In focus

The Francophone stamp on Lowertown stone

Many Lowertown buildings bear traces of Francophone presence. The former Martineau Hotel, at 55 Murray Street, is one such structure. Constructed in 1872, it originally offers 70 rooms to accommodate merchants, loggers and other visitors to Ottawa. It is subsequently subdivided, but it remains an affordable hotel for workers passing through the capital.

The hotel’s first owner, Eugène-Édouard Martineau, is one of Ottawa’s main merchants. He owns three stores – two on Sussex Drive and another on Duke Street – where he sells, among other things, “wholesale bed linens,” according to an announcement in Ottawa’s Le Canada newspaper. A member of Ottawa’s Société Saint-Jean-Baptiste, Association Saint-Joseph and Institut canadien-français, Eugène Martineau also serves 16 years as an alderman. In 1872, he is elected mayor of Ottawa. He dies in 1880, ruined.

Another building, in brick, stands out at 126 York Street. The facade bears the inscription “S.J. MAJOR Ltd.” This is the site where Sylvani Joseph Major establishes a second grocery store in 1899; the first was located sometime after 1887 at the corner of Murray and Dalhousie streets. When Sylvani dies, his only son, Ascanio J., is just 15 years old. His mother likely manages the business until her son reaches the age to take over. In 1925, the National Grocers Ltd is created by merging S. J. Major Ltd with other enterprises of the same nature. In 1931, Ascanio J. Major is director and member of the board of directors of the National Grocers Ltd. He dies in 1968 at the age of 80, but none of his three sons takes over the business.