The names of countless streets, monuments and institutions commemorate people who made a great impact in their own time, but over the years the memory of their deeds often fades a little. From time to time, it’s important to reacquaint ourselves with the people behind the names on those plaques.
Ernest Assaly is perhaps best known today as the namesake of the Ernest Assaly Award which recognizes the highest level of excellence in Ontario home building, but he was also a leader who helped set the course for the province’s construction industry well into the 21st century. A highly respected builder, Ernest was one of the founders of the Ontario New Home Warranty Program, which has since become Tarion. He served as the original Chair of Tarion’s Board of Directors from 1976 to 1988, and was inducted into the Canadian Home Builders’ Association Hall of Fame in 1986.
Tarion recently sat down with Ernest’s daughter, Linda Assaly, to learn a little about the life of this home building pioneer.
“My father started his career in construction by accident,” Linda reveals. Ernest was born in Saskatoon in 1921 to first-generation Lebanese immigrants and moved to Ottawa in 1949. He quickly established his own dress store on Bank Street, and decided to build a house for himself and his wife, Mary.
“With the help of an architect, they sketched a design for a split-level house and he hired a crew to build it,” Linda says. “A man noticed the house while it was under construction and approached my father to buy it.” Ernest set a price and suddenly he’d made his first sale, simple as that. The sale convinced Ernest there was potential in the home building industry, and he started up Assaly Construction.
According to Linda, who is now President of her father’s company, Ernest always said that running the business “never seemed like work,” but this seemingly offhand attitude belies his legendary work ethic. By the 1970s, Assaly Construction was a thriving business, and had he simply stuck to this lane he would still no doubt be fondly remembered by his peers and competitors in the Ottawa-Carleton construction community. But he was just beginning the second act of a career that puts him on a short list of the province’s most influential home builders.
In Ernest’s view, the shoddy construction practices and poor service associated with some opportunistic developers had begun to undermine Canadians’ trust in the industry. In order to earn the faith of potential home buyers, in 1974 Assaly Construction began to offer a seven-year warranty to protect owners in the event of faulty or incomplete construction. At the same time, Ernest started to lobby the provincial government to adopt a similar warranty standard. Within a year the Ontario New Home Warranty Program (later Tarion) was established, with Ernest as its Chairman, a position he would hold for the next 13 years.
Behind the scenes, Ernest was a loving and dedicated father to his children Linda and Richard. “He worked long hours but he was always there for us,” Linda recalls. “Family was very important to him.” Linda inherited something of her father’s work ethic. She worked with her father from the time she was 15 until his passing in 1999. “My dad always treated his colleagues and employees with respect and was dedicated to providing exceptional service to his customers. He took pride in everything that he did. He was a great teacher and mentor to me.”
Asked how she thought her father would like to be remembered, Linda points first to his charitable work with local hospitals and her many stories of his anonymous generosity. She also notes his conscientiousness as a businessman. “He genuinely cared about both the home building industry and the homebuyer and was dedicated to making the industry better.”
In recognition of his contributions to making Ontario a leader in new home development, Tarion’s Ernest Assaly Award honours companies that show commitment to his core values: building quality and innovation; customer service; and community involvement. Each of the 2018 finalists stands as a proud testament to Ernest’s legacy in the industry:
- Armour Heights Developments Inc., Vaughan
- Swank Construction Ltd., Iroquois
- Terry Waito Homes Inc., Petawawa
- Tridel, Toronto
Tarion offers its congratulations to all the finalists and to this year’s recipient, Tridel, for its remarkable achievements. No doubt Ernest would be proud.