Plan for the National Capital General Report (Jacques Gréber, 1950)

The Planning of A National Capital

 Address delivered by MR. JACQUES GRÉBER

Professor of City Planning, University of Paris,
Inspector-General of City Planning, France



in the Railway Committee Room of the House of Commons, Ottawa, Canada

On Thursday, October 25th, 1945

Source: National Capital Commission Library, Call No. NCC 1945#1, 5724


The Honourable Alphonse Fournier, K.C., Minister of Public Works in the Canadian Government, who has invited the honourable members of both Houses of Parliament to hear Mr. Gréber, introduced the speaker as follows:

Mr. Jacques Gréber, General Inspector of City planning of the Ministry of Reconstruction and City planning of France, is also a pro­fessor of City planning at the University of Paris, and President of the Society of City planners of France.

He came in 1934 to Montreal, as lecturer to the Ecole Polytechnique, under the auspices of the Institut Scientifique Franco-Canadien. He is known in Ottawa since 1937, and co-operated with the Department of Public Works, in connection with the treatment of the Government’s grounds. He submitted, in 1938 and 1939, a basic plan of the centre of Ottawa, of which a part has already been carried out. He is now again appointed by the Government, as Consultant in the preparation of the master plan of the Capital Region, a logical development of his previous work.

Mr. Gréber knows our country, where he has made many visits since 1920, while he was consultant for the city and the region of Phila­delphia (he is responsible for the plans of the Fairmount Parkway now executed).

After having been the Chief Architect of the Paris Exposition in 1937, he was consultant to the Board of Design of the New York World’s Fair of 1939.

His international knowledge of town planning problems is now at the service of our Country after an extensive experience in the re-planning of devastated French cities such as Rouen, the capital of Normandy, Abbeville in Picardy, and St. Omer in Artois.

As inspector general of City planning, he supervised the reconstruction plans of a great number of municipalities in eight departments of northern and eastern France.

He was in France during the past six years, attending to numerous and difficult missions, and preparing, for the time of the Liberation of the French soil, many plans now under way of realization.

Mr. Gréber will give us a brief review of interesting examples, as a result of his long experience, which I am sure, will be of an unquestion­able value for the great scheme that is to be devoted to the future of the National Capital.

The Speech





 I have been many times in this beautiful house, even late in the evening during your sessions. I know your work, so my address will be as brief as possible.

However, I beg to express, in a few words, my deep gratitude for the honour you have given me, in coming to hear how we propose to prepare the laying out of the future of your National Capital. The Honourable Mr. Mourner has too kindly introduced me and praised my merits in such a way that I certainly shall have to call for your indulgence.

The joy of being in this wonderful country, after five years of sorrow and sometimes of despair, for a man whose profession is to foresee, and efforts to create better conditions of life, is like a great ray of hope. And I am greatly indebted to your Prime Minister to have given me this joy, in asking our chief, General de Gallup, to let me come to work with you.

City planning is, or ought to be, really considered as an obvious common place. Far from being a luxury or an academic matter of studies, it is, it must be, the essential of sound politics. It is the safest investment of the community. When reasonably conceived, it is as precious as life, because its aim is to organize life, with method, foresight, dignity, comfort and pleasure.

A good city plan brings a good civic life, it is the material chart of social order, of strong finance, of sure prosperity. And the best plans are those of great vision. Daniel Burnham, the master of city planning in the United States, who made plans for Chicago, San Francisco, and continued, and extended the Lenfant Plan of Washington, used to stress this great truth: “Make o small plans, they are a waste.” They certainly cost twice and give less satisfactory services than master conceptions.

Now is it opportune to speak of great plans after the amazing efforts, the exhausting expenditures, the human sacrifices made during the atrocious war just ended ? Should not we wait for better times, of normal economic and political conditions ? I am afraid this would be another waste. A wide planning is a factor of rapid recovery, and the essential perhaps. Reconstruction of normal life and reconversion of industries are precisely depending upon rational, careful and broadminded planning. In France, for instance, a striken, empoverished, weakened, devilishly devastated and demoralized country, after four years and a half of slavery, we dare hope in greater, younger and finer civic life, than when we enjoyed the happy years of pre-war prosperity. We still believe in a better world, and my present visit to Canada, specially to Ottawa, decidedly confirms my optimistic hopes, for Canada is perhaps of all the allied Nations the true land of hope and of unlimited future.

City planning, which I call the technique of human geography, is made of the harmony and of the equilibrium of man and nature. Need I tell you what nature has given to Ottawa? An ideal setting of untouched beauty; a fortunate and symbolic association of anglo-saxon and latin cultures, a destiny of universal friendship.

By its amazing and generous contribution in men and resources in the World’s Liberation War, Canada has acquired an unquestionable position among the great Nations. Its Capital must and will grow at the rhythm of the national progress.

You certainly remember the prophecy of your great statesman Wilfrid Laurier, in 1893:

“I consequently keep a green spot in my heart for the city of Ottawa, and when the day comes, as it will come by and by, it shall be my pleasure and that of my colleagues, I am sure, to make the city of Ottawa the centre of the intellectual development of this country and the Washington of the North.”            .

And this explains why the decision of your Government to make the plan of the Capital a lasting and living memorial to the War has been so warmly praised in Europe, and given as an example that should be repeatedly followed. This conception, however, of a memorial City Plan does not exclude, in the general layout of the plan, the contribution of plastic works of art, sculptural or pictural, to commemorate glorious feats of the war. But they will be a part of the great work, and placed in the proper setting, to their best advantage.

The few illustrations which will follow my remarks will endeavour to show the universal trend toward better cities, the methods used to make them benefit to the people, to eliminate utopical and deceiving schemes, to bring, with better conditions of housing, of traffic and trans­portation, of working, of enjoying education, rest or recreation, to bring with all those material improvements, moral progress and consequently social order. As you will see, city planning has no relation with unnecessary adornment or building speculations. Real beauty is always the (result of sober lines, good proportions and good taste. These qualities often proceed from restrictive rules.

Therefore, we reinforce our plans by regulations, zoning by-laws, building codes, to bring order and discipline, to stress public interests  against the abuse of private rights.

Consequently, to make Ottawa and its environs more beautiful will rather be an easy task, and in some instances a costless program: protection of nature, control and restriction of building density, all measures that involve no private loss, no extravagant expenses, but on the contrary promote real-estate value in a more prosperous community, for a healthier population.

You might be interested to know the main lines of our program of work, and a few details about the vast problem which has been entrusted to us.

Let me tell you, in the first place, how I conceive that such a problem should be treated.

In a little more than half a century, Ottawa had become such an important city, from its modest Bytown childhood, that in 1915, a most comprehensive work had already been done under the auspices of the Federal District Commission, with the valuable contribution of Mr. Edward Bennett, city planner of Chicago. This first plan, known as the Holt Report, and many studies made a few years later by the late Nolan Cauchon, as well as the plans I have been preparing between 1937 and 1939, are the basic elements from which we shall develop and extend :he program of the work. In other words, we shall continue, as others will, in the future, the long and common endeavour to make and prepare the city to the scale of its constant progress.

Now, the problem is quite larger than what it was in 1915 or even in 1939.

The exceptional function of Ottawa, not only Capital of the Domin­ion of Canada, but also city of great conventions, of national, of inter­national conferences, professional congresses and world-wide manifesta­tions, must appear in a plan that preserves and emphasizes its natural frame and environment.  

Welcome, dignity, stately public buildings, in a frame of gardens, vast hotel and recreation facilities, art and educational centres, large tourism possibilities, without neglecting modern housing and efficient working equipment . . . This vision must become a tangible fact, and be made a realistic scheme along the following principles:

The Capital Region, as outlined by the recommendations of the Joint Committee of the Senate and of the House of Commons, August 1, 1944, covers an area of 900 square miles, extending approximately 35 miles NW, 20 miles NE, 15 miles SW, and 15 miles SE, from the Peace Tower. Of this territory 364 sq. miles are in the Province of Ontario, 536 sq. miles are in the Province of Quebec, a symbolic demonstration of the biratial Unity.

The cities of Ottawa and Hull, and sixteen Municipalities of various importance are included in the region, with a total population of 252,672. Their present built up area is approximately 19 sq. miles, leaving 479 sq. miles of farm lands, 332 sq. miles of woodlands and 70 sq. miles of water (rivers and lakes).

Before attempting to make plans, a methodical and profound survey of all existing conditions is the first work to consider. It will depend upon its accuracy and extensive research, that we can reach the appropriate conclusions toward the far-reaching planning and equipment of the Capital and of its environs, in accord with the various functions, present and future, of the different parts of this large territory. The quality of the survey is the essential guarantee of the efficiency and of the economy of the plan, also of the speed of its elaboration.


1. The demographic analysis will determine the reasonable limits of the urban development in the best conditions of modern housing.

2. The economic survey will show the most favourable localizations for commerce and industry.

3. Transportation and traffic will be coordinated to serve the common needs of the various inhabited centres, in function of their relative activities.

4. Public services will be distributed to avoid unnecessary waste ‘ of time, money and energy.

5. Cultural and recreational centres will assure their permanent enjoyment and an easy access, from every part of the residential units.

6. A special study will be devoted to the already mentioned particular function of the Capital, in regard to its international importance, due, (1) to the unquestionable position acquired by Canada in the World’s War, among the great nations, (2) to the natural beauty and the extensive possibilities of the site of Ottawa, and (3) to the natural qualification of Canada as the meeting point of both anglo-saxon and latin cultures, on American soil.

7. As a consequence of the above special function, the Parks and Forest Reservations system will be exceptionally developed, within and outside the urban zones.

Beside the normal equipment of the cities, towns and villages, in public gardens, parks, sport centres (including an Olympic Stadium) and local playgrounds, considered as public services, the larger part of the open spaces and forest reservations will consist in the preservation of the natural scenery, either by acquired property, or by protected zones under special restrictions, by-laws and adequate zoning, under proper control.

The recreational equipment of the region will include, at appropriate places: camping sites, ski grounds, skating clubs, hunting or fishing reservations, parkways, horse riding, bicycle and footpaths, organized trails, hostels and shelters, log cabins, belvederes, bathing beaches, model farms, Canadian botanical garden and eventually a Canadian zoological garden. Special protections will be applied to private golf and country clubs.

8. The power, light, water and sewage equipment will be proposed in accordance with the urban and rural planning.

The whole study (survey, plans, by-laws, and proposals) will be embodied in a General Report to be prepared, with the assistance of Canadian experts, engineers, architects and specialists.

The work will be submitted to a National Planning Committee, composed of personalities qualified by their functions or their competence.

The Federal District Commission by its experiences will, I am sure, be in a position to make a substantial contribution to the work. The city , of Ottawa, the city of Hull, and the entire Capital Region are greatly indebted to this great institution. Its achievements on both sides of the Ottawa River, and far up the Gatineau River, deserve the highest praise.

We are assured of the full co-operation of the cities of Ottawa and Hull and of all municipalities involved in the master plan.

Permanent contact for advice, information and requirements will be established with the Parliament, with all Departmental offices as well as with the great public services such as the Railways administra­tions, industrial corporations, etc.      

The public spirited citizens will also be represented in the Planning Committee, and adequate publication of the progress of the work will be periodically released for maintaining public interest in our work.

Such procedure will permit to undertake, while the plan is being prepared, such emergency work as may seem desirable, and procure employment for many classes of workmanship.

Definite operations, on pre-planned schedule, will assure the rapid reconversion of various public works and building industries.

The plan we are going to prepare will be a long range scheme, of gradual and flexible execution, in accord with the emergency of the needs and the financial possibilities.


Inspector General of City Planning.

NOTE:-The lecture was followed by projection of 45 Lantern slides, 12 photographs of which are shown in this publication. 

Photograph 1: Comparison of four Monumental Compositions, PARIS, PHILADELPHIA, VERSAILLES, WASHINGTON, showing at the same scale, relation of size and design. Note the orientations: W-N-W and West.

Comparison of four monumental compositions. Paris, Philadelphia, Versilles, Washington, showing at the same scale, relation of size and design. Note the orientations:W-N-W and West. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 2: MAP OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA showing L’ENFANT’S PLAN and PARK SYSTEM extending on the State of Maryland and partly on Virginia.

Map of the District of Columbia showing L’enfant’s Plan and Park System extending on the State of Maryland and partly on Verginia. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 3: REGION OF PARIS: A MASTER PLAN of the Region of Paris, has been prepared and legally promulgated. It covers more than 1500 square miles, on five Departments. It fixes the limits of all agglomerations, the zoning, co-ordinates the road and transportation system, the parks and forest reservations, and all common public services, without interfering with local administration of more than 800 municipalities.

Region of Paris: A Master Plan of the Region of Paris. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 4: N-W PART OF GREATER LONDON showing gradual vanishing of urban character and park system with its Parkway connections between different suburban residential units.

N-W part of Greater London showing gradual vanishing of urban character and park system with its parkway connections between different suburban units. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 5: GENERAL PLAN OF HELSINKI, Capital of Finland

General plan of Helsinki: Capital of Finland. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945


General Plan of New York Park System. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 7: CITY OF PHILADELPHIA. PLAN OF PHILADELPHIA FAIRMOUNT PARKWAY leading from City Hall to Fairmount Park, and forming a wedge of gardens into the centre of the City. Executed, 1920-1930.

The Parkway from Fairmount to Logan Square, Plan, Jacques Greber, c. February 1919, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Arc, 90.9a,b. scanned from Brownlee. D. B. (1989) Building the City Beautiful

Photograph 8: CITY OF PHILADELPHIA. Aerial view of FAIRMOUNT PARKWAY from N. W. toward the centres of the city, showing work partly completed in 1928. Municipal Art Gallery in foreground. City Hall tower and sky-scrappers at other end of Parkway.

Aerial view of Fairmount Parkway from NW toward the centre of the city, showing work partly completed in 1928. Municipal Art Gallery in foregroung. City Hall tower and skyscrapers at the other end of the parkway. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945


Master Plan of Region of Rouen. Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945


Preliminary plan of the City of Ottawa (1938). Used in the speech “The Planning of a National Capital” by J. Greber, 25 October 1945

Photograph 11: Aerial view of the Scale Model prepared in 1938 to show treatment of Government’s grounds and preliminary plan of the City. View from the East.

Photograph 12: Aerial view of the model from the north showing Parliament Hill and Supreme Court with completed group of Departmental Buildings on Wellington Street.

A Scale Model Made in 1938 of the central area of Ottawa was limited to the development of Governmental Lands.