In 2019, the demolition of the Ennis House at 541 Rideau Street revealed something few people might have known. One of the oldest buildings in Lowertown was being lost. As the exterior brick façade of this 2.5 storey mansion was being removed, it revealed the original 1.5 storey wood structure underneath. Based on maps, this building predates Confederation having been built prior to 1861. That’s just 30 years after the Rideau Canal was completed and Bytown took off.
A number of years ago, the Lowertown Heritage Committee identified this house as having potential historical value. This started a long path of research on the various owners over the years to try and find old photos of the original porch and facade. The building’s early long-time occupants were the Ennis Family followed by Harriett Casselman.
A map from 1861 shows a building on the property. This part of Lowertown would have been very sparsely populated at the time. It’s not clear who the early occupants were, but that information is likely in the old Crown ordinance files at the National Archives – a research project for another day…
In 1865, it appears the former “ordinance” property was granted by the Crown to John Joyce, a local property owner of some celebrity. He’s noted as living at 77 Heney Street nearby in 1897. He sold the property to Francis and Henriette Ennis in 1871 for $1,500 – about $30,000 in today’s dollars.
Prior to arriving in Ottawa, Francis and Henriette were married in 1859 in Saint-Pascal, Kamouraska, Quebec. Henriette, born 1836, was a niece of Sir George Etienne Taché, one of the fathers of Confederation. Her father, Thomas Ansbrow, from Ireland, was a patriot of the 1837-38 rebellion. He married Marie-Claire Taché, a sister of Sir G. E. Taché. The link to Sir Taché likely resulted in Francis acquiring an opportunity to work in the burgeoning civil service in Ottawa.
Francis Hubert Ennis, born 1839, first appears in the old Ottawa city directories in 1866 as an employee of the Department of Public Works. His residence is given as 273 Rideau Street near King Edward Avenue. By the time of his early death in 1885, at age 46, he was a prominent civil servant. His obituary confirms that he was the Secretary of the Department of Public Works, and that he had arrived in Ottawa in 1866, the same year the city was made the seat of Government.
Around the time of Francis’ death in 1885, the house was remodeled. Originally a 1.5 storey wood house with a front porch, it was likely styled similar to other chalet-style homes of 18th century Quebec. A third floor was added and styled as a mansard roof. The house exterior was also covered with a brick façade, which was only recently removed to reveal the original first layer of the house. Finally, the original porch was either replaced or extended to wrap around both sides of the house. Around 1919, the porch was again replaced and the wrap-around sides removed.
This is where there is an unusual twist in the story of the Ennis family and it has taken years to sort it out. The house was sold following Francis’s death in 1885. At some point between 1885 and 1900, Henriette and her four youngest children (Marie E, Edward, Emilie, Blanche) moved to Jersey City, New Jersey, in the United States. It appears another branch of the Ennis family was living in Jersey City – possibly a brother of Francis.
Henriette Ansbrow passed away in Jersey City in 1906. Her son Edward Ennis, and former prominent Ottawa citizens, MP Davis and John Heney, were witnesses at the funeral in Ottawa. Francis and Henriette are buried at Notre Dame Cemerery in Ottawa.
Here’s an accounting of what happened to all nine Ennis children:
1) Elizabeth Ennis (1860-1931): She was married to Albert Bender (1817-1899) in 1887 at Pointe Gatineau, Quebec. She was Albert’s second wife, and although he had children from his first marriage, they had no children. Not much else is known about Elizabeth, except that she lived for a time after Albert’s death with a Mary Lea Degneault, and passed away in Sainte-Valerie, Boileau, Quebec.
2) Dr. Thomas Ennis (1861-1899): Like his father, he died young at age 37 and unmarried. His obituary indicated that he had accumulated a noteworthy reputation as a doctor and politician in the Gaspé region of Quebec.
3) Caroline Ennis (1863-1865): Died in early childhood.
4) Sister Emilie Ennis (1865-1936): She became a nun at the Precious Blood Monastery in Ottawa. She was known as Sister Marie-Thérèse du Calvaire.
5) Marie E. Ennis (1867-1945): Marie was the only child out of the nine Ennis children who had offspring. She was married to James Woodward Burke (born 1847). She was James’ second wife, and he had two children from his previous marriage: Alfred (1882-1969) and Letitia (1884-1955?). Marie E. and James had three children together: Francis, Edward, and Claire. More on these three in a moment…
6) Francis Ennis (1869-1871): Died in early childhood.
7, 8, 9) Edward (1871-1935), Emilie (1872-1937), and Blanche (1874-1963): Never married. They ended up living together, and the three are buried together at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Jersey City. Coincidentally, they are buried at the same cemetery as their close cousins, Frank H., Lydia K., and Laura Ennis, who were also unmarried and all lived together in Jersey City.
Back to the three Ennis-Burke grand children, Marie E and James W. Burke’s kids:
A) Francis Burke (1898-1934): He was born to Marie E. and James W. Burke in Newark, but grew up in Jersey City. He became a Jesuit priest and taught at Georgetown, Washington, D.C. Like his grandfather Ennis, he also died young and is buried in the Jesuit Cemetery at Georgetown.
B) Edward Burke (1898-1934): Also born at Newark and grew up in Jersey City. He owned an accounting firm, McCarthy & Burke on Newark Avenue, Jersey City. He also was the president of the local Kiwanis Club at one time. His first wife, Florence Catherine Clark (1902-1946) was ill for many years and passed away young. They had one daughter, Florence Gertrude Burke (born 1927), who married a Bogart.
I caught up with Florence in 2018, but unfortunately she has passed away in 2017. Instead, I spoke to a close friend of hers in Vancouver, Washington, Larry Siroshton. She had remarried and had no children, but her friend recalled a woman who spoke enthusiastically about many travels, including some to Ottawa. Her grandmother, Marie E Ennis, took care of her as a young child, because her mother (Florence G.) was bedridden. It was from Marie E. that she learned French and was bilingual her whole life.
Among Florence’s photos, there was nothing of her great grandparents, Francis and Henriette. I thought I had reached another dead-end in my years-long research. That’s when it was determined that there was a third child – Claire!
C) Claire Burke (1904-1961): She was married to William Howe (1903-1983) and lived in Jersey City. They had two daughters: Claire H Howe (1926-2005), and Anita Howe (1935-2010). Both daughters married and had children and I am currently in contact with several of them. We haven’t sorted out if anyone inherited old photos from the Ennis branch of the family yet. Stay tuned….
Hariett Jane Casselman (1836-1924): Purchased the house in 1885 following an inheritance after her father’s death around 1880. Martin Casselman (1888-1963) was the founder of Casselman, Ontario. In 1910, she was married to Percy Robert Mahon, a musician 52 years her junior. The back lot facing onto Tormey was sold in 1916 to Felix McCullough who built the McCullough Apartments at 8 Tormey.
Langemarck Apartments: In 1919, it appears the house was sold to a James Walker to cover a mortgage and taxes owing. According to the city directories, Walker was a contractor, and he is likely the one who replaced the front porch and converted the rest of the mansion into the “Langemarck” apartments. Harriet passed away in 1923, and Percy followed many years after in 1963. Still need to try and track down Percy’s niece and nephew for potential photos (Bertha V. Mahon, William G. Mahon)…
Neighbours: While a lot of research was done on many of the early neighbours, and there were some interesting stories among them, no old photography has yet been found.
Tenants of the Langemarck: While I was unlikely to find photos of the original porch or house, I did do some research on later occupants. The Sharp-Corrigan family lived in one of the apartments for many years and it turns out they had some photos of the house – just not ones old enough to show the former porch.
As for the research to find a photo of the old Ennis house at 541 Rideau Street, the search continues… The house was demolished, which is a huge loss in some respects. However, unlike most of the callous developers in our fair city, the developer of the current site, Chenier Development Corporation, has shown quite a lot of sensitivity. A portion of the original Ennis house will be reconstructed and integrated into the rear of the new building facing Cobourg Street.