Looking at the unassuming apartment complex now, who would’ve known that a college once existed here at 160 Chapel Street? Known as the “People’s University,” Pestalozzi College was a student-run cooperative residence that existed in the late 1960s and into the 70s as a free-thinking, open-concept school, based on the model of Toronto’s infamous student-run Rochdale College. Some of the extracurricular activities that occurred in the building included literary readings and the Ontario Provincial Gay Liberation Conference in 1973 as well as Ottawa’s first public gay dance, hosted by GO (Gays of Ottawa, who also had their headquarters there). Existing as an alternative school, the entire building was a strange mix of open education, residence, and “free love and good drugs” that eventually fell apart in much the same way that Rochdale did. By the late 1970s, both school and building existed as a community centre of sorts, offering facilities for artists’ studios and yoga classes before the entire building (with very little notice) was converted by its owners into an apartment complex, Horizon Towers. A holdover from the Pestalozzi days, the Sitar Indian Restaurant on the ground floor still exists (417 Rideau St., 789-7979). —The Water Tower Project
It was 1972, and I was being transferred from Au Bon Marche in Sherbrooke, Quebec to their new Liberty Stores just after the Cummings Bridge in Ottawa which connected Rideau Street to Montreal Road in Vanier. The Vinebergs, who were the owners, were taking a big chance on opening that store as gossip said Ottawa people did not cross the bridge into Vanier.
I needed a place to live and the kind store owners had decided I was to settle in with a nice family in Alta Vista. Well, that thought went into the dumpster, and the only place I wanted to live was Pestalozzi College on Rideau Street. Being a former weekend hippie, 23 years-old and the future owner of the “den of sin clothing emporium” called Flash Cadilac on Rideau Street–well, you can see where this was going to go. I rented a room in a 10-man unit with 9 other men because I knew this was where I was meant to be. One-bedroom apartments at Pestalozzi went for $145 monthly; two bedrooms, for $180. Single rooms in four, five and 10-man units rented for $85 monthly; double rooms, for $65 per person. How could you beat that price to live in what I considered “the place to be”.
When I first got there they had a volunteer system to do some of the chores like vacuuming, but 1/3 of the building did not agree with that. Similar to the piano that I once practiced on the 6th floor, well, the thought of volunteering left the building and the minds of the 650 residents. I have no idea why they thought that would work out because even if we all got along, cleanliness was not a priority in our unit, or any other unit by the looks of them. But there was still the 22nd floor library reading room in the $7.5 million building at the corner of Rideau and Chapel Streets with the television room next to the reading lounge to make you feel like you belonged.
Pestalozzi was a lot of small communities combined into a village, like our 10-man unit– it was a series of communal units. Sometimes the residents were sitting horizontally grouped around a floor reading and talking–or there might be a group of parents or those that love bicycles, you name it. It seemed that each group knew what they were doing, like ours, but no one had no idea what was going on in the building except when the continual abuse of the garbage shoot set on fire each week.
There was a board of eleven members and the hired maintenance, security and bookkeeping staff. I was immediately labeled a ‘wacko’ in my unit as I have never been the ‘average bear’. I wore floppy hats and vintage clothing being an eclectic fashionista since a very young age. Then there was the fact that I have lots of opinions and am not afraid to speak them. But, soon they overlooked the freakiness and became like brothers. They were the first to defend me with Halloween masks and fake axes to rid me of bad dates. But, I still felt safe even with the occasional break and entry, stolen bicycles, drunks and once in a while, drug dealing. I guess I moved there too late to see the nude parties on the roof and the most eccentric thing I ever saw was some of the male students in my unit trying to teach their dogs to climb trees. Maybe I just didn’t want to see it, as this is where I felt I belonged, good or bad.
A year and a half later, one gentleman from the 10 man unit (Angelo Seccaspina) and I were a couple and we moved to one of the one bedrooms in the building. I can’t begin to tell you how bad it got after that. You have heard about the miracle of birth? Well, cockroaches can do that too. Seeing one on the floor or your counter is no problem, but when they disappear you know you have issues. I swear the building became ground zero in Ottawa and they had military training. We tried everything known to mankind to get rid of them but those cockroaches moved up floor by floor until they reached the top and raised a victory flag. The dream was over, and we moved to the farthest point in Nepean to get rid of them.
There is still not a day I don’t regret living there. It came after protesting the Vietnam war, and standing up for what was right, which I still do. It was a great dream they had, and I can say I was part of some of it. But sometimes dreams don’t pan out quite like you want them too and the building lost money each of its first five years with the utility and mortgage payments regularly going unpaid. After losing more than $5 million, the college was finally taken over by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. in 1976.
I visited Pestalozzi in the summer of 1971, IIRC, looking to stay there for my first co-op work term in Ottawa from U of Waterloo, but it did not work out. (I don’t think they were really organized yet.) In Waterloo, I stayed several terms with Waterloo Cooperative Residence, which was the most successful of the student co-ops in Canada. I see it’s still going.- Jaan Kolk
You might enjoy this photo from WCRI, Phillip Street, in the 1970s. It was the first warm day of spring
I completely forgot about Pestalozzi and Rochdale, until reading your article.
I came to Ottawa from Montreal in 1969, on my way to Vancouver, but never made it out west. I rented a room at the 30 Gilmour co-op, now it is a halfway house. Ottawa was much different then, I remember going to a school on Lisgar street, for a free meal everyday. You’ve brought back memories that I’d forgotten about. I do remember your store Flash Cadillac, but I don’t think I ever visited.
I’ve often wondered what became of all the folks that came and went from 30 Gilmour. There were people from all over, including a few draft dodgers, one of which actually came here with his Dad. We all got acting jobs as extras for a couple of days, in a film that was being done here. There happened to be a neighbour who worked for Crawley Films and came over to ask if we would be interested in making a few bucks. We even had to join ACTRA to make it legal.
Those were the days…we thought they would never end.
Cheers Bill Shattuck
Angelo and I stayed together off and on until 2014 and he helped me open Flash Cadilac at 174 Rideau Street in 1976 and closed in 1997. Sadly, he passed away in 2014 from cancer. During his bout with cancer I continued writing on what it was like to live with cancer and then turned to history. Who knew after writing for decades and being printed in the U.S. for years I would have turned to history, but that is where my heart is and will be until I die. To pass the past along is an honour.
Flash Cadilac, Ottawa, Ontario.Flash Cadilac was a unique store before its time. It opened in 1976 at 174 Rideau Street in downtown Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It was owned by fashion designer Linda Seccaspina and her late husband Angelo. The emporium was one of the longest running stores in downtown Ottawa and Linda closed down everything in 1996. (I had Savannah Devilles after Flash for a few years –The Last Skull of Savannah Devilles
The store was not without controversy. It was deemed a den of sin by some, and had a large wall that carried photos and autographs of many famous people that had shopped there.Their clothing was often featured in Flare Magazine, and the beginning TV years of CJOH-TV’s “You Can’t Do That on Television”. Canadian music stars such as Lee Aaron, Alanis Morisette, Glass Tiger, Toronto(band) and many more wore Linda’s designs. She was also a great supporter of street kids and helped as many as she could to get them off the street.Linda went on to open another store after Flash Cadilac for two years called Savannah Devilles, closed it, and seemed to disappear out of sight. She was featured on the Canadian Women’s Channel “W” before her store closed and declared an icon of Canadian fashion. The Ottawa Citizen upon the closing of the store called her “The Mother Theresa of Punk Rock”.
That was lovely, but if I had to pick a bio for the store I have always loved the following written by blogger, chef, and friend: Doff Doppler aka Devin Goulden.In the beginning there was Flash Cadilac, a store notoriously known for its apparel: leather, lace, whips, chains, tattoos, and piercings. I would say that sums it all up folks!