J. Morris Woolfson’s Commissions

If you’ve ever looked into the construction of apartments, small commercial buildings, and industrial buildings in Ottawa during the mid-century period, there is a nearly 100% chance that you’ve come across a building that was either designed by or altered by J. Morris Woolfson.

WOOLFSON, Julius Morris (1906-1996) opened his office in Ottawa, Ont. in 1945 and specialised in the design of low-rise apartment blocks in that city which were built after WWII. Born in Toronto, Ont. In 1906, he graduated from the School of Architecture at the Univ. of Toronto in 1929. He trained with the prominent Toronto firm of J. Francis Brown & Son from 1929 to 1932, then worked briefly for Herbert Horner. In 1934 he moved to Kirkland Lake, Ont. and joined the firm of H.B. Long, then entered private practise in 1937, associating himself with P.J. O’Gorman of Sudbury for selected projects. Woolfson moved to Ottawa in 1940 and was employed by the Buildings Branch of the Dept. of National Defence until 1945. He retired in 1979, and later died in Ottawa in 1996 (death notice Bulletin of the Ontario Assoc. of Architects, Feb. 1997, 12). The National Archives of Canada in Ottawa holds a large collection of original architectural drawings by Woolfson including over 150 projects by the architect completed between 1944 and 1979 (NAC Acc. 83403/16). This collection was donated by the architect to the National Archives in October 1983.1Woolfson, Julius MorrisBiographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1850-1950.

Fortunately, Woolfson left a significant portion of his plans and other files with Library and Archives Canada in 1983.2”Archives preserving Woolfson collection,” Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, November 1, 1985, 10. With the exception of four of them still being researched,35703, 5710, 5807, and 6602. I have placed all 151 of them from the LAC collection on this map. They are denoted in square brackets. Others, which for unknown reasons did not make it into his donated collection, are marked only with the year.

As is the case with any other collection of an architect’s work, it is faced with two limitations: (a) it may not be complete. As prolific as Woolfson was, his collection does not contain all of his commissions and a number of them were sourced from the Ottawa Journal. The Journal, in turn, never did provide the coverage that the Citizen did, but the Citizen’s database (via Google News Archives) is no longer searchable. As such, there are a some buildings, such as the Glabar Building, that I suspect are his, but don’t have evidence.

The other is that the specific location of some buildings isn’t always entirely clear from the citation. This one has a reasonable solution: for me to visit the archives and consult the plans and records associated with the project for more details. Or at least take a look at the city directories. This will be done in the coming weeks and months. Finally, some commissions will be alterations or expansions that are not obviously labelled as such and would require similar research.


1 Woolfson, Julius MorrisBiographical Dictionary of Architects in Canada, 1850-1950.
2 ”Archives preserving Woolfson collection,” Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, November 1, 1985, 10.
3 5703, 5710, 5807, and 6602.