Yousuf Karsh’s Ottawa

Ottawa Citizen, Canada
Dec 20 2008

Yousuf Karsh’s Ottawa

Paul Gessell, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Saturday, December 20, 2008

In 1931, Karsh began working for another photographer, John Powis, at
130 Sparks St. The studio was on the second floor of the Hardy Arcade,
a pedestrian passageway joining Sparks and Queen betwen Metcalfe and
O’Connor. When Powis went out of business, Karsh took over the
space. The Hardy Arcade has since been extensively renovated and
enlarged but the original storefront, the passageway and the sign
remain.

2 Karsh arrived in Ottawa in 1931, travelling by train from
Sherbrooke, Que. His first stop was the old YMCA at Metcalfe and
Laurier, where he lived for four years. Young, poor immigrants,
especially those with strange accents, had difficulties finding
accommodations in Ottawa during those days. The old YMCA has since
gone through many transformations, including Carleton College,
forerunner of Carleton University. It’s now the Indigo Hotel.

3 Around 1934, Karsh left the YMCA and moved to 183 Metcalfe into an
apartment above the Wellington Arms Tea Room. A big parking lot, at
the corner of Metcalfe and Lisgar, now occupies the site.

Karsh married his first wife, Solange Gauthier in 1939. They moved
into The Duncannon apartments at 216 Metcalfe, at Cooper. The Tudor
Revival brick structure was built as a luxury apartment in 1931 and
remains standing. A plaque on the front lists some of the past
tenants, including Karsh.

5 Karsh’s first solo exhibition was in 1936 in the Drawing Room of the
Chteau Laurier. He moved his studio into the hotel in 1973, and it
remained there until he retired in 1992. Karsh and his second wife,
Estrellita, lived in a hotel suite from 1980 to 1998, before moving to
Boston. The hotel’s Reading Room, just off the main lobby, contains
many Karsh portraits, including Albert Einstein, Jean-Paul Riopelle,
Sir Winston Churchill and Georgia O’Keeffe.

6 Karsh’s big break came in 1941 when British prime minister Winston
Churchill addressed Canada’s Parliament. After the speech, Churchill
was tricked into entering the Speaker’s private quarters where Karsh
and his camera awaited. Karsh pulled the cigar from Churchill’s mouth
and snapped a photo of "The Roaring Lion." After international
publication of the photo, Churchill’s approval rating soared and Karsh
became as famous as the celebrities he photographed.

7 The Ottawa Little Theatre, at the corner of Besserer and King
Edward, was influential in Karsh’s life. There he met his first wife,
Solange Gauthier, an actor. And he started meeting Ottawa’s high
society, from the governor general on down. Karsh attended the
theatre, and did photo sessions for the theatre, then located in a
former Eastern Methodist Church. When the church was destroyed by
fire, the current Little Theatre building was erected on the site.

8 Shortly after marrying Solange, the Karshes started planning their
dream home, named Little Wings because of all the bird life in the
area. The house, on four acres of land, was an art deco bungalow south
of Ottawa near the Rideau River and close to what was then called the
Prescott Highway. That road has since been named Prince of Wales
Drive. The house has been torn down and the land subdivided. The
Karshes entertained lavishly. Many a celebrity visited Little Wings.

9 When Karsh died in 2002, he was buried in Notre Dame Cemetery. His
white marble tomstone can be found behind the large memorial to Sir
Wilfrid Laurier. Karsh’s widow, Estrellita, does not encourage people
to visit her late husband’s grave.

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