The (Ontario) Department of Planning and Development Encounters the National Capital Plan. (1951-52)

As I continue my brief hiatus from transcribing the materials from the Ottawa, Eastview & Carleton County Local Government Review (1965) chaired by Murray Jones, it occurred to me that something is missing. One of the central difficulties pointed to in the dozens of testimonials and even in Jones’ analysis is the existence of the National Capital Greenbelt. For the rural and new suburban municipalities of the day, the Greenbelt represented a significant restriction and a loss of potential revenues, and for others it made any sort of urban typology for the Ottawa region hard to establish and operate. 

One thing that I have not really touched on at all in the stories where I touch on the politics of the Greenbelt is that, contrary to what often seems to be the case, the Province of Ontario had its own opinions on Gréber’s baby. As time goes on and more stories are written here, I will implement more of the voice from Queen’s Park into the narrative. 

In the meantime, here is a memorandum prepared by the Federal District Commission Architectural Subcommittee member Gordon Culham1For more about Culham, see Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, “Gordon Culham: living a ‘useful life’ through the professionalization of Canadian town planning and landscape architecture,” Planning Perspectives, 27, no. 4 (2012): 587-609 for Arthur Bunnell, a special adviser to Ontario Planning and Development Minister William Griesinger, regarding the Greenbelt. It is not dated, but was prepared at some point in 1951 as the lands were being assembled.2Bunnell submitted a copy of Culham’s memorandum to Municipal Affairs Minister Orr in the winter of 1952. See A.E.K. Bunnell, Consultant, Community Planning Branch, Department of Planning and Development, to W.A. Orr, Deputy Minister, Department of Municipal Affairs, Memorandum, February 21, 1952. Archives of Ontario RG 19-43 Box 152 File 1.


The proposal for the Capital Greenbelt will be difficult to execute primarily because it is diagramatic.

It is based on a conception of limited growth designed to protect a central Urban Area without regard to any functional relationship to the surrounding region of which it is a part and with which inevitably it must be integrated by the normal forces of growth. As such, it will seem to be a selfish scheme in the minds of the may property owners who lie beyond it. It has been found difficult to sell for these reasons and until we have some form of government embracing stateism [sic] it will continue to be a contentious issue.

The origin of it is found in Greber's statement that "there should be rational limitations for ultimate growth to accomplish reasonable and economic planning for future extensions". Practically this means that there are economic limits in the servicing of this or any urban area (generally related to topography, drainage, water supply, gravity sewerage and sewerage treatment). The need to preserve a band of open space as farm lands, public reservations, etc. as a means of fixing or holding to these limits is not easily proven or justified to property owners.

To be frank about this matter we all fear the pressures exerted on Municipal bodies to ignore the cost of service extensions or to allow development to proceed without them - both equally undesirable.

The paradoxical part of the Capital Planning policy is that you lay down the thesis of preserving municipal rights of all residents. Or in other words democratic rights will "remain undisturbed".

You say, "fulfillment of the master plan requires co-operation of municipalities and normal processes of planning".

Growth has and always will ignore political boundaries. You may channelize and direct but you cannot confine. To be realistic in a democracy in dealing with growth therefore we must find a process which will be acceptable to people and Municipal Governments and yet one which will accomplish the essentially valuable objectives implied in the expression "Green Belt".

The Green Belt conception may be represented as a band which completely surrounds an urban core designed to protect this core without regard for the area that lies beyond. To me this is a

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narrow, insular thesis and ignores the powerful forces of growth which are always regional and are contrary to the underlying principles of the Capital Plan namely that it shall not be separated out from the surrounding territory as a definite Federal District like Washington.

One analogy would be the water belt around the British Isles as compared with the arbitrary boundary lines of European Countries. The one has been held inviolate and the others invite change. In other words strong natural barriers will hold while arbitrary or diagramatic ones will not.

Actually the essential values of a Green Belt do not lie in the field of isolationism as a town surrounded by farm lands the whole of a limited size such as the Garden City ideal.

People don't like to live on farms - they are forced by production to live there. The great volume of produce does not come from the area adjacent to cities it is shipped or trucked in from great distances. Such arguments are obsolete to-day.

Farm lands are not attractive and they are not usable by masses of city dwellers. So that we can eliminate any special value contributed by the farms.


If we work from the conception of providing within a cell or neighborhood for all those human needs which are of local or environmental character a single neighborhood becomes the optimum size of a municipality namely around five thousand (5000) population. If in addition we provide adequate facilities such as rapid transit, express ways for serving the communication needs of many neighborhoods, we become lost in the field of logic to determine the optimum number of neighborhoods or size of the gross urban area. Any attempt to do so would be an arbitrary determination.

There are factors such as topography which may set up definite economic limits to the extension of over all services such as water and sewerage within a given area. Beyond this again however the forces of growth may set up new urban units independently serviced. If these new units are functionally related to drainage, rail, highway and water this kind of development is just as sound as the parent municipality which gave rise to it. In fact, this is perfectly normal.

We must admit that the important weakness of past growth around large cities is that the intervening space between logical centres of growth was not kept open, and that our objective is to accomplish this result as painlessly and as economically as possible.

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It would be quite as content to secure this neutral area radially as in Boston and Westchester as circumferentially between municipalities.

Preservation of open space in relation to the overall recreational needs of an urban area are along with the economic limits for services could produce a satisfactory pattern of growth.

The predictable size of an urban area determined by the limitations for services and present growth tendencies should form the basis for the total amount of open space required and the topography should determine its location if it is to be acceptable to all interests in the community.

In attempting to arrive at a formula which will be acceptable to people we must write off the intangibles. I don't believe that our people will recognize readily limitation of size or the desirability of breaking up an urban mass. I believe that we may persuade some good farm sections that high taxation from encroaching development could run them out of business as you attempt to show. I also believe that beyond a serviced limit residential development must be of a nature that it will never require services from the Urban Mass. This would be the five (5) acre area or less.

My suggestions for a procedure which we are not formulating in London and Brantford would state at the limit for extension of services but that from there outwards it becomes a complex pattern of many land uses as follows: --

(1) Lay out any open land use whether public or private for which the present owners would agree to the five (5) acre or more regulation. Institutions, semi public uses such as golf courses, cemeteries, etc., encourage new similar uses.

(2) Lay out flooded, swampy or low lying land unfit for development. This the municipality can be persuaded to regulate info farm use only, break down of ten (10) acres minimum.

(3) Lay out high, rough land into five (5) acre regulation by municipality as too costly for close development.

(4) Acquire by purchase reservations, woods, or attractive lands for nearby public use to limit of funds or by gift.

(5) The balance requiring regulation would be small and allow it to go to 150 - 200' frontage and 1½ - 2 acre areas still of large ground floor construction to ensure good assessment.

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Now if the shape of this area of open development is broken and jagged in outline, thin in once place was as you call it in another, it will still accomplish the purpose of our Green Belt.

It does not of necessity need to be a continuous band throughout. Even though some suburban fringe seeps through the band if could not have menacing proportions.

Your arguments in your second paragraph that the farm community should pass by-laws restraining fringe development on the basis of your need for a Green Belt will not be very convincing. Because for a city of half (½) million a two mile wide neutral band will not stop growth and the same problem remains beyond this band. People will tend to cluster more thickly on the margins with the same damage to farm taxes.

In the London area without the restraint of a Green Belt development is jumping to the vicinity of old villages where they have local public water as far as five (5) and six (6) miles out. These are not facing a heavy school prblem [sic] but as they are police villages there is no burden on the surrounding farms and the houses are of high, to medium cost, capable of carrying the burden.

I emphasize a qualitative approach to development in any rural township on the fringe of a city. Namely that they would be quite safe to permit houses of equal assessment with the farms: larger homes with sound construction and grouped so that they could be contained in a police village. This could never be a mass movement because of the cost factor and it would be slower therefore more easily absorbed. Although we are finding far more people moving in these villates [sic] in a three (3) year period than we had thought likely. These village lots are sixty (60) feet fronts by 7500 square feet area.

My argument to such a township is generally acceptable. Namely that it is not our intention to force a man to have a larger lot than most men care to maintain but rather that some places are better for people to concentrate than others such as an existing hamlet with schools, churches and stores and the possibility of local water supply and good drainage. That we don't desire to prevent development but merely seek to see that it should go into the right places. And that is whey [sic] we zone in five (5) or two (2) acre parcels elsewhere. They seem to accept that as a reasonable argument and I have never heard a contrary argument to this thesis yet!

I think that your two townships will be glad to determine where villates [sic] would be allowed keeping in mind your needs that they should not be too close in (in other words beyond your Green Belt). And then throw all of the rest of Townships into rural minimums of two (2) or five (5) acres.

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If village sites could be selected with rail accommodation and water they will quickly see the local advantage for industry, especially since Ottawa is headed to be a residential city.

I also sell the idea that if they don't plan their townships the speculator will with often disastrous result.

For Jacques Gréber’s explanation of the Green Belt, see “What is a City Green Belt?” (June 1952)


1 For more about Culham, see Nancy Pollock-Ellwand, “Gordon Culham: living a ‘useful life’ through the professionalization of Canadian town planning and landscape architecture,” Planning Perspectives, 27, no. 4 (2012): 587-609
2 Bunnell submitted a copy of Culham’s memorandum to Municipal Affairs Minister Orr in the winter of 1952. See A.E.K. Bunnell, Consultant, Community Planning Branch, Department of Planning and Development, to W.A. Orr, Deputy Minister, Department of Municipal Affairs, Memorandum, February 21, 1952. Archives of Ontario RG 19-43 Box 152 File 1.