Informing and engaging area residents

Historical Factoid

Historical Factoids #86 to #95

To honour Richmond’s 200th anniversary, local historian Marion Scott is posting factoids about our rich history on her blog, Richmond Heritage. Over the next year you should expect to see 200 pieces of information that you may or may not have already known. We are pleased to reproduce them here with the kind permission of Marion. Visit Marion’s full historical blog here.


Factoid # 86

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]Edward Rielly settled with his wife, Sarah, on a farm near Richmond and started a hotel. There he began to raise his family, which eventually was to number 13 children.  Edward was a man with big dreams and in fulfilling them he enriched his whole community. Watching the hundreds of wagons going from Prescott to the lumber shanties, and from Bytown to Perth, Edward decided to build a quality stopping-place. In 1855 he hired Mr. May of Franktown to build him a three storey, stone building at the major intersection in the village. This was not another variation of the plain Georgian style that had dominated the landscape. It instead incorporated some of the features common in the Italianate style popular at the time. The building had heavy brackets under the eaves and large quoins (cornerstones). It featured two sets of double chimneys. Although all pictures show it with a hipped roof a former owner maintained that there was evidence to show that it may originally have had a flat roof. All this style for what in 1855 was the princely sum of $10 000.

With its 22 bedrooms and excellent dining room, the hotel quickly became a favourite stopping place for travellers. Measuring 40′ X 80′ with a 30′ x 20′ annex on the rear, the building towered over its surroundings. The inside was equally imposing with a grand circular staircase leading to an upstairs parlour.

Ever the horseman, Rielly provided a large stables across the street where the arena stands today.

Edward operated the hotel until his death in 1876 when his sons Hugh and John replaced him. Unfortunately for the family, traffic through Richmond was at its height when the hotel was built and slowly but steadily declined as the horse was replaced by the iron horse.

Factoid #87

With his history of working with horses, it isn’t surprising that Edward Rielly didn’t hesitate to begin a stage coach service from the Rielly House Hotel to another Hotel, the British Lion which he owned, on Sparks St. in Ottawa The new macadamized road made the trip faster and smoother than ever before. A one-way fare could be purchased for $1.00.

Factoid #88

In the mid 1850s when Bytown, the frontier town, became Ottawa, the future capital, two men John Bower Lewis and William Pittman Lett came to prominence.  Both men had grown up as sons of Richmond officers.  Lewis was the eldest son of Captain John Lewis and carried on his father’s interest in politics. John Bower left the village to pursue his education and in 1841 he became a lawyer in Bytown where he emerged as a leader of the conservative, affluent population of Upper Town. He became an alderman and was first chosen to be mayor in 1848. In 1855, he was beginning a second term when Bytown became the City of Ottawa.

John Bower Lewis maintained his Richmond connections and acquired land in both the village and Goulbourn. He had close ties with his siblings: his eldest sister, Henrietta Lyon who was newly widowed in 1854 and carried on her late husband’s store; his brothers Thomas and Richard who ran the family’s Richmond business; and another sister, Catherine who married Charles Hamnett Pinhey, Lewis’s law partner and a son of Hamnett Pinhey.

As mayor of Ottawa, Lewis initiated several successful projects, but unfortunately his term will be remembered also by an act that smacked of Patronage at its worst. Dave Mullington author of The Chain of Office explained that upon assuming office Lewis fired all the municipal officials who supported his predecessor, Henry Friel, a Lower Town Catholic Reformer. Mullington says, “The firings reflected the spoils-to-the-victor attitude of the day”. He then replaced the officials with his supporters. One of his most controversial appointments was the choosing of his old boyhood friend, William Pittman Lett as City Clerk.

Factoid #89

William Pittman Lett spent his early childhood in Richmond but moved to Bytown with his widowed mother in 1827. He maintained close ties with the village where his family continued to own land. Lett stood out from many other members of the old conservative village leaders as he was an ardent Methodist and for a time edited the “Orange Lily and Protestant Vindicator” a newspaper supported by the Orange Lodge. His fiery temperment made the moderate Joseph Hinton oppose Lett’s courtship of Maria, Hinton’s daughter.  The two young people eloped and eventually Hinton reconciled to their marriage and bought the couple a house near the Ottawa River in Lower Town.

Lett made a lasting contribution to Ottawa because of his writing. As City Clerk from 1855- 1891, he was responsible for the formulation of city by-laws across numerous administrations of various political leanings. He was equally renowned for his poetry, which chronicled all aspects of city and country life. He even wrote about Richmond in an 1882 poem quoted in Carleton Saga (page 78). Here are the first two verses.

“Dear old Richmond”, mid thy ruins

Memory fondly loves to dwell,

Gathering from time’s vanished shadows

Many a scene remembered well;

There I lived the days of childhood,

Hours of bliss, so fleet, so fast,

There I wandered through the wildwood,

Dreaming that the joy would last.

By the “Goodwood’s” winding current

In manhood’s morning oft I strayed,

In the green field on its border,

Many a happy day I played-

Days of bliss too quickly ended,

Like a passing flash of light,

Which from heaven had descended-

Transient, beautiful and bright!

Factoid # 90

In 1855, Henry McElroy started his own general store a block north of that of his father, Patrick. For the next 35 years it served as the base for the commercial and industrial enterprises built by Henry and his sons. Like most stores in the village, Henry’s home was attached to his business and while he and his family lived in those quarters, his clerk (s) often lived above the store. It was a landmark until it burned Sept. 1994 and today the site is the staff parking lot of Richmond Public School.

Factoid #91

At a time when Richmond had many “cordwainers”, “boot makers” or “shoemakers”, Thomas Miller stood out from the others and was known as a fine craftsman. According to a local legend, while still living in his native Ireland Thomas had made a pair of white satin slippers for royalty. Miller recounted to villagers that he had to wear white gloves to ensure that no blemish marked the surface.

In an interview published in the Ottawa Citizen March 5 1938, retired Richmond merchant, Thomas Lewis, related his memories of several villagers including Miller. “The late Tom Miller, village shoemaker in the sixties, was so thorough in his work that it would take an expert to determine where one sole was joined to the other. Everytime he made a pair of boots for a person he put their monogram on the soles with shiny brass tacks.”

Miller also participated in the civic life of the village. He was a school trustee, and village Clerk – Treasurer.

Factoid #92

George Seymour Lyon, a Richmond native, is famous for winning an Olympic gold medal for golf in 1904. Much has been written about his achievement in a wide range of sports, including cricket, and his relationship to the Lyon family. His grandfather, George Lyon, appears to have groomed his many sons for different professions or to assume control of different aspects of the family’s commercial enterprises. Robinson E., his son, and father of George Seymour controlled a large area of the estate’s agricultural land and lived just north of the fair grounds along the Huntley Road. George Seymour grew up on the farm and attended Richmond Grammar School.

What isn’t well publicized is the relationship of George Seymour to the Maxwell family. His mother, Sarah, was a daughter of Lieut. Joseph Maxwell, also a veteran of the War of 1812, and as such was also a member of the Richmond elite.

If the following passage from Olympic Lyon written by Michael Cochrane is historical fact and not fiction, Sarah had an influence on her son’s initial attitude towards golf.  When George first played golf in his late 30s he mentally compared it to a childhood game. “Sarah had taught him the children’s game called tipcat. It involved flipping short tapered wooden pegs into the air and then trying to hit the peg with a larger stick. This was followed by noisy debates among the children scrambling to measure how far it had been hit …. He had fond memories of hopping through the grass, yelling and laughing, and cheering as he hit and flipped the pegs.”  He thought that if tipcat was a children’s game so to might golf. The first golf Olympian honed his basic athletic skills on Richmond’s fields but around 1880 when his family moved to Flower Station, George moved to Toronto.

Factoid #93

The Richmond Military Settlement had a large number of Roman Catholics among its early settlers. In 1819 the Rev. Alexander MacDonell became the first clergymen to visit the village. He was a highly respected priest from Glengary and later became the first Roman Catholic Bishop of Upper Canada.

The Catholic community shared the schoolhouse with all the other denominations but in 1825 began construction of its own church. Like all the other early churches, it was a log structure and served the needs of the Catholics in Richmond, Goulbourn, and the surrounding area for decades.

In the late 1830s and throughout the 1840s religious tensions ran high in the village. (factoid #64). Tensions eased, but in January 1856 they heated up because of events surrounding a Nepean election. A Catholic man, Dennis Tierney, died when a fight erupted in a hotel near Twin Elm. The incident went unresolved and both Orangemen and Catholics harboured resentments. Soon after two Catholic Churches were torched in other areas of Carleton County.

In 1857, St. Philip’s was burned. The following account is from the Ottawa Tribune, a Catholic newspaper edited by James Henry Burke, a son of Col. George Burke. In the August 8th edition, the events were recounted. “It appears a mowing bee took place on Friday last at the house of a person in Richmond at which liquor was freely given. Some time towards morning a man, whose name we forget, residing about one hundred and fifty yards from the church, was disturbed by parties throwing stones at his windows; he got up and saw two men retreating whom he recognized. … Some time after he observed one of the men running down the street from the Church in the direction of his house; about twenty yards from the house …the person turned off and retreated up a creek which led off in another direction.

The fire broke out soon afterward, and amongst those arriving first were the men McGuire and Keays, their clothes splashed with mud. We understand they could give no account of where they were during the interval between their being observed first and the breaking out of the fire. … The Rev. Mr. O’Connor said Mass at eight o’clock the morning before, and put the candles away carefully in a large box, which also contained the matches; this box was thrown out of the church after the fire was discovered which was built upon the altar. These are the facts. Warrants were issued for McGuire and Keay’s (Keays); the former cleared, but is now pursued by constables. … Keay’s (Keays) is now in jail, committed to await his trail for the offence.”

Factoid #94

After the burning of the log St. Philip’s church in 1857, the congregation quickly rallied to construct a stone replacement, which forms the base of the present building.

This was the first stone church in the village.

The earliest picture I’ve seen is the 1913 photo at left. It shows a rectangular building in the Classical tradition: with windows on either side of the entrance in the gabled facade.  There were 4 windows on each side of the building.

The church had certain Early Gothic Revival features: arched windows, the division of the windows into smaller elements by decorative tracery, and a central entrance tower rising within the perimeter of the building.

The 1861 census recorded that the church could accommodate 500 people, and it was valued at $2 400.

Factoid # 95

The 1861 census showed that Richmond had a population of 516. This was about the same as the population after World War II.