Downtown Ottawa's Former "Queen's Wharf"

"Dr. Conway Don leaving his speed boat (at 'Ketchum's Boathouse,' Queen's Wharf) on the Ottawa River," Alexandra Bridge and Hull in background, ca 1957.

The following comprises all the excerpts, photos and clippings that didn’t fit into my latest Apartment613 story on Ketchum's/Ratté’s/Ratty’s Boathouse (1860s-1950s).

To remind, or if you've yet to read the apt613 article, the telling of this tale is hoped to inspire the building a new downtown marina on Ottawa’s former Queen’s Wharf. Enjoy!

Timber booms, Nepean Point (& Notre Dame Basillica), Ottawa River, 1872. Arrows point to Queen's Wharf and Ratte's Boathouse (in Entrance Bay) respectively, left to right). (Original photo by William Notman – colourized by Ashley Newall))

Naturally, Queen’s Wharf (adjacent to Ketchum’s/Ratty's Boathouse, between today’s Alexandra and MacDonald-Cartier bridges) was used for steamboat travel on the Ottawa River, which leads me to this rant... We need to bring a steamboat (or three) back to the Ottawa River for longer distance excursions than those currently on offer, namely the ones taking tourists just past the mouth of the Gatineau River and no further. Even a lone steamer running between Ottawa and Montebello would get the job done. Rest assured, if I win the lottery, I'll be buying a steamboat and enacting just such a plan.

Steamer Empress, Queen's Wharf. (Ottawa Journal – May 1887)

Steamer Empress approaching Queen's Wharf dock in Entrance Bay; Nepean Point (and Centre Block Victoria Tower) behind at left, Hull at right. (Photo by William Topley via Library & Archives)

It turns out that "Ratty's Boathouse" owner Antoine Ratté also operated a covered skating rink – called the “Victoria Covered Skating Rink" – at Queen’s Wharf starting in the 1870s (most likely inside his boathouse), making it Ottawa's first covered rink to my knowledge. (The first was previously thought to be the Royal Roller Rink on Albert St., where the Senators first practiced before quickly moving into the first indoor rink, Dey’s Rink, for games). There was another - separate, and better-known - Victoria Rink in Ottawa which opened in 1896, and the two are not the same. More on all that in a future apt613 article.

Ratté's "Victoria Covered Skating Rink," Queen's Wharf. (Ottawa Daily Citizen – Dec. 8, 1876)

In the summer months, Ratté advertised as “Ratty,” whereas in the hoity toity winter skating carnival months, it was usually the “Victoria Covered Skating Rink, A. Ratte Proprietor.”

"Mr. Ratte (Copied 1907)." The fact that this photo was "copied in 1907" strongly suggests it was taken before 1907. Since Antoine Ratte (1816-1899) was well-worthy of a portrait due to his business success plus his newsworthy lawsuit against the lumbermen, and with no other Ottawa Ratte's having made the news in the 19th century, I have to presume this pic is of the man himself. (Photo by William Topley)

As for the Ketchums…

Ketchum Boat Company, er, launch. (Ottawa Citizen – July 19, 1904)

The Ketchums descended from Jesse Ketchum, a noted Toronto pioneer, and Zeb(ulon) and Harry split from the Toronto Ketchum faction, at least geographically, opting to set up shop in the nation's capital. Westboro model citizen Zeb also opened a major cow tagging manufacturing company in Westboro (now located in Brockville), which is obviously way less fun than sporting goods and boats, and so I'll forgo delving into that.

Under both the Ketchums and Ratté, the boathouse actually rented boats(?!). Can you imagine? Ones with motors even (, in the case of the Ketchums). What a concept! Nowadays, we can rent canoes and the like at the foot of the Alexandra Bridge (on the Gatineau side) – credit where credit is due, and that’s a welcome new addition to our very slim waterfront options. Motorboat rentals would be an ideal addition to our proposed downtown marina (albeit not including jet skis, naturally).

Ketchum's boathouse -- boat rentals, with driver. (Ottawa Journal – July 4, 1905) 

The closest place to Ottawa that rents regular motorboats – as per my extensive, though perhaps stale, research, and not including houseboats (Smith's Falls) and pontoon boats (Gananoque) – is Kingston! We can’t let Kingston be better than us, can we?!

Anyways, I think it's fair to say that Queen's Wharf boathouse founder Antoine Ratté not only loved the river – he lived the river.

In 1884, in a David vs. Goliath turn, he took on the Ottawa lumbermen, including the mighty J.R. Booth, to try and put an end to their practice of throwing sawdust in the Ottawa River. Not only did it create methane gas beneath the surface (from the rotting sawdust), but it also gummed up and otherwise clogged his docks, impacting his business. (It further complicated navigation in the entire vicinity, over and above all the floating logs.) While he finally won that lawsuit around 1890, making him a folk hero, in 1894 he felt compelled to raise and lodge a petition decrying the same issue, the crime evidently still being in progress. (The effects continued long after, well into the Ketchum’s reign, with a constant gaseous smell lingering around the boathouse and wharf, along with occasional underwater explosions.)

From Ratté's manifesto against the Ottawa River sawdust scourge...

From "The Saw-Dust Nuisance in the River Ottawa," by Antoine Ratté, ca. 1886. (The order In Council referred to was a failed attempt by the Province of Ontario to circumvent lawsuits such as Ratte's, favouring industrial interests over environmental concerns.)

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Additional Images…

Ketchum's Boathouse, Lady Grey Drive, and Royal Canadian Mint, 1920. (Orig. image via Library & Archives – colourized by Ashley Newall)

Steamer Empress approaching the Queen's Wharf dock (btwn 1889-1907). (Photo by Ottawa East's James Ballantyne, via Library & Archives)

'Driveway' (Lady Grey Dr.), Ketchum's boathouse, Queen's Wharf, and Royal Canadian Mint, Ottawa (1923-24). (Orig. photo via Library & Archives – colourized by Ashley Newall) 

"USA Visit - Machine line-up showing crowds," Ketchum Boat Co. on left; Jan. 24, 1927. (Via Library & Archives)

Looking easterly down the shoreline from approximate place of Ketchum's/Ratty's Boathouse towards the (still-standing) Ottawa Rowing Club clubhouse. MacDonald-Cartier Bridge in background. (Photo by Ashley Newall – July 2022)

"Empress" steaming away from Queen's Wharf (on the way to Grenville, Quebec), 1898. (Photo by William Topley, via Library & Archives)

Original Apartment613 story here: Ketchum's/Ratté’s/Ratty’s Boathouse (1860s-1950s)

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