The community owes its existence to its location on the Richmond Road midway between Richmond Landing near Bytown (now Ottawa) and the military settlement at Richmond, at the junction with the concession road leading west to the Hazeldean neighbourhood in neighbouring Goulbourn Township. It was also the junction between Richmond Road and the "base line" which was the boundary road between concessions on the Ottawa front and those on the Rideau front. Hence, the plural "Corners". It was named after Hugh Bell, who owned a tavern on the site of the present day Bells Corners Public School from 1834 to 1863.
Prior to that it was known locally as just "the Corners", but when the first post office opened on August 6, 1851 it had to adopt a formal name and became Bell's Corners. Today it is most commonly spelled without the apostrophe.
In 1832, there were 9 taverns along this strip of road. Early stores catered to both local people and travelers.
In 1841 the Carleton County Agricultural Society was formed and held its annual exhibition in Bells Corners until 1895, when it was moved to Goodwood Park in the Town of Richmond and later became the Richmond Fair.
In 1850, Bells Corners became part of Nepean Township, Carleton County. The Town meeting to elect the first Council under the new system was held at Bells Corners on 7 January 1850. Frederick Bearman, J.P., Chester Chapman, James Spain, John Robertson, J.P., Michael Grady were elected as Councillors. The first Council meeting was also held in Bells Corners on 21 January 1850, when Colonel Frederick Bearman was chosen Reeve. By 1852, there were 3 taverns, 3 shoe shops, 2 blacksmiths, 2 carpentry shops, a new store, and a tailor.
The Canada Directory for 1857-58 listed the population of Bells Corners at about 70. It listed the following people:
By 1866/7 Bells Corners was a post village with a population of 150 in the township of Nepean, county of Carleton, on the Ottawa and Nepean Macadamized road, 10 miles from Ottawa. The village had a daily mail, two stores, a school and a church which was used by the Church of England, Presbyterians, and Wesleyan Methodists. The early citizens included: Adam Abbott, a general merchant; Hugh I Bell, a farmer; George Arnold, a postmaster; E. Brown, a bailiff 7th Division Court; and William Brownlee, a general merchant boot & shoemaker.
In 1866, the 43rd Battalion of Infantry (otherwise known as the Carleton Blazers) was formed in Bells Corners with companies in many of the surrounding communities and absorbed Ottawa's volunteer rifle company.
By 1869, Bell's Corners was on the stage line from Town Ottawa to Perth. That directory listed the following indivduals:
Most of Bells Corners was destroyed by fire in August 1870.
The oldest buildings in Bells Corners are the East India Company restaurant and conference centre, formerly Hartin's Hotel, built after the fire in 1870 on the site of Robert Malcomson's Tavern (David Hartin was married to Robert Malcomson's daughter Sarah); and, The Spa which occupies the old Drummond Methodist Church built in 1898. This church used stone from the old Union Church (now the site of the Bells Corners Union Cemetery on Old Richmond Road) built in 1853 and the only building in Bells Corners to survive the fire of 1870.
Some notable residents of the time:
Postmasters of Bell's Corners
The post office was closed on February 1, 1963 when it became the Bells Corners substation (now Postal Station H) of the Nepean Post Office.
On the north side of Robertson Road between Bells Corners and Hazeldean was the first of several Nepean sandstone quarries from which rock was taken for the exterior of the parliament buildings, Confederation Building, Connaught Building and what is now the Canadian Museum of Nature. It can be seen also in many smaller buildings throughout the city. Dick Williams, a Welshman who came to Canada in 1902, opened a small quarry in the Nepean formation on the farm of his father-in-law on lot 3, concession II, Ottawa front. The two began making paving stones in 1912 and in 1916 they were joined by a young Scot, Archie Campbell, a recently apprenticed quarryman. The quarry eventually became known as Campbell's Quarry. Contracts were signed with seven different quarries, but the bulk of the stone for the Centre Block and the Peace Tower came from Campbell's Quarry. According to Campbell "Our first order came from Peter Lyall Construction Company for 1,000 tons of sandstone all for the Parliament Buildings. When we got the parliament job there were several hundred men on the job and they just gobbled up the stone. We couldn't get the stone out fast enough ... Stone was hauled up to the building site by teams of horses, struggling along poor roads with six ton loads. Each team could make but one trip a day." The quarry continued operation under various owners until September 1962, when the National Capital Commission expropriated the land for part of Ottawa's Greenbelt. Natural Resources Canada offices, laboratories and experimental sites now occupy the quarry and surrounding property. The workings of the quarry are reported to still be intact as they were when surveyed by Alice Wilson in the mid 1950s however the area is not open to the general public.
The Central Canada Railway was chartered to run from the Brockville and Ottawa Railway at Carleton Place through Bells Corners to Bytown. This line opened on 15 September 1870. This was a broad gauge rail line and but was converted to standard gauge in 1880. It was leased and then taken over by the Canadian Pacific Railway on 6 June 1881. The Bells Corners Station was located to the northwest of the community approximately where Fitzgerald Road is now located. In 1915, Canadian Northern Railway (later Canadian National) built its mainline from Ottawa to Brent, Ontario just to the northeast of the community and an overpass was built east of Moodie Drive where the two competing rail lines crossed.
On February 28, 1957 a Canadian National Continental train hit a tractor trailer at a Bells Corners crossing derailing two diesel units and ten passenger cars. There were only minor injuries to three persons on the train.
The junction between the two rail lines, Bells Junction, was not installed until July 29, 1966. On August 28, 1967 at 12:00 noon, CP Rail abandoned what was then known as the Carleton Place Subdivision between McRae Avenue in Ottawa and Bells Junction. The remaining portion westward from the junction then became the Carleton Spur. The spur was also abandoned in 1982 and is now a part of the Trans Canada Trail from Fitzgerald Road to Carleton Place.
The CN line continues to exist only as far as Pembroke and is known as the Beachburg Subdivision. However, CN has announced plans to abandon this line west of Bells Junction as well and, in fact, has begun removing the tracks through the town of Renfrew. This line also served a portion of the Pontiac region in west Quebec. Ottawa Central Railway operated a short line providing freight service on this track from 1998 to 2008 when it was bought out by CN.
Transformation from a post village to a suburban neighbourhood of Ottawa
In 1950, Ottawa annexed the main urban areas of Nepean Township including Westboro, where the town offices were located. A new town hall was then built in Bells Corners at the intersection of Richmond (now Old Richmond Road) and Robertson Roads where Arnold's General Store had been, which was used from 1966 to the late 1980s, when a new Nepean city hall was built at Centrepointe. The City of Nepean was finally amalgamated with 10 other municipalities into the City of Ottawa in 2001.
Map of Ottawa and Carleton County from Wikipedia Commons
The map of Carleton County circa 1951 from Ontario Archives locates the communities and physical features of the county. (Click at the bottom of the page to see the map enlarged.)
The primary source for basic documents (vital statistics, land records, wills) for people who lived in the Province of Ontario is the Archives of Ontario, 134 Ian Macdonald Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M7A 2C5.
Civil registration did not begin in the province until 1869. Before then there may be church records of baptisms and burials. For the most part these are still held by the denomination who recorded them. Copies of marriage records made pre-1869 had to be sent by individual clergymen to the registrar of the county in which the marriage took place. These marriage records are available through Ontario Archives, on micorfilm through LDS libraries, and on paid and unpaid websites, but because they were copied at the registrars' offices, they cannot be considered a primary source.
Vital Records after 1869
Birth, marriage and death registrations are not open to the public until a specific number of years after the event occurred. Births to 1915 are now available [October 2014]; dates for marriages and deaths are later. Birth and death registration was not universally carried out in the early years after its adoption. Deaths were more apt to be reported than births for several years. The more rural the area, the less likely it would be that these happenings were reported to the authorities.
Land Records and Wills
Information on how to access land records and wills is best sought on the Archives of Ontario website. An ancestor's land holding might be found on Canadian County Atlas Digital Project if he was in occupancy circa 1878.
Association for the Preservation of Ontario Land Registry Office Documents (APOLROD). A list of Land Registry Offices for all Counties of Ontario.
The original censuses are in the hands of Library and Archives Canada, known to Canadians as "LAC". Copies of original microfilms are online at the LAC website for all censuses up to 1911. Each census database is preceded with an explanation of the geographical area covered, the amount of material retained (some census division material has been lost), the questions on the census form, and whether there is a name index. Census divisions were redrawn as the population increased and more land was inhabited. The 1921 census is only available through Ancestry.ca, but it is free-to-view.
E-books and Books
Researching in Eastern Ontario
The website of the Ottawa Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society offers a number of search engines for databases of material they maintain:
The Society covers the counties of Carleton (combined with the city of Ottawa), Lanark, Renfrew, Prescott and Russell. There is a note on the website that the URL will be changing soon (Jun 2012). It may be best to “google” the Ottawa Branch of OGS.