Longwood: still fun after 35 years

Jun 2023

How often do you hear someone who’s been on the job for 35 years say it’s still fun?

Chat with Guy Whissel, founder and president of Longwood Building Corporation, about his job for more than a few minutes, and it’s guaranteed he’ll say “fun” more than once.

In fact, fun is one of the reasons he never wanted Longwood, which he started in 1988, to become just another gigantic homebuilder churning out houses by the hundreds.

“That corporate approach isn’t fun,” says the 67-year-old. “If you’re the boss, you spend your time looking at statistics. I just came out of a construction meeting before talking to you. I’m involved with everything.

“My favourite thing is the design part, figuring out what the market wants, even naming the models.”

And when it comes those homes Whissel builds, he says the non-corporate approach translates into not only high quality but also affordability. “Smaller builders have lower costs. We’ve always reinvested our profits instead of borrowing and we keep our overload low.”

An Ottawa native, Whissel started Longwood after studying architecture at Algonquin College and putting in a couple of years with large homebuilders in Ottawa. He first built in Rockland and Russell, buying single lots and putting up one home at a time. They sold quickly, but he says he had no idea when he launched the business that it would be thriving 35 years later or that the two staff members he started with would have grown to about 30 at present, including his son and vice-president, Simon Whissel.

Since striking out on his own, he’s kept building through good and bad housing markets, sticking with his formula of high quality and affordable prices. When times got tough, as they did in the 1990s market downturn, he kept an especially close watch on expenses and did whatever he had to do to keep the business going and buyers satisfied. “We all multi-tasked; we still do,” he told the Ottawa Citizen in 2014. “I went in and swept the floor.”

Over the past 35 years, Longwood has built in Orléans, Richmond and other communities, including a condo project near Billings Bridge and the Sonia apartment tower in Vanier. The company has also been building in Rockland’s growing Morris Village since 1989. Longwood has built over 1,250 single-family homes and condominiums and apartment units over the past three-plus decades.

The company has long stressed energy efficiency in its homes. In 2022, it enhanced its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help homeowners control costs with a range of initiatives, including even more insulation, a unique wood fibre exterior sheathing and other strategies.

Longwood’s latest project — and one that Whissel has clearly had fun with — is The Spark, a ten-storey apartment project in Vanier right across the street from the Sonia. Within walking distance of the Rideau River, parks, restaurants, shopping and many other amenities, it’s close to downtown but without the noise and congestion.

“Vanier’s an up-and-coming area but the prices are still affordable,” says Whissel, who was raised in Vanier (or, as it was then known, Eastview). “People used to leave Vanier but now they want to stay. Homes are getting renovated and new ones are being built. It’s a great neighbourhood.”

An avid skier and cycler, Whissel has already passed the age at which many retire. Is that in his plans? “No,” he says firmly. “What am I going to do at home?”

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