A Tribute to William E. (Will) Ogden
Last November 22, Allan Ogden and I made the 2-plus-hour drive from Toronto east to the Prince Edward County community of Picton. We were going to visit Will, Allan's father, who was in a convalescent home following an earlier surgery. When we arrived, Will's wife, Gretta, was already there. She told us that he had been less responsive that day than when Allan and I had visited him a week earlier. He did acknowledge our presence but slipped in and out of sleep. And, his usual wit was absent. During 1 of his sleep sessions, we went to a nearby restaurant for a bite to eat. When we returned, he was gone. Allan stayed on to comfort his mother and to help her with all the arrangements that had now fallen on her shoulders. As I drove back home that night, it struck me that a major chapter in my own life had come to an end.
That chapter began 41 years earlier back in October 1970 when I joined the same Toronto land-use planning firm that Will had joined that July. As a junior planner, I was expected to provide research and other assistance to the senior planners in the firm. They, in turn, were expected to provide on-the-job training for us rookies. While each of those senior planners had important lessons to pass on, Will became my unofficial mentor. His varied experience and his extensive knowledge of the subject made him a sought-after advisor. But, it was his generosity with his time, his contrarian approach to life, his wry sense of humor, and our many shared interests which cemented our teacher-pupil relationship and laid the foundation for our long-term professional collaboration and friendship.
His Early Background
Will was born on April 6, 1929 in Toronto. He grew up in the Moore Park section of that city. His father a decorated Royal Air Force pilot in WWI was a physician who served with the Medical Officer of Health for Toronto. Will graduated from the University of Toronto School (a high school affiliated with the university) and the University of Toronto, where he earned an Honours B.A. in Political Science & Economics as well as a graduate Diploma in Town & Regional Planning. In his 1st year at university, he was approached by several school friends who wanted him to join them on a free trip to Bermuda. Ever the skeptic, Will wanted to know who was sponsoring this 'free' trip. Was it their parents? No. Was it the university? No. Was it a foundation? No. Was it some eccentric philanthropist? No. When they told him it was the federal government, he wanted to know what the government expected in return. All he had to do, they assured him, was to enlist in the UNTD (University Naval Training Division) of the Royal Canadian Navy.
His Naval Training
Well, he decided to bite the bullet, so to speak, and obtained parental consent to enlist he was only 17 at the time. Similar to reserve officer training programs in other western democracies, UNTD enlistees were expected to spend time during the school year drilling, training, and receiving instruction in subjects related to their chosen branch of the military. In addition, they were expected to spend portions of each school vacation in more intensive training exercises. Will took his naval training initially in Toronto, then in Halifax (Nova Scotia), in Hamilton (Ontario), and at sea. Yes, 1 of those training exercises did take him to Bermuda in that summer of 1947. In the following years, the Navy also took him to several Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River ports, to Jamaica, to Panama, and through the Panama Canal to Acapulco (Mexico), to Long Beach (California), and to the Canadian naval base at Esquimault (BC). He did enjoy the travel but it was the leadership training which he most valued. Military officers are expected to be able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of each individual on their respective teams. Using that information, they are expected to tailor a strategy for each team member. The purpose of these individual strategies is to motivate each team member to make his (or her) best contribution to the team.
The Move West
When Will completed his UNTD service, he decided to return to civilian life. Most of his friends and fellow graduates would choose to start their careers in Toronto or elsewhere in southern Ontario. In those days, Ontario competed with Quebec for the title of Canada's most prosperous province. It was a manufacturing powerhouse with significant agricultural, forestry, and mineral resources. So, there was no shortage of job opportunities for new graduates. But, ever the contrarian, Will chose a different path. He packed up and moved west to Alberta. This was 3 decades before that province's booming free-market economy attracted so many residents of Ontario and other eastern provinces provinces which were struggling under the yoke of poor public-policy choices made by their own senior governments.
His Time in Alberta
Will's 1st job in Alberta was with the City of Edmonton Planning Department. There, he was responsible for the planning of an area then known as the South Side. In that role, he planned the development of a new residential neighborhood, including the layout of new streets and building lots. Another major assignment was to prepare a development concept for a 10-square-mile annexation area. His work with the Edmonton Planning Department brought him to the attention of the Edmonton School Board. They subsequently retained him as their Chief Planner, responsible for all of their educational facilities planning. He also liaised extensively with the City of Edmonton on their joint development of school and park sites. He went on to author an article on that subject which was published in the Canadian Education Association Journal in 1964.
While working for the City of Edmonton, Will met and married Margeretta (Gretta) Hanson of Carthage, NY. Will was introduced to Gretta by her brother Bob who also worked for the city at the time. Will and Gretta bought their 1st home in the Edmonton suburb of St. Albert. While living in St. Albert, their 2 sons, Allan and Danny, were born. With a flourishing career and a young family, you might be surprised to learn that Will was considering moving again. He really enjoyed his years in Alberta. He very much appreciated the openness, the directness, and the independent spirits of Albertans. And, he loved the land with its wide-open spaces, its foothills, and its mountains. But, the sea was calling him again.
His Time in Nova Scotia
His destination was the Atlantic seaboard province of Nova Scotia. There, he joined a consulting firm which served municipalities throughout that province. He was also a founding member of the Atlantic Planners Institute and the Environmental Council of Nova Scotia. In addition, he served as Vice-Chairman of the Nova Scotia Division of the Community Planning Association of Canada. In that era, older cities in many of our new-world democracies were involved in urban renewal. Will's firm prepared several urban renewal studies for communities in Nova Scotia. In conducting his background research for these studies, he became very interested in the New Haven (Connecticut) experience with urban renewal. This led to his writing of an article entitled: Urban and Human Renewal: The New Haven Achievement which was published in 1967 by the Community Planning Association of Canada.
When the Ogden family moved to Nova Scotia in 1965, they bought a home in the Halifax County community of Birch Cove, then an unincorporated suburb of the City of Halifax. (In later years, Halifax County, the City of Halifax, as well as the Towns of Dartmouth and Bedford would all be merged into the Halifax Regional Municipality. That was just 1 of a string of municipal mergers in Nova Scotia mergers dictated by their provincial government.) Birch Cove is located on the salt-water Bedford Basin, not far from where Will had done much of his UNTD training during his university years. While living in Birch Cove, the Ogdens' daughter Meg was born. Once again, the family was putting down roots. But, after just 5 years, they would be on the move again.
Our Early Collaborations
This time, it was the decline of his parents' health which led the Ogden family to pull up stakes. The move brought Will back to Toronto where he joined that land-use planning firm that I was to join just 4 months later. We spent the next 12 years there, serving many of the firm's municipal clients. Our travels to those municipal clients took us all over Ontario a province which stretches from New York in the east to Minnesota in the west and borders on all the Great Lakes except Lake Michigan (which is located entirely within the U.S.) In the early years when I was still a junior planner, Will took me along to meetings with his clients to help me learn the ropes. In later years when I had become a senior planner, we often collaborated on projects for each other's clients. One of those projects was with the Town of Dryden (now a city) in northwestern Ontario. In those days, there were no direct flights from Toronto to Dryden. So, the choice was to fly into Thunder Bay (at the western end of Lake Superior) or into Winnipeg (the largest city in Manitoba the province to the west of Ontario). From either city, there was still a drive of more than 200 miles to reach Dryden.
On 1 of those Dryden trips, we flew into Winnipeg. At 2 PM that afternoon, the temperature there was a balmy 25 degrees below zero (minus 32 degrees celsius). So, we added not just 1 but 2 cans of dry gas (gas-line antifreeze) to the gas tank. Our drive along the Trans-Canada Highway into Dryden was uneventful. We arrived in good time for the 8 PM meeting with the Dryden council. When that meeting ended sometime near 11 PM, we gassed up the rental car, added another can of dry gas for good measure, and set out for Winnipeg. We were booked on the 4 AM flight out of Winnipeg that morning. (I had arranged this flight so as to be able to be back in Toronto to attend a 10 AM meeting.) In those days, once you passed Kenora (about 90 miles west of Dryden, not far from the Ontario-Manitoba border), it was open country all the way into the Winnipeg suburbs. On that night, the only signs of civilization that we saw on that stretch of road were some far-off lights probably on farms. The Trans-Canada Highway itself was almost deserted. I don't think we saw more than 2 cars nor do I remember seeing even 1 truck after we passed Kenora. Of course, such situations seem to invite problems. And, this night was no exception.
Sure enough, the rental car, which had performed well up to this point, began to sputter. A few minutes later, the engine stopped running. Nor could it be coaxed to restart. We diagnosed the problem as ice crystals clogging the fuel line. The dry gas seemed unable to do its job now that the mercury had dropped to 40 below zero (the same on the celsius scale). The only remedy we could come up with was to wait for the gas to drain back into the tank hoping that it would take the ice crystals with it. That did work but not as well as we would have liked. After about 20 minutes, I was able to restart the car. However, it only ran for another 15 minutes or so before sputtering and shutting off again. We were hoping to be able to repeat this on-again-off-again scenario all the way into Winnipeg. Yet, each time the car shut off, we had to wait a little longer to restart it. And, each time it was restarted, it ran for a shorter time before shutting off again. All the while, it was becoming colder and colder inside the car. We did have 2 boxes of files in the trunk. If push came to shove, at least some of those files could be burned to keep us from being frost-bitten. Fortunately, it never came to that. We were able to limp into Winnipeg. We had survived our adventure but we had missed our flight. Never again did I schedule a trip that involved a long-distance, late-night drive in the dead of winter. There was not a word of complaint or criticism from Will. He did chide himself though for having 'forgotten' the hot dogs and the marshmallows. If there was the possibility of a bonfire, he wanted to do it right.
Our Consulting Firms
At about the same time, we each set up our own consulting practices. As we had done so many times in the past, we continued to collaborate on projects for our respective clients. One such project was for the Township of Lake of Bays, a municipality in what is known as cottage country, about a 2.5-hour drive north of Toronto. That municipality had given its approval to change the zoning on a large waterfront property in order to permit the development of a recreational resort. In Ontario, zoning decisions made by a municipal council may be appealed to the OMB (the Ontario Municipal Board an administrative tribunal which conducts formal hearings to decide whether or not to uphold the decisions of a council). For the OMB hearing on this particular project, the organization objecting to the zoning change had retained a planning consultant to give evidence in support of their position. The last time we had seen this person let's call him Mr. X at an OMB hearing was several years earlier when he had switched his evidence at the 11th hour. Instead of supporting our municipal client as he had indicated that he would, Mr. X approached the opposing organization and offered his services to them. On the basis of his evidence, the OMB had ruled against our client. Now, here he was on the opposite side of the table once again.
Ironically, Mr. X was not the only person who had taken part in that earlier hearing. Our municipal client in this case had retained the same attorney that our earlier municipal client had retained. And, the attorney representing the developer in this case had been the attorney representing the objecting organization in that earlier hearing. So, the stage was set. To accommodate a scheduling issue, the OMB allowed Mr. X to give his evidence first. When cross-examined by the attorney representing the developer, Mr. X admitted that his primary objection to the project was the failure of our municipal client to have prepared a document known as a secondary plan. No sooner were these words out of his mouth than those on our side had quickly put away our copies of the very document that he was criticizing our client for not having prepared. In a further irony, the attorney representing the developer was also unaware that there was, in fact, a secondary plan. (Apparently, he had been asked to fill in for a colleague who had been taken ill just prior to the hearing.) When he finished his cross-examination and the hearing had been adjourned for lunch, he told us that he was very disappointed in his failure to overcome the evidence of Mr. X until we showed him our copies of the document. Then, he beamed. I expect that Mr. X had a somewhat different reaction. As they say, what goes around comes around.
His Later Contributions
When the Cordillera Institute was founded in 1994, Will was 1 of those involved from the beginning. It was a comment he made which led to the naming of this organization. Ever the wit, he likened our mission to trying to cross the Rocky Mountains on foot. (Cordillera is the Spanish word for a mountain range which divides a continent.) While he was still active in consulting, Will served as a charter member of our Editorial Advisory Board. After he wound up his consulting practice in 1997, he and Gretta bought a waterfront home on South Bay in Prince Edward County. Far from retiring, he became more involved in NOAC (the Naval Officers' Association of Canada). He also wrote and illustrated a memoir on his early years in the UNTD. And, thanks to the Internet, he was able to serve as our editor and as a contributor to the NOAC publication, Starshell.
Some Closing Thoughts
Here at the Institute, we miss Will's dedication to excellence in local government, his generous contributions of his time and experience, his contrarian antidotes to major-media 'orthodoxy', his wise counsel, and his ever-present wit. I miss our hours-long discussions of public policy, our post-election analyses, and our annual after-tax-filing rants. (That's when we reviewed how much our senior governments were taking from us and reminded each other just how much of that money would be used to advance the government-first agenda the very agenda that we were committed to defeating.) But, most of all, I miss his friendship and his presence in our everyday lives.