NO VACANCY: Remains of Mid-Century Motels found in the woods

Titlecard

This past week I had the opportunity to join Glen Gower from Ottawa Start on a search for the remains of two 1950s motels lost in the woods of the NCC Greenbelt. Here is what we found…

INTRODUCTION BY GLEN GOWER, OttawaStart

A long-time Glen Cairn resident told me recently about an old swing set that he once saw in the greenbelt along the Old Quarry Trail on the south side of Robertson Road. He said he thought it was part of one of an old motel that used to be along the road, before the NCC bought the land and designated it as Greenbelt.

It turns out there was not one, but two motels. Charlie’s Motel and the Cedarview Motel are visible on a 1976 aerial map of Ottawa. Charlie’s has a distinctive striped roof. Back then Robertson Road was known as “Highway 7” or “Highway 15”. Long before the Queensway was built, it was the route to get from Ottawa to Perth and beyond. So these would have been a popular stop for travellers going to or from Ottawa.

Starting out from the Old Quarry Trail parking lot on Eagleson Road, we set out to see if anything was left of the motels. Our cameras froze and we had to crawl along in the snow at one point, but we found what we were looking for. Not the swings, but something even more interesting…

NO VACANCY: The Search for the Lost Motels

When Glen told me about a story of a hiker who stumbled across the remains of an old motel playground, I was interested in teaming up on an expedition to find it. Doing some preliminary research on the possibility of a lost motel in the woods of the NCC Greenbelt, I referred to a 1965 aerial image of the area to see what was there. Sure enough, not one, but TWO Motels can clearly be seen in the aerial image.

a 1965 aerial image clearly shows two motels in the area of Robertson Road west of Bells Corners.

A 1965 aerial image clearly shows two motels in the area of Robertson Road west of Bells Corners.

The two motels are still visible in this 1976 aerial image.

The two motels are still visible in this 1976 aerial image.

A current aerial image shows the motels have vanished and are now part of the NCC Greenbelt.

A current aerial image shows the motels have vanished and are now part of the NCC Greenbelt.

Taking those images and overlaying them on a current aerial image provided a bearing on the approximate locations. We then started some historical research…What were these places? What happened to them?

A quick search of what motels could have been in the area showed that the stretch of road they were on was once called the “Whiskey Road” in the mid 1800s. This was due to the fact there were so many taverns in the vicinity, as this was a midway point between Ottawa and Richmond while travelling on Richmond Road between the two places. Now part of what is called Bells Corners and Robertson Road, it was also once known as “Old Highway 15 & 7” during the mid-20th century. It was a stretch of road that was a continuation of both Highway 7 & and Highway 15 and was the only corridor into Ottawa from the West. Being so, a number of motels begand to spring up along this road, most notably during the 1950s when “motoring” was a popular tourist activity, and “Motor Inns” or “Motels” became a popular option for weary drivers and their passengers.

An internet search yielded results for two motels on that stretch of road known as “Old Highway 7 & 15”. It was re-named Robertson Road in 1983 after the owner of a general store and surveyor of roads in Bells Corners. The two motels were called “Charlie’s Motel” to the west and “Cedarview Motel” to the east. Locating vintage 1950s postcards of both motels as they appeared in the 1950s,  the bizarre diagonal roof striping as shown on the 1965 aerial photo of  confirm that the postcard was indeed that of Charlie’s Motel.

A 1950s postcard showing "Charlie's Motel". Note the distinctive striped roof.

A 1950s postcard showing “Charlie’s Motel”. Note the distinctive striped roof.

The same distinctive striped roof as shown on the 1965 aerial image close up. A match.

The Cedarview Motel from a 1950s postcard. (delcampe)

The Cedarview Motel from a 1950s postcard. (delcampe)

A 1965 aerial image close-up showing the Cedarview Motel. Note swimming pool at centre.

A 1965 aerial image close-up showing the Cedarview Motel. Note swimming pool at centre.

The Cedarview Motel gained some notoriety in 1961 when a helicopter pilot en route from Montreal landed his helicopter at the motel for dinner and an overnight stay, which made the news in the Ottawa Citizen.

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A clipping from the Ottawa Citizen of a guest who landed a helicopter at the Cedarview for dinner and night’s stay.

With both motels now known and identities confirmed, a further search history showed that both motels were later purchased by the National Capital Commision who bought the properties, left them abandoned, which later resulted in the Cedarview burning to the ground, and Charlie’s being demolished. An Ottawa Citizen article from 1965 shows that the NCC had at that time purchased the land and was leasing it to Charlie’s Motel proprietor Howard Soucie for a three year contract.

A 1965 Ottawa Citizen article shows the motel land had already been purchased by the NCC who then leased it back to the motel.

A 1965 Ottawa Citizen article shows the motel land had already been purchased by the NCC who then leased it back to the motel.

The abandoned Cedarview Motel burned down in 1979. (image courtesy Christopher Ryan/Ottawa Journal)

The abandoned Cedarview Motel burned down in 1979. (image courtesy Christopher Ryan/Ottawa Journal)

A 1976 aerial image shows both were still in existence at that time, but a 1979 Ottawa Journal article and photo shows that the Cedarview burned down. It is not known when or how Charlie’s Motel met its fate.

THE SEARCH

Overlaying the known locations over a current map Glen and I were able to locate the vicinity of the motels and where the remains of these mid-century motels may lie. Arranging to meet nearby, we happened to pick one of the coldest days of the winter for our expedition, and needless to say, a half hour into our adventure our cameras and batteries began to freeze up. Keeping them close to our bodies for restorative warmth, we trudged through the -20 temperatures and crunching snow to discover the site of Charlie’s Motel.

The site of Charlie's Motel as it appears today.

The site of Charlie’s Motel as it appears today.

Nothing much is left of Charlie’s, just an empty field with some surrounding trees. Perhaps in the summer, more of the ruins are visible, but on our trek, we decided to keep moving through the NCC Greenbelt woodlands towards whatever remained of the Cedarview Motel.

Making our way through the snow covered trees, we came across the area where the Cedarview should be, crawling underneath some fallen cedar branches to get to the site. The whole area was actually full of cedar trees, so we knew this was most likely the home of the “Cedarview Motel”. Aptly named.

Entering the area of the Cedarview Motel.

Entering the area of the Cedarview Motel.

Nothing was readily apparent until we spotted a cedar branch structure that indicated a man-made influence.

A cedar structure was spotted.

The 1965 aerial image of the Cedarview Motel showed it once had an in-ground swimming pool, a feature filled in as shown on the 1976 image. Stumbling through the deep snow we soon came across a clearing with absolutely no vegetation growing on it. Was this the filled in swimming pool? Overgrowth had consumed the Cedarview Motel area, but for some reason, this area was devoid of any trees, which I think would be because the trees would not be able to take root within an in-ground concrete swimming pool.

An odd clearing...likely the swimming pool of the Cedarview Motel.

An odd clearing…likely the swimming pool of the Cedarview Motel.

An inspection of the clearing then revealed something more concrete…literally concrete…the foundation of the old Cedarview Motel.

DISCOVERY

Discovery of the concrete ruins of the Cedarview  Motel.

Discovery of the concrete ruins of the Cedarview Motel.

The concrete foundation of the Cedarview is clearly lying among the overgrown forest of cedars it was aptly named after more than sixty years ago. The long, straight shape of the motel rooms illustrated on the aerial image and on the postcard were discovered buried under the snow, running through the forest of trees that reclaimed the footprint of the original motel. The outline of the motel structure lay hidden in the forest, slowly being enveloped by the cedar forest from which it was named, the only remnants of its fiery demise.

Concrete ruins of the Cedarview Motel.

Concrete ruins of the Cedarview Motel.

Remains of Cedarview Motel.

Forest remains of the Cedarview Motel.

Stanchions sit in the woods from motel days gone by.

Old motel stanchions sit in the woods from motel days gone by.

Close up of what lies beneath the snow.

Close up of what lies beneath the snow.

Concrete forms from the old motel lie quietly resting in the forest of the NCC Greenbelt.

Concrete forms from the old motel lie quietly resting in the forest of the NCC Greenbelt.

The motel area as it appears today....the clearing in the centre is where the swimming pool once was.

The motel area as it appears today….the clearing in the centre is where the swimming pool once was.

Other motel artifacts were discovered as Glen and I searched the area, including concrete forms, barrier posts, more foundations, wooden fence posts and piles of rubble. the majority of the Cedarview Motel lies hidden beneath the forest canopy of cedar trees for which it was named. A hidden reminder of its past accommodating weary motorists on their way to or from the Nation’s Capital. After photographing the area, Glen and I headed back to warm both our cameras and ourselves.

The ruins of the Cedarview and Charlie’s Motel sit silently in the woods of the Greenbelt, a by-product of the NCC’s vision of a green space for the city and its tourists to enjoy, but evidently with no vacancy on Robertson Road.

 

 

SOURCES

geoOttawa

Delcampe Postcards

The Ottawa Journal, Dec. 15 1979

Google News, The Ottawa Citizen, May 21 1965

 

 

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4 comments

  1. That’s really neat! My husband grew up in Bells Corners and had never heard of this. Maybe a field trip in the summer for the family to explore.

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