In a home with more awards and accolades on the walls than most people could ever imagine lives someone who might just be Ottawa’s most interesting man.
Dr. Roland M. Armitage, known as “Roly” to friends and family, says he needs no introduction, but has had many.
With an ear-to-ear smile and welcoming demeanour, 98-year-old Armitage was recognized recently with a lifetime achievement award from the Ottawa Executive Association.
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Spending his time in a beautiful wooden home dating to the 1830s located on the outskirts of Ottawa, Armitage is as happy to do good deeds as he is to speak about them years later.
Armitage’s drive to give back emerged when he was young. At 17, he was walking down the street with a high school friend when they came across a lineup. The lineup, to their surprise, was to enrol in the army. Armitage looked at his friend and said, “What do you say we go to the end of the line?”
During World War II, Armitage served with the Royal Canadian Artillery and took part in the Normandy invasion and the liberation of France.
That was only the beginning for Armitage.
After the war, Armitage attended the Ontario Veterinary College and graduated in 1951. His involvement with horses was a hallmark of his life and career. He bred and raced horses and was a track veterinarian at Connaught Park Racetrack. He served as the president of the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society from 1972 to 1974 and the Canadian Trotting Association from 1974 to 1980. He was the general manager of Rideau Carleton Raceway for nine years. In 1999, he was named to the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
In 1987, Armitage ran unsuccessfully as a Liberal in the Ontario riding of Carleton, losing to Norm Sterling. But his political aspirations carried on. He was mayor of West Carleton Township from 1991 to 1994, served on the council for the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, and published three books about his life and experiences.
In 2009, Armitage was presented with the key to the city by then-mayor Bob Chiarelli on behalf of the council and the citizens of Ottawa in recognition of a lifetime of community and public service. In 2011, the hall at the West Carleton community complex was renamed the Dr. Roland Armitage Hall.
Armitage sees his life as a fulfilled one, but not one to cause a commotion about.
“What is there to say about me? I am a normal person,” he says, emphasizing that, despite his age and experiences, he is no different from anybody else.
At the lifetime achievement award event put on by the Ottawa Executive Association, more than one speaker suggested Armitage may, in fact, be Canada’s real-life version of the most interesting man in the world. Speakers included former Ottawa mayor Jim Watson, former councillor Eli El-Chantiry and former Canadian chief of the defence staff Walter Natynczyk.
It’s a reference to the once-popular advertising campaign for an international beer company that featured an older, refined spokesperson claiming a wide range of daring exploits. It’s a title Armitage says he is unsure he would give himself, but one that he appreciates and has displayed in his living room, nonetheless.
Armitage is a firm believer that if you give kindness, kindness will make its way back to you.
“Always try to help people and you get amazing numbers back. You get far more back than you give, especially when it comes to kindness towards others,” he says.
Armitage says he is looking forward to celebrating his 100th birthday on Feb. 8, 2025, which, he says with a smile on his face, will be the time truly worthy of his title of the most interesting man.
Sophia Adams is a journalism student at Algonquin College and joins OBJ on an internship.