Spotlight on Gerry Patterson
interviewed 2007.12.13


Gerry Patterson, of Clemann Large Patterson fame, had his first taste of the engineering construction industry way back in 1955 when he was still in high school. His father was in the construction business and his contacts led to Gerry taking a summer job at Balharrie Helmer Architects here in Ottawa. Back then we were not surrounded by engineering consultancies (in fact the only one was operated by Jake Klassen), and architectural firms tended to offer full-service design to their clients. It was at this architectural practice that Gerry first met some of Ottawa’s other legends of our industry, namely Gord Goodkey and Stirling Weedmark.

The firm was located downtown in a building on the northeast corner of Metcalfe and Albert Streets. At that time the government had a drawing storage facility in a building on Victoria Island (one of the islands you cross using the Chaudiere Bridge). Most of these drawings were “pencil on paper”, and a bright spark in the government had decided that these should be converted to “ink on linen”. Thus Gerry had his first task in our industry, where the average day consisted of tracing old drawings using ruling pens and Pelican ink. His salary was 25 cents/hour, which he assures me was just fine for a summer job rate.

It seems that Gerry was rather good at his summer job because in his second summer at the firm, a senior partner called him into his office and gave him a raise to 35 cents/hour. Gerry remembers this as a wonderful place to work with a fine atmosphere, no air conditioning, and a guy called Oliver Kent who always wore shorts to work. Another favourite of his was Leo Bortelotti, who taught Gerry the finer art of drafting.

In 1957 Gerry was on his way to a University degree at Carleton, which in those days was situated on Second Avenue. At around about this time, Gord Goodkey and Stirling Weedmark decided to leave Balharrie Helmer and formed Adjeleian Goodkey Weedmark with John Adjeleian. Gerry was persuaded by Stirling to join the new consultancy, graduated from Carleton in 1962, and was a P.Eng. by 1964.

In the mid 60’s, John Adjeleian split away to form Adjeleian Rubeli, leaving Goodkey Weedmark as a mechanical/electrical practice. This was a booming period and there was a large amount of work in Pembroke, building schools. Gerry also remembers working on HVAC equipment rooms at AECL Chalk River, where they took such pride in their environment that they even polished the pneumatic tubing on the control systems! The clients up in Pembroke started pressuring Goodkey for a permanent local presence so they opened an office in the same building as Don Griffin Architects, and Gerry was made “manager” of this office, which really consisted of a one-room office in the basement of the building. Gerry bought his first house up in Pembroke, for $13,000, and he remembers it fondly. The workload dried up in Pembroke after about 3 years, and Gerry returned to Ottawa circa 1969.

A certain Mark Clemann had been working under Gord Goodkey for some years. He first appeared on the scene from Switzerland in about 1958 and Gerry turned up at his summer job one day to find that Mark had usurped his drafting board. Mark became chief mechanical designer at Goodkey Weedmark and his ambition eventually caused him to leave and create Clemann Large Design Services in 1969 with Alan Large. Gerry was very impressed with Mark Clemann’s abilities, and when he and Alan asked him to join the new firm circa 1970, he agreed with enthusiasm. And of course Gerry had the Professional Engineering Stamp that Mark and Alan needed.

Clemann Large Patterson had its early days in a building downtown on Albert Street, and originally consisted of the three partners plus Carol Hilsiemer, a wonderful jack-of-all-trades secretary. Work was good through the 70’s and really took off in the 80’s, with countless high rise office buildings and hotels, including the fancy one downtown with the revolving restaurant (its name keeps changing).

Gerry remembers those days having Friday lunches that turned into midnight binges. It was common for card games to start at lunch time and go on for three hours, with people like Gord Goodkey, Stirling Weedmark and Bob Legare of Honeywell at the table. The Beacon Arms Hotel downtown was a favourite watering hole, and it stands next to the Commonwealth Building, both buildings ten stories high. The law in those days stated that you were not allowed to just buy a beer, you had to have food with it, so the waiters used to appear with the plate of plastic sandwiches that no-one ever ate! Occasionally they all used to head up to the roof of the Beacon Arms building to get a little fresh air. The proximity of the Commonwealth Building, only about four feet away, with a 10 story sheer drop between, did not stop one Dennis Jabour from jumping between the buildings on a dare.

By 1984, Mark Clemann handed over control of Clemann Large Patterson to Gerry, who continued to run the company for another four years until he retired in 1988. The industry was changing (not for the better) and Gerry remembers working on the Les Suites Hotel project downtown in the late 80’s. The client was particularly demanding, and he insisted that the hotel open before it was finished, which resulted in many problems. The stress level was becoming unhealthy to the point where if the telephone rang, Gerry would “jump out of his skin”. On one Sunday night the phone rang and it was the client complaining to Gerry that the domestic hot water had failed at the hotel (perish the thought that the client might call the contractor instead). Gerry had got to the point in his life where he was putting out fires all day long instead of doing what most of us enjoy – engineering. And enough was enough so he retired (and I do not blame him).

Gerry’s first involvement with ASHRAE was back in his university days when a secret benefactor had sent one of Gerry’s essays on HVAC in to an ASHRAE competition, and he won. He served as governor in the OVC 1975-1976 year, under then president Charlie Hobbs. In 1988 the ASHRAE AGM was held here in Ottawa, at the Chateau Laurier, and Gerry took on the role of Chairman for this grand event. George Carscallen, Bob McKee, and Charlie Hobbs were co-chairs. Gerry’s wife Helen organized the ladies program.

Gerry remembers that the president of ASHRAE, H.E. Burroughs, visited Ottawa with his wife in April prior to the AGM, to get a feel for the city. Gerry picked them up at the airport and of course, it was snowing. Mr. Burroughs had to ask “is this normal?” Mr. Burroughs had a penchant for Paisley ties, and insisted that Gerry wear similar attire during the meetings, so he had to task the wonderful Joan May with kitting him out with Paisley for the function.

I asked Gerry to tell me what he thinks most relevant from his career in our industry, to which he replied that he is still entertained by the thought that when he started out, buildings had heating systems that worked by vacuum steam courtesy of Dunham Bush, and certainly had no air-conditioning. Things progressed to the point where systems were full air-conditioning with heat recovery and Direct Digital Control.

It is a fine testament to Gerry’s career that he marvels at how engineering has developed through the years.


This article was first published in the January 2008 issue of the Capital Communiqué.