At the turn of the twentieth century, the Canadian political establishment – and Sir Wilfrid Laurier in particular – were becoming convinced that Canada would someday be a world power; and consequently, Ottawa, its capital, ought to be as grand as London, or Paris, or Washington, D.C. To that end, in 1899 the Ottawa Improvement Commission was established to clean up and beautify the city. Rechristened the Federal District Commission in 1927, its powers over federal land and projects in the capital grew and grew until it was dissolved and reformed as a Crown Corporation, the National Capital Commission, in 1958. The NCC controls land in the Greenbelt, runs the Tulip Festival and Winterlude, prepares the Rideau Canal for skating every year, organizes the Sparks Street Mall and the By Ward Market, and owns Gatineau Park, Lansdowne Park and the Dows Lake marina. The NCC is also responsible for such terrible things as tearing down Lebreton Flats, routing truck traffic through downtown via King Edward Avenue, the failed “transit mall” on Rideau Street and tearing down the Daly building. The Chairman of the NCC had sweeping civic powers in Ottawa until 2008, when the meetings of the Commission were made public and many of the Chairman’s powers were given to a newly-appointed CEO.
The Chairmen of the OIC/FDC/NCC have been:
Sir Henry Newell Bate, 1899-1913. Sir Henry Bate founded a grocery wholesaler in Ottawa with his brother Charles that eventually grew to be the biggest in the city, supplying food to Rideau Hall and funding Sir Henry’s rise as a real estate magnate. The H.N. Bate & Sons headquarters, built in 1859, is now the oldest building on Sparks Street.
Charles Jackson Booth, 1913-1918. Booth was the son of John Rudolphus Booth, a lumber and railway baron and the richest man in Canada at the time. (J.R. Booth was an incredible man; called “one of the fathers of Canada” by Mackenzie King, he was the largest owner of timber rights in North America, ran the largest lumbering operation in the world and was sole owner and controller of his vast business empire until he was 94 years old.) Jackson was president of the Ottawa, Arnprior and Parry Sound Railway, a division of J.R. Booth’s Canada Atlantic Railway. He later built an office tower at the corner of Rideau and Sussex that is now incorporated into the Rideau Centre.
Sir Henry Kelly Egan, 1918-25. Sir Henry Egan was the son of the lumber baron John Egan, for whom the village of Eganville, ON, is named. Sir Henry founded the Hawkesbury Lumber Company, was a director of the Bank of Ottawa and the Bank of Nova Scotia, and was deeply involved in Ottawa’s war effort in World War I.
Hon. Thomas Ahearn PC, 1926-32. Ahearn invented the electric oven in 1890, installing it at the Windsor Hotel at the corner of Metcalfe and Queen (now the site of the Thomas D’Arcy McGee Building). Ahearn also co-owned the Ottawa Electric Company with Warren Y. Soper, and established Ottawa’s transit system by founding the Ottawa Electric Railway, whose streetcars were the first vehicles in the world with electric heating. He had his own streetcar factory, and a half-finished canal he built for a prospective hydro dam is now the harbour of the Britannia Yacht Club. As Chairman, Ahearn laid out the parkways and built the Champlain Bridge at his own expense. A monument to him stands in Lansdowne Park.
William Ezra Matthews, 1932-36. Matthews was founder and president of the Matthews and Laing Meat Packing Company, whose factory at the corner of Bank and Slater is now a Starbucks. His mansion at 221 Clemow Avenue, in the Glebe, is now the Embassy of Lebanon.
Hon. Frederic Erskine Bronson PC, 1936-51. F.E. Bronson was the third generation of a prominent family of lumber barons, inheriting the Bronson Company founded by his grandfather, H.F. Bronson, and run by his father, Erskine H. Bronson, who built the hydroelectric generators at Chaudière Falls. Bronson’s time as Chairman saw the commissioning of the Gréber Plan, which removed the railways and industrial areas from the heart of the city, banished them to the suburbs, and set up the Greenbelt, an area of parks, farms, forests and marshes encircling the city.
Duncan Kenneth MacTavish, 1951-53. MacTavish was a rich corporate lawyer and a big wheel in the Liberal Party. He was appointed a Senator in 1963, five months before he died in a car crash.
Maj.-Gen. Howard Kennedy, 1953-60. A high-profile engineer in Ottawa who signed up for the Royal Engineers at the start of World War II, Gen. Kennedy was Quartermaster-General of the Army from 1943 to 1944 and afterward was the first director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).
Lt.-Gen. Samuel Findlay Clark CBE, 1960-67. An officer in the Canadian Corps of Signals, Gen. Clark was a professor of electrical engineering at the Royal Military College and served as Quartermaster-General of the Army from 1951 to 1955 and Chief of the General Staff from 1958 to 1961.
Alfred John Frost, 1967-69. A.J. Frost was a financial analyst and one of the foremost experts on the Elliott Wave principle, a form of financial analysis that forecasts market trends using social analysis. The A.J. Frost Memorial Award is now given by the Canadian Society of Technical Analysts for contributions to the field of technical analysis.
Douglas H. Fullerton, 1969-73. Fullerton was an economist and investment consultant with a special interest in urban planning. He rose to prominence in the government by serving very ably as the investment manager for the Canada Council of the Arts from 1957 to 1968.
Edgar Gallant, 1973-76. A long-time civil servant, Gallant was secretary to the Dominion-provincial constitutional conferences of February and June of 1969. He resigned as Chairman to serve as head of the Public Service Commission.
Hon. Pierre Juneau PC OC, 1976-77. Juneau was one of the central figures of the Trudeau-era apparatchik of government-controlled cultural output in Canada. He served as head of the French-language division of the National Film Board, chairman of the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications commission (where he introduced the Can-Con broadcast regulations), and briefly in Cabinet as Minister of Communications. After leaving the NCC, Juneau was Deputy Minister of Communications, the president of the CBC (where he founded CBC Newsworld), then oversaw operations at Maclean-Hunter Publishing during its takeover by Rogers Communications. The Junos, the awards for Canadian music, were named for him.
Brig.-Gen. Hon. Charles Mills Drury PC OC CBE DSO, 1978-84. A career soldier who was chief of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration from 1945 to 1947 and Deputy Minister of National Defence from 1948 to 1955, “Bud” Drury was the Liberal MP for Westmount, Montreal, QC, from 1962 to 1978. He was Minister of Defence Production and Minister of Industry under Lester Pearson and President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Public Works under Pierre Trudeau.
Jean Elizabeth Pigott OC, 1984-92. Pigott (née Morrison) was president of her family’s company, the Morrison-LaMothe Bakery, before serving as the Progressive Conservative MP for Ottawa-Carleton from 1976 to 1979, and was then an advisor to Joe Clark. As Chairwoman she came up with crazy schemes like the mercifully cancelled plan to knock down half the buildings on Metcalfe Street to make a grand boulevard from Parliament to the Museum of Nature. She was the first woman permitted to join the exclusive Rideau Club; the day after she joined, the club’s premises on Wellington Street burned to the ground. Pigott’s sister is Gay Cook, the food columnist for the Ottawa Citizen.
Marcel Beaudry, 1992-2007. Beaudry, a lawyer and the former Mayor of Hull, oversaw the NCC during the amalgamation of the mega-cities of Ottawa and Gatineau. He also co-ordinated the construction of the War Museum and the beginnings of the redevelopment of Lebreton Flats, as well as the moving of the US Embassy to Sussex Drive and the building of the Casino du Lac Leamy.
Russell Andrew Mills, 2007-now. Mills was the publisher of the Ottawa Citizen, where he was critical of the power and secrecy of the Chairman of the NCC. Mills is concurrently serving as dean of the faculty of arts, media and design at Algonquin College, and as an adjudicator of the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council. His tenure has seen the NCC struggle with the City of Ottawa for an acceptable route for a light-rail link from Dominion Avenue to Lincoln Fields.