best known street I'm down by the Ottawa River and to the west of me is the eastern tip of Victoria Island, rising proudly from one of the world's great rivers.
At one time, up river from the island, you would have found the Chaudiere Falls, that boiling cauldron of water, that "asticou" that could not be passed for millennia without offering some sort of prayer. Strange to think it has been more than a century since a dam turned it silent. To the east, down river, is the entrance to the Ottawa Locks and the beginning of the Rideau Canal. On top of a high bluff are the Parliamentary Library and the Peace Tower. A lot to look at, yet this morning I find myself staring at a clump of willow and tamarack growing from a nearby cliff. It should be here somewhere, I think, as I kick away the leaves of a large fern. Somewhere in here, with its back turned to the river, should be the start of the street. To my astonishment, almost immediately I find quarried stones. They look just like the stones used to build the locks. Two hundred metres to the west of Entrance Bay, hidden beneath the ferns. The age would be about right. I look up and down the river. What purpose could they have? Hard to say, as I pull back tree branches and have a look at the hill in front of me. The stones could mark the start of a path. They certainly could. They could also signal something else entirely. Something to do with lumbering. Or the building of the Parliament Buildings. Still, I look at the hill in front of me, by an entranceway of quarried stone (is it my imagination, or does the hill look leveled? As if someone has cut a path up the cliffs?) and think it might be possible. This could be it. The start of that long, lost street. Looking back you can argue there was something prophetic almost crystal ball gazing about how Bank St. got its name. The street some have called Ottawa's Yonge St. the longest street in Ottawa, the oldest, the traditional east west boundary line, the geographical spine of what came to be the nation's capital this street has never earned much respect. And so it was named as an afterthought. With obvious disdain. We know this because Ottawa is a city you can track from its beginnings. A modern city. No hills of Rome around here. Everything started with the arrival of Lt. Col. John By and the British Royal Engineers in 1826. Before this the only permanent structures in Ottawa were a boat landing below the Chaudiere Falls, for pilgrims on their way to the nearby farming village of Richmond. Some log homes perched on a high bluff. Nothing else. (All lumbering was done on the Quebec side of the Ottawa River in Philemon Wright's settlement of Wrightville.) So when John By came to Ottawa to build the Rideau Canal, he also got the task of building the city. It was a task the recently re mustered British officer took seriously. On what is now Parliament Hill, By drew the first homesteading lots in Ottawa. The east west road running in front of the lots he named Wellington, after the Duke of Wellington, his benefactor and the man who personally gave him the task of building the canal. The street intersecting Wellington and running directly beside the canal, starting at Entrance Bay, he named Sussex. The street running in front of the farmer's market he would soon build, buy pandora charms online in a bog he was already starting to drain, he jewelry seattle named Rideau, after the river he would spend the next six years living beside. The streets that would run through the lots, connecting the new australia charm homes soon to be built, he called Kent and Lyon. With the exception of Rideau, every street was an obvious homage to England and the gentile, privileged life to which By aspired. Every street, in other words, had pretensions. Expectations. One can easily imagine By looking at the original survey when it was presented to him and at the last minute asking the cartographer about this street, off to the west, this strange runt of a street running north south of all things this one starting at the bank of the Ottawa River. "A necessity," he would have been told by the cartographer. "A route to carry water from the river to the new homes." By would have looked at the survey and seen quickly that no public buildings were planned for the street. No homes, in fact. It would have been be an insult to name this utility road after a benefactor or some beloved English shire. "Fine," By might have said, looking at the river, the little street, then signing off pandora make your own bracelet on the drawing, "You can call it Bank St." This runt of a street named because it started at the bank of the Ottawa River, not for the many banks that still line its breadth now stretches from Parliament Hill to the St. Lawrence River. It has been around as long as the city, and while the other streets By named in the fall of 1826 Wellington and Sussex, in particular have defined Ottawa for millions of Canadians who have never been here, for many of us, Bank St. is more on point.
No one ever had great plans for this street, and that always seemed to help it. Bank St. was never planned nor embraced; a poor cousin to the streets that ran beside the Ottawa River or the Rideau Canal.
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