West Overbrook — traditionally a place of tiny working-class houses on the edge of one of Ottawa’s poorest neighbourhoods — is moving toward a new kind of future. And it is changes in the road system that have made the difference. North River Road, which runs along the western edge of Overbrook, used to be busy with cars. Not anymore. Construction of the Vanier Parkway cut off the area, diverted traffic out of the neighbourhood, and turned West Overbrook into an urban backwater. The result is a tiny neighbourhood of little houses brimming with potential and virtually isolated from the sights and sounds of the city.
With hundreds of modest houses ripe for renewal and a spectacular location on the park-lined Rideau River, West Overbrook hovers on the verge of rebirth. Savvy house buyers in search of location combined with affordability are already investing in a new and glossy future for this tiny oasis.
OREB code: 3501
Boundaries: Rideau River, McArthur Avenue, Vanier Parkway, Queensway
Low/high listings, March 2013: Two-bedroom ground-level condo apartment with fireplace, 995 North River Rd., Suite 102B, $279,000; four-bedroom house with in-ground pool and facing park, 1111 North River Rd., $549,900
Added bonus: The Rideau Tennis Club at North River Road and Donald Street has 19 outdoor courts in summer and eight domed courts in winter, as well as a fitness centre and other recreational facilities.
Approach New Edinburgh through the tall white gateway of the Minto Bridges, or stroll down leafy Stanley Avenue. It feels as though, by some cosmic accident, you have catapulted back in time to a 19th-century village.
New Edinburgh is an extraordinary tale of survival. The oldest part of this former industrial village — a Heritage Conservation District since 2001 — is quite small. Bounded on two sides by river and parkland and on a third by the long, fenced boundary of Rideau Hall, the heritage precinct consists of a rectangle of streets just seven blocks long by three wide. But it has exceptional integrity as a neighbourhood. The mills that gave birth to the village in the 1830s have long since disappeared, and Crichton Street and Sussex Drive (in this area) are no longer lined with shops. Still, hundreds of 19th-century houses remain, giving visitors and residents alike a chance to experience something of the quieter, prettier, and more human past.
OREB code: 3301
Boundaries: Sussex Drive, MacKay Street, Stanley Avenue, Dufferin Road
Low/high listings, March 2013: Two-bedroom, two-storey row unit with open living and dining room, 405 MacKay St., Suite D, $419,900; a 110-year-old three-bedroom house with river views and a private deck, 135 Stanley Ave., $1,290,000
Added bonus: Your neighbours include the governor general, so it’s easy to skate on Rideau Hall’s outdoor rink in winter, polish your cricket game on the GG’s pitch in summer, and participate in special events year round.
LIFE ON THE LAKE
The Pond, Rockcliffe Park Village
The Pond, with its cool green waters and tree-shaded banks, is an astonishing focal point for a ring of houses and townhouses on the southern edge of Rockcliffe. This tiny lake — now protected as part of the Caldwell Carver Conservation Area — began life as the Sandpits, a sand and gravel quarry excavated between 1890 and 1949. When work stopped, the artificial depression filled with water and a ring of forest grew up again. In the 1950s, as young families began to move into new housing in nearby Manor Park, The Pond turned into the neighbourhood swimming hole.
The Pond, just 170 metres in length, belongs to everyone in Ottawa and is open at given hours for public swimming. Indeed, most of the people who swim there come from outside the neighbourhood. Nevertheless, local people have a special passion for their little lake, and they work hard to keep it safe and healthy.
OREB codes: 3201 and 3202
Boundaries: Pond Street, Whitemarl Drive, Bittern Court, McKay Lake
Low/high listings, March 2013: No listings right on The Pond in March 2013; properties elsewhere in Rockcliffe Park include a three-bedroom single with deck and five skylights, 36 Acacia Ave., $719,900; five-bedroom 8,000-square-foot manor-style house with English gardens, 390 Buena Vista Rd., $6,250,000
If not here, then: It doesn’t get much more exclusive than the little pond in Faircrest Heights just east of the intersection of Smyth Road and Alta Vista Drive. Just seven houses have access to it, including a six-bedroom house at 1890 Barnhart Pl. recently listed at $1,850,000.
TAKING TO THE HILLS
Rothwell Heights is a neighbourhood time capsule from the 1960s and 1970s. It is the dramatic landscape, however, that gives it real identity as an urban enclave. The “heights” consist of a line of low hills and ravines paralleling the Ottawa River east of Blair Road. When the first sub-division took place here in the 1950s, the Rothwell farm lay well beyond the urban edge of Ottawa. Over the next two decades, Rothwell Heights emerged as a distinct and identifiable community with hundreds of modest two-storey and split-level houses, individually designed and built but unified by the architectural aesthetic of the day.
Today several hundred houses are tucked into the gullies and slopes of Rothwell Heights, including some recent ambitious infilling and rebuilding, mostly along the upper edges of the neighbourhood. The community still has a woodland feel, however. The lots are large, with winding streets, no sidewalks, little street lighting, and mature stands of trees everywhere you look.
OREB code: 2101
Boundaries: Blair Road, Montreal Road, Rothwell Circle, Rothwell Drive, Delong Drive, Kaymar Drive, and the Ottawa River
Low/high listings, March 2013: Three-bedroom open-concept bungalow with 185-foot frontage, 42 Oriole Dr., $724,900; nine-bedroom three-storey house on 2.2 acres, 37 Davidson Dr., $2,450,000
Added bonus: Rothwell Heights is in the catchment area of Colonel By Secondary School, the city’s top-ranked high school in the annual Fraser Institute schools survey, where students can work toward an international baccalaureate.
Blackburn Hamlet, once a farming village east of Green’s Creek, was a pioneer housing development in the 1960s. Tucked into an angle between Bearbrook Road and Blackburn Hamlet Bypass, the neighbourhood’s northern edge is shaped by an extraordinary sweep of green land. It is one of only a few urban enclaves in the Greenbelt. The development was originally sponsored by landowner Michael Budd (son of a Ukrainian-born market gardener) and Costain Estates Limited, subsidiary of a British firm founded in 1865 and responsible for many large London developments. After the war, building restrictions in Britain caused that company to go international.
The houses in Blackburn Hamlet have a distinctive, unifying look, with design features that were new to Ottawa at the time. Most houses have a modest two-storey or split-level design, and though there are various models, all were graced with bow windows. They were also designed with family rooms — an innovation in the 1960s — and built-in garages.
OREB codes: 2301, 2302 and 2303
Boundaries: Bounded on three sides by Greenbelt and Innes Road on the south
Low/high listings, March 2013: Three-bedroom condo row house with fenced yard and family room, 2296 Orient Park Dr., Suite 13, $204,900; freehold three-bedroom end row house with gas fireplace and hardwood floors, 2392 Rondel St., $289,900
If not here, then: In the west end, Bells Corners offers houses of similar age, along with parks, schools, a library branch, and a location on the edge of the Greenbelt.
ISLAND IN THE FIELDS
Navan rises like an island of trees and rooftops from a flat expanse of Ontario farmland. Little more than a country crossroads in the past, the village has recently flowered as the core of a substantial rural suburb. At first glance, there is not much to Navan — a church, a restaurant, and a general store huddling with a few other businesses at the intersection of Trim and Colonial roads. Look farther, and you discover street after street of houses gathered around and peeking out over farmland from large wooded lots. Over the years, some 3,000 people in search of peace, quiet, and rural affordability have chosen to settle here.
Navan hangs on to tradition — a general store, for example, founded in 1898 and still run by the same family, and the annual Navan Fair, over half a century old. It has opened its doors to the future, however, as one of Ottawa’s most countrified bedroom communities.
OREB code: 1111
Boundaries: Self-contained village near intersection of Trim and Colonial roads
Low/high listings, March 2013: Four-bedroom bungalow on a treed, one-third-acre corner lot, 1272 Colonial Rd., $309,900; custom stone three-bedroom bungalow on ravine lot with in-ground pool, 1480 Inge Cres., $669,000
If not here, then: On the opposite side of the region, the pretty village of Richmond offers shopping, schools, a library, and a justly famed bakery, just a five-minute drive from the southern edge of Kanata, making for an easy commute to the high-tech hub.