At the turn of the 20th Century, Sandy Hill was Ottawa’s choice residential neighbourhood and many members of Ottawa’s political and business elite lived there. Nothing better illustrates the cozy relationship that existed at the time among the members of this elite than the two buildings facing each other at the heart of Sandy Hill at the corner of Chapel St and Laurier Ave. E.: Laurier House and All Saints Church. In 1896, a grateful Liberal Party purchased the graceful Second Empire house at 335 Theodore Ave. (now Laurier Ave. E.) to serve as the home for Canada’s new Prime Minister, Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
The construction of All Saints Anglican Church was started two years later. Once completed, All Saints quickly became known as a society church because of the high number of distinguished parishioners who worshipped there. Let us look at the men behind each of these buildings.
Canada had no official residence for prime ministers until 1952. Laurier was not a wealthy man — as Leader of the Opposition, he had rented rooms at the Russell Hotel — and it was widely agreed that the Prime Minister needed a suitable venue where to host official functions. In his diaries, Mackenzie King notes that he was told that four men had arranged the transaction: W.C. Edwards, George Cox, Thomas Ahearn and one more whose name is illegible. A biography of Cairine Wilson names a different set of wealthy Liberals — W.C. Edwards, Robert Mackay, Newell Bate and William Hutchinson.
W.C. Edwards was a rich lumber baron who owned one of biggest sawmill operations in Canada with plants in Rockland, New Edinburgh and western Quebec. He was also the Liberal Member of Parliament for Russell for several years before Laurier named him to the Senate in 1903. When he moved to Ottawa in 1908, he bought the large house at 24 Sussex Ave. (later Dr.) and lived there till his death.
His older brother John built his rambling Edwardian house in 1902/03 next door to the Lauriers at 345 Laurier Ave. E. (the house has since been replaced by an apartment building). John’s oldest son, Gordon, would be a Liberal MP between 1926 and 1930. His youngest son, C.M. Edwards lived at 407 Wilbrod St. (now Australia House) between 1920 and 1937, just a block away.
In 1885, W.C. Edwards married Catherine Wilson. Her brother Norman followed W.C. as the MP for Russell (1904-08) after the latter was named Senator and he became manager of the W.C. Edwards Co. mills in Rockland. In 1908, MP Norman Wilson shared his Commons desk with the rookie MP from Waterloo North, Mackenzie King. They remained lifelong friends.
In 1909, Norman Wilson married Cairine Mackay, the daughter of Robert Mackay, a prominent Montreal businessman, a good friend of W.C. Edwards (W.C. Edwards was best man at the wedding). Cairine had been introduced to her future husband by Zoë Laurier at a Governor-General’s ball in 1905. As a young woman living in Montreal, Cairine stayed several times at the Lauriers when she was visiting her father in Ottawa whom Laurier had named Senator in 1901.
In 1918, the Wilsons moved from Rockland to Sandy Hill in Ottawa. On the evening of February 14, 1930, Mackenzie King, who by then was Prime Minister and lived in Laurier House, visited Cairine Wilson at her home at 192 Daly Ave. and announced his intention to name her Canada’s first female senator.
The other men who may have helped purchase Laurier House were all successful businessmen and donors to the Liberal Party:
- Newell Bate was the half-brother of Henry and Charles T. Bate. Charles served a term as mayor of Ottawa (1884), as director of several companies and was a co-founder of the Bank of Ottawa. Henry ran the family’s grocery business and was also a real estate developer and a philanthropist.
- William H. Hutchinson was the managing director of McKay Milling Co. Ltd.
- George Albertus Cox was a Toronto businessman who made his fortune in insurance, banks and railways. Laurier named him to the Senate in 1896.
- Thomas Ahearn was a highly successful Ottawa-based engineer, inventor and industrialist who, among other things, introduced electricity to Ottawa as well as the electric streetcar.
The lawyer who arranged the Liberal Party’s purchase of 335 Theodore Ave. was Richard W. Scott, a former mayor of Ottawa, a former minister in the government of Alexander Mackenzie and a future one in Laurier’s cabinet. Scott lived at 274 Daly Ave. (Sir Charles Tupper’s former home) and was a member of a large family. Through marriage, the Scotts would later become related to the Gilmours (lumber) and the Blairs (politics).
All Saints Church
Henry Bate ran the retail arm of the family’s grocery business along with his half-brother Newell. He also had substantial real estate holdings in Sandy Hill. He paid for the construction of All Saints Church across the street from Laurier House and donated the building debt-free to the parish. He was a director of the Bank of Ottawa, the General Trust Corporation, president of the Russell Hotel and Theatre Company, the Beechwood Cemetery and the Aylmer Road Company. He was also the largest investor in the construction of the Rideau Club. Laurier named him the first chair of the Ottawa Improvement Commission and he was later knighted.
Henry Bate was married to Catherine Cameron whose brother John built Stadacona Hall (395 Laurier Ave. E.) which Sir John A. Macdonald rented for 5 years after 1878. The Bates, the Macdonalds and the Woods (see below) all summered in St Patrick, close to Rivière-du-Loup on the lower St Lawrence River.
Some of the All Saints parishioners included:
- Sir Robert Borden, Leader of the Conservative Party (1901-1920) and later Prime Minister (1911-1920). Borden was an active parishioner for 37 years until his death.
- Frederick Booth helped to manage J.R. Booth Ltd., the biggest industrial operation in Ottawa.
- David Finnie, Managing Director of the Bank of Ottawa, Vice-President of the Ottawa Board of Trade, Vice-President of the County of Carleton Protestant Hospital, President of the Royal Ottawa Golf Club, Honourary Treasurer of the Canadian Patriotic Fund, Ottawa Branch.
- Sir George Perley, Member of Parliament, Cabinet Minister under both the Borden and Bennett governments, Canadian High Commissioner to London, member of the first Imperial War Cabinet in 1917, a signatory of the treaties concluding the First World War, a delegate to the League of Nations. He and his siblings donated the Perley Hospital for the Incurables. He was Governor of St Luke’s Hospital, director of the Bank of Ottawa, President of the Rideau Club and the Royal Ottawa Golf Club and directed the 1900 Ottawa and Hull Fire Relief Fund which distributed about $1 million, extended payments to over 3,000 people and helped finance the construction of 750 buildings.
- James Woods, President of Woods Manufacturing Co., President of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, President of he Ottawa Board of Trade, president of several real estate companies, president of Ashbury College and the County of Carleton Protestant General Hospital, Lieutenant-Colonel of the Governor-General’s Foot Guards.
Some other important Ottawa businessmen, while not Anglican, lived close to All Saints and contributed to Sandy Hill’s pre-eminence at the beginning of the 20th century. These included:
- Michael P and William H Davis lived respectively at 565 Rideau St. and 404 Laurier Ave. E. With their brother James T. (who lived in Montreal), they ran a large construction firm that built railways, canals and bridges.
- Cameron M. Edwards lived at 407 Wilbrod ave. A war hero, a founder of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires and a recipient of an international award from the Salvation Army, Edwards also donated some of the land for the construction of Carleton University.
- John Mather lived at 453 Laurier Ave. E. and at the turn of the 20th Century was heavily involved in the development of northwest Ontario and Manitoba, including lumber, grain and newspapers. He became a director of the Bank of Ottawa in 1879.
- Hugh F. McLachlin lived at 312 Laurier Ave. E. (now Amnesty International) from 1909 to 1912 (his family continued to inhabit the house until 1920). He was President of McLachlin Brothers, the third largest lumber operation in the Ottawa Valley after J.R. Booth and W.C. Edwards and in 1910 became a director of the Bank of Ottawa.
Beside a neighbourhood, these men shared several other things in common: many were directors of the Bank of Ottawa; some were related by marriage: James Woods married one of John Edwards’ daughters, Ida; their daughter, Ida Evelyn, married John Rudolphus Booth, John Frederick’s son and J.R.’s grandson. They belonged to the same clubs and they sponsored the same social causes.
The table below summarizes some of these relationships.
|Sandy Hill resident
|All Saints parishioner
|Bank of Ottawa director
|Rideau Club member
|Sir Henry Bate
|Sir Robert Borden
|Sir George Perley
* Served a term as President of the Rideau Club
At the beginning of the 20th Century, Ottawa was a much smaller town than it is today and it should not surprise us that business and political circles intersected closely. While similar intersections clearly persist today, what makes them particularly memorable a little over a hundred years ago was their geographical concentration in a few streets of Sandy Hill: the Prime Minister’s residence and one of Ottawa’s leading churches faced each other across Laurier Ave. and brought together cabinet ministers, senior civil servants and rich businessmen. As Anson Gard, the American journalist, remarked in 1904, “I have never before seen, in any city, in any land, more people of prominence living in so small an area.”
 See entry for 16 January 1923.
 See Valerie Knowles First Person : A Biography of Cairine Wilson, Canada’s First Woman Senator (Dundurn Press, 1988, Toronto), p 43).
Charlesworth, Hector (1919) A Cyclopedia of Canadian Biography (Toronto, Hunter-Rose Company) Available online at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/53635/53635-h/53635-h.htm
Demski, Peter (2002) A Short History of 312 Laurier Avenue East, Ottawa, Canada (mimeographed)
Gard, Anson (1904) The Hub and the Spokes – Ottawa of Today (Emerson Press, Ottawa)
Valery Knowles (1988) First Person : A Biography of Cairine Wilson, Canada’s First Woman Senator (Dundurn Press, Toronto)
E Tumak, P Robertson (1998, mimeographed) A short history of All Saints Anglican Church, Sandy Hill, Ottawa prepared in support of heritage designation under the Ontario Heritage Act and the Parish Centennial Celebrations.
C.H. Little (1965) The Rideau Club – A short History The first 100 years 1865 – 1965 (no publisher)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Rudolphus_Booth#Death,_descendants_and_legacy accessed 27 February 2020
Woods, Shirley E. jr (1980) Ottawa The Capital of Canada (Doubleday Canada, Toronto)