Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Pond House

Why did I get involved in trying to save this particular house? Our neighbourhood is losing so many  houses every year...more than any other mature neighbourhood in the city of Ottawa. You would think that I would be used to it by now. Maybe it is because I know the people who live next door to this house..and they already lost the house on the other side of them. Maybe it is simply because it is a beautiful brick house...just an old fashioned place; solid, not huge and showy. Maybe it is because I saw photos of the inside and I hate to think of all that beautiful trim going into landfill.
Anyhow, I went to a few meetings with other concerned neighbours, we sent emails to city officials, made a presentation at a city committee meeting. ...all to no avail. To commemorate the house I wrote a short piece which appears on the site. This week the longer version of that piece appears in a community paper, Newswest, an insert in Kitchissippi Times. The house will be demolished later this month. It was worth a try.

The Pond House              1925 to 2013
It is with heavy hearts that the residents of Wellington West, in Kitchissippi ward, in the city of Ottawa, announce the passing of the house at 117 Clarendon Avenue, known fondly as The Pond House. The red brick dwelling, in its 88th year, has lost its short battle with over-intensification.

Its decline began shortly after being sold last year. Bought as an investment property, it never had a chance. All along, the plan was to demolish the house, sever the property and build a double. For a while the “patient” rallied and there was a glimmer of hope, as neighbours came to its defence. Special thanks to all those who wrote emails and letters, offered advice and support, attended meetings of the city’s committee of adjustment or made presentations. Among the supporters were Kitchissippi’s councillor, Katherine Hobbs, who also wrote to the committee of adjustment, expressing her concerns, including, “The application for a variance to the front yard setback is directly in opposition to the intention of the by-law passed last year by council”.

In the end, it was all to no avail. The death sentence came in the form of a letter, issued following the April 3rd meeting of the committee of adjustment. The committee decided to grant the builder the variances from city by-laws that he sought; therefore the double will be built, resulting in the loss of the grand old house.

Friends and neighbours have been paying their respects over the past few weeks as they passed by the corner of Clarendon and Faraday and recalled happier times, when people bought into the neighbourhood because they valued the houses, yards, trees, porches and sense of community. In lieu of flowers, folks have admired and enjoyed the scent of lilacs before those trees vanish, along with the house.

Final arrangements have yet to be confirmed, pending the eviction of the current tenant on June 1st and the acquisition of a demolition permit. There should be no difficulty with the permit as Kitchissippi ward now has the city’s dubious distinction of losing the greatest number of houses in a mature neighbourhood, over a recent three-year period. This explains the constant state of disbelief among Kitchissippi residents as their streetscapes are transformed at such a steady rate.

A large yellow bulldozer will officiate at the service. As for burial arrangements, the remains of the Pond House will be unceremoniously deposited in the city dump. It will join 151 other Kitchissippi houses that landed there between 2009 and 2011 and those that have followed since then. Grieving residents are left to wonder why they are bothering to compost and recycle when developers are free to dump entire houses: brick, glass, wood, steel, plumbing fixtures and electrical components into landfill.

The community takes some solace from the efforts of the builder to consult with them, both individually and at public meetings. His assurances… that the new building’s height, style, colour and exterior materials will be consistent with the character of the existing neighbourhood are appreciated. However, it’s not their first choice.

The house will be fondly remembered by Harry and Ruth Pond’s four daughters. The Ponds bought the place in 1945. One reason for the purchase was the proximity of schools; Elmdale Public School was right across the street and plans were underway to build Fisher Park High School, a block away. Daughter Gail Verch recalls her father telling her that the house was built by a local developer in 1925…the first house built on the block. The builder chose that corner lot, the best one he had, for his own home and furnished it with extras such as stained glass windows on each side of the fireplace, and beautiful hardwood floors and trim. Gail celebrated fifty Christmases in that lovely living room. The front verandah was a perfect spot for games or relaxation.  She remembers that corner yard as a favourite place for neighbourhood children to gather. They played hop-scotch and skipped on the sidewalk that went around their corner.

The house will be sadly missed by next-door neighbours Donna and Reid Barry. Donna grew up there and recalls the kindness of Ruth Pond. Donna’s mother, Ida, was housebound and every day the two neighbours would open their kitchen windows and have a visit.
The whole scenario is reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel’s 1968 Bookends Theme,
“Time it was,
 And what a time it was,
A time of innocence,
A time of confidences.
Long ago…it must be…
I have a photograph.
 Preserve your memories;
 They’re all that’s left you.”

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