Horror Story: 44 Bolton Street
You think your landlord is bad? Check out this classic from the Citizen archives.
In the 1960s and the early '70s, the NCC, zealous to control development near Sussex Drive, bought and/or expropriated a wide swath of Lowertown. It wanted the property for embassies and organizations it found suitably important. In the process, they spoiled the neighbourhood.
The Ottawa Citizen -- Final City Monday June 29, 1992 E1 CLOSE-UP Lax landlord: NCC lets house decay; Commission had big plans for house fire department now calls a hazard Patrick Dare CITIZEN Bolton Street should be one of those charming, trendy streets that propels yuppies into mortgage city. It's in the heart of old Bytown, dotted with houses built in the 1800s. You can throw a stone to Sussex Drive, and the Byward Market is a stroll away. Some houses in the neighborhood are tastefully renovated. But not 44 Bolton St. It's owned by the National Capital Commission and it's a bit of a mess. The windows are boarded, the front veranda and back porch have been carted away. A patch of tall grass stands in front of the red brick house. The Ottawa Fire Department, and some neighbors, consider it a firetrap. A teen gang recently threw bricks at it. Demolition appears to be the likely fate of the house, built in 1896. The fire department is poised to issue an order forcing the NCC to either fix the building or tear it down. But there was no need for 44 Bolton to become a derelict building, no reason to call in the wreckers. The NCC has decided the house doesn't fit into its plans after all and will likely sell the property. Too bad the NCC didn't come to that conclusion two years ago, when it evicted the two families living in the house and one tenant offered to buy it. NCC records indicate it bought 44 Bolton in 1961, though some local residents say it was in the 1970s. It owns about a dozen residences in the area, sites that the NCC considers important because they border Sussex Drive. The Crown corporation's recent thinking was that these lands would become part of the Confederation Boulevard scheme, with high-profile organizations such as the Red Cross having offices there. But Heather Bradley, chief of media relations for the NCC, says those plans have been scaled down. "Our plans are not as ambitious. It (44 Bolton) is just surplus to our needs." In the past two years, the value of 44 Bolton has dropped like a stone because of neglect. Inside fixtures were taken out; the inside stairs were stolen. "They've sort of nickelled and dimed it to death," says Estelle Lauzon, who lives in the house next door. Bob Crothers, chief of fire prevention for the City of Ottawa, is so concerned about the deteriorating state of the building that he's about to issue a fire marshal's order ordering the NCC to fix the house, or demolish it within 30 days. He says fires in vacant buildings are all too common, and there is a concern that any fire would spread quickly to neighboring houses. Bradley says the NCC doesn't have the money to renovate 44 Bolton, so it will either sell or demolish the house. Two years ago the NCC estimated full renovations would cost about $173,000. Bradley added that the NCC wanted to tear down the house two years ago and put a temporary park on the site, but a public outcry stopped those plans. The $173,000 estimate makes Ray Sincennes laugh. "It just needed a little outside paint," says Sincennes, who lived in 44 Bolton with his wife and four children until they were evicted in 1990. A second family lived upstairs. "They (the NCC) had just put a new roof and a new furnace in," he says, adding that he paid for some electrical and plumbing work himself. And he was willing to do more repairs. "I even offered to buy the house. (The NCC) said no," Sincennes recalls. Christopher Barker of Rhodes Real Estate is trying to sell a house next door. He says the derelict state of 44 Bolton is causing anxiety for both his client and prospective buyers. He says the NCC is the only organization in the country that can afford to buy up property and just sit on it. The Bolton Street property isn't the only vacant house downtown owned by the NCC. Across town, in the heart of the Golden Triangle, a patch of weeds is growing outside 24 Robert St. That house, bought by the NCC in 1972, was being used until three years ago as a field office for staff maintaining streets and the Rideau Canal. Owners of nearby $300,000 houses cut the lawn of the property because the NCC doesn't do it. One neighbor said two prospective buyers of her house didn't buy because of 24 Robert's rundown state. The NCC is in the process of selling the property. Lin Baxter, president of the Lowertown West Community Association, says it's "kind of stupid" that the NCC buys an old property and lets it run to seed. He says the key problem appears to be the NCC's inability to renovate buildings efficiently. Bradley defends the NCC's record on property management by pointing to successful restorations of heritage buildings along Sussex Drive near the market. "From the federal government's point of view, it (44 Bolton) doesn't have heritage value," says Bradley. "It may have some sentimental value for the neighborhood." Sincennes first lived on Bolton Street in 1952, when he was seven years old. He remembers when houses on the other side of the street were bought and levelled so the Japanese embassy could be built. As he walks through his old neighborhood, Sincennes recalls the days of a thriving Lowertown, where there was a strong sense of identity for a tightly knit, mostly francophone community. "Nobody had a pot to piss in let alone a window to throw it out of," he muses. To Sincennes, the demise of 44 Bolton St. symbolizes the destruction of Lowertown. "Their long-term plans are to tear everything down," he says of the NCC. "They do as they please." Copyright 1992 The Ottawa Citizen
44 Bolton was demolished soon after. In 1994, the NCC turned around and decided that only properties actually on Sussex Drive or right beside Sussex were of "national interest," and proceeded to sell six other properties in the area, including a house at 36 Bolton Street expropriated in 1969, and a vacant lot on Cathcart. The oldest of the houses, a duplex at 47-49 Cathcart St., was built about the time of Confederation according to heritage experts at the City of Ottawa. As for the NCC's legacy on Sussex itself, the US embassy is a security hazard with permanent concrete barriers blocking the street, while the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti embassies on the "mile of history" beg the question, what history is that, then?