Howe, Clarence Decatur

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HOWE, Clarence Decatur (1886-1960), a highly successful engineer, architect and politician who made a major contribution to the design of the iconic Canadian grain elevator building that became a symbol of progressive industrial design and architecture in North America. Born in Waltham, Mass. on 15 January 1886, he worked as draftsman and designer for J.R. Worcester & Co. in Boston in 1905-09, and attended Massachusetts Inst. of Technology in 1908-13, graduating with a degree in engineering. His name first appears an architect in Fort William in 1910 where the signature “C.D. Howe, Architect” appears on several architectural drawings showing his design for the Drew Public School, Syndicate Avenue, FORT WILLIAM, ONT. These early drawings are now held by Plan Room at the Thunder Bay Board of Education, and confirm his business connection and professional activity in the Lakehead area while he was studying at M.I.T. in Boston.

After obtaining his degree in Boston in 1913, he moved to The Lakehead, taking a position as chief engineer for the Board of Grain Commissioners for Canada from 1913 to 1916. He designed and supervised the construction of grain elevators, pulp mills, coal docks, and other structures. After WWI his reputation grew, as he appears to have made a transition to that of an architectural engineer, and his name is credited with the design of dozens of industrial buildings including over 20 reinforced concrete grain elevator buildings in locations as far west as British Columbia and as far east as Quebec.

In February 1927 the C.D. Howe Company hired Edgar D. McGuire as a staff architect, and many of the buildings credited to the company from 1927 to 1936 were likely designed by McGuire. These included the Edwardian style design for the Port Arthur Technical School (1928), still standing, and now called Hillcrest High School. In 1929 the Royal Institute of British Architects in London, England included the work of C.D. Howe & Co. in their International Exhibition of Modern & Commercial Architecture, acknowledging the important role played by the company in the design of grain elevators as iconic landmarks of industrial architecture in Canada (R.I.B.A. Journal [London], xxxvi, 18 May 1929, 522, commentary). During the Depression, Howe made another transition, this time from architect and engineer to politician, and became a Member of Parliament for Port Arthur in 1935. He was later appointed a Minister in the cabinet of Mackenzie King, and his political success as overseeing the Dept. of Reconstruction after WWII earned him the nickname of “Minister of Everything”. Howe died in Montreal on 31 December 1960 (obit. and port. Gazette [Montreal], 3 Jan. 1961, 1 & 5; biog. The Canadian Who’s Who, 1936, 532; R. Bothwell & W. Kilbourn, C.D. Howe: A Biography, 1979, 31-51).

FORT WILLIAM, ONT., central portion of Drew Public School, Syndicate Avenue, 1910; with two wings later added in 1914 by H.M. Scott)
EDMONTON, ALTA., a large 2.5 million bushel grain elevator, for the Dominion Government, 1923 (Edmonton Bulletin, 9 Nov. 1923, 1)
FORT WILLIAM, ONT., major addition to the grain elevator complex for Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd., near Maureen Street, 1926-27 (C.R., xl, 29 Dec. 1926, 213)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., grain dryer building for the C.N.R., on the lakeshore, 1927 (C.R., xli, 9 Feb. 1927, 51)
VICTORIA, B.C., grain elevator at the Ogden Point Dock, near Dallas Road, 1927 (C.R., xli, 20 July 1927, 55)
VANCOUVER, B.C., an 8 storey grain elevator for the Alberta Wheat Pool, at the foot of Rupert Street, overlooking Burrard Inlet, 1927-28 (C.R., xli, 2 Nov. 1927, 56; 1 Feb. 1928, 49)
KAMLOOPS, B.C., grain elevator for the Vancouver Milling & Grain Co., 1927-28 (C.R., xli, 2 Nov. 1927, 55)
LIVERPOOL, B.C., grain elevator and wharf for the New Westminster Harbour Board, 1927-28 (C.R., xli, 21 Dec. 1927, 48)
VANCOUVER, B.C., grain elevator for Randall, Gee & Mitchell, at the foot of Andrews Avenue, 1928 (C.R., xlii, 25 April 1928, 60)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., Technical and Commercial High School, North High Street, designed by Edgar D. McGuire, Staff Architect with C.D. Howe Co., 1928 (C.R., xlii, 2 May 1928, 53)
TORONTO, ONT., grain elevator for Maple Leaf Milling Co., at the foot of Peter Street, south of Fleet Street, overlooking Toronto Harbour, 1928 (Toronto b.p. A 8864, 6 June 1928)
PORT HOPE, ONT., grain elevator for United Grain Growers Ltd., 1928 (R.A.I.C. Journal, vi, June 1929, xxxii, illus.)
MOOSE JAW, SASK., grain elevator and seed cleaning plant for the Canadian Government, 1929 (Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 29 June 1929, 6, descrip.)
PRINCE RUPERT, B.C., grain elevator for the Canadian Government, leased to Alberta Wheat Pool, c. 1930 (Grain Elevators of North America, 5th Edit, 1941, 121-22, illus. & descrip.)
PRESCOTT, ONT., grain elevator for the Canadian Government, at Johnston’s Bay, c. 1930 (Grain Elevators of North America, 5th Edit, 1941, 253-54, illus. & descrip.)
THREE RIVERS, QUE., grain elevator for the Three Rivers Grain & Elevator Co., c. 1930 (Grain Elevators of North America, 5th Edit, 1941, 26-7, illus. & descrip.)
LETHBRIDGE, ALTA., grain elevator, for an unnamed client, 1930-31 (Lethbridge Herald, 16 Oct. 1935, 9, descrip.)
VANCOUVER, B.C., major addition to Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator No. 1, overlooking Burrard Inlet, 1932 (C.R., xlvi, 20 July 1932, 48; Grain Elevators of North America, 5th Edit, 1941, 124-25, illus. & descrip.)
TORONTO, ONT., grain elevator and bridge for Toronto Elevators Ltd., foot of Spadina Avenue at Queen’s Quay West, 1935; demol. (Toronto b.p. 46272, 24 Sept. 1935)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., an 18 storey grain work house for Gillespie Grain Co., with track shed and 330 ft. long shipping gallery, 1937 (Winnipeg Tribune, 13 March 1937, 9, descrip.)
PORT ARTHUR, ONT., major addition to grain elevator for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool Terminal Co., near Maureen Street, 1948 (C.R., lxi, June 1948, 167)