With all the buzz now being created by the several proposals to develop Lebreton Flats, we thought it would be interesting to talk about some of the history of the Flats. Many of our guests walk through this area on their way to the Canadian War Museum but are probably not aware of the history of this place. The total area involved is 0.84 km2 or about 205 acres – it’s a big piece of land. It was originally purchased by a retired Navel Captain, John Lebreton in 1820 for £499, and by the mid-19th century, LeBreton Flats developed into a mixed community to serve the lumber mills on the nearby Chaudière and Victoria Islands. A rail line came in with a station and yards, and industries developed in turn. There was also housing for both the workers and owners, as well as hotels and taverns.
The area was ravaged by the Great Fire of 1900, which had started across the river in Hull (now Gatineau, Quebec), but crossed over by way of the great stacks of piled lumber on the islands. The fire destroyed the neighbourhood, leaving many homeless. It was rebuilt and continued to be a thriving working class neighbourhood.
Until the mid-1960s, the area immediately west of Le-Breton was the city’s main train-yard, called Ottawa West: 60 acres of track, locomotives, rolling stock, stock pens, coal chutes, lumber yards, freight terminals and the big, sooty CPR roundhouse at Bayview Avenue, the yard’s western boundary. As a very young man, my husband John worked in the yard office and has ever since had a love of trains.
Lebreton Flats was expropriated in the 1960’s by the federal government for “redevelopment” and the controversy over this and the proposed land use continues to this day. Hopefully within the next year or so they will have decided on a plan and we can once again enjoy this very special place. We now have the Canadian War Museum on the Flats and several condominiums and we hope that whatever is built will be appreciated by all. As Albert House Inn is only a ten minute walk away, we look forward with great anticipation to the future of this area.