Local Leadership

As with any developing community whose new inhabitants are in states of transition and transiency, Bytown took time to grow – not just architecturally, but socially and culturally as well. Because its residents had arrived from various places and backgrounds, they had very different expectations of what their new home should be. New social institutions like hospitals, churches, and schools played an important role in establishing a sense of belonging and community at a time when many felt socially isolated and overwhelmed by change. Other groups and societies that emerged during the first half of the nineteenth century included the French Canadian Institute, Friends of Ireland, Bytown Benevolent Society, Ottawa Mechanics Institute, Ottawa Valley Lumber Association, and Sisters of Charity. These institutions helped provide support and guidance for new immigrant workers and their families, while advocating on their behalf in times of need.

Points of Interest

Photograph of the Maison Mère des Soeurs Grises de la Croix buildingEnlarge

[Source: Maison mère 1885 3, Archives des Sœurs de la Charité d’Ottawa]

First Non-Denominational Hospital at Bytown

It was in July of 1846 that Mère Bruyère petitioned the Marquis of Anglessy, Commander General of the Ordnance, for property and a grant for a non-denominational hospital in Bytown. The building shown here would succeed the modest structure located at 167 St. Patrick Street in Lower Town. Although Maison Mère des Soeurs Grises de la Croix was established in 1845, this photograph represents the hospital as it stood in 1885. The hospital still stands today, located on the corner of Sussex and Bruyère streets, a few blocks north of Ottawa’s Byward Market.

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[Source: Daniel O’Connor fonds, MG24-I107, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN number 98813]

Duration: 40 seconds
Download "Friends of the Irish Organization" (.mp4 21 MB) View the transcript of this video.

Friends of the Irish Organization

During Bytown’s early history, prominent Irish citizen Daniel O’Connor founded the Friends of the Irish (FOI) organization. This group provided much-needed support and camaraderie for Bytown’s Irish population, which was under constant scrutiny from other citizens. This specific document outlines the FOI’s concern for the oppressed still living in Ireland, and goes on to explain that members of the organization assembled in Bytown “for the cause of humanity, the cause of civil and religious liberty, the cause for which the cries of the world are raised.”

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[Source: Daniel O’Connor fonds, MG24-I107, Library and Archives Canada, MIKAN number 98813]

Duration: 47 seconds
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Sisters of Charity

In this letter, dated December 15, 1847, Daniel O’Connor, writing as the Chairman of the Board of Health, defends his decision to vote against remuneration for the Sisters of Charity. Addressing his fellow Bytown residents, O’Connor explains his choice of the Emigration Agent over the Board of Health to fund the Sisters of Charity, and refutes the claim that he has somehow abandoned his “Catholicity” as a result.

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Photograph of men posing in front of Fire Station No. 2 in Bytown Enlarge

[Source: Fire Station, No. 2 Ottawa, Ont. William James Topley, Topley Series TXD, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1936-270 NPC, PA-0126

Lower Town’s First Fire Brigade

Uncontrolled fire was the source of much turmoil and devastation in Bytown’s early history. Two days following a particularly tragic market fire, the residents of Lower Town called a meeting to discuss the purchase of a fire engine and the establishment of a small fire department to prevent further devastation. Sixty pounds was quickly raised for a down payment on the specialized vehicle, which was purchased from the Alliance British and Foreign Life Assurance Company in London. By November of 1837, the fire engine had been tested in Montreal and delivered to recipients in Lower Town. Instituted in Lower Town in the winter of 1837, the fire brigade was composed mainly of former military men, as they much preferred grappling with fires to grappling with the unruly and often violent Shiners. This photograph is taken from a much later date when formal fire stations had been established to serve the Bytown community.

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