1911 – January 3, 1998
Sam Gitterman was one of the earliest Jewish professionals in the federal public service, contributing significantly to Canada’s housing programs through his work at the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). Gitterman was born in Montreal, Que., the son of a customer peddler. He attended Baron Byng High School in the city, which was the education launchpad for so many first-generation and second-generation Jews. Although an excellent student, Gitterman did not initially qualify for admission to McGill University in Montreal because of its strict anti-Jewish quotas—which continued until the early 1960s. He took an extra year of high school, wrote additional examinations, and thus gained admission to McGill. Businessman and philanthropist Samuel Bronfman offered an interest-free loan for Jewish university education, and this financed Gitterman’s studies.
As a young architect in Montreal in the 1930s, Gitterman’s design work included a visionary project. Together with a local housing association, he conceived a plan for low-cost, single-family homes in a garden suburb setting. This development, called Cité-jardin du Tricentenaire, is still featured as a breakthrough in Montreal’s urban landscape.
In 1938, Gitterman came to Ottawa to work at the Department of National Defence, designing townsites attached to military bases. One year later, he transferred to the newly created National Housing Administration. Colleagues introduced him to Belle Edelson, an office worker in the Department of Finance. The match was a fine step for this daughter of a Lithuanian immigrant who had a small grocery shop in Lowertown and the two were married.
In 1946, when the Government formed the Central Mortgage and Housing Corporation, Gitterman joined the new agency as its chief architect. He was a key member of the Small House Designs Program, which created model plans for family-owned, lower-cost housing, using economical materials and techniques.
In 1959, Gitterman left the CMHC to serve as technical director of the Canadian Home Builders Association. He also started his own architectural practice. He was the lead architect for MacDonald Manor, housing for low-income seniors, on Cobourg Street; the Montclair on Cooper Street; and the urban plan for the Glen Cairn subdivision, now part of Kanata. Then in the late 1960s, Gitterman was recruited back to the CMHC as a technical adviser. His work reflected his personal interest in exploring new techniques and materials, such as for housing in the Arctic.
Gitterman retired from a full-time Government position in 1974 but he remained active as an architectural and project consultant. In 1993, he was inducted into the Canadian Home Builders Association Hall of Fame, and he also received the CMHC Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Housing Industry. His favourite architectural activity throughout two decades of retirement was volunteer work as building inspector and planner for the Village of Rockliffe Park—then still an independent municipality.
On Gitterman’s death, Rockliffe’s Mayor and town council lauded his wisdom, experience … and conscientious concern and rapport.
Featured Photo: Samuel Gitterman, Central Morgages and Housing Corporation, [ca. 1950] Courtesy of the Gitterman family.