One Renfrew is a memory now

One Renfrew in the glory of its heyday

By Diane McIntyre

If you are walking through Central Park this spring, you may notice something is missing. The one-of-a-kind English Tudor-style ivy-covered cottage at 1 Renfrew Avenue, east of Lyon, has been demolished.

The house was designed and built in 1924 on what was then known as Central Park Terrace for Mr. and Mrs. Payne. After Mr. Payne died, it was purchased by Charlotte Whitton, mayor of Ottawa and Canada’s first woman mayor. The neighbours had many stories to tell about Whitton’s presence on the street. During her tenure, this street always had snow removal priority. The street name was changed to Renfrew Avenue, presumably because of her roots in Renfrew County. The house was sold by Whitton’s estate to Fran and Edmund Clark (who was president and CEO of TD Bank) until they wanted a larger home for their expanding young family.

When I first bought the house in 1979, the front garden had Virginia Creeper vines covering the house and a wild mass of hollyhocks everywhere, some mature peonies and a very small front lawn. I decided that butterflies and birds and squirrels deserved a more welcoming space so I transformed the front lawns into flower gardens. Every spring the garden would burst into joyous colour with a show of perennial spring flowers – forsythia, daffodils, tulips, hyacinths and narcissus, followed by lilacs, irises, peonies, roses, daisies, black eyed Susans and later by phlox, greenery that welcomed butterflies and birds and provided shelter for a couple of chipmunks, a few toads and several stray cats. The side garden that stretched along the sidewalk also had established flower beds and was planted with spring bulbs, daisies, iris and lupins. The side lawn originally was sloped toward the park so I built a retaining wall to build up the garden at one end and created a sunken stone patio that joined the pathway along the back fence. The sunken patio of pink sandstone featured a wraparound bench wall that provided lots of seating in a private enclave, a nice space for gatherings, sing songs, family parties and organizing meetings.

Several of my family members stayed with me during their time in Ottawa, preferring to come home to family rather than to an empty apartment. My godfather, the Hon. Robert Layton, minister of mines and chair of the Progresive Conservative Party caucus (a red Tory) stayed for several years prior to his retirement. My cousin, the Hon. Jack Layton, when elected leader of the NDP, asked if he could move into his “Dad’s room,” and Olivia Chow, Jack’s wife, joined us for a few years after she was elected as an MP.

This house was always an active community space with an open door welcoming and billeting lots of people visiting the city for meetings and other good causes. The dining room and living room provided space for numerous organizations and committee meetings such as the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, various environment committees, school groups, singing groups and the Harperman cross country singalong planning group (remember “it’s time for you to go”?). Some months found the dining room filled with stacked cartons of Girl Guide cookie boxes or Harperman signs, or buzzing with my 1994 mayoral election campaign volunteers.

Over the 39 years that 1 Renfrew was our home, we restored original woodwork, refinished floors, brought wiring up to code and added insulation in the basement and attic. When work was being done on the street in 2017, I had new copper piping for water and meter installed, soil replaced and 150 more spring bulbs planted to welcome a new family.

When I sold the house in January 2018, I had been assured by real estate agents that the purchasers wanted only to make a few minor additions, so I was surprised when it was still empty in the spring.

One Renfrew rapidly deteriorating in the elements, January 2019 Photos: Courtesy of D. McIntyre

In May 2018, city notices on the front door stated, “Before June 11, 2018, apply for and obtain permits under the Building Code Act and City Council approval, pursuant to the Ontario Heritage Act.” Another posted notice stated, “This building is regulated by the Ontario Heritage Act.” It also stated that the owner must protect the house from the elements with tarps. During the summer, blue tarps were in place but in early winter the tarps were torn, windows were missing and sections of exterior walls had been torn out. I called the city, and asked why it wasn’t being protected. I was told that no new building permits had been given. In January 2019 while I was out of the country, I heard that a demolition permit had been granted. Neighbours wrote that, to their surprise, the house was already gone.

Fortunately, memories can last forever – of a charming house, many happy occasions, wonderful neighbours and many happy conversations shared in front of a roaring fire. But I wonder what’s happened to the stray cat, Nelson, who thought it was his second home.

Diane McIntyre is the former owner of the house at 1 Renfrew, now demolished. She has been an active member of the Glebe community who served on the GCA board for many years and chaired school councils at Mutchmor, Glashan and Glebe Collegiate.

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