This site is about the community of Britannia in Ottawa, Canada. Specifically it is about the history, but what is history?
The site was created in response to several things that I became increasingly aware of:
First, that there is an awful lot of information out there, but it can be very hard to find, is not necessarily well organized, and often just part of some other story or piece.
Second, that knowledge is being lost all of the time as people die off, records get destroyed, etc.
Third, there are social media groups where interesting facts and documentation of our history appear, but then they disappear below the bottom of the screen. I thought it would be good to capture some of that knowledge and make it less ephemeral; ie available on an ongoing basis.
Finally, that there seems to be an interest, at least by those who spent a significant part of their life in the community. For some it is because they lived in Britannia for an extended period or for important formative years, or knew the community through vacations or family. Whatever the reason, this community is important to them, and this site is meant to help them understand the community better.
That said, this site hopes to be a portal to existing information without, for the most part, repeating or copying it. Rather the purpose is make that information easier to find and to organize it within the context of Britannia. Original content will be restricted to filling in gaps, pulling some of the other information together, and adding to it. More on that can be found here.
At this time the site is still pretty bare bones and rough, and who knows if and when it will become truly substantive. That will depend in part on how much interest there is. The web platform for this site allows for multiple users, which means as many people as care to can become contributors and curators of the site, be it simply by adding pictures, by generating content, or helping to administer it. Get in touch if you think that may interest you.
The simple answer is covered by Wikipedia, but that is an answer based on geography.
Geography is important, but defining “Britannia” from a historical perspective gets complicated as it embraces the social. “Britannia” becomes an idea and a set of life experiences as much as a physical place.
So, what is Britannia?
By North American standards Britannia is a relatively old community and quite a bit of information already exists. This site hopes to be a portal to that information without, for the most part, repeating or copying it. Rather the purpose is make it easy to find and to organize it within the context of Britannia.
What is and isn’t Britannia?
For the purposes of this site we more or less follow the boundaries of “Britannia Village” as defined in the Ottawa Neighbourhood Study, but reality is not so clear cut.
Strictly speaking Britannia Village is the old village bounded by the Ottawa River and the NCC bicycle path to the south. Historically the latter was the right of way of the railway, both the Ottawa Electric Railway Company (later the Municipal Electric Railway) and Canada Central/Canadian Pacific Railway.
That said, even in the 1800s the area west of Britannia Road was recognized as part of Britannia (map below)
Britannia-on-the-Bay was the land owned by the Ottawa Electric Railway Company where they created an amusement park and weekend destination to generate business for the company. This is now Britannia Park.
The area between Britannia Park and Bayshore north-west of Carling Ave is historically the community of Belltown; distinct and separate from Britannia, albeit just a few minutes walk from one to the other.
In 1911 the area south of Carling was developed as “Britannia Highlands”, later renamed as “Britannia Heights.” However, in the early to mid 20th century “Britannia Heights” was often used to describe the location of businesses on Carling Ave (then Hwy 17) in what we would now know as Bayshore, Bell’s Corners, and even west of that.
By 1926 the area between the old village and Britannia Heights was becoming developed as “Loma Park”, an archaic name that never really caught on. From the 1960s through to the 1970s “Lincoln Heights”, the areas between Poulin and what is now the Transitway, as well as Lincoln Fields, and Britannia Woods, the area between Belltown and Carling Ave, were developed
So this site will consider all of that to be “Britannia”, although the core of Britannia is really the old Village, the area once known as Loma Park, Britannia Conservation Area (Mud Lake) and Britannia Park itself. This reality is reflected in the fact that most people who live or lived in this area considered themselves to be “in Britannia.” For those from the areas of Belltown, Britannia Heights, or Lincoln Heights it is much less consistent.
However even that is too simple. The Britannia United Church stands in what is now called Queensway Terrace North. Until the construction of Britannia Shopping Plaza in late 1967 basic grocery shopping usually meant a trip to Carlingwood Shopping Centre, or further before 1956. The same was true if one went out to dine.
One can run a line up Carling Ave and call one side Britannia, but for the residents of old Belltown simply crossing Carling Ave or going to the Bayshore Shopping Centre are much more convenient than stores that fall technically within Britannia proper. Thus their experience of the community was much different from someone a km east in Britannia Heights.
For decades young people might attend their junior grades in Britannia itself, but Grade 7 and 8 meant D. Roy Kennedy or Pinecrest Public School for the public school students, Immaculata or perhaps Pius X for the Catholic students, none of them in Britannia itself. For High Schools there was Woodroffe (built 1960) or Sir John A MacDonald for the public school students, and so on.
For several decades the Britannia Drive In may have been an important part of the Britannia experience if one was a teen or twenty something at the time. For anyone else the reference is probably all but meaningless.
The point is how one lived as a resident of Britannia, and what one understood as “Britannia” has always depended very much on when one lived there. As such “Britannia” is as much a social construct as a particular place, but nonetheless one rooted in that particular community.
Given that, this site is meant to focus on the geographic community, while accepting that one cannot draw strict boundaries when talking about being a member of that community.
At the moment it is myself, Mike Kaulbars. I grew up on Regina St and now, decades later, I have returned to the neighbourhood.
My parents moved here in 1958, hence for some I am ‘old Britannia.’ As a child some of my playmates were 2nd & 3rd generation Britannia, and to them I was and always would be considered a newbie.