Friday, March 30, 2012

Joe Cassey, 1926-2012

Last Friday, longtime Centretown resident Joe Cassey passed away.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe when I interviewed him in 2009 for the video celebrating the 40th anniversary of the CCCA. The video was debuted at a special event in April 2010 where the four couples featured in the video (Joe & June Cassey, Nan and Tony Griffiths, Maureen and Mike Cassidy, and Elspeth and Jim Menendez) were each given a special CCCA Legacy Award for getting Centretown organized in the first place back in 1969. Here are Joe and June with their certificate:

As a result of that interview, his is one of the voices that tells the story of the community association's beginnings in 1968-1969 in the video:

Joe was born in 1926 in Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) Ontario, and served in the Navy in World War II.

He subsequently moved to Ottawa in 1959, and in 1968 moved into a house at the end of Cartier Street with his wife June, where the couple became famous for giving the best parties in Centretown, for which Joe did most of the cooking himself. The house dates to the late 1800s and served as a branch of the Bank of Ottawa from 1911 to 1919:

Just months after moving in, Joe and June learned that their house might be demolished (as previously described in the video, starting at 2m50s) in order for the City to run offramps through the neighbourhood as a replacement to Pretoria Bridge. This was part of a greater scheme of proposed massive downtown road projects including the 17-lane downtown distributor.

The fight to protect the Pretoria Bridge (and the neighbourhoods) involved many existing and nascent community associations banding together to form the Federation of Citizens' Associations (described in the video at 9m19s). As Joe recounts in the Video, he felt it was important that these efforts be recognized, which they were with a plaque that named the associations following the reconstruction of the bridge in the '80s:

After helping to found the community association, Joe succeeded Mike Cassidy as alderman for Wellington Ward (the Eastern half of what is now Somerset Ward) in 1973-1974, where he worked alongside Britannia Ward Alderman Marion Dewar, another community-based representative who treated the position as a full-time job.

Joe worked on many issues, including improving conditions in rooming houses (he told me of a pair of young women who had to use a garbage bag for a door or be kicked out if they complain to the landlord) and raising awareness of gay issues.

In the following municipal election, Joe made an unsuccessful bid for the Board of Control, coming in fifth in the race for four spots. A 1974 issue of the Centretown News covered his candidacy, as well as that of Marion Dewar who did get on the Board of Control that year, eventually to become Mayor of Ottawa: (click to view full size)

In 1976, Brian Bourns, who played a central role in the development of the Centretown Plan and who is still active in the CCCA, was running for a second term in Wellington Ward. Joe instead put in a successful bid against incumbent alderman Don Lockhart in Capital Ward, just on the other side of the Queensway. Here is an ad of his that ran in the December 1976 Glebe Report (PDF) days before the December 6 election:

The same issue has a profile of Joe on page 6. Already by this time he had served on community associations, the FCA, the Air and Water Pollution Board, the Regional Housing Committee and the Youth Services Board.

As he told me in the interview (mp3, 0m36s, 585KB), he got some criticism for not living in the ward. June recounts, at the end of the clip, that Joe's response was "Do you want an alderman who works in the ward or one who sleeps in the ward?"

Joe later served as President of the Central Canada Exhibition Association (he credits Nancy Smith for saving the Aberdeen Pavillion from demolition) and as the founding Chair of the Ottawa Congress Centre.

I didn't meet Joe until long after all this activity, but every time I stopped by he was always in the mood to talk.

I visited him in hospital a month before he passed away and he was still on top of current events at City Hall, asking me one by one for the latest news on each of the files. He was quite a force and I am glad to have known him.

Arrangements are to be held at Hulse, Playfair and McGarry (McLeod and O'Connor) this evening and tomorrow. Details are at, as is the virtual guestbook. Donations in memory of Joe can be made to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation.

1 comment:

  1. Very nice and informative write up. Shows that dedication * can* make a difference - Hans