an err to remember


At the Aurora Hysterical Society’s annual general meeting last month they announced to their greying audience of 30 or so people the theme of their snobby Hillary House Ball for this year, complete with the title: “An Affair to Remember”

The poster for their yearly yawn-fest, again not even held in the boundaries of our town, features an image of the Empire State Building.

Stepping forward to offer an explanation as to the significance was an unfamiliar lady responsible for organizing the event.  As she began to speak to the Aurora connection to this iconic landmark in New York it became obvious to more than one person in the room that she had no idea as to what she was speaking about.

This lady boasted that John Bowser had designed the Empire State Building, the ROM and the TD Bank.

All of these claims are bullshit and the lady was called out on them thankfully by a far more knowledgeable member of the audience.

As detailed on page 81 of Eaton Hall: Pride of King Township John Bowser was assigned to a concrete pouring crew on those aforementioned Toronto projects.  For the Empire State building Bowser was project construction superintendent. The architect was William Lamb

If nothing else, you would expect a so called Historical society to at least get the history right.

Lamb’s architectural team did employ a Canadian that hailed from Nova Scotia as covered on page 80 of Toronto Sketches: The Way We Were.

This four page chapter titled “The Canadian Who Helped Build the Empire State Building” which also features Ron Wallace is a far greater portrayal of John Bowser than those at the Aurora Hysterical Society are capable of. It also emphasized how much of Bowser’s life and work happened with little to no connectivity to Aurora. Let’s recap. He left town, Whitchurch at that time, at age 11.  In 1907 he went to Toronto, and some time after 1919 supervised the construction of 5 buildings in Tokyo as well as projects in New York including the Empire State Building. After

Let’s recap. He left town, Whitchurch at that time, at age 11.  In 1907 he went to Toronto, and some time after 1919 supervised the construction of 5 buildings in Tokyo as well as projects in New York including the Empire State Building. After this his buildings of note include Eaton Hall in King and a post WWII housing complex in Newmarket. He lived in the Timothy Roger house in Newmarket, and the street John Bowser Crescent named after him is located in Newmarket.

His greatest structure in Aurora seems to be the mini-Empire State building that is his tombstone, which he obviously did not build.

There also seems to be very selective memory when it comes to the Empire State Building affair.  Let’s get back to John Bowser.  His actual role was a project construction superintendent on a project requiring 3,400 workers.

The project came in under time and under budget.

Reason for applause.

So what was the trade-off for this success?

According to official accounts five workers died in accidents before the building was finished.

Same level of applause now, or not so much?

A pioneering social photographer Lewis Wickes Hine documented the immigrant workers that built the Empire State Building under Bowser’s watch, here’s one example:


See if you can spot any workplace safety issues in his series.

In 2016 we’re so ready to condemn those who place the interests of the company over the risks to the workers’ safety.  A recent Ontario Superior Court ruling sentenced a construction project manager earlier this year to 3 1/2 years in prison for “deciding it was in the company’s interest to allow men to work in manifestly dangerous conditions.”.  As a result the province has been tightening regulations such as working at heights training.

Back to Empire State building as a case study in successful project management. The only comment left on the 2010 post stands out:

“Your emphasis on immigrant labour has driven me to ask a more question: although the building was successfully delivered on time, were the workers treated fairly during the project (any sickness, death, or unpaid labour)?

The issue I wish to raise here is that, good project management is not just about delivering products or services on time under the budget, but also (and perhaps more importantly) about managing the health and well-being of team members (including balancing their workload and fostering positive collaboration).”

While the Aurora Historical Society is poised to hold yet another exclusive $150/ticket event seemingly content look down on everything I feel it is important to both get the facts straight as well as remember those easily discarded workers who paid the price for “Bowser’s” success.



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