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May 25, 2014

Christopher Ryan: The fall of Trafalgar House (110 Argyle)

A weekly feature by Christopher Ryan, a local photographer, blogger and researcher.

Trafalgar House, the former home of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 16. Image: May 2014

In 1918, seeking a club house for returned soldiers of the trenches, the Great War Veterans' Association (GWVA) successfully convinced the City of Ottawa to purchase the a large stone home on the southeast corner of Cartier and Cooper streets in Centretown.

The stately stone home of John Sweetland, to the left in the background, was Trafalgar House. The home in the foreground was the Seybold House and now the site of St. Theresa's Roman Catholic Church. Source LAC Topley Series E PA-027293 (May 1893).

Originally the home of prominent Ottawa physician, Sheriff, and custodian of the Stanley Cup, John Sweetland, it was later picked up by local businessman Gilbert E. Fauquier at some point following Sweetland's death in 1907.

Though now a parking lot, Trafalgar House once stood proud - all three storeys of it - at the corner of Cartier and Cooper. Image Source: geoOttawa, 1958 Aerial.

Dr. John Sweetland. Physician, Sheriff, and Trustee of Lord Stanley's Cup. Also the man behind the name of Sweetland Avenue in Sandy Hill. Image Source: LAC Topley Series B, Item No. 34661 (November 1879).
In spite of both city and community opposition to the location of a club in the "purely residential neighbourhood" (despite Cartier Square being a block away), the GWVA was single-minded and not only were able to locate there, but they had the city purchase the building from Fauquier at a cost of $35,000 and even kicked in an additional $5,000 for repairs. It was then leased back to the GWVA at a cost of $1 per year.

In order to make the Clubhouse really their own, the GWVA needed to raise funds. A Circus of Sports held on Victoria Day 1918 was just the ticket. Source: Ottawa Journal, May 22, 1918.

While the Great War Veterans' Association was the largest of such organizations, it was certainly not the only one. Following the War the rather large number of them, often working at odds with each other, had proven ineffective at lobbying government for the needed support services. As such, the Canadian Legion and British Empire Service League was formed in 1925 (confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1926) as something of merger. Shortly after the formation of the Legion, the GWVA Clubhouse was christened Trafalgar House.

The Clubhouse first came to be advertised as Trafalgar House in 1928, shortly after the founding of the Canadian Legion. This was the first instance I was able to locate. Source: Ottawa Journal, February 16, 1928.

The Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Legion served well as the location for all manner of activities that they were known for. Outside of the necessary veterans’ support functions, Trafalgar House hosted regular dances, performances, bingo, and other activities. As the Legion grew through the 30s, 40s, and 50s, these smaller facilities were somewhat cramped.

The new National Headquarters of the Canadian Legion. Source: Ottawa Journal, November 9, 1956.

Nationally, the Canadian Legion had moved into a brand new headquarters in 1956. Located at the corner of Kent and Gilmour, the beautiful midcentury design of J.L. Kingston stands today, though Legion House has since departed for Kanata. In 1960, the Canadian Legion was granted its "Royal" by Queen Elizabeth.

Branch 16 would retain its name of Trafalgar House. Sod was turned for the new $400,000 facility in the Fall of 1965. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 23, 1965.

Construction of the new Trafalgar House at 110 Argyle was completed in the Spring of 1966. The Legion Branch was to occupy the first floor and the upper two were to be rented out as office space. This model would be replicated for Legion branches all over the country and even for the National Headquarters itself.

Interestingly enough, those who had opposed its placement at Cartier and Cooper back in 1917-18 did get their wish: a number of councillors had wanted to see it placed closer to the railway tracks. On Argyle, it was placed adjacent to the tracks replacement: the Queensway.

Lawrence Freiman cut the ribbon to the Freiman Room at Trafalgar House. Source: Ottawa Journal, September 27, 1966.

Shortly after they vacated the original Trafalgar House at 29 Cartier, it was levelled. The land was sold to St. Theresa's Roman Catholic Parish and remains a parking lot today.

Trafalgar House no more. This scenic parking lot occupies the corner of Centretown today. Image: May 2014.

(See more on our blog from Christopher...)

See also: Ottawa History Guide
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