The University of Ottawa’s main campus in Sandy Hill was once sprinkled with lovely red brick Victorian homes adorned with ornate wood trim. Most of these buildings were built between 1880 and 1920 and were a living link to middle-class life at the time in one of the Capital’s older neighbourhoods.
The University of Ottawa experienced rapid growth in the latter half of the 1960s, and throughout the 1970s and 80s many new buildings were erected. The need for expansion led to the demolition, one by one, of the architectural jewels that stood in the way of the new buildings. Only a few carefully restored houses on Séraphin-Marion and King Edward were spared. On the University campus, only one heritage family home continued to defy time—the house located at 601‑603 Cumberland, just across from Thompson Residence and Morisset Library. Built around 1893 and home to two families, it was purchased by the University from Joseph and Kathleen Rached in 1983 for $123,000.
By some miracle, this house not only escaped the wrecking ball but also was given a new lease on life when it became the home of Café Nostalgica. This lovely little café offering casual dining and pub beverages at reasonable prices was owned and operated by the University of Ottawa’s Graduate Students’ Association (GSAÉD).
The pretty brick house with elegant wood cornices also housed the GSAÉD offices. The home’s interior featured a carved wood staircase, wood molding and ornate wood frames. A large outdoor patio had been added, overlooking the corner of Cumberland and University, creating a meeting place where generations of students over the years met to talk about how they were going to change the world….And word has it, students were known to skip classes just so they could spend more time at Café Nostalgica.
The end of an era
On March 23, 2012, GSAÉD held a big party for friends and customers to enjoy Café Nostalgica one last time before the demolition crews arrived. A chance to meet at the café once more before this home—a part of the urban landscape in Sandy Hill for more than a century—was gone for good. And so it was with great sadness and ‘nostalgia’ that I watched this lovely century dwelling disappear forever. Restoring the building would certainly have been better than tearing it down. That being said, the closure of this very popular student café is not forever, for it will transform like a butterfly and be reborn the Grad House at the grand opening slated for spring 2013.
You can learn more about the home’s history by visiting the Archives of the University of Ottawa at 100 Marie-Curie.