Mayor Whitton on Housing, 1955

Charlotte Whitton at the inaugural Council meeting of 1956. Image: City of Ottawa Archives CA036171.

Continuing apace, here is Charlotte Whitton on housing in 1955.

As 1955 was the City of Ottawa’s own centennial celebration, Mayor Whitton’s inaugural address was, suffice to say, a bit more purple than it has been up until that point. Because of this, I have included more of the preamble in addition to her words on housing, dated January 4.

Members of Council:

Ours is, tonight, a privileged duty, – to take the oath of office in the first Council of the second century of the municipality of the City of Ottawa, the Capital of the Dominion of Canada. We are as the runners in an unending relay race, our course the growth of this City, each Council completing an allotted lap, and handing on the token of honour and service to those appointed to follow on.


Man’s petty paces are measured in years, a community’s in centuries. To the summit of the first century  has this City of Ottawa’s race been run, the undulating hills and valleys of our past already merging in the shadows of the old story, as were earlier Bytown’s already dimming in the Ottawa of 1854. Clear before us lie the extending years of this New Year of Ottawa’s new century but the extending years lead on into a future as dim, in the mists of its uncertainties, as is the past in the forgetfulness of the men and women of this, our later day.

We only know that:

“…All that is, at all,
Lasts ever, past recall:
Earth changes, but thy soul and God stand sure:
Time’s wheel runs back or stops:
Potter and clay endure.”

“Maker, remake, complete, – I trust what Thou shall do.”

We, and those men and women who will take our places in these unfolding years, will have served well and been well repaid if, one hundred years from now, there stands a city, on January 1st, 2055, as enriched in character and resources and as enlarged in strength as is the Ottawa of January 1st, 1955 over the Ottawa so first named and established on January 1st, 1855.

The petition of the Town Council of Bytown of 1854 had asked that

“The Town of Bytown be proclaimed a city by the name and style of the City of Ottawa and that the Said City may be divided into the Same Number of wards  and with the Same divisions as the Town of Bytown is now constituted under the General Municipal law.”

In the petition the population was estimated at ten thousand “being the Number required under The Municipal law to entitle it to City Corporate powers”, a gross exaggeration, as the statistics, released after incorporations were to how, – the correct number being 7,760 persons.

The province of Canada then consisted of but Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec) and the petition of the burghers of Bytown

“respectfully sheweth” “the Town of Bytown from its position” to be “the Commercial Capital of the Ottawa section of the province, comprising the Counties of Carleton, Russell, Lanark and Renfrew in Western Canada and the extensive Counties of Ottawa and Pontiac in Eastern Canada.”

Moreover, Bytown of 1854 claimed

“that its importance is greatly increased by the termination within its limits of that great public work, the Rideau Canal, which connects it with Lake Ontario, and also by the completion of the Bytown and Prescott Railway which connects it with the Atlantic Seaboard by way of Boston and New York a line of Railway being also in course of Construction to the City of Montreal through The Ottawa Valley.”

Mayor Friel, last mayor of Bytown and the City Chamberlain (for so was the City Treasurer then called) have left us some data, apparently supporting the claim to city status. Sterling was still the form of currency; the taxrate 3 shillings in the pound with annual value of taxable property £50,000. Funded local improvement debts were £11,000, and £15,000 had been invested in the stock of the Bytown and Prescott Railway. Over £100,000 was “loose” in the heavy “floating bonds” of the Corporation. Assessments were a subject of controversy and the newspaper of the day was demanding a Municipal Reform Association and the ouster of Town Council. Human nature, apparently, was just as prevalent in 1854 as in 1954!

Preserving Our Story

There is at this New Year, I think, a stronger sense of the continuity of our story in the City and on The River, whatever other failures may be laid to us in this centenary. Nowhere was this more evident than in the obvious dislike of the people for the loss of their sense of identity with their own districts in the mere numbering of the new wards. There was everywhere a demand for “getting back to our old names”.

The Board of Control, in 1953, gave much attention to this, consulting Council, various community groups and others, but felt there was insufficient interest to report thereon. From those inquiries the following seemed to be the names favoured for renaming the wards:

Ward 1 – Rideau (since the River and Canal both flow in it)
Ward 2 – Colonel By
Ward 3 – St. George’s
Ward 4 – Wellington
Ward 5 – Glebe-South
Ward 6 – Dalhousie
Ward 7 – Victoria
Ward 8 – Westboro-Nepean OR Westboro-Richmond
Ward 9 – Britannia
Ward 10 – Gloucester

I would like to suggest that Council consider these appellations together with a proposal to create a Ward 10, out of all that part of present Ward 1 lying south of Tremblay Road as the present ward is too large. Said Ward 10 to be created in 1955-56 but with the first elections therefor to be held in December 1956.

I would propose that we ask the City Clerk, the City Assessor and the Acting Director of Planning to report to Council on this.


Against the four basic problems of the very structure and being of the City, I set our concern with the actual living of the people therein.

1. Shelter

There is their shelter which cannot but give encouragement in the provision in the last 5 years (1950-4) of 11,989, almost 12,000, more housing units, as against a population increase of 18,200 an overtaking at 3 to the average household at the rate of two to one of the need. Housing permits have run 275 per month, over 20 a business day in 1954.

The festering sores of Uplands, Rockcliffe and Porter’s Island are gone, only 3 families remaining in the substantial hospital building of the latter.

Lowren has provided 474 new units, either occupied or to be finished by May, 32 of these for elderly couples. Bon Logis has built 104 single homes. Both projects are ready to sponsor further projects. Mooretown Housing’s first 44 units are well advanced under fine labour leadership. These 622 new houses are accruing to the City, $7 million of new housing at an outlay of investment funds only of less than $700,000 all due to the splendid citizenship of men and women giving their services to Ottawa in management.

I shall lay before the Housing Committee consideration of units to provide low cost flats for “single unit” elderly persons, and, on the other hand, a combination of the Lowren plan with special sections of the National Housing Act to provide a pilot scheme for large families of low income.

Slum Clearance proceeds most satisfactorily in all parts of the City, along its three prongs attach – demolition of utterly uninhabitable quarters, installation of services, or renovation of potential dwelling units. the fine co-operation of Ottawa lawyers, and most landlords, has resulted in the demolition of over 225 thoroughly bad dwelling units, over 550 rotten sheds, outbuildings, etc. in over 36 new buildings or renovations, over 500 installations of water and sewers and all with only 5 loans.

Our Housing activities are now such that they might well be concentrated in the hands of one senior official in the Planning and Works Department.

2. Rent Control has been retained in modified form. Your Board of Control is anxious to see all controls expire in May 1955 but whether this is done rests entirely with the equitable offers made by landlords to their tenants before that date.


This review and forecast are necessarily lengthy and exhaustive; it could not be otherwise with the immediate challenge that is upon this City, whose 211,000 people must face now an annual outlay of $25 millions, apart from its public utilities disbursements, a net debenture debt of $18,153,476. to be retired from taxation, with $16,734,513. in public utilities liabilities, and further borrowing, in these unavoidable projects which I have set before you of some $33½ millions to $34 millions in the next five years, new capital outlay alone, equalling our entire present debenture debt.

May God give us vision, wisdom, strength, a will to work together for the people who have entrusted their destinies to us for these two twelve-months. As for me, your presiding officer, I ask

“God give me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Let us together seek then,

“A City splendid
With light beyond the sun
Or lands where dreams are ended
And works and days are done.”

CHARLOTTE WHITTON, Mayor.1Minutes of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the year 1955 (Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1956): 35-66.


1 Minutes of the Council of the Corporation of the City of Ottawa for the year 1955 (Ottawa: City of Ottawa, 1956): 35-66.