Last month as I began work for the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), I ruminated over the fact that often life has a way of coming full circle. Somehow it seemed fortuitous that I should be working for this federal agency for, were it not for CMHC I would not have grown up in this country.
In the years surrounding the Second World War grave concern was expressed over the plight of returning war veterans, in particular their need for affordable and, what was deemed, appropriate housing.
In Canada, as elsewhere, the postwar ethos was all about stability and security and CMHC was established in the immediate post war period to create these conditions for returning veterans and their families, as well as the Canadian population at large.
The roots of CMHC are in an organization formed in 1941 called the Wartime Housing Limited. This crown corporation was charged with the task of creating low-cost, rental accommodation for wartime labourers, and later for returning veterans and their families. Wartime Housing Limited constructed thousands of houses and when the crown corporation was wrapped up in 1947 it transferred over 30,000 of them to CMHC.
The National Housing Act, introduced in 1944, combined with the founding of the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1946 (renamed Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation in 1979) gave the federal government a leading role in Canada’s housing programs. At its inception, CMHC primarily provided financing for new homeowners, but it also provided a catalogue of blueprints or “small house plan[s]” designed by leading Canadian architects to build those new homes.
The most popular of these plans, the “house for the typical Canadian family,” was designed to accommodate what was deemed the common postwar Canadian family lifestyle:
“Mrs. Canada expects to do her own housework and supervise the children. She naturally wants the rooms planned and arranged to make her household tasks easier and more pleasant, and to allow her as much free time as possible.”
Mom cooking food, firmly planted in her modern kitchen, while Dad commuted to work was the order of the day. (See a wonderfully informative blog on Mid-Century Modern housing, http://modernrealtor.blogspot.ca/)
(Insert is from the CMHC’s 1949 catalogue)
These catalogues of plans and the blueprints which were listed within them, were available through CMHC until 1974. It was also toward the end of the decade that CMHC began to delve into the areas of social and rental housing.
By the early 1950’s, CMHC had become an integral and essential part of the Canadian government’s postwar development plan. It was at this time that my father, Edward Burgoyne, who was working at the District Valuer’s Office in Stafford UK, saw a CMHC advertisement for work in Canada. He applied and shortly thereafter was offered employment.
After a six week orientation session in England, my father and the other English new hires drew straws to decide where they would be posted. My father drew St John’s, Newfoundland. So it was that in 1954 my parents arrived in Canada where my father began a roughly 12 year career with CMHC. Over those 12 years he would work in many different regional offices and help develop and re-develop many communities including St John’s, Ottawa, Calgary, and Halifax.
Since my father started his work for the CMHC all those years ago, CMHC has altered its mandate several times. In the 1960’s, the emphasis turned to helping municipalities contend with rapid growth through urban renewal projects. During 1970’s the focus shifted to underwriting bank loans for those with lower incomes who wanted to buy their own home. Also, CMHC helped develop social and affordable rental housing.
As I worked on CMHC’s Rental Market Study in my home office on Richard Avenue I thought about its connection to the history of the development of Canada’s urban landscape and to my own personal history as well. I also received a great deal of satisfaction from having finally discovered the answer to a question that has plagued me for years, why the postwar bungalows I refer to as CMHC houses, of which there are many on my street, all look the same.
(My street, Richard Ave, with its CMHC bungalows)
(A typical CMHC postwar bungalow on my street)
(A CMHC postwar bungalow which has had a second story added recently)