GENERAL ARTICLES

War Boom in Ottawa

Civil service rolls up 65 per cent; houses, hotels, offices, trains, crammed to overflowing! Ottawa is enjoying—or suffering—a veritable war-born boom

FREDERICK EDWARDS May 15 1941
GENERAL ARTICLES

War Boom in Ottawa

Civil service rolls up 65 per cent; houses, hotels, offices, trains, crammed to overflowing! Ottawa is enjoying—or suffering—a veritable war-born boom

FREDERICK EDWARDS May 15 1941

War Boom in Ottawa

Civil service rolls up 65 per cent; houses, hotels, offices, trains, crammed to overflowing! Ottawa is enjoying—or suffering—a veritable war-born boom

FREDERICK EDWARDS

IF YOU haven’t been in Ottawa since the war—you wouldn’t know the place. Ottawa is enjoying a boom; or suffering one. It all depends on the point of view. Merchants, hotel owners, boardinghouse keepers, landlords, prosperous as they have never been before, are very happy about the whole thing. Office workers, especially the newcomers in government jobs, store clerks, men of affairs w'ho find it necessary to go to Ottawa on business and remain there for longer than it takes to catch the next train out, are irked, sometimes seriously harassed, by the many inconveniences inflicted upon them by boom conditions.

What with one thing and another, Ottawa has never rated as an important manufacturing city. The civil service has always been the capital’s biggest single industry. Today it is bigger than ever. Add to the tremendouslyincreased civil service personnel the thousands ‘of soldiers in camp at Lansdowne Park and at the Uplands Training Centre of the R.C.A.F.. the enlargement of what were formerly skeleton headquarters staffs of the naval, military and air-force branches of the Department of National Defense, plus newly-created wartime departments, plus members and employees of various special missions, plus delegations representing allied governments, plus ordinary citizens from out-of-town who have urgent business in the capital requiring their presence there for days and weeks at a time, and it is easy to see w'hy Ottawa bulges at the seams.

At the end of 1938, Ottawa had a population of 144,202. During 1939 the figure rose to 145,183, an increase of less than a thousand, well below the average annual growth of the previous ten years. But, during the past fifteen months—that is, since January first, 1940—more than 15,000 people have taken up residence in the capital, excluding army and air-force men in camp. And they are still pouring in.

Examine a few more figures, in detail. Since September. 1939, the Civil Service Commission has authorized close to 30,000 new appointments; 20,000 of them during 1940. Of this total authorization, something like 17.000 positions have been filled. In Ottaw-a, 7,500 new' jobs were authorized and 6,800 appointments made up to the first of March this year. This brings the Ottawa civil-service personnel total to approximately 18,000 people, sixty-five per cent more than the before-the-war average which fluctuated between 10,000 and 12,000. An estimated $8,000,000 has been added to the annual Ottawa civil-service payroll, over

and above the substantial expansions of navy, army and air-force headquarters staffs.

Enormous Staff Increases

HPHE MOST important increases have taken place in the Department of National Defense and the Department of Finance, including the offices of the Comptroller of the Treasury, who deals with pay and allowances. On top of that, two new departments have been established— Munitions and Supply, and National Defense for Air. Air Minister C. G. Power told the House of Commons last February that his department, an entirely new wartime creation, w'as operating with a headquarters personnel of 1,605. Of these, 750 were officers and airmen on active service, and 855 were civilian employees, 502 women, 353 men. A similar situation exists with regard to the Department of Munitions and Supply. About 1,300 soldiers are constantly in camp at Lansdowne Park. At Uplands Air Training Centre an average of 2,000 members of the R.C.A.F. are stationed and as fast as one squadron moves

out another moves in. Rockcliffe air station, now' used to train air-force photographers and administrators, adds another 500 to the roll.

The soldiers and airmen in training have all the best of it. For them the government has provided food and shelter. The newly-arrived civilian workers and the many service men and officers engaged with administrative duties, who do not live in camps or barracks, have had to shift for themselves. The government has mushroomed row's of temporary wooden buildings, especially along Wellington Street, to be used as office accommodation for new depart-

ments and the swollen staffs of old ones. Nothing has been done, however, about finding places to live in for the people who have been brought into the capital city to work in those buildings.

On the other hand, the Department of National Defense has taken over nine Ottawa buildings since the war began, removing them from public use. Two of these were downtown apartment houses; the Aylmer, on Slater Street facing National Defense headquarters, and the Truro, fronting on Albert Street, but adjoining the Aylmer block in the rear. More than fifty families had to vacate the Aylmer; about fifteen families gave up their homes in the Truro. These ex-apartments, remodelled at a cost of $57,000, have been turned into offices for the National Defense department overflow. In addition the department has acquired the Jackson Building on Bank Street, by outright purchase at $770,000, for R.C.A.F. Headquarters, and has possessed the structure formerly occupied by the Novitiate of the Grey Nuns of the Cross, for a military convalescent hospital. The Bell Telephone Company’s Building on Queen Street now is occupied by Ottawa Area Command headquarters. The Robinson Building, nearby, houses the headquarters of the Naval Services. The Beach Motors Building and the Ottawa Motor Sales Building, both on Bank Street, and Orange Hall on Gloucester Street, also have been removed from civilian enterprise and mustered into the services. Final settlement of the terms on which the government is to take possession of all these premises, except the Jackson Building, has not yet been reached. The issue is still before the Exchequer Court of Canada.

Not all the men and women, servicemen or civilians who work at desks, pound typewriters, operate business machines, maintain files and carry messages in these and other augmented governmental offices have come to Ottawa from outside; but a large proportion of them are strangers in town. Newly-appointed executives naturally prefer to bring with them old employees who are familiar with their methods, in whose ability and discretion they can place full confidence. Officers and other ranks of the services have been transferred from other stations to the capital in considerable numbers. Civil-service positions have been filled with successful candidates whose homes are in every province. The main problem of the past year has been and still is—where are these new'comers going to live? How' are they to find shelter?

Eighteen new rooming-house licenses have been issued

by the city since the outbreak of war; but that seems to be a number entirely inadequate to supply the overwhelming demand. One or two of Ottawa’s most famous private residences of earlier days have been made over into boardinghouses in recent years. A notable example is the former home of Sir Clifford Sifton on Metcalfe Street, now known as Bromley Hall. The old Sifton mansion provides something approximating hotel service for its guests, and its dining room is open to the public. In such well-established hostelries as this a good-sized single room, without the privilege of a private bath, rents for around forty dollars a month; but there are not many of them and they are all full. The Roxborough Apartments, on Laurier Avenue, perhaps the most luxurious of Ottawa’s residential blocks, containing two hundred suites, is full, too. At the Roxborough rents average around $150 a month. Cabinet ministers may live there, and the British Mission has made its headquarters at the same address.

So far as the rank and file of Ottawa’s new population is concerned, what has happened is that an astonishingly large number of private homes have been converted into amateur rooming houses for the duration. Shortly after the war began the Civic Industrial and Publicity Committee, a part of the municipal organization, set up a system of listing families willing to accept paying guests. In some homes one or more meals are served daily. Others offer rooms only. Legally these are not classified as boardinghouses, so they are not required to take out licenses. More than three hundred Ottawa homes formerly occupied by individual families have been registered on the Industrial Committee’s rooming-house list to date, and there are many more homes, where similar arrangements have been made privately through friends or relatives, that do not appear on any public record. Somewhere between sixty and seventy-five per cent of the new Ottawa citizens in the lower income brackets are being housed in this manner.

But still there are almost no vacancies. Boardinghouses are sleeping their guests two and three in a room, feeding them at first, second and third sittings. Furnished apartment blocks are all out of space, but well-equipped with waiting lists. Rents have been pegged, and are sternly regulated by the local rentals committee, so that there is little downright profiteering; and a fat lot of good that does the house hunter when there isn t an empty residence in the city.

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invest the capital city, are sometimes wistful when they think of the opportunities for fashionable assemblage on the grand scale that would exist in the 1941 Ottawa were it not for the war. The Earl of Athlone and his consort, Princess Alice, are at Rideau Hall, and the princess is a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria. Princess Juliana of the Netherlands has rented a Rockcliffe mansion for herself and her suite. There is a Nonvegian mission in permanent residence, with the distinguished General William Steffens at its

head. Highly-placed representatives of the British government, many of them titled, are constantly at Ottawa. Now there is to be a new legation, established on behalf of the Brazilian government, although nobody knows where the Brazilians are going to find quarters. Today Ottawa is more cosmopolitan, has more exqlted personages living among its people for indefinite periods, than ever before in its history.

And life in Ottawa has never been less glamourous.

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It is difficult enough for single men and women moving into Ottawa on wartime jobs to find accommodation. The plight of the married man with children comes close to being desperate. Fie must take what he can get. There are instances of two and three families sharing small homes and apartments that were built originally for one family. They get along somehow; but they are definitely unhappy about it.

Three times weekly the Ottawa Rentals Committee holds public sessions to receive complaints and adjust differences between landlords and tenants. Judge E. J. Daly is chairman of the committee, Mr. J. C. G. Herwig sits as representative of the tenant. William Ide is secretary.

All sorts of odd disputes are aired before the Rentals Court. There’s a lot of human interest in every sitting. Judge Daly is an outspoken jurist with a sense of humor and his decisions are brief and to the point. A few weeks ago an aircraftman succeeded in having the rent of the three rooms he occupied with his wife and their fourmonths-old-baby, reduced from $30 a month to $24 because they were insufficiently heated. The apartment, the airman said, was so cold that they had to burn the 4 gas stove at night. The health of his wife and child had been affected, he claimed. Hearing the evidence, Judge Daly remarked: “You must have got hold of a barn.” “I sure did,” the airman said, with emphasis. Then, when the angry landlady broke in with: “Let them move if they don’t like it,” Committeeman Herwig told her: “Whether they move or not, we’re going to fix your rent, madam.”

At the same sitting a real-estate agent told a complaining lessee: “If you don’t want to stay we have a dozen tenants ...” Judge Daly interrupted him. “Don’t use that argument here,” the Judge warned. “We know you can get a lot of tenants. The point is you are asking too much for this house.” The rent was reduced. In a third case the landlord complained that the tenants were noisy. “They had a roughhouse at Hallowe’en, ” he grumbled. “Anybody’s entitled to a party on Hallowe’en,” observed the sagacious cadi.

Here are some of the Rentals Committee’s recent decisions, just to give you an idea of how the thing works. Rent for a residence at Westboro was pegged at $47.50 a month. The tenant, a naval officer, objected to the $55 figure demanded by the landlord. Westboro is outside the city limits,, does not enjoy municipal services such as garbage collection. Rent on a midtown duplex was fixed at $67.50 a month. The landlady wanted to get $75, because a former tenant had skipped owing her $200. “That’s your tough luck,” Judge Daly told the owner. “It has nothing to do with fixing the equitable

rental for the premises.” Rent for a house in the Glebe district was pegged at $30 a month. An increase to $33 asked by the landlord was denied.

Tenants don’t have it all their own way. Sometimes increases are granted. In three cases where agreements for rental raises after a stated period from $55 to $60 had been signed by tenants, the Committee turned down applications to have the rentals pegged at the lower level. Tenants failed to appear to protest an advance of rentals for a West Ottawa duplex, after a new roof had been laid, from $27.50 a month to $29, and the higher rate was authorized. In another case a one-dollara-month jump was sanctioned because the landlord, at the tenant’s request, had added a garage to the premises. One sees that the Rentals Committee is an impartial tribunal, but the Ottawa situation requires some authority to provide houses and apartments and rooms where none exist; and that is beyond the power of any committee, however righteously inspired.

Ottawa City Government

GENERALLY speaking the ordinary citizens of Ottawa manage to get along fairly well with whatever federal administration happens to be in power. They live under a dual system of government. . Affairs considered as strictly municipal are handled by a mayor, a Board of Control of four, and a City Council of twenty-two aldermen elected from eleven wards. In addition to this setup there is the Federal District Commission administering on behalf of the Dominion Government such Ottawa matters as have to do with federal property, buildings, parks and driveways.

Ottawa people have to live with the government, whether they like it or not, and as a rule they take things as they come; but right now a lot of Ottawans are peeved. They resent the overcrowding, the discomfort, and the muddled living conditions. They think the federal authorities might have made some definite plans for housing all the new residents they are bringing into the city, instead of just dumping them there and passing the responsibility for their accommodation to the private citizens. For months there has been talk of dormitory blocks or residence camps to be constructed by the government on vacant land it already owns. At least the single men from outside might be provided with shelter in this way; but nothing has been done about it, nor does the vague scheme seem to have progressed beyond the conversational stage.

Ottawa doesn’t even own a city hall any more; and the war is responsible for that, too. The old city hall was torn down as a part of the city improvement scheme sponsored by the Federal District Commission. This enterprise, known locally as the

Greber beautification plan, after its designer, involved removal of the old postoffice and a number of municipal buildings of equally ancient vintage to provide space for the broadening of Elgin Street to boulevard proportions, the erection of the War Memorial and the creation of Confederation Square as a worthy setting for the nation’s tribute to Canadians who died for their country in the first war against Germany. The condemned structures were demolished. The new post-office and the War Memorial were completed; but before the new city hall could be built this war came along, and that part of the improvement scheme is on the shelf for duration. Meanwhile, municipal affairs are being directed from offices in a downtown commercial building, rented at a cost to the taxpayers of $30,000 a year.

In spite of the shortage of domestic and business accommodation there has been little new construction in Ottawa since the war, and no new building plans are in sight of sufficient magnitude to ease the present situation to any effective extent. In 1938, building permits issued totalled 616, with a value of $5,137,509. During 1939, permits to the number of 574 were granted, and the value of new construction dropped to $2,050,656. Last year still fewer permits were issued—563 —but their value rose to $3,799,675. The reason was that the 1940 permits included the new Lord Elgin Hotel, the most ambitious construction job undertaken in Ottawa since the war. Three new apartment buildings have gone up in the past two years, but their combined cost was only $400,000.

No new stores have been added to the capital’s commercial structures since 1939. On the other hand, evidence of the flourishing condition of commercial business is seen in the fact that more than a dozen shops have been rebuilt and their floor space extended.

One bright spot in the Ottawa civic picture is the gratifying decrease in the relief rolls. Major Charles S. Ford, Social Service Commissioner for the city, repoi ts 2,616 families, representing 12,523 individuals, on relief in 1938. Last year only 898 families, representing 4,461 individuals were on relief. There is plenty of work to be had in Ottawa now in offices, stores, hotels and other commercial establishments. There is no extra demand for skilled labor, since the capital has few factories.

Transportation Problem

CONCENTRATION of Ottawa’s business, governmental and private, in a narrow area at the foot of Parliament Hill has given the city another headache. Most of the big retail stores, the commercial office buildings and the government departments are clustered together in the downtown district within the space of a few blocks from the corner of Sparks and Bank Streets. Most of the store clerks, secretaries, stenographers and office workers employed in Ottawa must go downtown to their jobs, and only a very few of them are able to live within walking distance.

As a result Ottawa now has a transportation problem of major proportions on its hands. Between eight and nine o’clock in the morning, and again between five and six o’clock at night, the crowded downtown streets look like New York’s Times Square on New Year’s Eve. Suburbanbound street cars and buses—both services operated by the Ottawa Electric Railway —are packed to suffocation. All last winter waiting would-be passengers stood in line at street car and bus stops, more or less patiently, every evening. It gets cold in Ottawa during the winter months.

The municipal authorities have taken official cognizance of the congestion. A plan for staggering office hours has been under consideration for some time, has been discussed in city council meetings, but up to the beginning of March nothing had come of it. As things are now, with a dozen different commercial and govern-

ment buildings decanting thousands of tiled office workers at the same hour and into the same small area every weekday evening, Sparks and Bank and Elgin and Wellington Streets at five o’clock are a mess.

Nor is the lot of the transient visitor to the nation’s capital a happy one these days. There are times when even getting into Ottawa presents perplexities, if you figure on going by rail. For a lower berth on an Ottawa-bound train, better make your reservation several days ahead. Otherwise you may have to sit up all night, in a coach. The polite ticket agent will acknowledge your request for accommodation made a few hours before train time, not even cracking a smile at your innocence—but he won’t promise you a thing. Your name goes on a waiting list. Then, should there be a last-minute cancellation, and there’s nobody ahead of you, okay. If not, that’s just too bad.

Jammed Hotels

OTTAWA has always been a one-hotel town, and for the past thirty years or more the Chateau Laurier has been the hotel. There are 539 rooms in the Chateau, 427 of them with a private bath. Before this dizzy spell hit the capital there was almost always space to spare. Unless some exceptional event was in the offing—the opening of a new session of parliament, a national political conference, a service club convention or the like—visitors who could afford the tariff found luxurious accommodation at the Chateau without much difficulty.

Not now, my friend, not now. Of those 539 rooms, one hundred are permanently occupied by individuals who have been called to Ottawa for service in various wartime capacities; high-ranking officers of the naval, military and air forces, dollar-a-year men and their assistants, members of war missions and such. This leaves a balance of 439 rooms normally available for the use of the general public; but many of these are taken by preferred guests having official or semi-official standing who may be remaining indefinitely. The Chateau Laurier these days is always full up. At times as many as six men have shared a sample-room, sleeping on temporary cots. There have been occasions when the Canadian National has held Pullman-car sleepers in the railway yards alongside Union Station and sold berths to weary visitors who could find no other place to lay their sleepy heads.

Half a dozen times a day, as through express trains arrive, a queue of anywhere from twenty to fifty or more people forms in front of the registration desk on the ground floor of the Chateau. Often the line stretches from the desk clear across the lobby and down the stairs leading to the railway station underpass. These long-suffering folks have made reservations in advance. Eventually they’ll be taken care of; but not one in twenty of them will be able to take immediate possession of their rooms. Instead they will have to wait until whoever is occupying the space allotted to them has moved out. Maids work in double and triple shifts. The staff of bellboys and waiters is twice the size it was in normal days before the war. On an average, three times as many meals are being served in the hotel’s cafeteria and the grillroom as were served during the winter of 1938-1939. The beverage room is doing four times the business of former years. And here’s an odd item. The lower-floor stairways, and the stairways leading to the mezzanine-balcony offices, are of marble. It has been found necessary to cover the marble treads with corrugated mats of a rubber and fibre composition. Time and the extra traffic have worn hollows in the stone.

At that, the changes in the physical appearance of the hotel are less symbolic of the new Ottawa than is the complete transmutation obvious in the feel of the place. In peacetimes the Chateau is as

much of a social centre as it is an inn. Gay dinners, afternoon teas, bridge parties, bazaars, fashion shows, were a part of its daily routine. As many, or more, women as men thronged its broad corridors.

Now, nine out of every ten persons visible in those same tesselated halls are men. Most of them are middle-aged parties of serious mien, carrying fat brief cases and wearing the harried look of having to be somewhere else in five minutes. The big comfortable armchairs scattered through the Laurier lobbies used to be occupied most of the time by casual Ottawans who dropped in for a smoke and a chat with their friends, chiefly about politics, that predominant topic of Ottawa conversation. These have vanished like mist before the morning sun. Hardly anyone sits in those chairs any more. There are no little groups of earnest thinkers expounding the glory or the infamy of current administrative policies. The wartime Chateau, like all the rest of Ottawa, is brisk and full of business.

The capital’s second hotel is the Alexandra, rather out of things, tucked away on Bank Street, never a rival of the Chateau Laurier in social elegance. At the Alexandra, too, all available accommodation is spoken for days in advance. Many of the lesser lights attached to the staffs of the various delegations, junior officers and bachelor executives are permanently in residence there. The other Ottawa hotels offer little more than a bed in a room, but they, too, have their full quota of guests every night.

Some time before Labor Day the hotel situation is to be remedied by the opening of the new Lord Elgin, now building on Elgin Street, one long block west of the Chateau, two blocks south of Confederation Park. Estimated cost of the Lord Elgin is $1,300,000. Prime Minister Mackenzie King laid the cornerstone at the end of February. The steel skeleton is now almost completed. There has been quite a to-do about the new hotel, part of it the result of an energetic publicity campaign. The Lord Elgin is being built for the Ford Hotel chain, operating lowrate inns in Toronto and Montreal, as well as in a number of United States cities. But this Ford is to be different. The Ottawa establishment projects features not to be found in the usual Ford pattern. Thus, each of the hotel’s 350 rooms will have a private bath. The minimum rate is to be $2.50 a day single, $3.50 double; higher than Ford prices elsewhere. The name was made the subject of considerable controversy. Other Ford hotels are called Ford hotels. Ottawa insisted on a more distinguished title for its Ford, chose finally the name Lord Elgin as perpetuating the memory of a famous former Governor-General, and appropriate to the hotel’s location on Elgin Street.

A New, Brisk Ottawa

INDEED the pleasantly languid pre-war Ottawa has disappeared entirely. The old ten-to-four-thirty, two - hours - for -lunch, time - out - forgolf, afternoon - tea, dress-for-dinner Ottawa no longer exists. In the new Ottawa, restaurants are sardine-packed at mealtimes with famished customers, all of them in a desperate hurry to get back to their jobs. If you aie laggard you may have to eat your lunch standing up. Salesmen and saleswomen in the crowded stores have no time any more to spend in amiable chit-chat. Too many impatient customers are clamoring for attention. In rush hours you’ll fight for a place on a street car; and try to get a taxi in a hurry ! Businessmen dash hither and yon, concerned with such pressing affairs as bids, deliveries, contracts and sub-contracts. Midnight electricity burns in many private offices and in most government departments.

Old-school Ottawans, strongly conscious of the social responsibilities that normally

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