Do You Know Jack?

Elgin Street, in downtown Ottawa is named for James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine, KT, GCB, PC and Governor General of the Province of Canada 1847-54. Just off Elgin, a City of Ottawa Community Centre and Pool, and the short lane it stands on, are named for Jack Purcell.

Now, most of the streets and buildings of Ottawa carry the names of the rich and powerful of the city; founding ‘fathers,’ lumber barons, prime ministers, city politicians, and even senior city staff have been honoured – and yes, many Governors General. So which of these was Jack Purcell?

It turns out Jack Purcell was not a man of power and influence, nor even a city manager. Rather, he was a worker who spent his life as a “postie” in the main post office.

Born in 1897 in the Ottawa Valley town of Cobden, Lorne John Purcell served in the First World War. He was wounded the day before it ended. On his return to Canada he took a position as a postal clerk, a job he did for 45 years.

He and his wife Rita, whom he married in 1939, scraped together enough money to buy a home at 190 Cartier. It was a large house and beyond their means, but one he loved. So by renting out parts of the home they were able to live there, raising a family, until he died in 1966.

So what did Jack do to receive such an honour? Well, he was a fixture in the life of the local hockey rink in Saint Luke’s Park from 1944 until his death. He was one of the volunteer coordinators of the rink and supplied hockey sticks to the neighbourhood kids. In his basement workshop, he repaired broken sticks and handed them out to any child in need who knocked on his door. Rita said that in the season of ’64-65 alone he gave away 175 sticks.

In the spring of 1974, the city held a public meeting to find a name for the new community centre then under construction. The name that quickly gained the support of local citizens was Jack’s. On September 16, the City Council made his name official. It’s hard not to believe that a lifetime of dedication to his community and strong support from the kids that had benefited from his free sticks were key to a “postie” being honoured by his city.

We have the story behind the Jack Purcell Community Centre’s name thanks to David Gladstone, who interviewed Rita and their son Jon for “The Centretown BUZZ” in Nov 1999.