Humphrey Stephen Mumford Carver—planner, architect, urban philosopher, author—was born in Birmingham, England in 1902. After graduating from the Architectural Association’s School of Architecture in Bedford Square, London, Humphrey ‘couldn’t imagine myself pursuing a prospective rich client. I had gone into architecture for a social purpose and now I could see no way out of the barriers that seemed to be enclosing me.’ His answer was to go to Canada in 1930.
His first job (‘I had never heard of the term ‘landscape architect’ but it expressed exactly what I had been looking for.’) was with the firm Wilson, Bunnell, and Borgstrom. The firm had been very successful laying out subdivisions in growing cities, but ‘through the decades of the 1930s I worked in partnership with Carl Borgstrom, sharing what little income we could scratch from the austere years of the depression.’ Humphrey notes, then, that ‘he could understand planning ideas and translate them.’ He became inspired by Thomas Adam’s work for the New York Regional Planning Association. Acknowledging he had a vein of optimism, Carver was a strong advocate of a public-housing policy, active in the League for Social Reconstruction, and writing articles in the Canadian Forum, Saturday Night, and in architectural and welfare journals. This led into teaching for several years at the University of Toronto's School of Architecture and then at the School of Social Work;
He organized the influential 1939 Housing Conference and was involved in much of the institutional development in community planning and housing in Canada after 1940. He was associated with Regent Park North in Toronto—Canada’s idealistic and first public housing project, an outcome of a citizens’ movement. He chaired the Research Committee of the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation from 1948 to 1955) and its Advisory Group from1955 to 1967. In his 1962 book Cities in the Suburbs, Carver advocated that the planning of suburbs be integrated with the wider social community. Under Carver's leadership of the CMHC Advisory Group, Canada's research and programs in housing policy, housing design and community planning attained an international reputation for innovation and progressive development standards. He went to Australia to help set up their Institute of Urban Studies. He was President of CIP 1963-64.
Humphrey’s autobiography, Compassionate Landscape: Places and People in a Man’s Life, was published in 1978. A review in British Town Planning Review describes it as “a sympathetic, understanding and elegant study of a lifetime’s experience—first in England but for the most part in Canada-of an architect and landscape architect who, through compassion and experience, became the designer of housing and urban policies. At the one end, one is left with the picture of the author as one essentially civilized, hardened in his resolve by adversity and by suffering, of others and his own; a man of stature and of understanding, and achievement too.”
The book contains a great poem called ‘A House is a Place for Flying Apart.’ In the last paragraph of his autobiography, Humphrey says ‘To be free is to express yourself through taking some part in shaping the social and physical environment within which you live.’
There is a Humphrey Carver Archive at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. He died at Ottawa in 1995.