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(Posted 5:30 a.m., June 24)
Historic plaques celebrate St-Joseph Blvd.'s rich history
By Fred Sherwin
Orléans Online

Société franco-ontarienne du patrimoine et de histoire d'Orleans president Nicole Fortier stands beside one of 32 historical plaques recently installed along St-Joseph Blvd. Fred Sherwin/Photo


Before there was an Avalon. Before there was a Chapel Hill South or even a Fallingbrook, there was a small police village called Orléans.

In 1950, fewer than 1,000 people lived in the area. St-Joseph Blvd. was actually called Ottawa Street (the name change didn't take place until 1957) and it looked a great deal different than it does today.

The community's unofficial "main street" has gone through a number of changes over the past 64 years, with many of the original homes and businesses long since replaced by strip malls and fast food restaurants.

A history that was in danger of being forgotten, has been brought to life thanks to the efforts of the Societé franco-ontarienne de patrimoine et de l'histoire d'Orléans (SFOPHO) and the Heart of Orléans BIA.

The two groups have joined forced to produce 32 historical plaques that tell the story of St. Joseph Blvd. over the years. Each plaque has a picture of what the location looked like before it was altered. For instance, plaque #21 outside the Kozy Nest restaurant at 2520 St. Joseph Blvd., shows an old photo of the Dupuis House in which Éva Dupuis lived in from the early 50s to 1983 when she passed away. After her death, the house was moved to the Cumberland Heritage Village Museum and replaced by the restaurant.

Éva Dupuis was a direct descendent of one of the community's original pioneers, François Dupuis, who is thought to have lived in the same spot dating back to the 1830s.

Some of the houses are still in the same place they were 40 and 50 years ago, although they've undergone several renovations. The home originally owned by Dr. Émile Major in the 1950s, is now a commercial building housing the law offices of Jacques Robert.

The plaque outside the Royal Garden retirement residence commemorates three former business that once stood on the site. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the Orléans Hotel went through a number of renovations before it burned down in February, 1982. The Palm Restaurant stood beside the hotel from the 1950s until the mid-80s. It too burnt to the ground in 1958, but was rebuilt shortly afterwards.

Beside the Palm was a store owned by Armand and Esther Bégin who moved to Orléans from Montreal in the early 50s. The couple owned the business from 1953 to 1957. The building burnt down in the same fire that destroyed the Palm Restaurant. A new building was built in its place which eventually became the original Willie's Chinese Food during the 1960s and '70s.

The plaques are located on both sides of St-Joseph Blvd. from 1811 at the western end of the street to 3035 near Place d'Orléans. The lone plaque that isn't on St-Joseph is located at 241 Centrum Blvd. to commemorate the Vinette Silo which dates back to 1945.

There's also a book that includes an aerial photograph of St-Joseph Blvd. taken in 1949 and retells the stories listed on each plaque. The project is actually part of the 400th anniversary celebration of Samuel de Champlain's first voyage through the Ottawa area,

It was funded in part by the Heart of Orleans BIA which provided $25,000 to the effort and the Ontario Trillium Foundation, but the research, the writing and the translation was done by SFOPHO which contributed hundreds of volunteer hours.

Asked why the project was so important to the Society, SFOPHO president Nicole Fortier said that it was their way of letting both new and long-time residents of Orléans know more about the community they live in.

"It's to promote and let newcomers understand Orléans background in terms of what it was before it became urbanized. and also for the people born here it is so pleasing to go by the plaques and remember where you come from and then explain that to your children and your grandchildren," says Fortier.

The plaques are also important in terms of their contribution to the ongoing effort to beautify St-Joseph Blvd. and make it a more pedestrian-friendly street. Together they are a celebration of Orléans, its history and its culture.

(This story was made possible thanks to the generous support of our local business partners.)

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