Bellai Brothers co-founder Tony Bellai dies at 89

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Antonio (Tony) Bellai, 88 who co-founded Ottawa’s largest forming contracting business with his brother in the early 1950s, died on Sept. 26.

His nephew Pietro Bellai, president of Bellai Brothers Construction Ltd., says Tony and Rizzieri Bellai started the business in the early 1950s. It grew to a leadership role in the local construction community, providing the concrete structure and foundations for some of the region’s most significant and challenging projects. Today, it employs about 700.

Image from Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson’s Twitter feed from December 2014 when Watson wrote: “Pleased to join members of Italian -Canadian community as they celebrate Tony Bellai’s 60th year in business.”

Pietro, as well as colleagues and clients remember him as a passionate person who cared deeply about his industry, business and employees.
“He truly loved what he did,” Pietro Bellai said. “Whenever a complicated job came around, my uncle was like a kid in a candy store. We can do this . . . we’ll figure it out . . . we can do it.”

Major projects included the Canadian Tire Centre (originally the Palladium), the National Gallery, The Ottawa Airport, the Ottawa Convention Centre, the World Exchange Centre and many projects for the former technology giant Nortel (buildings now which serve the Department of Defence.)

“I believe his crowning Project was the war Museum with its multi textured architectural concrete, purposely skewed walls,” said Dwight Brown who worked with Bellai on many projects before he retired as PCL’s Ottawa district manager about seven years ago.

“Over the years he improved his quality control and was always looking to keep up with the times,” Brown said. “He built up with his brother an outstanding family business unsurpassed in the city.” (Rizzieri Bellai died in 2004.)

Brown said Bellai made commitments, and then honoured them. “If Tony told us it would be done on time, he got it done,” he said.

Pietro Bellai says the business officially started in 1954, though he understands the enterprise actually began operating a little earlier.

From the start, Tony Bellai was “very passionate about the men who worked for him,” Pietro said. “He would protect them – he would be hard on them, then he would protect them at all costs.”

He also had a positive attitude, even in the most challenging circumstances. “Even though we sometimes felt we took on more than we could handle, if we didn’t have enough guys, he would get the people needed and say: ‘Don’t worry about it.’”

“He was very innovative,” Pietro said. “He was always looking for new technologies – new ways of doing things – and changing things up in ways to make things better and safer.”

Masonry supplier Robert Merkley said Bellai Brothers has constructed more than 95 per cent of all of the city’s high-rise structures. The business is one of the city’s largest construction businesses, just behind the Minto Group and the Tomlinson Group, he said. The company “essentially has built the backbone and ribs of Ottawa.”

Tony Bellai is predeceased by his wife Bruna Versolato and is father of the late Mario, Sonia (Danny Loftus), Romeo (Danielle) and Gianni (Nathalie Joanisse). He also has several grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.

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