Britannia’s “Society Square” over on Beatrice Street

In the 1887 Ottawa Journal reports of activities in “Britannia on the Bay” there are several references over the season to “Society Square.” Missing is any suggestion or hint as to what or where this might be. It was clear that the discerning reader was expected to know. Apparently anyone else didn’t matter.

Reading the various articles the predictable becomes clear, that “Society Square” is some particular area in Britannia where the creme de la creme have their summer residences. Ottawa luminaries such as City Treasurer T.H. Kirby, the paint merchant William Howe, etc clearly had their cottages close to one another and this cluster of Greatness had been dubbed “Society Square”, but where was it?

In this regard the City of Ottawa Directories are useless for two reasons. In the first place they do not start to include Britannia until 1911, by which point this particular node of civilization has apparently disappeared.

Secondly, street numbers are for downtown. Even by 1923, Britannia addresses consisted only of the street name and what side of the street one lived on, so that would not be much use to determine where “Society Square” was.

1901-1912

However, an 1885 article announcing who is summering out in Britannia does group the people by street name. Here we learn that Kirbys, the Howes, the Pennocks etc are all clustered on Beatrice St.

Excuse me, where?

Learning what street “Society Square” had been on is not so helpful when you’ve never heard of that street.

Nowhere on the 1901 (revised 1912) Insurance Survey is there a ‘Beatrice Street.’ The image at right is a thumbnail of the key telling you which maps cover the village (sheets 168 and 167), not the map itself which is very large scale ie 500′ – 1″.

At this scale the map shows annexes, porches, outbuildings, garages and sheds. There is no way to overlook an entire street, and there is no Beatrice Street! Not in Britannia at least.

Pulling out the trusty 1926 Map we confirm that … oh wait, there it is, tucked away in the NW corner roughly where the current Fuller Estate is, opposite the Britannia Yacht Club House. You miss it completely if you don’t magnify the image.

beatrice-st

How, or why this piece of Britannia did not appear on the 1912 Insurance Survey map is a mystery. Nor does appear in the index of “Ottawa’s Britannia”, although it is listed in their table of street names that changed in 1950 – 1960. Even so, a bit of a mystery since this was where a number of people who were pretty important to Britannia’s early history spent their time. How did it just disappear?

In fact, Beatrice Street almost did completely disappear. Other than the 1885 reference I could find only two references to Beatrice St in Britannia. The first is in Sept 1946 when we learn a building permit has been issued for some work on Beatrice St, Britannia. The last reference is the name change with respect to the annexation of Britannia by the City of Ottawa.

kirby-2017

At the time of annexation there was a Beatrice St in the Laurentian View neighbourhood (Westboro) which did still exist in 1950;  (it no longer does). As such one name needed to change, so Beatrice St, Britannia Bay became Kirby Rd, presumably after the the City Treasurer Kirby who was the focus of the article that first mentioned “Society Square” back in 1887.

For whatever reason “Society Square” is not mentioned after 1887. Maybe it was the en  courant expression that season, so passe by 1888, or perhaps some of the hoi polloi moved out of that particular little cluster. Maybe it was  an affectation of that particular Ottawa Journal writer and no one in Britannia ever actually used it. Regardless, it disappeared.

However, I was curious as to what happened to Beatrice St since the 1926 map has it as a partial street running only half a block south from Cassels. The modern Kirby Rd runs only half a block as well, but north from Rowatt (then Sparks).

Presumably at some point the street ran the entire block from Rowatt to Cassels. However, was it a straight street along the line of the current Kirby Rd? or did it, as it appears to on the 1926 Map, follow roughly the current drive way on the Fuller Estate. Did it curve half way? what happened?

The resolution of the aerial photographs from 1928 is too crude to tell much of anything. The 1958  photo is really not much better, and by 1965 Kirby is a half street and whatever happened has already happened.

However, the 1945 aerial photo seems to show (what will be) Kirby as much closer to the River, along the lines of where Beatrice appears on the 1926 Municipal map. Further, it seems to lead straight to a small cluster of buildings; could this be the original “Society Square”?

kirby-1945

I tried to find out more information about the creation of the Fuller Estate and what happened when it was created; when, what, who, etc. No luck. Nothing at all in fact.

Once upon a time there was a rather good magazine piece about the Fuller House, accompanied with many gorgeous photos. The link for that piece is still on Wikipedia, viz: ‘Family: When Simon Fuller designed and built his house at Britannia on the Bay, he drew on family traditions and on his own passion for the river to create a unique and wonderful setting for family life By Janet Uren Photography by Gordon King‘, but it’s 404 ie dead link.

However, the article is still on the internet archive. Apparently it was an article in the February/March 2009 issue of Ottawa Magazine. While it is a very interesting article about the Fullers and the main house, it really doesn’t help us with the history of the property, what became of Beatrice St and/or Kirby Rd, and when.

fuller-house
Fuller House from Ottawa Magazine

Someday it would be nice to get that story, given how important this location & the Fuller presence have been to the history of Britannia. Maybe the Fuller’s will release it as part of a family heritage project or something. Regardless, it is notable that as the corner where the social top rank of Britannia could be found, nothing has changed in 120 yrs except the name of the place and the name of the street.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

So “Society Square”, not mentioned since 1887, and Beatrice St, not mentioned since 1950, are are once more alive, if not well, on the internet.

Now we just have to figure out:

  1. Who, if anyone, Beatrice St was named for
  2. Where the heck in Britannia was “Starvation Point” (article below)

1Ottawa’s Britannia by Taylor, Eva and James Kennedy

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