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Keith, J. Clark
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J. Clark Keith was born 21 January 1886 in Smith’s Falls, Ontario, the son of William M. Keith and Mary Keith (née Sanderson). He attended elementary and secondary school there, obtaining his Junior Matriculation in 1902. In 1906 he gained practical engineering experience as a member of a survey party associated with construction of the Grand Trunk Pacific (later the Canadian National Railway) in Northern Ontario’s clay belt. From 1907 to 1910 he studied for his diploma at the University of Toronto’s School of Practical Sciences, working as District Hydrographer with the Calgary Department of Irrigation during the summer months. He obtained his B.A.Sc. degree from the University of Toronto in 1911, and in that year moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, where he joined the city’s engineering staff in 1912. He married his wife, Ida Maud Keith, in 1912, and they had two children.
In 1920 the Keith family relocated to Windsor, Ontario, where J. Clark Keith became Deputy Chief Engineer of the Essex Border Utilities Commission (EBUC). He became Chief Engineer the following year and worked to make the EBUC a vital driver of development in the Border Cities. Under his leadership the city constructed a general hospital, water filtration plant, trunk sewers, and major water mains. He also played an active role in city planning initiatives broadly. Between 1917 and 1934 the EBUC held responsibility for the water supply system, district parks, some aspects of planning, creation of a district health board, and the operation of hospitals in the Border Cities. This mandate enabled Keith to play a wide array of roles in city affairs, including his close association with the functioning of Metropolitan General Hospital (variously as an advisor, business administrator, and member of the Board of Governors) between 1922 and 1946.
When the Great Depression devastated the Canadian economy, Keith was one of five members of a commission that recommended the (controversial) amalgamation of the debt-defaulting municipalities of East Windsor (Ford City), Sandwich, Windsor, and Walkerville. The change was accomplished under the provincial government’s City of Windsor Amalgamation Act, 1935. The EBUC was replaced with a new Windsor Utilities Commission (WUC). Keith became its first General Manager, serving simultaneously as City Controller of the Finance Commission created by the Amalgamation Act to arrange the city’s financial affairs during the transition period of 1935-1936.
At this point in his career, Keith was active in a variety of other organizations. He was President of the Canadian Section of the American Waterworks Association in 1934-1935, helped found the Association of Professional Engineers of Ontario (and later served as its President), held the Vice Presidency of the Engineering Institute of Canada, and served as Director (1939-1944) of the Windsor Flying Training School during the Second World War. His involvement with Metropolitan General Hospital also led him to serve as President of the Ontario Hospital Association (OHA), and, in 1941, to be a founding member of the Blue Cross Plan for Hospital Care (a non-profit medical and hospital insurance plan introduced by the OHA, prior to the advent of Medicare in Canada).
Keith’s illustrious career was honoured by the WUC in 1951 when a new hydroelectric steam generating station on the Detroit River was dedicated in his name. He resigned as General Manager in 1955 but stayed on in an advisory capacity until 1957. In 1955 he wrote a book detailing the work of the WUC and its predecessors. J. Clark Keith died at Woodslee, Ontario on 17 June 1982 at the age of 96.