Another very handsome suite of apartments has been added to Ottawa’s beautiful homes in the Henry Blackburn apartments, which are situated on Somerset street, between Metcalfe and Elgin. The building is greatly admired for its architectural perfections and the charming arrangements and decoration of the interior. The owner is Mr. Henry Blackburn, well known industrialist and philanthropist, who is receiving congratulations on this new evidence of his enterprise. The building is an imposing structure six stories high, of buff brick with stone ornamentation. The foundations are of cement and the ground floor, besides the imposing rotunda, gives accommodation to the janitor’s apartments and a garage large enough to house thirty automobiles. This has been arranged with a particularly convenient entrance and exit. The rotunda is most attractive with its finish in the Greek style, with an elevator service to each floor. Iron grilles finish the galleries on each floor around the rotunda which will be centered by a beautiful fountain. #Apartments #Blackburn #Building #Ontario #Ottawa #Somerset
Henry Blackburn, prominent Ottawa and Hull business man passed away unexpectedly at a local hospital this morning. He was in his 74th year. Mr. Blackburn was widely know n as a property owner both in Ottawa and Hull and also as a hotel proprietor. In ill-health for about two months, Mr. Blackburn had recently returned from the United States where he had taken a brief rest. This morning he was rushed to the hospital in Emond’s ambulance and died at 10.30 o’clock. A staunch Liberal, Mr. Blackburn was prominent in the party organization and was a close friend of Prime Minister Mackenzie King. Born in Chicoutimi. Que., Mr. Blackburn came to Hull as a young man and for years he was the owner of the Henry Blackburn Ginger Ale Company.
He later became district agent for the Brading and Capital Breweries, later taking over the district agency of the Molson Breweries of Montreal. At one time, Mr. Blackburn was part owner of the Standish Hall Hotel and owner of the St. Louis Hotel on Montcalm street. About five years ago he became owner of the Ottawa House Hotel, at the corner of Main and Bridge streets. He was also the owner of the Blackburn Apartments on Somerset street in Ottawa.
Of a retiring nature. Mr. Blackburn never sought civic or government honors although he had been requested on many occasions to be a candidate for the Hull mayoralty or to seek a seat in parliament. His philanthropic work, over which he had always avoided any form of publicity, was known to many organizations and individuals who had benefited by his generosity. In 1934 he inventeda new oil burner which was known as the “Blackburn oil Saver’.
The Ottawa Citizen
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada07 Jun 1943, Mon • Page 12
Revisiting one of Ottawa’s grand buildings I first returned to the Blackburn apartments several years ago in a November dusk that made all of Somerset Street look tired and cold and ready to quit. The old girl looked like she had fallen a little and I thought I owed her a visit. After all, she was my first crush. So I slipped in behind the pizza guy as a barefooted tenant came to the front door. A 1980s wooden canopy ruined the lines of her Art Deco entrance, and the gorgeous original chandelier in the lobby was gone, apparently stripped by a former superintendent who sold off some of the vintage fixtures. The fountain had been dry and broken for years.
But I had not been wrong to fall in love with the Blackburn when I was six or seven, staying with my grandparents in what I considered to be the very height of sophistication. She had no particular services or gizmos, but she was one of those rare things in Canada: a building erected to be beautiful. Space was lavishly splashed around. My grandparents’ apartment had double French doors onto a small receiving room at the front door. Down a wide hall were two generous bedrooms, and an odd double bath with a toilet in one room and sink and tub in another. At the foot of the hallway was an arched alcove, apparently there just to add grace. One one side of the alcove was a sunny living room with a stunning deco fireplace. On the other, an equally large and sunlit dining room.
The Canadian architect Lucien Leblanc designed the six-storey, 30-unit building in the form of an “H” perhaps for the owner, Henry Blackburn, who, by all reports, was obsessed with it. He hired only the best masons, plasterers, and carpenters (relatively cheaply, one would think, in 1936) and, according to legend, spent hours every day at the building site. If he had a meeting to attend, work stopped until he returned. The devotion paid off. The Blackburn’s old suitors never forgot her. Apparently, Leblanc, who had since moved to Vancouver, arrived in Ottawa years later, saying he wanted to see her once more before he died. — Jenny Jacson ( see clipping above)
Blackburn passed the building along to his descendants with a stipulation that it not be sold. It stayed with the family until two years ago. Mike Paoletti of Royal Lepage was the agent who tried to sell her. Several times he came close, but nobody bit. Finally, a little hooked himself, he and several partners bought it and he moved into one of the restored two-bedroom suites. His paintings fill the small receiving room and framed photographs of the building in her earliest days line his front hall. A few weeks ago, a tiny classified ad offered the building for sale by tender to be submitted by March 31. 1 had to see her again if I could, and I pleaded with Paoletti to give me just 20 minutes. Reluctantly, he agreed, as long as I didn’t go into great detail about the real estate deal itself.
As he warmed to showing her off, we talked for almost an hour. His kitchen held remnants of the speaker phone and dumb waiter from the building’s first days. He says it began as an apartment hotel with a basement kitchen that could send meals up to guests as required. A newspaper article in the Evening Citizen of Sept. 26, 1936, makes no mention of a kitchen or concierge. It does, however mention a roof garden. Yes! I thought, the roof! My grandfather was an austere man, not much given to indulging children, but every once in a great while he would say, “want to go up on the roof?” By that time it was nothing but wooden walkways on gravel and the wind was bitter but my heart thumped with excitement nevertheless. At seven, I though the Blackburn defined not just where one ought to live, but how. At 50, 1 think so still. Like Cleopatra, age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety.
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