Historical Background

The Village of Rockcliffe Park is noted for the beauty of its natural setting and green spaces, a heritage which dates back to the original division of the area. It was in 1864 that Thomas Coltrin Keefer, regarded as the founder of Rockcliffe, produced his subdivision plan of “Park, Villa, and Village Lots” for part of the estate of his late father-in-law, Thomas McKay. This plan combined winding roads with large lots, and banned businesses. Thomas McKay, a major contractor of the Rideau Canal, at one time owned a 1,100-acre estate stretching from the current National Research Council building on Sussex Drive to present-day St. Laurent Boulevard and included his residence, Rideau Hall.

The name for the Village was taken from its first house, “Rockcliffe”, built by Duncan Rynier MacNab, and completed before his death in 1837. In the estate, the Keefer and McKay families were among the early residents and their histories are intertwined with the development of Rockcliffe.

Village development proceeded slowly. The first houses were mostly summer cottages with only a few permanent residences. In the early days, some people chose Rockcliffe because land was less expensive than in the more fashionable Sandy Hill. After public transportation improved, many Ottawans enjoyed Sunday outings to the Rockcliffe picnic park established by Thomas Keefer, while others chose to live in the country atmosphere of what would become the Village of Rockcliffe Park.

In 1926, Rockcliffe Park was incorporated as a separate municipality in the Township of Gloucester. It had been administered as a Police Village from 1908, with boundaries that have remained unchanged to this day.

The Village flourished as an independent municipality; its administration was small, financially prudent, readily accessible, and responsive to the needs of residents. Councillors and Mayors held office on a volunteer basis and residents actively participated in Village committees that reported directly to Council. This was local government by the community and it was, in later years, a vigorous contributor to regional government.

Where Ontario had such regional structures, it decided in the 1990s to amalgamate the components into single municipalities. So, despite the widespread objection of citizens, amalgamation of the eleven municipalities of Ottawa-Carleton took effect in January 2001.

coverA history of Rockcliffe Park has been written by Martha Edmond, a Village resident. "Rockcliffe Park: A History of the Village" spans the 200-year period from the first land grant in 1799 to the time of the Village’s amalgamation into the larger City of Ottawa in 2001. It may be purchased from Books on Beechwood for $49.50 plus tax.


Heritage Conservation District

Prior to amalgamation, the Village commissioned a study in 1997 to determine whether the Village should become a Heritage Conservation District under the Ontario Heritage Act. The study, by architect Julian Smith and historian Victoria Angel, carried out research and held well-attended public meetings to review draft material copied to all villagers. Agreement was unanimous on the merits of designating the Village as a heritage district and on a set of Management Guidelines to guide development while protecting the Village’s heritage character. Designation was formally approved in 1998.

The study found that a central feature of Rockcliffe is the importance of landscape: “Some Heritage Conservation Districts derive their primary significance from a dominant architectural style or period. In the case of the Village of Rockcliffe Park, however, the architectural character of individual residential and institutional properties is secondary to their landscaped settings.” (p. 43). The study, which includes the Management Guidelines, may be purchased at the Community Police Centre.

The boundaries of the heritage district and the Village are identical. This may be the only entire municipality in Canada to be designated a heritage district.


Transition from Village to City

At amalgamation, while the municipality ended, heritage designation continued. So the area is now the “Village of Rockcliffe Park Heritage Conservation District” in the City of Ottawa. Along with heritage designation in 1998, residents established the Friends of the Village of Rockcliffe Park Foundation to help support community projects after the anticipated municipal amalgamation. With amalgamation, residents established the Rockcliffe Park Residents Association (RPRA) to be the interface between the community and the administrators of the new enlarged City of Ottawa. Major committees of the former Village, such as for the Library, Heritage and Site Plan, and Environment, became committees of the RPRA, with many of the same members.

Early Rockcliffe Park

The photos here are from a book called "Artwork on Ottawa in Canada 1898, by W.H. Carre. The photos are donated from the estate of C. Boehmer by his grandson, Jason Spencer. Captions and more detail of the pictures will be provided shortly.

RP_house RP_Street-Car RP_Park mackay_lake