Alex Taranu
Founder/Director/Corporate Secretary
Council for Canadian Urbanism/Conseil canadien d’urbanisme
Ottawa to Toronto, July 2017

 

The precursor of today’s CanU started eleven years ago in Vancouver BC, where a memorable event took place – a joint conference of Canada’s main professional organizations that impact urban design: the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects. This event, the only one at the time with all three professional organizations addressing city building, was triggered by the World Urban Forum taking place with  a session called “Canadian Urban Design from Coast to Coast” that was facilitated by Yves Gosselin, the president of RAIC at the time. I had the challenge and pleasure of organizing this event which included brief presentations from Halifax (Andy Fillmore), Montreal (Aurele Cardinal), Toronto (Robert Freedman), GTA (Dan Leeming and myself), Calgary (Brent Toderian) and Vancouver (Larry Beasley) with 40-50 participants.

 

 

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At the end of the session we all looked at each other and realized that nobody had done this before and we started to ask ourselves – “what’s common to our presentations and projects? Is there something we could call Canadian urbanism?” Putting these presentations together started something that we wanted to continue to discuss, to follow up, to work towards and resulted in the first steps of CanU’s creation. While there were a few previous tentative plans to organize Canadian urbanists and urban designers (CNU Toronto, 1997 (1), the Urban Design Working Group in Ontario (2)) this proved to be the true start of what has become CanU.

We continued with an intensive retreat and discussion in Ottawa in November of 2006, in a not so appealing basement meeting room of the Holiday Inn, where the Charter of Canadian Urbanism was born (it took a few more years to finalize it before it was signed in Halifax in 2013!). There was Yves Gosselin (at the time with Public Works and still RAIC president), Brent Toderian (by then the newly appointed director of planning in Vancouver), Robert Freedman (then director of urban design in Toronto), Aurel Cardinal (partner of Cardinal Hardy at the time), Dan Leeming and Rick Merrile (partners with Planning Partnership in Toronto), David Down (then senior urban designer with the City of Calgary), Lewis Villegas (with SFU in Vancouver) and myself the then manager of urban design in Brampton. It was Dan’s suggestion for a very Canadian acronym (CanU, pronounced like “canoe”) that stuck with us.

We kept in touch via email and the following year  (2007) a number of us got together at the CIP Conference in Quebec City. Through the help of Nathalie Prud’homme the co-chair of the conference we had a number of presentations on various topics and we organized a gathering of people interested in the idea of CanU.

One year later, in Winnipeg at the CIP Conference, CanU had an entire stream at the conference thanks to co-chair (and by then CanU hard core) professor Ian Wight from University of Manitoba. We outlined the key principles and projects of Canadian Urbanism, attracted new participants, organized a meeting of numerous interested planners and established a loan from core members to trigger the organization and incorporation. CanU became “a movement in search of an organization” (to paraphrase Brent Toderian), lawyers were hired to assist the incorporation, individuals roles started to be defined and the idea of a Summit was launched.

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Within a year the incorporation was ready, a board of directors established, the Charter drafted and the first Summit organized. The summit took place in Toronto where most members were located with a rather short program including a tour of the then very new Regent Park led by Mark Guslits and a long day of discussions and presentations in the chilly stone building of the Distillery District with Ken Greenberg as keynote speaker and a bit more than 40 brave participants.

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…and the rest is history – with the organization being setup with monthly board meetings, yearly summits (Montreal 2010, Vancouver 2011, Calgary 2012, Halifax 2013 where our Charter was signed, Greater Toronto Area in 2014, Ottawa in 2015 and Edmonton in 2016). But that’s another story to be told some other long summer night, by the fire, near a canoe…..

 

  • See minute of the meeting of Canadian urbanists at the Congress for New Urbanism (CNU) held in Toronto by Dan Leeming
  • See Brief history of the Urban Design Working Group (UDWG), the movement for urban design in Ontario (coming up in 2018)

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