I grew up on a farm and went to school on an athletic scholarship, so I wasn’t too
involved in academics to start with. I wasn’t thinking I was gonna take agriculture, but at Penn State, where I went to undergraduate school, the landscape department was still part of the agriculture department and I joked
and I said I think the line was shorter for landscape architecture than agronomy
or something. Anyway, I got involved and really enjoyed it. Because of my undergraduate years,
I had the opportunity to go to graduate school, which I did. I’m not sure how much … I spent four years being a jock. So graduate school was great at University of Michigan. I had a job offer in Toronto, which I had a pregnant wife, and went to work first thing, the day
after I graduated. We came to Canada thinking we’d be here for a year and go back south, where
I’m from. I was lucky to get into a firm that had a lot of work going on. I think I spent my first six or eight years doing nothing but universities. We did massive landscape
projects at York, McMaster, Brock… other schools, Ledminor, the one in Sudbury, Laurentian, Thunder Bay. I did get involved in Expo 67 in the amusement area there, which sort of foretold a little bit of my future in business. I would say the main thing I enjoyed, the work was quite varied. We did universities, and certainly my memory of that was pretty heavy duty for
six or eight years. I think the government just put a lot of money into expanding
the universities. We had large projects. A lot of my graduate program was very technical. Having grown up in a pretty practical environment, I think I got in with some of the guys that did the design, and I was able to somehow put them together and get them built, not without challenges. Then
we got into things like National Parks and Provincial Parks. They’re still some
of my favorite jobs, like the master plan for Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland and Fathom Five Park in Ontario. We did an awful lot of work in the city. I guess
the first really biggest thing I remember, in terms of a big construction job, was all
the work around Ryerson, which I want to say is … … mid 1970s, I think. Ryerson got a grant to try to make themselves more a campus, from some distinguished alumni who had made his money in mining, I think. It’s called the Devonian Foundation. We tried to do something … I always remember, they’d showed me some things that they had donated in Calgary and Edmonton that were usually a park with some waterfalls in it and some things. We wanted to do something that spoke to that Devonian Foundation, although
it’s actually Precambrian. We did the big skating rink there, with the rocks,
which became the identity for Ryerson in some ways. All the walls that go around it, I think it helped make Ryerson a campus instead of a bunch of buildings scattered in the city. There’s a lot of other things. We did a lot of urban design things, more urban projects in Toronto, like the park around CBC. I can’t remember. I’m getting to that age it’s hard to remember everything.
Then we got hired as landscape architects for Canada’s Wonderland, which was pretty weird … not weird it was fun. Again, it was a major project. We did $25 million worth of construction work there,
which is virtually everything outside the buildings. The best part about that is,
with all due respect, the architects who did the buildings didn’t quite understand, these weren’t sophisticated, new age buildings. They were kind of built to a theme of what they were trying to project, the owners that was Paramount. They were trying to project their themes for movies and things like that. We had
the advantage of understanding there’s a big site plan. Then they turned more
and more to us to do virtually everything but the buildings. Everything you see out there, including the mountain in the middle of Canada’s
Wonderland, which was actually with the help of the clients, was designed in
our office with a bunch of blocks cut into one inch squares, that we would build up, and put clay on the
top, and maneuver it. Right beside it, we kept one with blocks without … I was
probably oversimplifying this, but that became the basis for the structure for the mountains, the grid of steel,
which originally did it. I joke that I designed mountains, which can be taken
any way you want to. I’ll go through this pretty simply, but that got us into “the entertainment
business”. Our next big job was West Edmonton Mall, which I’m telling you the
highlights … there’s a lot of in-betweens and things like that. After that, there was so much work, and
at that time, no other firms outside of internal Disney, and Universal Studios,
and LEGO really were designing things like that. It was an in-house team. Somehow we jumped into that gap. As another aside,
with all landscape architects, our firm, for most of my career, has primarily been
landscape architects. Most of them trained in Canada. I regress, but I think my first two years here, I taught at Guelph one afternoon a week. Then when U of T came along, my
partner at the time was Dick Strong, who I think was the first chairman of U of T so I agreed to teach a couple of classes. I don’t think I was cut out to be a teacher.
That was right in the early ’70s, with a lot of kids being a little crazy and things like
that. I was more getting my hands on a job and getting it done so. I left that to people more academically inclined, who obviously did a good
job, because that’s where virtually all our staff originally came from, Ryerson,
or U of T, and Guelph. The theme park stuff … I call it theme park, it was really entertainment. A lot
of them were indoors, a lot of them were outdoors, but again, we understood it.
The big thing we had to learn is how to deal with the economics of those things, particularly when you work internationally. You get a lot of guys whose dreamis to have a theme park, and just know it’s not gonna work. They don’t have the market, they don’t have the finances. I always say that was the biggest trick, to tell the client who was paying you that his project won’t work. That was something I had to learn to do delicately, I think, at times. I was always able to surround myself, and got along well with staff, and had
some terrific people work for me. I just noticed in the magazine, Nick van Vleet.
I could send Nick anywhere in the world. He was happy to go… supervise projects. We often, particularly internationally, we had to have a
representative there to know when to contact back to the office. Because
a lot of times, we did working drawings A lot of times, we didn’t do the working drawings in our particularly early
work in China. They would take our design and try and hire the military
engineering department or something to do the working drawings, the technical drawings. You can imagine, a lot of stuff gets screwed up pretty bad.
Anyway, Nick spent a lot of time onsite for us. I also know Don Graham passed
away, who was a colleague. I never worked with him, but I knew him a lot from early meetings and things. Anyway,
we got off into that. The firm now that you may know as Forrec is doing very
well, last time I talked to them. I haven’t been in there much, but they’re about 125 people now, working all over the world. At least 75% or 80% of the partners are landscape architects.
They’re just big, complicated projects, and our background and training is again, with all due respect, is much
better geared to that than a lot of traditional architecture and planning
firms. You had to make a leap into what the world of fantasy is and stuff, which some people thinks a little below what we should be doing, but they
are big, complex projects. In my later years, we were off into where nobody had been really, other than,
as I said, internal people in Disney, or Universal, and things like that. We had
to learn what their business was, how they worked economically, how they didn’t, how you spread people around.
It was all new stuff for us. I guess if one thing I can say, I don’t think I ever got
involved in a project and said, “We can’t do that,” even though I didn’t really know what I was going to do when we got into it. Again, I was surrounded by terrific staff, and was able to communicate with them well. I think when I talk to the boys running the office now, they’re big and have a lot of … I don’t mean challenges, but running a job through the office is much more complicated, or even when we were … My last 15, 20 years, I had one partner who was not a designer by training, but really understood. He was a former executive
at Expo in Vancouver, and worked at Canada’s Wonderland. The two of us
just got along really well. He worked with design a lot, but he did more of the economics and ran the
business, allowed me to run around, and get jobs done, and meet clients,
and do things like that so. I guess to try and specifically answer your question, I think we demonstrated
that landscape architects could get into a whole lot of big, complex projects
that weren’t just … and we did alot of them … not just doing the landscaping around a building for an architect, which when I first came here, that was a lot of work. I had some terrific relationships with architects. I still, to this day, have friends that I met and probably, I remember, I gave a speech to the local chapter a couple years ago, to
the Ontario Association of Architects. It was about how I probably knew
all the architects in the ’70s and early ’80s better than they knew each other, ’cause I was working with so many different
ones of them. It was kind of fun to go through how we did that. I think things
like horticulture and the environment, things are still. Well, they’re at the forefront of what we’re doing, but we got into big, complex
projects that we were hiring engineers, hiring architects, hiring planners, hiring
specialty people, economic consultants. I think that’s what I’ve enjoyed about my career. It’s never been the same.
I think you mentioned when we came in the door, I guess if you look at the
firms … I counted up some business cards recently, and I had about 20 different business cards of companies with my name, but they’re all
companies that I was either part of, or they evolved from one another.
I never quit my job and went work for someone else. I’ll just tell you the story of Forrec, which is the firm now. We had done a lot of design build work at Canada’s Wonderland at the end, because they just
didn’t have time to tender stuff. I guess they had confidence in us. We got involved in a big job with Cadillac Fairview, an indoor amusement park.
They wanted to design build, but they said, “You have to have your own company.” There was a contractor we did all that with, Bruce S. Evans was a big contracting firm. I was a longtime, personal friend of Bruce’s. Not that that mattered, it was just that they always did terrific work for us. They did Ryerson. I met him at Expo 67. They did a lot of the campus stuff with us. Anyway, to make a long story short, we had to … the Cadillac Fairview wanted
to sign a contract, but they needed a company, so we had to name a company.
We had lunch one day and… “We’ve got to come up with a name for a company so we can sign this contract.”
There was all sorts ofthings with names, Because it was an amusement park. We
said For Play, and we thought that wasn’t too good, so we used For Recreation, which became Forrec, which was just supposed to be
for that job. Now 30 years later, it’s probably the most famous name in the
entertainment design business. I think when we realized that the kind of education … again, I don’t mean to be
mean, but it was still pretty much plants, and maybe some sidewalks and things
for working with architects or engineers or something, to where we became, I think, in terms of built projects, most of the capabilities are big master planning. A lot of people you’ve mentioned, like Walter Kehm and Brad Johnson, Brad’s firm did the zoo. They were able to take big projects, and put them together, and lead teams that had architects, and engineers,
and all sorts of other people on them. I think we grew up to a really pretty equal footing, with all due respect, of architects, engineers. I think most of us, because of our background, tend to have those instincts at a personal level, which made you transmit them into hopefully everything you do.There’s certainly an element of landscape architecture that’s getting much more into remediation and what to do with things, that I probably unfortunately have not
had that much to do with in the last 20 or 30 years, because of the nature of our work. Although, I’ve got to say, it’s still, even when you’re working with a hundred acre amusement park, you’re still fitting into the land and taking into consideration where water is, and where natural vegetation and things. I think even if you go by, for instance, Canada’s Wonderland on Highway 400, you notice there’s a great bush there, right on 400. Then you see the crazy things going up in the air. We
had to fight a bit to keep that, because they wanted to kind of push out and
be in your face more. Maybe I’m rationalizing myself here, but… I think it’s two things … one, the kind of background most of us have, and education, and our natural instincts are to bring that kind of attitude to everything we get involved in. A lot of the learning, and the skills, and things we presumably developed had to do with originally from working on things like National Parks, and Provincial Parks,
and so on that had to do with bringing a lot of people into a space and trying to
protect things that need to be protected. I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve always had a little bit of a divided brain on,
“Do I really like this work, or don’t I?” I’m probably much more happier having
been a more traditional landscape architect, meaning parks, and big studies of wetland, whatever. I think I explained before, I was a little too oriented to getting my hands on things, and getting them built, than to
get mired in a study of something that may not happen for 40 years. There is an element of our profession that does that, does it very well, and I’ve
always respected that. I’ve never said that my course of action was necessarily
the right one. I can’t say that I’ve not enjoyed almost everything… I’ve ever done. I’m lucky. A lot of things were new. I don’t think landscape architects had tried to do that kind of thing. Maybe they didn’t have the opportunity, but we certainly did, and we were able to capitalize on it. I joke with saying when my longtime partner and I sold the business, it was all the staff, we came up with a very easy way to pass the firm onto the guys who were really doing it, with growing, and growing, and growing, in the firm. without the headaches of … A lot of professional businesses are hard to pass on. I talked to lawyer friends, and they said, “Oh God, succession of the firm is the worse thing we ever have to tackle.” It was, “Well, these guys, I think, hit the ground running and have not turned back,” which I’m delighted with. I have no … I might not manage it the way they manage it, but I’m delighted with what they have accomplished since. Again, a lot of the landscape architects, when we first came, were still of the state trained thing. Again, that was what it was. As I said, my undergraduate degree is in agriculture. That was part of the landscape program at Penn State, where I went to school. I look back, and I’ve been … number one, I’ve been fortunate. One person I’d
really like to mention, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a lady named Margaret Kwan who worked with me forever. She was just unbelievable. I never could communicate on design with someone as well as that. She was
not totally, but pretty much responsible for things at Ryerson that we see, a lot
of over at CBC park, across from the convention center. I think it’s been the people that I’ve dealt with, the scope of work. Here I am, I guess I’m approaching old age. I don’t think I’m old. The range of opportunity for landscape architects to get in…I’m talking from a business point of view more than say an academic, or academic
point of view. I don’t mean that … there’s so many things you can get into as a landscape architect now that I don’t think you would have had the opportunity, and you would not have the role that you do now. I think that’s the future. Again, my biases of not being hands on in the environmental movement that we all appreciate, other than I think I live that way. I’m very careful with doing my garbage. When I’m working my land and things, I’m very careful to do things right, not load it up with fertilizer. There’s a big contribution there, I think, because we’re all getting much more conscious of that. I would hope that people would embrace what’s happened in the last 50 years, in my experience.