who live there. Which Kitchissippi-area homes are you most curious about? It could be an old home, a new one, a big one, or a small one. Email a street address and a photo to editor@kitchissippi.com and we’ll do the rest. To read other stories in this series, click here.

*This feature is brought to you in part by Engel & Völkers Ottawa Central, Brokerage.

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