Back in high school, I drove the old Prescott Highway from Kingston to Ottawa in my ’73 VW Beetle, passing by a curious diner on my way to an interview at Carleton University. The white building was called the Green Valley Restaurant, and it looked like it was part of some classic 1950s movie set. It would later burn to the ground, its glory days long gone and forgotten. Now an empty parking lot at the traffic-congested corner of Prince of Wales and Baseline, this spot has a fascinating history as being the location of Ottawa’s little rental cottages on the forested outskirts of the city.
In the 1930s Waldorf Stewart moved to a remote wooded property on the old Prescott Highway where he built a play cabin for his daughter near his newly-constructed home. The rustic play cabin was soon visited by tourists thinking it was a Motor Court cabin rental, a type of accommodation that was springing up all over North America. Realizing an opportunity when he saw one, and with tourists now driving everywhere, he speculated they would need a place to stay. So he built a few more little cottage cabins and opened the Green Valley Tourist Court, renting them to tired travelers on their only way into the nation’s capital from the south.
By 1947 Stewart expanded his tourism empire, on what used to be “the outskirts” of the city, by opening a modest diner to serve breakfast and evening meals to his rental cabin customers. With 24 cabins, Stewart thought the motel and diner would only be open for the summer tourist season, but the Green Valley Restaurant gained notoriety for its hospitable service and quality food after he hired Chef Gustave, formerly from the Engineer’s Club in Montreal. After only a short period of time, the Green Valley became one of Ottawa’s premiere dining destinations.
The restaurant was expanded three times and included a gift shop called the “Then and Now Shop” where visitors could purchase toys, souvenirs and curious gadgets. Kids especially enjoyed the “Mickey Mouse” sundaes that the restaurant served to its younger diners, a cartoon dessert involving a scoop of ice cream with wafer ears and pistachio eyes.
I recall, after getting my first real paycheque in Ottawa, picking a place to treat myself to dinner, and it was that little diner I first saw when I drove into Ottawa years before. The place had a musty smell reminiscent of an old landmark that sat tired and empty. It was staffed by servers who had probably worked there since it first opened, and still wore their original uniforms. The furniture was worn, the food was bland, but you could sense it was once THE place to eat in Ottawa. With other restaurants emerging in the 1990s, the Green Valley got left behind to new dining trends, its former grandeur tarnished by the hands of time.