I recently attended the Ontario General Contractors Association’s (OGCA) seventh-fifth anniversary celebration at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel. Several hundred contractors, former association leaders and other OGCA guests and friends attended the evening event in the hotel’s Concert Hall, reflecting its earliest days (The Royal York opened in 1929 as the then-tallest building in the Commonwealth). The OGCA met for the first time in the same hotel a decade later, in 1939.
That, of course, was a tumultuous year. The Great Depression would soon be replaced by World War II’s booms. Things would never be the same.
Yet some institutions and organizations have survived and thrived for decades. While many hotels have come and gone – some which started with fame and fanfare to meet the wrecking ball a few decades later – the Royal York continues to be viable, though in the midst of major downtown services reconstruction in the Front Street/Union Station area. And the OGCA, which started with 11 contractors, has thrived, with membership of more than 200, representing about 70 per cent of the province’s construction business volume.
One reason for the OGCA’s endurance may be that many of the issues the association discussed and debated in 1939 have an eerie similarity to the ones the industry faces in 2014.
Concerns then, as now, include safety, government relationships, and bidding and tendering practices.
Of course, some things have changed. I’m sure in 1939 the idea of instantaneous electronic communication anywhere in the world for virtually no cost would have seemed beyond imagination, at a time when telegraphs would have been used only for urgent communication. Technologies have evolved, along with building practices (which include, significantly, an increased recognition of the importance of heritage preservation and renovation.)
Indeed, it is special when associations and businesses celebrate significant multi-generation milestones. The ability to thrive, adapt, and remain relevant decades after the heady start-up days deserves respect. Can we hope to leave this type of legacy in our own businesses and communities?