The Britannia Children’s Convalescent Home

SPOILER ALERT!: Like Britanniaville, The Britannia Children’s Convalescent Home was never to be, or at least not in Britannia.

Still, it is part of our Britannia history because, for a couple of years at least, it made Britannia very much a focus for ‘High Society’ in Ottawa. As well, it is entirely possible that the Convalescent Home and it’s strange history was the genesis for the idea of the Fresh Air Cottage in Britannia.

That a children’s convalescent home ought to be built in Britannia was the dream of Mrs Annie Henrietta Lewis (nee Marguerite). With the founding of the Ottawa Chapter of the Ministering Children’s League Mrs Lewis saw an opportunity to realize that vision.

restful-workThe Ministering Children’s League (hereafter MCL) was founded by the Countess of Meath  in 1885 in London, UK, and and in 1886 they already had branches in Ottawa, Toronto, New York and beyond. By 1903 their worldwide membership was over 40,000.

The Church of England’s 1887 Parish Guide has an entire chapter devoted to the then two year old MCL, which gives you a sense of what kind of influence the League had.

The Ottawa Branch was founded when Lady Brabazon, the Countess of Meath herself, visited Ottawa in 1885. The first President of the Ottawa MCL was Mrs Lewis, the wife of John Lewis, the Bishop (later ArchBishop) of Ontario.

As mentioned, the Britannia Children’s Home was Mrs Lewis’ personal vision, but she became quite ill in June 1886 and died shortly after. The Marchiones of Lansdown [sic], wife of the Fifth Marquis of Lansdowne, Governer General of Canada, then assumed the Presidency.

Nonetheless, The Children’s Home remained the main project  of the “The Ministering Children’s League” Ottawa Chapter and they began fundraising for it immediately.

By mid-Dec 1886 they had architects plans for a building and had already raised $1,000 of the anticipated $3,000 cost.

Given the high social status of the MCL members they were able to do some serious fundraising, including an event at the Grand Opera House with the Mayor and “numerous members of Parliament and Senators.” in attendance.

Other events included  “The World’s Fair” or “The Fair of All Nations” where there was to be an exhibit of W. Drummond’sgreat picture The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter which was expected to be quite popular. It was later deemedan event in the art life of Ottawa” by those fortunate enough to have seen it.

An April 5, 1887 meeting still refers to the Britannia Children’s Home”, followed by several weeks of intense promotion of “The World’s Fair.”

After this Britannia is never again mentioned in relation to the Children’s Home.

In fact, there is no more mention of the Home at all until July 14th when the Children’s Home is suddenly announced to be “open to patients.”

A week later they have the official, formal opening of the “Children’s Convalescent Home” with all the Hoi Polloi in attendance.

In the article important information like who attended and what they said is itemized in great detail. Trivial information like where the Home actually was and what services it provided are left to the very end. How it came to be there and what became of the Britannia proposal are not mentioned at all. One important fact that is mentioned is that this location is to be temporary.

The location in question was ‘Gleniffer House’, “situated on a gently rising hill and commands a splendid view of the east end of the city.”  An 1893 Journal  advertises a property known as “Gleniffer” as for sale “near Rideau Hall.” In 1897 the Grey Nuns purchase the Gleniffer property for the construction of a new “St Joseph’s Orphans Home.” The 1909 City Directory lists the St Joseph’s Orphans Home as being at the intersection of Rideau Terrace and Springfield Ave in New Edinburgh, so this would seem to have been the site.

Regardless of whatever other factors may have been a consideration, the change of location makes sense given the change in the envisioned role of the proposed facility.

For a Convalescent Home, the country air and open space of Britannia would seem an obvious benefit. For a Hospital, which had become more and more the main role of the idea, a more central, accessible location makes a lot more sense.

This is particularly true as in 1887 the Electric Railway did not yet exist, so Britannia was a long carriage, or flag stop train ride away from Ottawa. How much more a burden would this be for the families of poor children for whom the facility was supposedly meant?

Logical though that may be, as this Aug 1887 Letter to the Editor shows, Britannia was not amused by the decision,

In a Nov 1887 article the Hospital is reported to have hired several trained nurses and to be doing well. In May of 1888 the MCL purchased the home of the late Mr Whitcher “on the banks of the Rideau River” for $4,000 to be the new home of the Hospital.

Whitcher House is at 197 Wurtemburg Street and is currently the home of the Turkish Embassy. It was built in 1869 and expanded by the Ottawa Children’s Hospital, who occupied it from 1888 to 1908 (or 1904).

The Whitcher House

In Aug 1888 a music and light show fundraiser was held in Britannia to support the Britannia Ottawa Children’s Convalescent Home and Hospital. The troupe of wandering German Minisrels [sic] were expected to be a big hit.

In a 1892 report it is noted that the the name “Convalescent Home” was used for only a few months after opening in 1888, after which it became “The Ottawa Children’s Hospital”, reflecting the real focus of the new institution.

Lady Brabazon, The Countess of Meath, foundress of the Ministering Children’s League

The report suggests that the Hospital was doing reasonably well, but that a larger space was needed. In Sept 1894 the MCL was offering to sell the Whitcher House for use as a Maternity Hospital, but the asking price of $8,000 was deemed too steep.

For the next decade there is occasional mention of a donation or fundraiser for the Hospital every couple of years, but little else.

Of course life went on, for example nurse Mary Ellen ‘Minnie’ Affleck was working at the hospital prior to volunteering for the Boer War, but the obsession of Ottawa’s High Society with the Hospital seems to have ended once it was established.

In 1904 there is a short piece about the “urgent needs” of the Hospital (clothing, particularly shoes and socks), but then it more or less disappears from newspaper accounts until the 1930s.

Indeed, from 1904 to 1932 the only mention I can find is the 1911 report of the Ministering Children’s League, which boasts that “In Canada a Convalescent Home for Children has been built at Ottawa.

Carleton County Protestant General Hospital, Rideau St

I can find no record from this period of exactly when the Hospital moved from Whitcher House, or where it moved to.

In 1942 the Hospital is at 635 Rideau St,  quite close to the Whitcher House location, and in all likelihood this is where it moved to in 1908, but that is speculation.

This would have put it closer to the then Ottawa Maternity Hospital (457 Rideau) and the Carleton County Protestant General Hospital (589 Rideau, Wallis House).

NB: Under the heading “Hospitals” the 1923 Ottawa Directory lists the Ottawa Maternity Hospital as being at 635 Rideau. In the Misc listings it gives the Ottawa Maternity Hospital as being at 457 Rideau, and the “Ottawa Protestant Hospital” (General? Children’s? Other?) as 459 Rideau.

In the street listings the Ottawa Maternity Hospital is again listed at 635 Rideau and the Carleton County Protestant General Hospital at 589 Rideau. It has no listing for the Children’s Hospital at all, anywhere, in any of the name variants.

So who knows what to make of it?

At some point in or before 1926 the name changed to “The Ottawa Protestant Children’s Hospital”, perhaps to distinguish it from the Ottawa Catholic Hospital.

In the 1930s there are occasional mentions in the press; a fundraiser in 1932, an education program in 1935,  graduation announcements for nurses in 1935 and1939  (and here), various talks and donations, but nothing of substance.

In 1940 a one story addition to the Hospital was built, as well as some interior renovations.

Ottawa Maternity Hospital, Rideau St

From 1939 to 1942 there are once more frequent articles and notices (hundreds actually) about the Hospital in the Ottawa Journal, but they are almost exclusively funding appeals or reports of funding shortfalls and financial difficulties.

In Sept 1941 we learn that less than half of the required $11,500 funds had been raised

In May 1943 the sad decision was taken to close the Ottawa Protestant Children’s Hospital for good.

The property was donated to Children’s Aid (Society) to continue the work of caring for children, and the medical  equipment was donated to the Grace Hospital

So the Britannia Children’s Convalescent Home was never actually in Britannia, but no doubt the women who made up the The King’s Daughter’s Guild in 1909 were part of the same circles of those who had planned and worked to create the Children’s Hospital. Even if not, given all of the attention it got in those formative years, the Guild women would  certainly have been well aware of the idea of a children’s facility in Britannia.

So it is entirely possible that in the end the Convalescent Home was responsible for the eventual existence of the The Britannia Fresh Air Cottage some 20 years later, in a strange and convoluted way realizing Annie Henrietta Lewis’ dream.

In another ironic parallel, both the Hospital and the Fresh Air Cottage came to their ends within a year of one another, for virtually identical reasons.






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