From rooming house to cozy home

By Tom Tanner

136 and 138 Glebe Avenue in the winter. Photo: Tom Tanner
136 and 138 Glebe Avenue in the winter. Photo: Tom Tanner

We were enthused by the possibilities and prepared to overlook the reality. Well, almost – the dining room made an impression. The sliding doors to the foyer were wired shut and there were three locks on the smaller door. Boxes of empty beer bottles filled the alcove and there was a mattress on the floor. But the motorcycle was the biggest surprise; we did not even notice the charming china cabinet built into the wall on that side of the room.

The sorry condition of the Glebe Avenue property was not a deal breaker in 1978 when we decided to buy the large semi-detached that operated as a rooming house. An opening between the two sides meant the landlord rented 11 rooms and three apartments. Every room had at least one lock. When we took possession the seller rummaged through the trunk of his car where he kept several boxes full of keys – for our new home and his other properties.

Tanner_5 During the 1970s the possibility of shared housing was a lively topic among our group of friends. Why should every family need their own washing machine, lawn mower or power tools? Co-operative living could mean help with child care, home renovation and other tasks. Eventually two sets of families actually bought homes in the Glebe. Of these four families, we are the only ones still living in our (now individualized) communal house.

Back chimney rebuilding. Photo: Tom Tanner
Back chimney rebuilding. Photo: Tom Tanner

The Glebe was quite affordable in the late 1970s. “Do-it-yourself” (DIY) was the watchword. But the Glebe Traffic Plan was installed in its initial temporary form, the Glebe Community Centre had opened and the Glebe Report had been publishing since 1973. The key players in the renaissance of our community were in place. There were still improvements to come; I remember standing at the corner of Lyon and Glebe in the spring before we moved in. Melting snow was exposing an abundance of dog “dirt” on tired lawns. The “stoop and scoop” law for pet owners was not yet in force.

136/138 Glebe Avenue reflects the stages of our community. Built by Ernest A. Hurdman, secretary of the Hurdman Lumber Company in 1909/1910, the building was under one deed with the owners living in 136 and renting 138. Milton H. Pettypiece, an osteopath, is listed as owner in 1919. There were tennis courts on the east side when George A. Clarke bought the house in 1928, but that didn’t last long as the next year saw construction begin for the new St. Matthew’s. The onset of the Great Depression made church financing a challenge, and we have been told that our house and two others were put up as collateral for a loan to finish the roof.

Tanner_4 When George A. Clark died, ownership passed to his wife Iva until 1950 when Rene and Lena Cholette bought the property. There are a lot of other names recorded as tenants. The house sheltered many people – as did many Glebe homes, especially during the Second World War when people flocked to the capital to help the war effort.

In 1960 or 1961, another era began when Ethel McCormick set up “Melanie Rest Inn for Aged”. We assume that this is when passages were knocked through the common wall between 136 and 138. The nursing home operated until 1972 or 1973. By 1975, Bill Levine was running a rooming house. The Tanner and Kuelz families purchased the property in 1978 and had it severed, Tanners buying 136 while Kuelzs bought 138. The neighbours were pleased to see two families moving from the suburbs intent on restoring a property that needed more than a bit of TLC.

George Clark, son of George A. Clark, lived in 136 from 1928 until 1946. His mother died when he was four (the Iva Clark mentioned above was his stepmother) and the third stained glass window on the west side of the St. Matthew’s sanctuary is dedicated to her memory. In 2007, George showed up in our back yard and came in to see his old home. Of course he told us some history. For example, the mismatched exterior bricks in the chimney for the foyer fireplace had always puzzled us. It turns out this is where a hole was knocked in the wall to release George who had been let down three storeys to clean out the chimney. He was a “scrawny kid,” but got stuck and could not be pulled up. The fire department was called but could not get him free so the bricks were removed to release him.

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 7.22.26 PM When we moved into 136/138, the passage was open between the two halves on the ground floor and in the basement. There was a lot of co-operation and sharing. This pioneering phase saw constant activity and the five children (two Tanners and three Keulzs – ages seven, six, five, four and three when we moved in) always had playmates. The openings between the houses inspired Joan Boswell, then living on Third Avenue, to include such a feature in Cut Off His Tale, a mystery novel set in the Glebe. After five years, however, the passages were closed as Tanners were going to Australia for a year of sabbatical leave. The two dwellings have been separate since 1983 and 138 has been sold twice.

Vision and hard work brought the Glebe back to being a desirable family neighbourhood. Now the battles are over intensification, and familiar houses are being replaced with modern multi-family designs. But the cream stone walls of St. Matthew’s reflect winter sun into our windows and the organ provides backyard concerts on summer evenings. Thirty-seven years after viewing the run-down rooming house in a community then somewhat shabby, we know we made the right decision.

Tom Tanner has been a Glebe Avenue resident for 37 years, and is a member of the Glebe Report board of directors.

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