A Heritage Enclave in Rockcliffe Park

By Martha Edmond
The group of three dwellings at 204, 212 and 224 Springfield Road represents an early building phase in Rockcliffe and provides another side to our history, perhaps an overlooked aspect.  Together, they highlight the story of a group of workers whose history has been remarkably preserved here. That these houses have survived all these years is notable – three in a row, all changed to some degree but remarkably intact after 107 years. Architecturally, the houses may be a common wood-frame building type but, within the context of the Rockcliffe Heritage Conservation District, they are rare. They have been little altered, except for changes to the exterior cladding, windows and doors, and rear additions. They still retain their front verandas, and appear much as they were 100 years ago.

The houses have an important history in Rockcliffe and beyond.  They are the oldest surviving buildings in the Village after Crichton Lodge (the Norwegian embassy residence at 160 Lisgar Road) and 95 Mackinnon Road. They are noteworthy for their longevity of ownership. Samuel Short, a well-known Village trustee, built 224 Springfield in 1892 and lived there for 70 years until his death in 1963. Two generations of the Jackson family owned 212 from 1907 to the 1980s; 204 was occupied by Henry Schinzel from 1899 until his death 60 years later.  Both houses were constructed in 1899 to the same plans by the Sylvester family, whose Graham Brothers Florists and greenhouses were located along Rideau Terrace in New Edinburgh. 212 Springfield
                                         
These three dwellings housed persons of relatively modest means, and stand in striking contract to the stately mansions constructed in Rockcliffe a few decades later.  Many assume that when the Village was established in the 1860s it was exclusively for the affluent.  But Rockcliffe had more humble origins.  Aside from the MacKay and Keefer families, early residents included a butcher, carpenter, labourer, caretaker, millwright, and gardeners.

As a capital city, Ottawa attracted many workers who contributed to the local economy and ultimately to the growth and success of the capital.  Rockcliffe had a tradition of service trade workers, like Schinzel and Jackson, who settled in the Village.  Without their contribution, neither its larger properties, nor the Village administration itself, could have been viably maintained.  The Keefer family tightly controlled Village affairs until 1908 but never banned servants or members of the service trade from living here.  Thomas C. Keefer, in fact, placed no restrictions on race, income or occupation – which cannot be said of other planned communities, including one that provided a model for Rockcliffe – Llellewyn Park in New Jersey.  These houses and their occupants are a direct reminder of this tradition!

They also highlight the long tradition of gardening in the Village. The ample lot sizes allowed for beautiful ornamental gardens, and garden clubs have been active for decades.  The long-time owner of 204 Springfield, Henry Schinzel, worked for Graham Brothers as a florist, and for close to 40 years was the gardener for the Wilson Southam family at Lindenelm on Crescent Road (now the Spanish embassy residence). (1)  Schinzel was part of a large group of professional gardeners in Rockcliffe that included James McNabb, employed at the Keefer’s Manor House, and Frank Ross, gardener for the McLeod Clark family at Crichton Lodge. 

Schinzel expertly maintained the Lindenelm grounds.  The estate had been laid out by the celebrated American landscape architect, Frederick Todd, and included (up the Second World War) the extensive rock gardens that make up the Rockeries.  Hamilton Southam, the son of Wilson Southam and now a leading promoter of the arts in Canada, recalled the important role of Schinzel in his family’s life, and his father’s purchase of 204 Springfield for Schinzel:

Far more interesting than either of our chauffeurs, in our childish eyes, was our splendid, if somewhat awesome, German gardener… He lived in a large and comfortable house my father bought for him on Springfield Road behind Ashbury School…  Schinzel’s special attention was given to the large fruit and vegetable gardens … neatly mixed with rows of flowers to be cut for the house. I particularly remember a long fence of chicken-wire, up which he trained fragrant sweet peas of all colours to grow to shoulder-height. In those days my parents looked to Schinzel to produce all the fresh fruits and vegetables our large family required, and he produced them faithfully for us year after year… Schinzel brought the Lindenelm gardens to their apogee of beauty and productivity.

Schinzel was also a famous builder of purple martin houses, as Hamilton Southam writes, and was known to many, including a Prime Minister:

Schinzel was asked for his martin houses by many of my fathers friends and his reputation reached its height when Mackenzie King requested one. (2)

The first occupants of 212 Springfield were Samuel Chivers, who also worked for Graham Brothers, and his wife, Emma, a dressmaker.  The next owner, Thomas Jackson, was well known for his municipal employment.  He was the Village Constable and provided various forms of public works, such as road clearing, for the community.  These houses are the last surviving reminders of people who worked to develop Rockcliffe as a beautiful community.  We must recognize their role in creating some of the magnificent gardens, for which Rockcliffe has been so famous, and their service to the municipality.

Both 204 and 212 Springfield are now threatened with demolition, a result of Ashbury College’s proposal to build a boys’ dormitory.  Many of the homes of the wealthier citizens are beautifully preserved and highlighted in our Village heritage.  We have many reminders of their lifestyle.  Perhaps it is time to give equal recognition to other classes of residents.  What better way to honour their service than to preserve the houses that they inhabited for so many years.

 

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(1) Henry Schinzel also was part of a very active German community and the family helped to found New Edinburgh’s St. John’s Lutheran Church, where a stained glass window over the front door commemorates his sister, Emma Schinzel. Gardening was a family tradition.  One brother worked at Rideau Hall, while another was employed at the Mackenzie King Estate in Kingsmere. 

(2) On April 16, 1932 Mackenzie King recorded in his diary that “he drove out to Rockcliffe to visit Schinzel to see some of his birdhouses for Kingsmere, for the purple martins…