Ottawa’s first Jewish mayor
Lawrence “Lorry” Greenberg grew up 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 joined with his brothers – Irving, Gilbert and Louis – 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 and devoted himself to community service. 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, Workshops – Canadian Mental Health Association; and the Steering Committee studying existing and needed facilities and resources for rehabilitation of female alcoholic offenders. He was also director of Serenity Home, a treatment centre and home for alcoholic men, and treasurer of the Elizabeth Fry Society of Ottawa, an organization that works on issues affecting women in the justice system.
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 a city councillor, Greenberg was elected to the Board of Control in 1969 and became senior controller and deputy mayor in 1972.
Greenberg was elected mayor of Ottawa on December 2, 1974, becoming the first Jew to head Canada’s capital city.
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 into the fountain and took a swim.
As mayor, Greenberg advocated for several controversial measures, including work for welfare recipients, 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 suffered his first heart attack in 1977 and did not seek re-election in 1978.
Greenberg was an active member of Ottawa’s Jewish community throughout his life and was honoured with a testimonial dinner at the Jewish Community Centre in 1975 in celebration of his election as mayor.
Greenberg remained active in the community following his retirement from politics and served as chair of the 1981 United Jewish Appeal (now the Jewish Federation of Ottawa Annual Campaign). As United Jewish Appeal chair, Greenberg wrote a regular column, “Lorry’s Corner,” in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin.
Greenberg died of heart failure in 1999 at the Ottawa Heart Institute at age 65. His funeral service at Agudath Israel Congregation was attended by more than 800 people.
Greenberg was survived by his wife, Carol, five children and (at the time) six grandchildren.
Throughout 2017, in celebration of Canada’s sesquicentennial, the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin is publishing a series of profiles spotlighting the contributions of historically important Jewish Canadians to our country. Previously in the series: