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March 28, 2014

Christopher Ryan: Abra & Balharrie put Wesley on a Corner (a history of the World of Maps building)

A weekly feature by Christopher Ryan, a local photographer, blogger and researcher. It appears every Friday on our blog

If I had a list of favourite midcentury modern buildings in Ottawa, the Wesley Building would be in my top 5. March 2014.

It hardly needs to be stated that Ottawa was a rapidly-growing city in the years following the Second World War. Not only did the downtown reach upwards and develop a skyline that would, in spite of the best efforts of regulators, obscure the Peace Tower, but the city also grew outward on all directions. A bumper crop of new suburban housing appeared in the city’s west end during this time. This growth, of course, necessitated new commercial opportunities and - yes - employment space. Much like the Imperial Building at Bank and Cooper in Centretown, the Wesley Building at Wellington West and Holland was intended to fulfill this role.

During the Spring of 1955, construction began on the Wesley Building. Source: Ottawa Journal, July 19, 1955.

As I’ve noted before here and elsewhere, a number of local organizations developed an interest in real estate during this time. Some remained in development and others were content to construct a block or two and end the adventure there. The Wesley Building was an initiative of local bakery chain, Fenton’s Bakeries Ltd.

During the mid-1950s, there were Fenton’s outlets everywhere there were hungry Ottawans. Source: Ottawa Journal, June 9th, 1954.

George and Pearl Fenton were no strangers to building construction. With over a dozen Fenton’s outlets around the city at its peak, such activities were par for the course. With the construction of the Wesley, however, they appear to have set their sights a little higher.

Retaining the architectural firm of Abra & Balharrie for the design, work on the Wesley began in the Spring of 1955. From the get-go, the edifice was to be constructed in two phases: the first of two stories would see the ground-floor retail rented out along with a single floor of offices on the second floor. As demand increased, three additional floors would be constructed. As it happened, the Wesley was located adjacent to their outlet at 1239 Wellington. As for the name? “Wesley” was the middle name of founder George and his son, Harvey.

Rhodes and Radcliffe was the real estate agency of choice for much of Ottawa during the 1950s and 60s. Source: Ottawa Journal , September 12, 1955.

Henry “Mack’s” was among the first retail tenants. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 25, 1955.

Metropolitan Life was among the first office tenants. S & S Higman, nearby, were the painters of MetLife’s headquarters on Wellington. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 12, 1955.

Dow moved its administrative offices into the Wesley as well in 1956. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 23, 1956.

Filling the two-floor version of the Wesley proved to be entirely unproblematic. With a pair of high-profile upper-floor tenants and a well-populated retail ground floor, the entrance into main-street type commercial real estate appeared a success.

Looks a great today as the day it was born. Source: Ottawa Journal, December 17, 1955.

The additional three floors would also be added by the mid-1960s: growing as Ottawa did.

George Eades and Harvey Fenton (George’ s son) would later go into real estate together. Source: Ottawa Journal, June 1, 1965.

Following the completion of the Wesley in 1955, the Board of Control sought the expertise of knowledgeable locals for industrial development policy. Among those appointed to the interim committee was Pearl Fenton, secretary-treasurer of Fenton’s Bakeries.

Source: Ottawa Journal, September 10, 1956.

Expansion of the bakery continued as well, with a new outlet opened in the Westgate Mall.

Ottawa Journal, April 16 and September 26, 1957.

Just when things were at a real high, the family was struck by tragedy. While enjoying his semi-retirement (his wife Pearl and son Harvey were the active managers) at the family cottage in the Fall of 1958, George Fenton tripped, accidentally firing the 22 he was carrying into himself.

Source: Ottawa Journal, October 8, 1958

The family would go on to run the business for another few years until 1963, when management of the chain was taken over by Canadian Food Products Sales Ltd.

Expansion continued unabated into the 1960s, with several new outlets opened up and a new management team at the helm. Source: Ottawa Journal, April 4, 1963.

Source: Ottawa Journal, November 13, 1968.

Although the Fenton’s name no longer adorns bakeries around Ottawa (part of a much larger story about the unique history of retailing in the city), the Wesley Building which stands on the northwest corner of Wellington and Holland may stand tall as a beautiful midcentury reminder of what was once a local business empire.

-- Original photos & text by Christopher Ryan.
(See more on our blog from Christopher...)

See also: Ottawa Maps Guide
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1 comment:

  1. I should probably note that Canadian Food Products, which absorbed Fenton's in 1963 was one of the many arms of the Ottawa-born E.P. Taylor's Argus Corporation.

    Extra fun link: Dow Kingsbeer, one of the first tenants of the Wesley Building was absorbed by Canadian Breweries Ltd in 1966. Canadian Breweries was another arm of Argus at the time. Three years after that, however, Canadian Breweries was sold to Rothman's and later re-branded Carling-O'Keefe.


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