Jonathan Westeinde builds a powerful legacy of green real estate

Windmill Developments co-founder has never wavered from his most important mission: to create urban spaces that make Ottawans proud

Jonathan Westeinde
Jonathan Westeinde

Jonathan Westeinde can be forgiven for running a few minutes behind for our interview. As co-founder and chief executive of Windmill Developments, he has a lot on his plate these days.

Most notably, Windmill has partnered with Dream Unlimited Corp. to transform the old pulp and paper mill on Chaudière and Albert Islands on the Ottawa River into an environmentally and pedestrian-friendly waterfront community, consisting of condos and townhomes, offices, shops and restaurants, and waterfront parks and pathways. It’s just a short walk (or portage) away from Parliament Hill.

It’s named Zibi, after the Algonquin word for “river.” Windmill has held on tight to its ambition of creating a sustainable urban space it can be proud of, despite objections from certain Algonquin First Nations over the sacredness of the land being developed.

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The green real estate development firm is also building The Plant, an urban agricultural-themed condo and townhome project in Toronto, and is nearing completion of its church-to-condo conversion, Arch Lofts, also in The Big Smoke.

Mr. Westeinde draws inspiration from a variety of sources, including a tour he did of northern Europe and, in particular, Sweden. The Scandinavian nation has been been ranked the most sustainable country in the world for its renewable energy sources and low carbon dioxide emissions.

Other projects already ticked off the to-do list include the Cathedral Hill and The Eddy condominiums in Ottawa and the Whitewater Village luxury cottage community farther up the Ottawa River.

The biggest challenge in the business, he says, is having to rely on third parties, whether it’s different levels of government or building contractors.

Buying into a vision

“It all comes down to making sure you’re working with the right people and have the right relationships with people who are buying into your same vision,” he says, speaking in his office located along a bustling stretch of Wellington Street West.

Born and raised in Nepean, Mr. Westeinde is the youngest of three children and a member of the well-respected Westeinde clan, headed by John and Shirley Westeinde. The pair ran its own construction company until 2003, when they sold it to Aecon Group.

Mr. Westeinde’s older brother Jeff serves as the executive chairman of Windmill. He also ran his own company, cleaning up contaminated sites.

“My parents taught us work ethic,” says Mr. Westeinde, 47, a past OBJ Forty Under 40 recipient. “They would never give us money, but they would always give us the opportunity to work for money, which had me on a construction site when I was 12 and working two paper routes for much of my childhood.

“I remember my dad leaving the construction trailer door open when I started working on a Westeinde Construction job site one summer, and making it clear to the superintendent (ensuring that I heard) that it did not matter that I was his son; if I was not performing, he had every right to fire me.”

Mr. Westeinde gives a tip of the construction hat to his mother, not just for her community involvement but for excelling in a male-dominated field.

“She broke many barriers by being the first at many things as a woman in the construction industry, showing the importance of persistence and not letting intimidation slow you down.”

Mr. Westeinde studied at St. Paul High School in Bells Corners and Albert College boarding school in Belleville. He followed in the footsteps of his family members by attending the University of Western Ontario in London (now known as Western University). However, unlike his father and siblings, he opted for an undergraduate degree in economics rather than engineering.

“There’s never a dull moment and there’s always lots going on. There can be good days and bad days, but there’s never a boring day.”

He worked for several years in business before heading to Dublin to earn his MBA at Trinity College. Interestingly, he had to cross the pond to meet his future wife, who was from his hometown. Susan Finlay was there working for Corel.

Ms. Finlay is currently working with the Canada 3C expedition, which is taking Canadians on a learning and teaching adventure to all three coasts, via an icebreaker ship, to inspire a deeper understanding of our country. While she’s away, Mr. Westeinde has been keeping the home fires burning.

The couple has three very sporty daughters: Savannah, 16, Paige, 15, and Kyla, 12, the eldest of whom is on the junior Canadian team for freestyle whitewater kayaking. She’s headed to Argentina in November to compete in the world championships.

In his limited free time, Mr. Westeinde enjoys outdoor activities with his girls, particularly whitewater kayaking because it forces him to leave his cellphone behind.

“This business is great for someone who has slight ADD (attention deficit disorder),” jokes Mr. Westeinde. “There’s never a dull moment and there’s always lots going on.

“There can be good days and bad days, but there’s never a boring day.”

Five things to know about Jonathan Westeinde

  1. Mr. Westeinde burned through all his money while studying in Dublin and had to moonlight as a rickshaw runner.
  2. Windmill Developments gets its his name from the patriarch of the family, John Westeinde, who came to Canada from Holland at age 14. He became known as “Mr. Windmill” for his campaign to build a working windmill of friendship at Dow’s Lake.
  3. Mr. Westeinde is famous in his family for his fish and chips, made with catch that he brings back from his annual fishing trips to the Haa Nee Naa Lodge on Dundas Island, B.C.
  4. Mr. Westeinde sits on the board of the Children’s Aid Foundation of Ottawa, which, among other things, provides bursaries to deserving youth in care of the Children’s Aid Society.
  5. Among his career highlights was being chosen in 2009 by a NAFTA committee to lead a North American task force on green building.

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