Mayor Whitton on Housing, 1953

Mayor Charlotte Whitton, as captured by Maclean’s Magazine’s Walter Curtin, March 1957. Image: LAC Accession 1981-262 NPC Box 06354 Assignment 574-1.

As I’ve noted previously, I have been working on a thesis about the Ottawa Lowren Housing Company, which was Ottawa’s city-owned, privately-operated limited dividend housing company. Although she was not the inventor of the limited dividend approach to housing, Mayor Charlotte Whitton was among the first Canadian municipal leaders to have any real measure of success making use of the National Housing Act provision and became an enthusiastic booster of its use.

Here is what Mayor Whitton had to say about housing in her 1953 inaugural address to Council, given just weeks after Lowren’s November 18 sod-turning, on January 5.

Gentlemen of Council:

We have been sworn tonight to the service of no mean City, the Capital of the Dominion of Canada, with a population of 200,936 set upon 30,482 acres.

11. Housing

In the autumn of 1951, I urged upon Council that private building enterprise would come into the rental field to a higher degree were we to maintain a fairly stable tax rate and given reasonable assurance that this City was not going to plunge into large-scale, costly subsidized housing.

So it has proved, with an 80 per cent increase in residential building in 1952 over 1951 – with 802 houses and 1,106 apartment suites – a new record in the latter.

These conditions more than equal the population gain this year, and cannot but mean some easing in the strain on housing.

If 2,000 rental units, largely in multiple building, can be financed and erected along similar lines but for somewhat lower rental in 1953, Ottawa’s shelter problem is in sight of control.

But the area of low-cost houses for sale and low-rental shelter still remains gravely unserved, with hundreds of sub-standard quarters still occupied by self-supporting families who can pay but a moderate rent. It is for their shelter that further housing plans must proceed.

The Housing Standards Board is now set up and beginning operations in bringing substandard housing up to decent minimum living conditions. This will not add much shelter, but it will arrest deterioration of human living conditions and individual and family life.

The first unit in the 50 homes being provided under our new experiment in Lowren Housing should be available for inspection this month. From this pilot scheme, planning can then go on for what, I trust, may be at least 200 similar units to be begun this spring, either under the Lowren “90-10” plan, or by the same Corporation recognized under the Dominion-provincial “75-25%” partnership.

The other tentative plan for a similar block of homes under a Corporation interested, in housing, for French-speaking families is now advanced to the point of setting up a project for sale, rather than rental, of low-cost homes.

The hard core of dependent families remains housed in the Emergency Shelter at Rockcliffe, most of them presenting a problem that is one of social dependency rather than shelter alone. It can only be dealt with as such, and conference will shortly be held with Dominion and provincial officials and representatives of the Real Estate Board, relative to relocating such families in shelters which self-supporting families will vacate as the latter move to the new low-rent and low-cost buildings being provided by the non-profit, low-dividend housing Corporation, to which our private citizens are giving their services.

So many, grave and mounting are the problems facing this City at this time that few Councils in its story could more humbly pray for the dedication of the Coronation itself to be shed upon our days and work.

CHARLOTTE WHITTON, Mayor1Minutes of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the Year 1953 (Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1954): 60-61.

Part of Phase 3 of the Ottawa Lowren Housing Company’s Overbrook project. King George street, at Lola. Image: August 2016.


1 Minutes of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the Year 1953 (Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1954): 60-61.