Discovering the City Beautiful

A 1930s view of the town site taken from the north, looking towards the mill (Photo courtesy of The Ron Morel Memorial Museum, Kapuskasing)

Photo: A 1930s view of the town site taken from the north, looking towards the mill (Photo courtesy of The Ron Morel Memorial Museum, Kapuskasing)


Beth Anne Mendes

Buildings and architecture, Community

Published Date: Nov 15, 2007

On July 25, 2007, the Ontario Heritage Trust and the Town of Kapuskasing unveiled a provincial plaque to commemorate the town plan that helped shape Kapuskasing – Ontario’s first provincially planned single-resource community.

Kapuskasing was born out of the need for housing prisoners and internees during the First World War. When the war ended, returning soldiers were encouraged to settle in northern communities. In 1918, with this ready workforce in mind and the abundant forest resources in the area, the Ontario government introduced concessions for pulp operations. It was anticipated that a town would be needed to accommodate the approximately 2,500 people moving to Kapuskasing to work in the mills. Ernest C. Drury, then-Premier of Ontario (1919-23), recognized this as an opportunity to create the first diversified resource community to be operated by its citizens as a municipality.

As a response to rapid industrial development and urbanization during the late 19th century, town planning theory evolved to integrate urban design with quality of life. These movements attempted to create harmony between city and country life. In 1921, a plan was completed for Kapuskasing by Alfred Hall of the Toronto planning firm Harries & Hall. The plan incorporated elements of two established approaches to urban design – the Garden City and City Beautiful design movements. Each of these movements focused on improving a town’s cultural and economic life through natural and esthetic means.

The creation of Kapuskasing as an independent municipality, as opposed to a company-controlled settlement, reflected Garden City socio-economic ideals, including: smoke-free cities with tree-lined streets; open squares and beautiful landscapes; peripheral industries; and community ownership of all agricultural and urban land. The Garden City influence is most apparent in Kapuskasing’s open space. Hall included a continuous greenbelt surrounding the subdivision that contained natural areas and small farm properties to act as buffers and accommodate future expansion. This project was a sustainable approach to urban planning and design.

The influence of the City Beautiful movement on Kapuskasing is most apparent in the street layout. The plan incorporates rectangular, radial and curvilinear streets. Many of the major avenues are oriented towards public buildings, such as the hospital, school and the main business area – located at Kapuskasing’s central traffic circle. In addition, diagonal streets extended from the town site to provide clear direction for sustainable future development. The Town of Kapuskasing was the first autonomous and provincially-planned resource community in Canada. Kapuskasing provided a quality of life previously unavailable in similar Ontario towns.

Premier Drury’s vision and Hall’s plan successfully incorporated the principles and ideals of the Garden City and City Beautiful movements within the context of a rural economy, the results of which continue to be appreciated today.