Ebbs: Preston Street Resident and Honourary Italian
courtesy of John Ebbs
Ebbs, born and raised in Ottawa, has spent most of his life representing
many of Preston Street’s oldest and most respected families. After
the death of his father, Mr. Ebbs took over the family law firm and
continued to represent many of his father’s clients, who were
of both Italian and non-Italian descent. Even though his main office
was for most of his career located on Sparks Street, Mr. Ebbs constantly
kept in touch with members of the Italian community. In fact, so much
so that in 1971 he built what is now the building that houses the Bank
of Nova Scotia on Preston Street, and within the structure built himself
a second office in order to more effectively run his business.
Mr. Ebbs speaks fondly of his memories of the Italian
community. In fact, he loved it so much that he co-owned the former
Prescott Hotel (now simply called The Prescott) with Tony
Disipio for approximately forty years. During their partnership, his
legal skills were instrumental in attaining the hotel’s liquor
licence, which at the time was no easy feat. The Prescott Hotel held
the first liquor licence in the area.
Though he has since retired from the legal field,
Mr. Ebbs has kept his office within the Scotia Bank Building in order
to continue to manage it and the apartments beside it with his long-time
associate Pat Burkett.
During his time as a legal representative within the
Italian community Mr. Ebbs practised mostly residential law, but also
had his hand in the commercial aspect of it. One of his most important
jobs within the residential field was arranging mortgages for people
to buy. Yet, unlike many people of the time, Mr. Ebbs was never nervous
about any of his Italian clients not paying their mortgages.
always knew that if I had an Italian client then they were going to
pay it off,” he says. “They were great for that. They would
do anything to make sure that mortgage was paid. They have always been
a friendly and reliable people!”
the commercial community he often worked with Fern, Pat and Leo DeGrazia,
former owner of Chappie’s
Lunch, where Leonardo’s Restaurant now is. Of course, during
his ownership of the Scotia Bank Building, Mr. Ebbs has also been
able to work with many different tenants and various other people.
very happy to be here [in the community],” Mr. Ebbs remarks.
“It has been a very pleasant experience.”
the biggest changes he remembers seeing on Preston Street is the change
in its market value.
retired from his law practice, John Ebbs still visits his office
in the building he built (and still owns) on Preston Street.
25 years ago, Preston Street was ripe to sell yet many people didn’t,”
he says. “That is why the street hasn’t developed as much
as it could have.”
the time when many businesses were interested in purchasing property
on Preston Street, they encountered an unforseen problem: the fierce
bond that people had to their homes. Almost nobody was willing to
sell their house, no matter what the price. There are still many privately
owned homes in the Preston Street area.
asked whether he thinks that Preston Street will ever be “ripe
to sell” again, Mr. Ebbs responds:“I think so. It’s
a lovely street—it’s continued growing. There are a lot
of industrious and smart businessmen along Preston Street who work
hard and are developing their properties to take best advantage of
them. There’s no doubt that Preston is known as a restaurant
mecca for Italian food.”
Ebbs, a long-time resident of Preston Street.
also been associated with the Preston
Street BIA (Business Improvement Association), Mr. Ebbs has developed
a great respect for all the people who help to keep Preston Street
though there are now many non-Italians living within the area, he
remarks that Preston Street is definitely first and foremost an Italian
area of which the focus is St.
worked very closely with Father Ferrero when he financed the convent
across the street (The Sisters of the Adolorata),” he remarks
affectionately. “We were great friends and it was a tragedy
when he died. He did an amazing amount of work for the Italian community.
He was instrumental in getting many Italians into this area from Italy.”
the 1950’s and 1960’s, a time during which hundreds of
Italians were immigrating to Ottawa, Mr. Ebbs was the only person
in the area who was authorized to sign for the Italian Embassy. Therefore,
anything that had to be notarized had to go through him before it
could be approved. Mr. Ebbs fondly remembers how Father Ferrero would
act as the interpreter during many of these dealings since most of
Preston’s new residents could not speak English. Even though
many Italians have since moved across the city, many families still
come back to St. Anthony’s
for mass on Sundays and to celebrate special occasions.
use St. Anthony’s
not only as parish but as a home parish,” Mr. Ebbs
he ever consider moving away? Never. He explains that even though
his residential home has never been on Preston, the street has always
been a very important part of his life.
“I never want to move,” Mr. Ebbs says. “I know so
many people that live here who aren’t Italian but who love to
live in this area because they love it so much. I don’t have
any plans to give up this building” he says. “As long
as I’m healthy, I’ll be here.”
What will Preston Street resemble in the future? According to Mr.
Ebbs, it will likely develop commercially as Bronson did and in the
long run grow even better than Bronson has. Preston Street has great
potential. As of now, it is mostly known for its great Italian food
but the future may have many more great things in store. And of course,
Mr. Ebbs will be here as long as he can to see it happen.
article was originally published in the March 2002 issue of Il
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