History of building
Saturday Shopping: Orme’s Piano Store at 189 Sparks Street, in 1897. Awesome carriage on the right. But I particularly like the J.P. Curry “express” wagon on the left. Some things are never Lost.
The store was named after J. L. Orme, a Scottish immigrant who arrived in Canada in 1856. He became the first paid organist at St. Andrew Presbyterian in 1861. Realizing there was a market for such a thing, he opened a music store on Sparks Street which he incorporated in 1866. The store remained in business for decades.
Check out the basically mud road. This level of dirt makes it clear why clean, green parks were so important back in the day. —Lost Ottawa (PA-011372).
When Gowan’s Music Hall was established in Ottawa in 1869, the hall was hailed as a fine forward step for the Capital. Prior to that, Ottawa had had Her Majesty’s Theatre, on Wellington street, but had not had any suitable building where local concerts could be held, or where outside performers who were not in the theatre class could go in the early 1860s they came to Ottawa from Toronto.
The Gowans were musical people. They were also carvers and gilders, picture framers, made looking glasses, etc. They kept a music store, and had a fine brass band and a string band. Over their store they had a dance hall. The Gowans were located at 113 Sparks street, the site which in after years housed the J. L. Orme Piano Store and St. James’ Hall. The Gowans, who were very enterprising people, and seemed to have been possessed of some money, dominated the music field here. It was Gowan this, and Gowan that; Gowan here and Gowan there.
Gowan’s Opera House. Ottawa Dramatic Club. Season 1876-77. First Performance, Friday Evening, 15th December, 1876. Under the Distinguished Patronage of Their Excellencies The Governor General and the Countess of Dufferin. Performance to Commence at 8 O’Clock Punctually. [With]: Mounted Photograph of Gowan’s Opera House. 8x 9cm., on grey card 13.5x 13.5cm, inscribed on verso: Gowan’s Opera House, Albert Street, Ottawa. Seven April 1902. [by H.J. Morgan; not signed]
CLIPPED FROMThe Ottawa CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada31 Aug 1935, Sat • Page 2
The Gowans came to the pinnacle of their business eminence, when in the early seventies, they built the Gowan Theatre on Albert street (later the Grand Opera House). This story, however, is not about the Grand Opera House, but about Gowan’s Music Hall. When the Gowans, in 1869, decided that a concert hall was desirable, they remodelled the dance hall above their stores, putting in a stage which would permit of concerts or of small plays. The dance hall had a high ceiling. To make their opportunity for serving the public wider, they put in a floor over half-way up the wall of the concert hall, 12 feet, making another large room above. This room they intended for a supper room for the use of dancers and others.
When their alterations were completed they had a ball and concert hall, on the first floor, 80 x 33 in size, and on the second floor a supper room, 52 x 33 in size. The supper room was planned to hold 300 guests. The reason the supper room was not as large as the ball room, was that on the supper room floor, were a kitchen and dressing rooms for ladies and gentlemen. It should be mentioned that in the ladies’ dressing rooms were racks for ladies’ bonnets, hats and cloaks.
The entrance to Gowan’s halls was from Wellington street, there being then a vacant lot in rear of the Gowan store. The Gowan Music Hall, which seated 600 persons, was the scene of many noted lectures, balls, concerts, plays, etc. On the Sparks street frontage of their building the Gowans had their two stores (separated). In one was their instrument and music store, and in the other their picture framing and gilding establishment. For a while all went well with the Gowans and their enterprises. But the dark days of the 1870s took their toll, and their enterprises became hard hit.
The Gowans were still on the map in 1876. They appear to have still been operating the music hall and the Gowan’s Theatre, but were out of the musical busi ness and the picture framing business. In 1877,which was a very bad year the Gowan’s business appears to have gotten worse. They had left the Sparks street building (including the music hall) and had moved to 192 Bank street, where the three brothers, 4 John, James and Thomas, had their 5 businesses and lived upstairs. Hunter Gowan had already gone away. They still did carving andgilding, and John advertised himself as a musician. What had happened to the celebrated brass band I and the orchestra is not clear. The Gowans still had possession of the theatre apparently.
By 1879 the Gowans were out of Ottawa altogether. Not a Gowan name appeared in the city directory that year. They had either lost or sold the theatre by 1879. In that year the theatre became the property of John (Buffalo) Heney, and the name had been changed from Gowan’s Theatre to “Grand Opera House.” Either in that year or a little later, the late John Ferguson, a son in-law of Mr. Heney became a manager and was manager many years.
Thus in 1879 ended the story of the Gowans in Ottawa. After the Gowans left Sparks street from Quebec came the large tailor groupof D. Morgan and Sons. The Morgans appear to have torn down the partitions between the two Gowan stores, and to have madet one large store. They also cut out an entrance to the concert hall from Sparks street. Another thing they did was to change the name of the hall from Gowan’s Hall to St. James’ Hall. Why the hall was given that particular name is not known, Perhaps the intention was to provide a British flavor.
The Morgans did not remain long and 113, St. James’ Hall, was acquired by the J. L. Ormeand Son music firm. Mr. Orme, not desiring to have anything to do with suppers or dances, tore out the upper floor and restored the concert hall to its original height.
For years St. James’ Hall had a reputation as a concert and lecture hall and meeting place. Conventions, mock parliaments, and similar gatherings used St. James’ Hall. For many years the Plymouth Brethren held their Sunday services and prayer meetings there, bur now the building was somewhat back to its original condition. There were two stores in the building: Thorburn and Abbott’s and Sutherland and Parkins, and there were two floors above made into offices
Here’s an old idea for Sparks Street — bring back the swings! The young Ottawa lass in front of Orme’s furniture store sure seems to be enjoying it circa 1961.
Orme’s was founded in 1861 as a musical instrument store, but slowly shifted into furniture and appliances as radio and later TV came in. The business still exists with two store in Ottawa. Not too many last that long!
This picture was taken when Sparks Street was still a temporary pedestrian mall in the summer.
Working in the Gowan Theatre -Mr Louis Charbonneau, 456 Besserer Street, Ottawa
This is 456 Besserer Street where Mr. Charbonneau once lived. The white siding house could have beenbuiltafter ateardown or it may be hiding some other structure underneath.
Memories of those glamorous days in the 1870s when the Gowan enterprise provided Ottawa with all that was worth in theatricals and musical entertainment. When Mr. Charbonneau was a boy still in his teens he was engaged as a stage hand and general helper in the old Gowan’s Hall on Sparks street and later in Gowan’s theater on Albert street (the old Grand Opera House) and therefore he has many interesting memories of the famous Gowan family their celebrated orchestra and events prior and subsequent to the building and opening of the Gowan theater.
Gowan’s Organization, as it was called on its first formation, was started in the early 1860s and were: James Gowan, Sr., first violin and leader: Thomas Gowan, second violin and viola: James Gowan. Jr., cello and trombone:John Gowan. string bass: Hunter Gowan, Flute and piccolo: Karl M. Fehr, clarinet; George S. Suthertherland:cornet. Later Edward Marley. a distinguished violinist from England, became leader of the orchestra.There was also: J. C. Bonner, fine cornet and clarinet player, and a son- in-law of James Gowan, became a member. The orchestra was kept busy in those days attending to most of the musical engagements in and outside of the city.
The Gowans were very energetic and established a combined picture framing and gilding business and music store, afterwards known as “Goldsmith’s Hall.” This enterprise was first located where the Ottawa Electric Company building stood on Sparks street and later it was moved to the premises occupied by the Halcyon Club on the south side of Sparks street. Still later the business was moved to the north side of Sparks street where the Thorburn and Abbott store was. There was a hall over the store in which all the city theatricals and dancing assemblies were held, and it was called Gowan’s Hall.
Mention of this old hall, Mr. Charbonneau feels, should arouse pleasant memories, because in those days it was not only the Mecca of discriminating lovers of drama and music, but the rendezvous of people who revelled in amateur theatricals. Many a meritorious play was staged there by local talent, and many a group of youthful and aspiring Thespians were given an opportunity of displaying their wares on amateur nights.
It was in this old hall that Ottawans got their first glimpse or rather hearing of a “talking machine.” It was irtroduced by Annie du Montford, the celebrated actress of that period, and was shrouded in mystery. The machine spoke its pieces and sang its songs in a curtained box and the audience was amazed. Mr. Charbonneau has distinct recollections of opening night at the Gowan theater on Albert street, which was erected in 1874. One reason why his memory is clear on that point is that owing to the unavoidable absence of the cymbal player, he was pressed into service in that capacity. Thus he proudly lays claim to having once played an instrument in the famous Oowan orchestra.
The celebrated Holman Opera Company opened the theater. In Mr. Charbonneau’s opinion. Sally and Julie Holman were truly great artists, and their mother a wonderful musican. The Holmans were always welcome visitors to tne Capital. The opening performance was attended by the Governor General and his suite and many of the elite of the city. Mr. Charbonneau recalls that among the early plays in Gowan’s theater were “Across the Continent.” “The Silver King.” “The Two Orphans,” and “Lights of London.” He also has vivid recollection of how the boys in the gallery used to stamp and yell when the hero conquered the villain, and how they used to hiss whenever the villain seemed to be getting the upper hand.
Mr Louis Charbonneau, 456 Besserer Street, Ottawa
Opera House Interior – Amazon AWS
Map of the Night: Location of the Grand Opera House on Albert Street, just before it burned down in 1913.
The Grand Opera was apparently Ottawa’s first major theatrical venue. It appears to have been renamed the Colonial by 1912. The movie theatre where the fire started can be seen in the map, right next to the Carling Breweries. I am not sure I’ve seen any reference to this brewery before.
For reference, the King George Hotel was on the corner of Albert and Metcalfe.
(LAC Goad Map)
On the other hand, if you were looking for some great entertainment in 1880, could you do better than Buffalo Bill Cody?
The “Prairie Waif” is actually the name of the play presented on the stage of the Grand Opera House, as well as one of the main characters. In act two it says Bill will give his “Fancy Rifle Shooting.” I wonder how that worked out!
The Grand Opera House was located on Sparks Street. It burned down on a Friday night in 1913 – the result of fire that started with the ever-dangerous nitrate film in the “Nickel Moving Picture Theatre” located next to the Opera House on Albert Street (between Metcalfe and O’Connor).
CLIPPED FROMOttawa Daily CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada17 Feb 1875, Wed • Page 1
CLIPPED FROMOttawa Daily CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada15 Jan 1870, Sat • Page 3
CLIPPED FROMOttawa Daily CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada15 Jan 1875, Fri • Page 1
CLIPPED FROMOttawa Daily CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada26 Mar 1872, Tue • Page 3
Also read—OTTAWA CALENDAR OF PERFORMANCE IN THE 1870s
CLIPPED FROMOttawa Daily CitizenOttawa, Ontario, Canada24 Mar 1871, Fri • Page 2
The First Mosh Pits in Carleton Place — The Opera House of the Chatterton House Hotel
Did You Know Who Began the Mayfair Theatre? You will be Shocked!
Flashy Memories of Pandora’s Box ETC — Oh Ottawa Behave!
So Who Was Miss Livingstone? Burlesque
Vaudeville – Documenting John A. Kelly Ventriloquist — Like Father Like Son
Cool Burgess — Minstrel Shows at Reilly’s Hotel
Susie’s Kitchen Band– Names Names Names
He Said-and– He Said! Oh Let the Song of Words Play!
Uncle Tom’s Cabin in Carleton Place
Weird and Thrilling Concert in Carleton Place? The Fisk Jubilee Singers of Tennessee University
One Night of Indecency! — Marx Brothers in Lanark
also read-MY LIFE WITH THE ORIGINAL MARKS BROTHERS
Ontario’s Version of the Marks Bros-Tales of the Queen’s Hotel
Travelling Shows on the Rural Stage
What’s Happening at Christie Lake June 23, 1899