Memory lane – In the beginning

In the period prior to the First Great War, a National Federation of Builders’ Exchanges was formed in Canada. It held several annual conferences in Montreal and Toronto and then one in Vancouver. The long train ride for many of the delegates was evidently a very thirsty experience because by the time the return trip back east was over, the federation’s funds had literally dried up. That was the end of the federation.

However, as the war neared its end, the pressing needs of post-war reconstruction became apparent. A group led by J. Penrose Anglin of Montreal decided to form a new national association to provide recommendations to the government of Canada. It was named the Association of Canadian Building and Construction Industries (ACBCI). Penrose became its first president and served until 1921. Also very active in organizing the new body was Col. E.G.M. Cape, another Montreal-based general contractor whose firm provided four future CCA presidents (John Stirling, Percy Wilmut, Tom Somerville and John Morton).

I joined the CCA staff in 1946. The next two ACBCI, subsequently re-named the Canadian Construction Association, presidents were Jock Carswell (1922) and Joe Pigott (1923 – 1924). When Prime Minister Pearson was reluctant to accept the CCA invitation to be the keynote speaker at the 1st CCA congress, Carswell phoned him. “Mike,”’ he said, “You’ve got to accept!” (He did). Later, Carswell moved from Toronto to Vancouver and became chair of the Kitimat Constructors, an 8-firm consortium building the aluminum plant at Kitimat. He also assumed the chair of the CCA Vancouver Convention Committee.

Joe Pigott of Hamilton was the “Father of Apprenticeship Training” in Canada for the construction industry and was the long-time chair of the CCA Apprenticeship Committee. He also was co-chair of a special Ontario-Quebec Apprenticeship Committee formed to identify the beneficial elements of the two quite distinctive systems. Carswell received the Order of the British Empire (now Order of Canada) for his war-time service in Washington and Pigott the CBE for heading the crown company, Housing Enterprises Ltd. He was also a Papal Knight (KCSG).

Another early president, Hub Frid of Hamilton, continued to be active in the CCA for many years, serving as chair of its Labour Relations Committee and the employer half of the National Joint Conference Board of the Construction Industry (NJCB). The NJCB had been formed during the 2nd Great War under the auspices of the Federal Department of Labour to establish the wage rates and other working conditions under war-time controls for projects located in places not covered by collective agreements.

Part of the Anglin legacy to the CCA was the provision of Clark Reilly as its long-time general manager. Reilly had previously worked for Anglin’s as a timekeeper while a divinity student. He was ordained and went overseas with a welfare unit. Back in Canada after the Armistice, while waiting for a Methodist ministry, he was invited by Anglin to work for six months to help in the development of the ACBCI. This 6-month assignment became a 28-year career! Reilly told me that one of his previous ambitions had been to serve as a missionary in China, but that after associating with contractors he had concluded that there was also a mission for him in Canada and that he would not have to learn Chinese. And in his quiet way he undoubtedly had a large influence on the establishment of improved business practices in the industry. Walking down Sparks Street in Ottawa with Clark required a full half-hour or more to travel the two or three blocks because he knew just about every passer-by and we stopped for frequent chats!

Reilly had given advance notice of his intention to retire and his successor, Dick Johnson, was engaged as associate general manager a year or more before it took place at the 1947 annual convention. The contractors on the selection committee had been impressed by the astuteness and fairness of the official in charge of wartime construction contracts in the Department of Munitions & Supply and concluded that he “should be on their side” in the future! This was legally-trained Johnson, who managed the CCA very effectively until C.D. Howe requested that he be loaned to the Canadian government during the Korean War to administer its construction projects for the armed forces. This he did with great success and after five years of being “on loan” was persuaded to remain in the federal service. As president of Defence Construction Ltd. (DCL) Johnson was responsible for not only projects in Canada but for many overseas. DCL’s procedures were in accord with CCA guides (unlike certain other federal agencies) and when he retired he was the senior deputy minister / Crown corporation president in terms of years of service.