Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Blackburn Bros., Mica Manufacturing, 200 Crichton Street

As I mentioned in my first posting on this blog, the year we moved into New Edinburgh (1966), located on the NE corner of Crichton and Dufferin, was the former Blackburn Bros. mica factory.

I am not sure when it closed. I doubt it was still in operation at that point and shortly afterwards, the building was demolished.

The lot remained vacant for a good many years until a condominium building was built there. For a good many years, however, you would find chunks of mica lying about, between lumps of dog poo and broken bottles.

While New Edinburgh is now a quiet residential neighbourhood, it was once a thriving industrial and business area, as well as the home of those working in the area. Rocklciffe Village, to the north, which is now the home of mansions and embassies was once the home of those who were in service to the rich who lived in Sandy Hill and other areas of the city, as well as government and clerical workers.

Along the Rideau River which flows just two blocks away, from Crichton Street were heavy industry, chemical manufacturers, sawmills and other water-powered mills (located both at the Rideau Falls, where the Rideau plunges into the Ottawa River, but further upstream where Cummings Bridge crosses the Rideau at Montreal Road), rail-yards for both train and streetcars, foundries, amongst others.

202 Crichton Street (or Creighton, according to the directory listing, below)

200 Crichton Street

The Blackburn Brothers apparently also a mica mine in Hull Township. I am wondering if this is the one, now abandoned, located near Chelsea, Quebec. My mother used to take us up there on field trips, as well as her high school geography students and several generations of kids from our Sunday school.

Mica was a very important mineral and was used in a wide variety of processes including as an insulator in high voltage electrical eq uipment, manufacturing capacitors for radio frequency applications, used instead of glass in windows for stoves and kerosene heaters (and in greenhouses), pressed into a thin film and used on Geiger-Müller tubes to detect low penetrating Alpha particles, in cosmetics, used in the creation of "interference paints", used in heating elements, as a substrate for sample preparation for the atomic force microscope, and as clean imaging substrates in atomic force microscopy....

It has been used since prehistoric times (as a pigment for cave paintings) and in windows before the it was discovered how to create glass in sheets. At the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, near Mexico City, contained considerable amounts of locally mined mica in layers up to 12 inches thick. It continues to be used by the Hindus during Holi, in the pigments thrown during the festivities.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The best laid plans...

The day after I posted my first entry, I had a "teensy accident" and broke bones in both hands, amongst other things. However, before I left on the road trip that led to my eventual ambulance ride I went out and took some photos of several places which will end up here, including the former home of the former mica factory.

Soon to be posted (once I am a bit more healed), the old Chinese laundry in New Edinburgh, the city-run outdoor pool, at Flatrock, again in New Edinburgh, and Laroque's Department Store at Rideau and Dalhousie.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Vanished Ottawa

A number of years ago, when we were living in New Edinburgh, there was an article printed in the community newspaper about the locations of some now-vanished places in the neighbourhood.

One of those places was a mica factory which the article placed in the south-east corner of the intersection of Crichton and Dufferin Streets.

When I was a child, the mica factory had stood up until the year before we moved into the neighbourhood and for many years the site was simply an empty lot full of dog shit and weeds.... and flakes and chunks of discarded mica. It stood, not on the south-east corner, but the north-east corner. In fact, the year before we moved and the year before the building was torn down, Mom and I had waited for a bus right outside the factory and I sat on the front step. We must have been there to register my sister at the school across the street, Crichton Street Public School (now hidden from that vantage point behind a condominium -- that stands in what was the Girls play yard.).

My mother called the community newspaper and spoke to the editor, one of the many newcomers to the neighbourhood, probably living in the now-upscale end of the neighbourhood. My mother was told "You don't know what you're talking about..." and hung up on.

The fact that we had lived in the neighbourhood for over 30 years at that point was irrelevant... what mattered to the editor was that, as the "authority" on the Yuppified enclave that had moved from being a working-class neighbourhood to the exclusive and upscale home to the well-heeled, she was right and we were wrong.

The fact that the mica factory existed didn't really MATTER as much as "Look how far we've come".

Sadly, more and more of Ottawa's past is disappearing. If it is recorded, the lost becomes a mere footnote to the "progress". Memories of the past become quaint anecdotes for people like the editor of the community newspaper to toss about in order to give the community cache without actually having to see the déclassé underpinnings of what the well-heeled call "their little enclave". "Isn't that quaint [thank God they tore that monstrosity down!]".

The systematic erasure of our past and replacing it with the rosy faux memorial, often misplaced to across the street or footnoted "close to this spot" because we either can't quite recall where it was or something too grandiose to allow the spot to be pinpointed, is sad and duplicitous.

"Vanished Ottawa" will attempt to accurately locate and record the vanished and vanishing.

The first posting will be for the aforementioned mica factory, Blackburn Bros., once located at 202 Crichton Street, the north-east corner of Crichton Street at Dufferin.