Lower Town

East of Entrance Valley, Lower Town is where Bytown’s poorer residents resided. These citizens comprised the majority of the canal labourers, many of whom were recent immigrants to Upper Canada. Competing for low wages, many Lower Town inhabitants lived in small wooden shanties and makeshift homes, which were all they could afford. Poor living conditions, paired with workers’ habits of excessive alcohol consumption, meant that violent conflict was common on this side of Sappers Bridge.

Points of Interest

Drawing satirizing the harsh Canadian winters to new emigrantsEnlarge

[Source: The Emigrants’ Welcome to Canada. J. Cruikshank, W.H. Coverdale collection of Canadiana Manoir Richelieu collection, Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1970-188-2056, C-041067]

The Emigrants’ Welcome to Canada

Most Irish labourers arrived in Canada with clothing woefully inadequate for the harsh climate, often clad in what surveyor John MacTaggart described as “breeches that bind at the knee and stockings.” Such attire made the Irish easily distinguishable from the better-prepared French Canadians and British, many of who wore linen shirts, vests, jackets, mittens, headgear, and appropriate boots. The illustration above, titled “The Emigrants’ Welcome to Canada” and published in London, England, by O. Hodgson, satirizes the harsh Canadian winters.

Learn more about Labour » X

Get Flash Player
This video requires Javascript to be enabled and the Adobe Flash Player plugin. The plugin is available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

[Source: Donald Kennedy, “Plan of Bytown with its limits shewing the exact situation of every street & lot”, 1842, Library and Archives Canada, S/440/Ottawa/1842 , NMC 19056; “The Development of Lower Town” [Animation]. Dr. Stephen Fai. Carleton Immersive Media Studio. 2012.; Ottawa City, Canada West, (Lower Town) from Government Hill, looking down the Ottawa River and showing the locks of the Rideau Canal. Edwin Whitefield, Charles Berkeley Powell fonds, Library and Archives Canada, accession number R11188-1, C-000600;]

Duration: 50 seconds
Download "The Development of Lower Town" (.mp4 23 MB) View the transcript of this video.

The Development of Lower Town

Located on lower ground to the east of the proposed canal site, Lower Town (now the Byward Market area of downtown Ottawa) remained an undesirable cedar swamp until canal construction began in 1826. The need for new roads and housing projects for the workers led to the draining and surveying of the land for roads and lots. Once developed, the area was inhabited by a large number of devout Catholics, mostly of French-Canadian and Irish descent. This demographic explains the early presence of the beautifully designed Notre Dame Basilica. The Catholic influence is also found in present street names, including St. Patrick, St. Andrew, and St. Joseph streets, while Guigues Avenue commemorates the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Ottawa (who served from 1847 to 1874). As most of the original houses were built of wood, they either deteriorated over time or were lost in fires. It wasn’t until 1843, when Lower Town residents were first permitted to own their own properties, that they began to invest in more durable building materials.

Learn more about Bytown » X
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.

Learn more about Community » X

Get Flash Player
This video requires Javascript to be enabled and the Adobe Flash Player plugin. The plugin is available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

[Source: Pipe “Mugrun”, 1820- 1840, clay & wood, Bytown Museum, J8.]

Duration: 15 seconds
Download "Clay Pipe" (.mp4 380 KB) View the transcript of this video.

Clay Pipe

Clay pipes were very common and easily replaced if lost or broken. This particular pipe, made of wood and clay, was found in an archaeological dig at the Clowes Lock Station on the Rideau Canal. It is thought to have belonged to one of the canal workers.

Learn more about Community » X

Get Flash Player
This video requires Javascript to be enabled and the Adobe Flash Player plugin. The plugin is available at http://get.adobe.com/flashplayer/

[Source: Crusie Lamp, 19th C., iron, Bytown Museum, L45.]

Duration: 10 seconds
Download "Crusie Lamp" (.mp4 1 MB) View the transcript of this video.

Crusie Lamp

Crusie lamps are simple, uncovered oil and wick lamps that were common in the nineteenth century, especially amongst the poorer classes. The lamps consist of two sections. The first section holds the oil in a recess with the wick on a lip. The second section, shown here, is designed to catch any of the drippings from the wick or from overfilling the lamp.

Learn more about Community » X
Photograph of men selling lumber in Lower TownEnlarge

[Source: Wood market, Ottawa, Ont. John Boyd fonds, John Boyd / Library and Archives Canada, accession number 1971-120 NPC, PA-085978]

Stoney Monday Riots

There were many incidents of political unrest in Bytown, and at the height of the turmoil was one significant event that came to be known as the Stoney Monday Riots. At the time, the political discussion centred on where the seat of Parliament would be and Bytown was selected as a possibility to be visited by Lord Elgin on his tour. In preparation, Bytown residents met to prepare a non-partisan greeting for the governor; however, deep-seated political differences between Tories and Reformers resurfaced. Reformers disagreed with the visit and the disturbance quickly led to stones being thrown back and forth until one man, David Borthwick, lay dead on the ground. This sparked the riot that would continue for days as tensions escalated. This photograph, dated January 2, 1922, shows the place in which the Stoney Monday Riots took place on September 17, 1849. The streets of Lower Town in particular were unsafe for days following this particular violent event.

Learn more about Community » X
Upper TownUpper Town