"Down the Merivale Road" ~ W.W. Campbell

Campbell's house in Nepean. The outside might get heritage protection.
21 withrow Ottawa
W.W. Campbell’s last house was at 21 Withrow in Ottawa, off Merivale Road. I passed that property many times (to avoid Baseline) and always wondered what the story of the property was.

Recently, I met Jennifer, who is the coordinator sustainable transportation at Envirocentre, at an Open House about the Nepean Trail, organised by Councillor Egli. You can not talk about the Nepean Trail without mentioning Merivale Road and all its shortcomings.

Jennifer, who once collected data regarding clam stock, brought various exotic and domesticated animals to long-term care facilities, raised funds to improve local parks and is a board member of the Historical Society in Ottawa (to name but a few roles), mentioned she had a poem about Merivale Road from the late William Wilfred Campbell (1860-1918), who was a clergyman, writer, poet and civil servant.

I asked Jennifer if she could share that poem with me and she did. Meanwhile I read up on W.W. Campbell.

He was born in Newmarket in Upper Canada. After a number of positions in Ontario, New Brunswick and New England, he ended up with his family in Ottawa in 1891, where he was promised a job. By that time he was well known as a poet. You may know ‘Indian Summer’, apparently ‘among the most beloved of Canadian poems‘.

Indian Summer

Along the line of smoky hills
The crimson forest stands,
And all the day the blue-jay calls
Throughout the autumn lands.
Now by the brook the maple leans
With all his glory spread,
And all the sumachs on the hills
Have turned their green to red.
Now by great marshes wrapt in mist,
Or past some river’s mouth, 
Throughout the long, still autumn day 
wild birds are flying south.

In Ottawa the promised job did not materialize for Campbell, but in May 1891 Sir John A. Macdonald hired Campbell as a temporary clerk for $1.50 per day in the Department of Railways and Canals. Campbell also hung out with people such as Lord Grey (of Grey Cup fame), who’s ideas for a national capital commission in Ottawa would be adopted much later.

In Ottawa, the poet in 1915 moved his family to the outskirts of Ottawa, about 3 miles outside the city limits of (then) Ottawa, off a rural road called Merivale Road. He bought a stone house on a couple of acres on 21 Withrow Ave. (see photo above). It is more or less across from Emerald Plaza at the other side of Merivale, a block or two in.

Coincidentally, I pass that property often on my bike, to avoid Baseline towards Algonquin College and beyond or to ride one of our Nepean loops. I always wondered what the story behind that hidden house is and now I know. Thanks to Jennifer. I owe her a coffee.

The part of Merivale through the Greenbelt, where Merivale is still fairly authentic.
The part of Merivale through the Greenbelt, where Merivale is still fairly authentic including the hydro poles on the right hand. In Campbell’s time the pavement must have been stonedust at the most. (Google)

 

Merivale Road, close to Baseline.
Merivale Road, close to Baseline. (Google)

 

Down The Merivale Road

 

At morning down the Merivale Road

When all the world is June,

Of woods and fields the blest abode

And meadow larks atune,

 

Under the maples in the sun

The world is fair and sweet;

For miles the fields and meadows run,

A paradise complete.

 

In fields where daisies blink their eyes,

And molten sunlight sifts,

The buttercup unto the skies

Its golden chalice lifts.

 

And out beyond the valley, where

The mighty river lies,

Dim, blue and misty, vast and fair,

The lone Laurentians rise.

 

~ William Wilfred Campbell, 1922 (sorry Jennifer, he passed away in 1918, so that year can not be right)

Reading his poem, it is hard to visualise how Merivale Road looked like a 100 years ago. Perhaps you have to go out to rural Eastern Ontario to find something similar. I can imagine some road off Highway 7 somewhere.

Of course, today’s Merivale Road is so ruined that the poem begged for a parody, which Jennifer shared with me too. The author is unknown, but here is today’s modified poem. If you know who wrote the parody, let me know.

Merivale near the poet's house today. (Google)
Merivale near the poet’s house today. (Google)

 

Up the Merivale Road

 

At morning up the Merivale Road

When workers all commute,

There’s dust and noise and transport load

Where car and bus pollute.

 

Under the wires, screened from sun,

The road is lost in smog.

For miles the roadwork barriers run,

A traffic-jamming bog.

 

But on beyond the frantic roar

When Merivale flows like glass,

Bleak and gray – or green once more,

What then will come to pass?

 

The fields are gone, but not the skies,

There’s room still for a tree,

And daisies still could blink their eyes

It’s up to you and me.

 

An urban landscape needn’t be

A thing devoid of cheer.

With vigilance and dignity

We’ll come back, clean and fair.

 

~ anonymous, 1980

Merivale Road further south
Merivale Road further south near the Merivale Mall

And wouldn’t you know. Coincidentally, the property is currently on the market for $ 2,599,000 mln. As the real estate developer writes about this single family farm home from 1840:

Attention Developers! Potential for 14 lots, all approximately 50 x 100. Rare find within the greenbelt. Drawing has not yet been approved. Huge potential. No offers until March 3rd, 2016

Which basically means if you look on the drawing below (realtor.ca screen grab) that W.W. Campbell’s house might be torn down. So go and take a look at the house before it is torn down. Unless the garage goes and the house stays…..

21Withrowave
W.W. Campbell’s property subdivided and the 1840 house probably knocked down.

1 Comment

  1. Hi Hans,
    My name is Rachael McCulloch and I am a reporter for Centretown News. I am working on a story about the pilot project for 12-spot bikes corrals in Ottawa that just ended, and the possibility of these corrals popping up in other areas of the city. I was wondering if you have a few spare minutes today for me to call and ask you about your thoughts on this? My e-mail is rachael_mcculloch@hotmail.com. Thanks!

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