1885 – 1968
Ambrose O’Brien lived at 453 Laurier Ave. E. (now le Cordon Bleu) between 1923 and 1940. Before that, he had lived for six years down the street at 413 Laurier Ave. in a large house that no longer exists. The house was renovated in 1928 by the architectural firm of Noffke, Morin and Sylvester in the style of a Tudor Revival mansion, as seen today. In 1930, he built a country retreat named Kincora Lodge on a promontory overlooking Meech Lake in what is now Gatineau Park. A recognized Federal Heritage Building, the lodge has recently been converted into a boutique hotel, the O’Brien Chelsea.
O’Brien was the son of Michael John O’Brien, the legendary Renfrew businessman whose interests grew to include railway construction, silver mines, power generation, manufacturing, lumber, agriculture and real estate. MJ O’Brien also raised and financed a battalion to build railways in France during World War 1. As his father aged, Ambrose became the managing director of the sprawling conglomerate MJ O’Brien Ltd., headquartered at 140 Wellington Ave in Ottawa. In 1924, the company introduced life and health insurance for its employees, a rare measure for Canadian businesses at the time.
O’Brien had had his own business interests before managing the family firm. He is best remembered today for having founded le Canadien hockey club in 1909 as part of a wholesale reorganization of professional hockey in Eastern Canada that saw the emergence of two competing hockey leagues, one being the National Hockey Association which went on to become the National Hockey League. O’Brien owned le Canadien for only a year, the idea always having been to cede ownership to a Montreal-based company. He was inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962.
O’Brien married the daughter of an Ottawa lawyer, Mary Adele Gorman, in 1914. They had five sons together, all of whom served during World War 2, one dying in action. O’Brien lot both his mother and sister-in-law to the Spanish Flu in 1918.
In the early 1940s, with all five sons in the service, O’Brien leased the house to the Department of National Defence, which used it as a residence for the Women’s Royal Canadian Navy Service (WRENS). The house’s 13 bedrooms, seven full bathrooms, and seven fireplaces made it ideal for housing the WRENS. Starting in 1952, Le Cercle universitaire occupied the home for almost five decades. It now houses the Cordon Bleu Cooking School.