The Fresh Air Cottage

The Fresh Air Cottage in Britannia was a charitable project of the King’s Daughters Guild. It was a facility where poor women could send or bring their children for a vacation at minimal cost.

While less of an issue in Ottawa, Fresh Air Homes were an attempt to give poorer children a brief respite from the polluted inner city air of many large cities in North America and Europe, particularly industrial centres. Usually there was an emphasis on fresh healthy diet and exercise along with a rural setting. They were not uncommon in the late 19th and early 20th Century

King’s Daughter’s Fresh Air Cottage

Open the Kings Daughters Gallery and “view image”, it’s worth it!

Some confusion

Sorting through all of the reports and accounts of the Ottawa Fresh Air Cottage one quickly becomes confused as to how many cottages there were, when did it/they open, where was it/they, etc.

In the caption on their Gallery the King’s Daughter’s imply that the cottage above operated from 1910 to 1946. A 1913 newspaper article states that “the idea” for a Fresh Air Home began in the spring of 1909. In fact, a similar had been circulating since 1885, and for a couple of years it looked very much like Britannia would be the site of a Children’s Convalescent Home, but that project went in a different direction.

In 1911 the King’s Daughter’s were fundraising to build a Fresh Air Cottage and the Architect Fred George offers to design it pro bono. In 1912 they were still fundraising, and apparently did rent a cottage on Cassels St next to the Boat Club House at a cost of $100 for the season.

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Source “Ottawa’s Britannia” by Eva Taylor

However, an article from May 1913  describes a King’s Daughter’s  Fresh Air Cottage in Clarella Park, Westboro, as having “been built last year.” A Westboro cottage would have meant the King’s Daughter’s had two, but the June 1914 article describes Ottawa as having a (one, singular) Fresh Air Cottage.

Out of almost 500 newspaper references to the King’s Daughter’s Fresh Air Cottage over 40+ yrs this is the only mention of one in Westboro. The King’s Daughter’s website makes no reference to it whatsoever.

It’s possible one was planned for Westboro, or even rented briefly, or perhaps this was simply sloppy journalism and the Westboro cottage never existed. The latter is the most likely explanation.

A July 1913 a newspaper article refers to the Cottage as having been “opened at Britannia a few years ago.”  Generally “a few” is taken to be ‘about three’, always ‘more than one’, but all other evidence points to the first cottage being rented for the 1912 season, so is this more bad journalism?

A June 1914 article states that the “original cottage” had proved inadequate and that the then “current one” had been built at a cost of $4000.  All well and good, except that in Dec 1913 it was announced that the  King’s Daughter’s had found a good lot with an existing “well built” cottage that is “perfectly adapted for the purpose” which they are determined to purchase.

Also in 1914 there is a Jan appeal for a 4 bedroom cottage as there had been too much demand the previous summer, a Feb appeal to help fund the building of a cottage near the Metropolitan [Electric] Company (now Yacht Club site), and in June 1914 it is promised that the “enlarged annex” to the cottage will be ready for occupation by July 1. In Nov 1914 an end of season report states that the new cottage was bought (not built) at a price of $2000 and an addition built for $1000.

Fresh Air Cottage, The Ottawa Journal, June 24, 1916

In her book Eva Taylor states that the Cottage opened during the War Years, “probably 1916”1. This is clearly false, but the error is easier to understand since in any given year there were often newspaper articles about the Cottage “Opening.”

One article would be referring to the opening being “soon”, the next announcing that it had opened “for the season” (eg here), the next referring to a “formal opening”, ie with some local minor person of note officiating at a small ceremony, and later announcing one or more days when the cottage was “open to the public”, ie special days for visitation and viewing by the public (eg here).

If one saw only one or two of those various articles it would be easy to mistake it for the announcement of the first ever opening of the Cottage since the articles often take it as given that the reader understood the context and so the article did not make the distinctions clear.

To add to the confusion, in 1924 the Kiwanis announced plans to build a “Fresh Air Cottage” in Britannia, although nothing seems to have come of it and I can find no other record of this project.

Where was it?

Where exactly was the Cottage? The first, rented Cottage is described as “next to the Boat Club House on Cassels.” The Club House is the same building that the Yacht Club now uses, so are we talking immediately next to it on the north side of Cassels St? It would seem so. Perhaps the Yacht Club has some records of this and more could be learned from them.

No source that I have found explicitly gives a precise location of the 1914 – 1946 Cottage, but there are numerous clues.  One article describes it as as on land formerly belonging to J.R. Booth, which puts it east of Britannia Rd (and not on it). Others describe it variously as surrounded by open fields, close to the Metropolitan [Electric] Company property (now the Yacht Club), with a clear view of the rapids, at the foot of Britannia Road, a stones throw from the River, and close by to facilities for tennis and dancing.

Taken together  the only building(s) that fit that description would be those in the photo below, tucked in the NW corner of the Mud Lake NCC property near the old apple orchard that was washed away in the 1876 flood.

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NE corner Britannia Village, 1928

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So at the end of the day it looks like there was one and only one “Fresh Air Cottage” at any one time. The King’s Daughter’s took it on as a project in 1910, but did not actually begin operating it until 1912. For the 1912 and 1913 seasons they rented property on Cassels next to the present Yacht Club. In 1914 they purchased an existing cottage just east of the corner of Cassels and Britannia, and built a large annex.

Over time they would add a separate cooking/dining hall, as well as an enclosed rainy day play/activity gazebo/out building, hence the appearance of a cluster of buildings rather than a single cottage. Hence also the the persistent references to having built the Cottage itself, which apparently they did not.

Life at The Cottage

In 1913 a stay at the cottage cost $2/week or 25 cents/day, and included supper and breakfast as well as lodging. A  July 1913 article reports the first Britannia Cottage as operating and housing 25 guests (normal capacity was 20) in . In Oct they report having housed 157 mothers with children since April. This 1914 article describes a typical days activity at the Cottage.

The Cottage was part of the Britannia community and residents pitched in. For example, ice was donated by Mrs Murphy, others helped out in other ways. The most significant support was from The Ottawa Journal, which every season for decades gave the Cottage lots of exposure: announcements, fundraising appeals, numerous “human interest” type coverage, and so on. No Journal reader could be unaware of the Cottage, and consequently unaware of Britannia.

The War Years and After

  • 1915 With the War on priority for stays at the Cottage was given to the families of soldiers;
  • June 1915  A new well was put in;
  • Aug 1918 the Duchess of Devonshire paid a visit ; a very big deal at the time;
  • 1922 the cottage with annex housed 52 children and 9 adults;
  • 1931 the Elks purchased an additional 100 feet of land (depth? square? other?) for the Cottage

The Great Depression to the War

June 17, 1935

Predictably fundraising became more difficult with the Great Depression, and the numbers of poor women and children needing service and support was swelling.

  • In 1931 the money comes in more slowly, the appeals are more hard sell, and the goal reached only very late.
  • In 1937 they managed to raise only half the required funds (approx $2000/season) by June.
  • In 1938 they delayed opening the Cottage until funds were assured.
  • 1939 was similar  with the cottage not even opening until early July,

WWII and After

The War meant a greater demand for the resources of the Cottage by the families of soldiers serving in the War, just as had happened in WWI.

It also meant much more competition for funds and other resources, funds that had already proved increasingly hard to get even before the war.

For fundraising 1940 proved to be even worse than 1939 (and here and here.). In the end it proved too much and in April 1944 the decision was made to close the Cottage for the duration of the war.

Then in July 1944:

During World War II, the Princess Alice Barracks Cabin at Britannia Bay provided a summer home for Royal Canadian Air Force (Women’s Division) personnel near the Britannia Boating Club‘s facilities for tennis,dancing and boating. Rented from the King’s Daughter’s Guild of Ottawa, the cabin featured 60 beds, a separate cookhouse and dining pavilion.[12]

The Fresh Air Cottage was never to reopen. One can only presume that with the many and various demands placed on charitable agencies as a consequence of the war, the King’s Daughter’s had to prioritize. Given how difficult the last decade of operation had been, the Fresh Air Cottage must have seemed too great an effort for the organization.

In 1946 the cottage was sold to become private residences, housing seven apartments1. The linens, extra clothing and other goods were donated to European war refugee relief.

fa-cottage-1958

After the war, the Fresh Air Cottages were rented to families as year round apartments. During a kitchen fire at the Fresh Air Cottage on Dec 11, 1952, Roger Murphy, aged 2 died and 26 residents were left temporarily homeless.[14] The Fresh Air Cottage on Cassels Street, was expropriated and demolished, and is now part of the conservation area around Mud Lake.

fr-cottage-1965

1 Ottawa’s Britannia by Eva Taylor

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