The changing face of Canada

We’re building at the greatest rate in our history, and spending $7 billion a year. Are we getting our money’s worth? Here's the renaissance that experts say will give us a completely new look

Peter C. Newman March 16 1957

The changing face of Canada

We’re building at the greatest rate in our history, and spending $7 billion a year. Are we getting our money’s worth? Here's the renaissance that experts say will give us a completely new look

Peter C. Newman March 16 1957

The changing face of Canada


We’re building at the greatest rate in our history, and spending $7 billion a year. Are we getting our money’s worth? Here's the renaissance that experts say will give us a completely new look




The changing face of Canada continued

"We’re trading in our gaudy, frumpish looks —

I en million people now live in Canada's seven hundred and thirty-five cities and towns. By 1980, if the experts are correct, these same centres will have twenty-two million residents. They are already growing at a rate which has, since 1941, averaged nearly a quarter of a million a year.

These statistics, actual and projected, mean that the country’s urban areas are changing faster and more dramatically than ever before in history. They are cascading over their boundaries to smother orchards and dot farmlands with satellite communities. They are stabbing new towers at the sky. Beset by appalling traffic problems, they are groping for solutions in double-decked streets, subways and possibly systems of single-track, elevated railroads arching above the skyscrapers. With land costs at an all-time high, they are piling one dwelling on another in an enormous gush of apartment construction. And, with fields and forests retreating ever farther, they arc putting new emphasis on parks and playgrounds.

Out of today's urban sprawls animated townscapes are rising. In the process the anatomy of buildings housing man's every activity, from churches to phone booths, is being totally recast.

This urban face lifting is taking place at a time when Canadians have had more than a decade of unprecedented prosperity and when Canada is showing signs of cultural maturity. Greatly increasing wealth and a sharply whetted desire for beauty are join-

for svelte, well-mannered, beautiful cities”

ing to give our cities a more inspiring setting.

The symptoms of this union of dollars with taste are all about us. "Gradually," says Charles Campeau, director of planning for Montreal, “we are trading in creatures of gaudy, ill-bred and often frumpish attractions for svelte, well-mannered and more beautiful cities.”

Canadians are still spending more money for popcorn than architectural advice, but the architects insist a momentous renaissance has started. It will, they predict, completely eclipse this country’s previous building spree of the 1920s, w'hich set down on the Canadian landscape such monumental structures as the Sun Life Building in Montreal and the Royal York Hotel in Toronto.

“There will be,” flatly predicts George S. Mooney, executive director of the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities, “a greater change in the appearance of Canadian cities during the next three decades, than has taken place in the preceding three centuries.”

“Architecture in Canada has too long been a stepchild when it should be a mother of the arts." says John C. Parkin, a Toronto architect whose designs are among Canada’s most progressive. “People arc happier in attractive cities and we should in the next hundred years erect some of the world’s most beautiful buildings in Canada.”

Our towns and cities are being altered so quickly

story and pictures continue overleaf

I he changing face of Canada continued

With murals and a modern look in offices and workshops, business is becoming a patron of the arts

that Canada’s construction companies now do more business than any other Canadian industry. Despite tight mortgage funds, they'll take in almost seven billion dollars this year. Bongard & Co., a Toronto investment house, estimates the building pace could be trebled if enough labor and capital were available. Contractors are so busy that recent advertisements by the federal Department of Public Works tor tenders to put up a $1,250,000 government building at Brantford, Ont., didn't bring a single bid.

Downtown Toronto is being rebuilt at such a fantastic clip that along eight blocks of University Avenue alone, fifty million dollars’ worth of office buildings and hotels are now rising. University Avenue frontage, if it can be bought, costs up to $250 an inch.

In Montreal, plans for William Zeckendorf's $125-million office-building complex now being studied will eventually give the city an exciting new pivotal point.

Vancouver is mapping a $ 150-million network of new streets — and thirty major buildings aggregating $120 million are going up.

Texas-style architecture is transforming Calgary and Edmonton. Ottawa is being resurrected according to the government-sponsored master plan of the Federal District Commission. The deepening of the St. Lawrence Seaway and the construction of the trans-Canada gas pipeline are significantly altering great chunks of the Canadian landscape.

While these and other major undertakings will make the future countryside look considerably different, Canada's cities will change beyond recognition.

The amount of additional housing required to accommodate the coming urban multiplication will exceed the number of homes now built in Canada. It's a striking fact that excavations for the thousands of new dwellings will mean scooping out the equivalent continued on page 55

The changing face of Canada continued from page 15

Twin-story streets and expressways will help unravel our traffic

of two St. Lawrence Seaway projects.

For the Canadian city design of the future, our more imaginative town planners believe that downtown traffic should and can be eliminated. They see Canadian cities eventually ringed by sixlaned, one-way speedways dotted with multi-deck, automatic parking structures. Pedestrians will be whisked from these garages — and from nearby subway and

helicopter terminals — into the heart of the city along moving sidewalks (fortyinch-wide black rubber belts, traveling at two miles an hour).

Office buildings may stand on stilts, connected with their neighbors by arched viaducts. City halls, once Canada’s drabbest monstrosities, could become mushroom-shaped pavilions set back in treelined plazas.

Much of the downtown asphalt may be replaced by lawned walks. Summertime sidewalk cafés and kiosks are expected to flourish. In every square, Canadian city dwellers will probably be able to hear the relaxing sounds of splashing water, an opportunity they now seldom have, although it costs only twenty dollars to recirculate thirty thousand gallons of water a day — enough to operate a large fountain or reflecting pool.

During the expected doubling of Canada’s metropolitan areas, city planners will borrow some ideas from the wellplanned suburbs. They will strive to instill a much greater element of fun into urban life by more than trebling the number of existing parks, playgrounds, baseball diamonds, “theatres under the stars,” tennis courts and indoor swimming pools, “if the parent city is to compete with the young upstarts,” says Humphrey Carver, the research chief of Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, “it must offer something as elegant and magnetic.”

The rejuvenation of Canadian cities is one of our most urgent problems. About eighty percent of Canada’s future population growth will take place in or near urban areas. In just ten years the large crop of postwar babies will be reaching house-buying age, adding pressure to city congestion. "We have one hundred months’ grace in which to make our cities work efficiently,” warns J. S. Hodgson, director of Central Mortgage and Housing’s development division.

Our cities have become so inefficient that Canadians in the productive age groups now lose more time getting to and from work than through illness — and traffic will treble in twenty years. At least thirty billion dollars — almost twice the cost of Canada’s World War II contribution— will have to be spent on doubling the existing network of streets and highways. Overhead expressways, twin-story streets, exclusive transit avenues — all these are in the cards. Canada’s first piggy-back intersection will probably be at the busy junction of Park and Pine Streets in Montreal, near the new Montreal General Hospital. Toronto is already planning a second subway.

Also destined to go underground is the unsightly web of hydro cables cluttering city skylines. More than ten million dollars a year is being spent to submerge wiring. Montreal alone is entombing five miles of cables a year. Telephone wires are also being buried. Downtown areas will eventually be served by underground heating and air-conditioning hookups. Some Winnipeg and Edmonton homes and office buildings already have

common heating facilities in wide use.

Many municipalities will find the relocation of services and traffic routes painfully expensive. Most Canadian cities were founded in kerosene days around a harbor, at a river junction or on a rail-

road. They were designed as villages, with no provision for the metropolitan status they have since achieved.

The ideal insurance for continued downtown growth is to replace slums with apartment towers. Although urban

redevelopment has hardly started in Canada, Eric Beecroft, director of the Community Planning Association of Canada, predicts that in the next fifteen years downtown renewal will become one of this country’s largest privateand public-investment fields.

What really disturbs town planners is the rapid decay of Canada’s newest communities. “Some of the worst postwar subdivisions in Canada will be the slums of tomorrow and will undoubtedly require redevelopment.” says Ian MacLennan, chief architect of the Central Mort-

gage and Housing Corporation. This also applies to such settlements as Seven Islands, Que., where the commercial district already requires redevelopment although the town’s urban growth is less than seven years old.

The rehabilitation of Canadian cities will be hampered by a shortage of experienced town planners. In 1946 only four Canadian municipal governments had full-time planning departments. While sixty cities now employ 150 planners and four Canadian universities turn out forty more every spring, there is such a demand for qualified help that most members of this year’s graduating classes can choose between four or five offers. The self-appointed mission of many young town planners is to fight against the outdated building codes now frustrating urban aesthetic improvement efforts. Bylaws in some cities still insist that every wall must be at least eight inches thick.

Architects predict that curtain walling, which uses thin glass and porcelain panels between aluminum columns to form an attractive, easy-to-keep-shiny façade, will eventually replace conventional masonry in most big buildings. Canada’s largest glass tower, the twentyone-story B.C. Electric Company headquarters being completed this year in Vancouver, is designed so that no employee has to work more than eighteen

feet from a window. Italian mosaic tile covers all exposed concrete surfaces.

A building soon to be erected by the Sun Life Assurance Company in Toronto will use a similar walling technique, but will have a face of grey heatabsorbing glass. It will be Canada’s first skyscraper resting on stilts over street-level shrubs and fountains. The building will be air-conditioned, with sealed windows kept clean by a mechanical mop propelling itself across the glass.

The new Imperial Oil Limited head office on St. Clair Avenue in Toronto has a more traditional granite facing, but its nineteen floors feature many innovations. The first eight stories are connected by escalators sweeping along at 120 feet a minute. The lobby has an imposing mural by R. York Wilson depicting man's search for oil. A painting by Sidney Watson symbolizing Canada’s industrial progress decorates Imperial’s nineteenthfloor boardroom and there’s an abstract mural in the staff cafeteria by the late Oscar Cahen.

Canadian business is gradually expanding ils role as an arts patron. West-coast artist B. C. Binning produced a striking effect on the face of the O’Brien Advertising Limited building in Vancouver by combining surfaces of French grey, Swedish red and Venetian blue. He also painted an abstract, richly colored mural to cover one wall of the agency s board-

room. For a new British American Oil Company building in Montreal, Danishborn Toronto artist Thor Hansen has designed a fifty-foot-high mural depicting forty-three phases of Quebec’s customs, history and traditions.

Most interior decorators preach that an office should reflect the personality of its occupying executive. They also claim that red and yellow stimulate business thinking, while green and blue abate excitement. Brown is depressing, white is cold. Apparently the personality of some Canadian executives is not easily expressed in an appropriately shaded work setting. Such outlandish office furnishings as Tahiti-tan desks, purple Fiberglas drapes, charcoal-striped rugs and birchbark doors are gradually gaining popularity

While offices are trying to resemble luxury-hotel suites, hotel rooms are being transformed into combined living and business quarters. A large proportion erf the twelve hundred rooms in the CNR's new Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal will be furnished as office bedrooms, with hide-away bed-chesterfields.

More than two hundred million dollars’ worth of new hotels are now being completed across Canada, but the number of suburban motels will soon outnumber Canada’s 5,500 hotels. The motel is successfully capitalizing on the durable philosophy of the nineteenth-century stagecoach inn (“good and cheerful lodgings for weary travelers’) and in the process becoming swankier than its downtown counterpart. The four-story Seaway motor hotel near Toronto, for example, has a 350-seat banquet hall, a house physician, a children’s playground and individual glass balconies overlooking Lake Ontario. One British Columbia motel has an annex of motel-shaped kennels to lure holidayers with pets.

A real surprise may be in store for travelers who like to carry their houses around with them. The most curious building likely to rise along future downtown avenues may be the concrete, vertical trailer park. Mid-city “mobile home apartments” would accommodate trailerites on a scries of ledges lining their outside walls. They’d have a traveling crane on the roof to boost the mobile home to its perch and each trailer s front door would open onto an elevator. A prototype is on the draughting boards of a southern California construction company.

Stationary housing is also due to be reshuffled. City planners think that one way to make urban Canadians happier, and relieve the monotony of suburban

housing, is to return them to village-scale living. They believe this can be accomplished by building up a system of schoolcentred neighborhoods. These would be zoned areas of about three thousand people, each clustered around a fourteenroom elementary school, with boundaries formed by a main street, river, cemetery or some other barrier. Every neighborhood would have landscaped superblocks closed to traffic. There would be different types of homes so that residents could move with changing requirements without having to leave the neighborhood.

Edmonton, with more than twenty of thirty-nine zoned neighborhoods already developed, and the super-planned community of Kitimat, B.C., have come closest to realizing this concept. Such housing subdivisions as Don Mills in northeast Toronto. Wildwood near Winnipeg, Fraser View in Vancouver, Manor Park in Ottawa and Applewood Acres in Gooksville, Ont., have also successfully tried adaptations of school-centred neighborhood planning.

The schools that will form the core of future neighborhoods will probably be

motel-like structures with attached Lshaped classrooms designed to give each age group its own section of the schoolyard. The future high school will resemble today’s university campus, with separate one-story buildings for each major subject and a central gymnasiumcafeteria-administration hall.

Elementary and secondary school enrollment will double by 1980 to nearly six million. Enough children to fill the average classroom are born or immigrate to Canada every forty-seven minutes.

To accommodate the pupils’ parents,

How fast Canadian cities are growing

This (able shows the predicted growth pattern of Canada’s sixteen major metropolitan areas. Government figures for 1951 and 1956 trace the population increases of the past six years. The 1980 predictions are from briefs presented to the Royal Commission on Canada’s Economic Prospects.

Canadian house builders will have to complete four million homes during the next thirty years. That will require an investment of about forty-five billion dollars — the equivalent of a trans-Canada pipeline project every two and a half months. Despite the government’s recent effort to attract more investment funds into housing by a half-percent boost of the NHA mortgage interest rate to six percent, 1957 house construction is expected to drop by at least fifteen thousand units from last year’s 125,000 total.

The houses that replace our outdated dwellings are likely to grow larger with the addition of family rooms, utility corners, parlors, second bathrooms and dens or studies. In 1947 houses were being built with an average area of 839 feet. Floor space of homes now being put up averages nearly 1,200 feet. The split-level housing shape — a bungalow with its basement half-lifted out of the ground — will probably predominate future residential construction.

Better tools, mass-produced components, snap-together assemblies and new, non-corrosive materials will cut the construction time of future housing. A recently invented gun-shaped implement joins steel to steel thirty times faster than bolts.

A few years ago Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in Ottawa was receiving one or two requests a week from manufacturers for acceptance of new products under the National Housing Act. Fifty applications are now processed every month. The most exciting possibility is replacing the cumbersome wallconstruction sandwich with a plastic material, foamed into place from tanker trucks. Even the humble brick is being glamorized. To make buildings technicolor counterpoints of their natural backgrounds, bricks are now being made in shades that include crimson, tangerine, purple and chartreuse.

Providing the municipal services for the doubling of Canada’s population during the next thirty years will be costly and difficult. A recent survey showed that Canadian municipal officials expect that less than two thirds of the required funds will be available from present tax sources. That means municipalities may have to assume direct taxing powers. Fred Gardiner, chairman of metropolitan Toronto, has already suggested a municipal tax of seventy-five dollars on incomes over five thousand dollars a year.

One reflection of the fight to prune the costs of municipal services will be in future hospital designs. Downtown multistory hospitals will be increasingly complemented by flat suburban structures. In the new Greater Niagara General Hospital, for example, the traditional contents of six floors have been spread around a double-decker operating-room

core, as single-floor, basementless patientrecovery units. The 250-bed complex cost $17.45 per square foot — $7.55 a square foot less than the average vertical hospital.

The factory, once snubbed as not worthy of attention by serious architects, is becoming Canadian architecture’s handsomest product. Like the hospitals, industrial plants are moving farther from downtown, to where space is available to enclose long production lines. A recent analysis of work efficiency concluded that airy, imaginatively decorated workshops have a more positive effect on productivity than fatter pay envelopes.

Also due to become more attractive are Canada’s fifteen major airports, currently undergoing a three-hundred-million-dollar modernization by the Department of Transport. Passenger traffic will move through tunnels or covered corridors projecting from spacious, modernized terminal buildings into field waiting rooms. Canada’s first embarkation corridor is being built at Gander airport in eastern Newfoundland and construction will soon begin on two similar “fingers” for Dorval airport outside Montreal. New repair and storage hangars will probably have a transparent, parabolic roof made of plastic honeycombed with aluminum struts.

The changing face of religion

New churches are being built across Canada at an even faster rate than supermarkets: one a day since 1948. Budgets of all denominations call for spending three million dollars on new construction every month during the next twenty-five years.

“Not since the cathedrals were white has Christianity witnessed such a surge of churchbuilding,” says James A. Murray, a Toronto architect who has designed some of Canada’s most unusual churches. including Applewood United

Church, near Cooksville, Ontario, a low-slung unchurchlike-looking building wrapped around a landscaped courtyard and surrounded by new houses.

Rev. Lawrence Purdy, pastor of Applewood United, feels that his unusual church successfully combines functional simplicity of form with the requirements of the modern congregation. “Our building,” he says, “may not look like most people’s idea of a church, but we worship God in simple yet beautiful surroundings.”

Known as the geodesic dome, this shape is being used for the outposts of Canada’s three northern radar lines. “There is no other building technique so appropriately modern and none so potentially important for Canada,” says Jeffrey Lindsay, a Montreal designer who has already built a geodesic cottage in the Laurentians, a geodesic barn at Senneville, Que., and sold the government domed Arctic warfare shelters. He has also designed an arched, 160,000-ton plastic cap for Montreal that would admit the sun but keep the city snow and rain free. He predicts that within thirty years plastic-domed cities will rise over the mineral and oil deposits of the Canadian Arctic.

Lindsay’s dream of housing humanity under mushrooms of plastic may or may not come true. But along with many Canadian architects and designers, he is convinced that the cult of the cube, which has dominated building since man left his caves, should be discarded as an outmoded device,

Architecture reveals the quality of a civilization as the whorls of a sea shell mirror the living habits of the deep-sea mollusk. Out of the architectural rebirth now changing the face of Canadian cities will come bold new concepts of relating buildings to earth and sky.