Kanata founder Bill Teron remembered as ‘visionary’ community developer

Bill Teron

The developer behind Kanata, its business park and neighbourhoods across the National Capital Region is being remembered as a visionary with a “demand for excellence,” as well as an inspiration to those in his community.

William “Bill” Teron died on Monday morning at the age of 85.

Teron is perhaps best known in Ottawa as the “Father of Kanata.” He purchased 3,000 acres outside the Greenbelt in the 1960s and set about building the model community of Beaverbrook. His vision included the Kanata technology park that stands today as the largest such business park in Canada.

Community builder

Kanata North Coun. Marianne Wilkinson says Teron took a holistic approach to community design, believing that residents should be able to live, work and play within their own neighbourhoods.

Wilkinson moved to the region from Toronto around the time Teron was putting his ideas into motion. Then an urban studies teacher, she recalls visiting the developer’s offices and asking endless questions about the scale model of Kanata on display.

“Most visionaries just give you the ideas (but) they don’t implement them. Bill’s a unique person; he did both.”

“It was his vision that I grabbed on to, and so did everyone else who moved there,” she says. “Most visionaries just give you the ideas, they don’t implement them. Bill’s a unique person; he did both.”

The integration of nature was an important characteristic of his neighbourhood designs, which focused on walkability. Wilkinson says he used to place the homes in a community and then drive around the street, pointing at where he wanted to see trees added, as though he were adding colour to the black-and-white drawing he’d just traced out.

“Some people get no trees – we didn’t get any trees on our property – but that didn’t matter, because the streetscape was what really mattered.”

His son, Chris Teron, says that vision is what most people will remember about his father’s work.

“He set really high standards for himself and for what he wanted to accomplish, and it wasn’t good enough in the real estate development business just to build more houses for people. For him, in the housing field, it had to be a complete, beautiful community for everybody involved,” he says.

Chris and his sister Kim worked alongside their father for decades at their family firm, Teron International.

‘Demand for excellence’

The senior Teron’s work earned the respect of fellow developer Bruce Firestone, who moved his family from Rockcliffe to Kanata in part, he says, because of Teron’s influence.

“I was a big fan of his,” Firestone tells OBJ. “It was his demand for excellence. He wanted excellence in design and he wanted excellence in execution. The one thing he didn’t seem to care much about was cost.”

Firestone recalls being called down to one of Teron’s project sites to find him arguing with the general contractor about where an escalator would go in. Eventually the contractor gave up, exasperated, and walked over to Firestone to tell him this was the third time they would be moving the escalator.

“Bill was a perfectionist. If he wanted the escalators moved because he thought it would be one per cent better for someone visiting the building, he’d move them,” he says with a laugh, noting that the development ran nearly three times over budget.

“He was very dogmatic. If he wanted to do something, he was like a bull in a china shop,” Wilkinson says.

When the time came for Kanata to hold elections for its first-ever mayor, Wilkinson assumed Teron would be the front-runner.

“I asked Bill if he was going to run and he said, ‘No, how about you?’”

Wilkinson would become the first mayor of Kanata and go on to build a career as a politician in the area. She would occasionally call on Teron to weigh in on planning decisions or serve as honorary chair in her election campaigns, though she jokes that she never forgave him for that first push into politics.

“I put my name forward and that’s just completely changed my entire life. I blame Bill Teron for everything that’s happened to me since,” she says, again with a laugh.

Beyond Kanata

Kanata may stand as Teron’s local legacy, but his son hopes people remember his many accomplishments at home and across the country.

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau appointed him as head of the Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corp. in 1973. He served for seven years in the role and would implement affordable housing programs and inner-city redevelopments in many Canadian cities.

Teron was no stranger to philanthropy as one of the founders of the National Arts Centre as well as a trustee at the National Gallery of Canada. He would also work with Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson to found Pearson College in Victoria, B.C.

Teron received the Jane Jacobs Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Urban Institute as well as a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal and was named an Officer of the Order of Canada.

“It’s that cross-section of so many different things,” Chris Teron says. “He really covered so many different sectors of life.”

The family will hold a private memorial and interment at Pinecrest Cemetery.