December 31, 1933 – June 30, 1999
Lawrence “Lorry” Greenberg grew up during the 1930s and ’40s in Lowertown, the Ottawa neighbourhood east of Parliament Hill that was the centre of Jewish life in the city through much of the 20th century. In 1955, he and his brothers—Irving, Gilbert and Louis—joined forces to found Minto Construction Company Limited, which became one of the city’s most successful construction and real-estate companies.
Greenberg left Minto in 1962. He devoted himself to community service and worked for various social agencies. Between 1962 and 1969, Greenberg’s leadership activities in the greater Ottawa community included serving as chair of the Youth Services Bureau, the Home for Delinquent Boys, Canadian Mental Health Association workshops, and the steering committee studying existing and needed facilities and resources for rehabilitation of female offenders suffering from alcoholism. He was also director of Serenity Home, a treatment centre dedicated to improving the quality of life for men with substance use disorders, and was treasurer of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an organization that works on issues affecting women in the justice system and those at risk of coming into conflict with the law. Greenberg entered municipal politics in 1968, when he was appointed to represent Wellington Ward on Ottawa City Council to complete the term of the late councillor Lionel O’Connor. As city councillor, Greenberg was elected to the Board of Control in 1960 and became senior controller and deputy mayor in 1972.
He was elected mayor of Ottawa on Dec. 2, 1974, becoming the first Jew to head Canada’s capital city. He called himself a people’s politician, one concerned with his constituents’ quality of life. According to the Globe and Mail, Greenberg was an unconventional mayor known for his stunts as well as his achievements for which the citizens of Ottawa elected him and appreciated him. Perhaps his most famous stunt as mayor took place at the rededication of the Colonel By fountain in downtown Ottawa, when he jumped in and took a swim.
Greenberg, as mayor, advocated for and implemented increased public housing, a wage supplement program for welfare recipients, a landlord and tenant advisory board, Ottawa’s first neighbourhood rehabilitation program, clean-up programs for sewers and waterways, as well as city legislation outlining the rights of the visually impaired to use guide dogs. He also advocated for several controversial measures, including the abolition of city council and its replacement with a regional government, and the establishment of Ottawa as capital district outside of provincial jurisdiction (like Washington, D.C., in the United States). Greenberg’s political career would be cut short after he suffered a heart attack in 1977 and did not seek re-election.
In Jewish communal affairs, Greenberg took an active role. The Jewish Community of Ottawa honoured him with a testimonial dinner in 1975 at the Chapel Street JCC in celebration of his election as mayor, and in 1978 he received the honour of B’nai Brith Ottawa Lodge’s Citizen of the Year. Greenberg remained active in the community following his retirement from politics, serving as chair of the 1981 United Jewish Appeal (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign). As UJA chair, he wrote a regular column, Lorry’s Corner, in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
Featured Photo: Lorry Greenberg 1974, Ottawa Jewish Archives, G-046
Photo: Rabbi Bulka, Lorry Greenberg, and Rabbi Kaploun. Ottawa Jewish Archives. O0041. Ottawa Jewish Bulletin fonds (6-178).
Clipping: Intend to establish Chabad House in city (1986, October 31). Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, p. 23.