MAYORS OF VANCOUVER

by Donna Jean MacKinnon

NOTE: No living mayors are listed here. For the record, the mayors following William Rathie (1963-66) are, in order: Tom Campbell (1967-72), Art Phillips (1973-76), Jack Volrich (1977-80), Mike Harcourt (1981-86), Gordon Campbell (1986-92), Philip Owen (1993-2002), Larry Campbell (2002-2005), Sam Sullivan (2005-2008), and the incumbent, Gregor Robertson.

For more on the Mayors of Vancouver, click here.

Click on the dates below for a brief profile of the incumbent mayor »
[1886-87] [1888-91] [1892-93] [1894] [1895-96] [1897]
[1898-1900] [1901] [1902-1903] [1904] [1905-06] [1907-08]
[1909] [1910,1911] [1912] [1913-14] [1915] [1915-17]
[1918-21] [1922-23] [1924] [1925-28] [1929-30] [1931-34]
[1935-36] [1937-38] [1939-40] [1941-46] [1947] [1948]
[1949-50] [1951-58] [1959-62] [1963-66]    

Malcolm Alexander MacLean * 1886-87 b. Aug. 14, 1842, Tiree, Scotland; arr. Vancouver 1885; d. Apr. 4, 1895, Vancouver. Though the man who was to be first mayor of Vancouver had only recently moved from Winnipeg and had to be persuaded to run, he grew into his role and established the office of mayor with a combination of pioneer spirit and distinction. MacLean, a realtor, was practically unknown to voters in Vancouver's first election, but he presented himself well, had travelled widely and was not Richard H. Alexander, MacLean's only opponent. Alexander was the unpopular manager of the Hastings Sawmill, the biggest employer in Granville. The city's first election was as honest as could be expected for the time, which is to say, not very. There was chicanery on both sides. MacLean won by 17 votes and "people were so elated that they took him in a buggy and hauled him all over what there was of the little town." Less than a month later the Great Fire of June 13, 1886 destroyed most of Vancouver. Mayor MacLean lost all his possessions, but plunged into organizing relief efforts and distributing rations sent from New Westminster. It became obvious he was willing and able to guide the citizens through the crisis. After the initial shock of the fire, MacLean called council together in a tent at the northeast corner of Carrall and Water Streets, and resumed the direction of civic affairs
"without five cents in the bank, without an assessment roll and without even a chair to sit upon." Challenges to his mayoralty were dropped and he went on to win the next election fair and square. Just one year after the Great Fire, MacLean greeted the first train and the first steamship into Vancouver on behalf of its proud citizens.

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David OppenheimerDavid Oppenheimer * 1888-1891 b. Jan. 1, 1832 Bleiskastel, Germany; d. Dec. 31, 1897 Germany; arrived Vancouver 1860; d. Dec. 1897, Vancouver.

Often called the "father" of Vancouver, this wealthy entrepreneur believed public works operations belonged to the taxpayers. During the election campaign of 1888 he promised a skeptical electorate its own water service, public transportation and sewage system. Within two years, by 1890, streetcars were running along city streets and a water connection from the Capilano River had been installed. Oppenheimer personally paid the water fees, and liberally donated money for the construction of Alexandra Orphanage and the YMCA. He also donated land for city parks including East Park (later Exhibition Park, now Hastings Park, home for years to the PNE). The second-largest landowner in Vancouver after the Canadian Pacific Railway, Mayor Oppenheimer fostered industrial development when he donated land for B.T. Rogers to build a sugar refinery, the first manufacturing operation in the city. He established the B.C. Electric Railway Company (now B.C. Hydro). Part of the alternative to the West Side, CPR-affiliated business elite led by William Templeton, David Oppenheimer was acclaimed mayor in two of his four single-year terms of office.

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Frederick Cope * 1892-93 b. July 9, 1860 Oxford, England; d. Sept. 19, 1897, Yukon During Fred Cope's mayoralty, Vancouver was experiencing its first economic slowdown and Mayor Cope's efforts were directed to limiting expenses. City staff were laid off and those remaining had pay cutbacks. The Canada-Australia Steam Line began servicing Vancouver because of Mayor Cope's efforts, with the first ship (RMS Minonuera) arriving in Vancouver June 8, 1893. He was elected mayor for two consecutive terms.

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Robert Alexander Anderson * 1894 b. c. 1858; d. c. 1916, Vancouver, Belfast, PEI; arrived Vancouver c. 1887; Anderson was an alderman (1892-93), as well as a realtor. In a decade of slowing financial fortunes in Vancouver, he was fully occupied managing the civic administration with a shrinking budget. He continued layoffs of civic employees begun the year before by Cope. More positively a temporary relief committee assisted those out of work, a water committee was formed and milk inspections were instituted during his term.

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Henry Collins * 1895-96 b. 1844; d. 1904 Mayor Collins came to Vancouver as a dry-goods merchant and participated in local politics as head of the Board of School Trustees, and as alderman before serving two terms as mayor. Yet it was still an era where royalty and royal visits were revered. Mayor Collins' reception of Chinese statesman, Li Hung Chang, Lord and Lady Aberdeen, and the nephew of the King of Italy was believed to be a feather in the cap of the young city and an indication of its growing importance.

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William Templeton * 1897 b. 1853 Belleville; arrived Vancouver (Granville) Jan. 4, 1886.; d. Jan. 16, 1898, Vancouver. William Templeton, a butcher, was part of the CPR clique which had benefited from the land grant given the company in exchange for making Vancouver its terminus. Despite his electoral victory, this affiliation aroused suspicion among the city's working class, whose contribution to public life was on the rise. Templeton is said to have been a bad political strategist with an aggressive personality. After failing to win a bid for mayor six years earlier (some say because of a slur he made on opponent David Oppenheimer's accent), he did, however, serve as an alderman and later as school trustee. After losing his seat to James Garden in a bid for re-election, he purportedly committed suicide by taking an overdose of a sleeping potion.

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James Ford Garden * 1898-1900 b. Feb 19, 1847, Upper Woodstock, NB; d. Dec. 8, 1914, Vancouver.

Mayor Garden, elected for three one-year terms in a city perched upon a decade of spectacular growth had "the respect and confidence of all classes". As well as influencing the physical development of the city, Garden was literally a leader, in 1899 heading a march of citizens to Deadman's Island in to stop Theodore Ludgate from logging it. The so-called Ludgate Affair began when Mayor Garden read the riot act, defying Ludgate to "chop that tree." He did, and was promptly arrested. Years of litigation followed, and eventually Ludgate's 25-year lease from the federal government was cancelled, it being determined the property was part of the federal agreement granting Stanley Park to the city in perpetuity. As an engineer, Garden's influence on development of the city's infrastructure is obvious. Projects he guided through development include an early street car system, sidewalks, road grades and water connections. Mayor Garden also donated the land known today as Garden Park.

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Thomas Owen Townley * 1901 b. Aug. 18, 1862 Newmarket, Ontario; d. Mar. 19, 1935, Florida. In Mayor Townley's year in office, the largely British population of Vancouver joined commonwealth nations around the world to mourn the death of Queen Victoria in 1901 after 63 years as monarch. Later that year, when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York came to Vancouver as part of the Empire Tour, Mayor Townley was said to have been a gracious host to the couple on behalf of the city.

After losing in a bid for a second term he became registrar of land titles in Vancouver, a position he had held previously in New Westminster. He is also remembered as the commander of Vancouver's first militia.

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Thomas Fletcher Neelands * 1902-1903 (Acclaimed in 1903) b. Mar 8, 1862 Carleton, Ontario; d. Dec. 2, 1944, Vancouver. Arrived Granville (Vancouver) March 1886. Land issues marked Neelands' tenure. After being burned out of the flour and feed business in the Great Fire, he became involved with the Pacific Building Society offering mortgages by lottery to members who paid dues to build up the fund.

While he was mayor, the city's recreational facilities improved and expanded with the acquiring of rights for sunbathing on the English Bay shore, Alexandra and Strathcona Parks (now city hall), and the Cambie and Powell Street grounds. He also officiated at the cornerstone laying of the Vancouver Free Library at Main and Hastings (now Carnegie Centre) March 29, 1902.

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Dr. William J. McGuigan * 1904 b. July 18, 1853 Stratford, Ontario; d. Dec. 25, 1908. McGuigan was said to be a good writer and speaker as well as the most titled man in Vancouver. Ambitious though he was, holding both a law and a medical degree, he seems to have given himself wholeheartedly to the development of Vancouver. "There should be no hint of personal ambition," he said, "at the expense of our collective security." While in office, Mayor McGuigan oversaw improvements to False Creek that led to the filling in of the portion east of Main St. about a decade later. His other involvement in civic institutions included work with the B.C. Medical Association, the High School Board, and the Free Library Board. Dr. McGuigan also had the sad task of being the city's coroner at the time of the Great Fire of June 13, 1886. His brother Thomas was Vancouver's first city clerk.

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Fred Buscombe  

Frederick Buscombe * 1905-06 b. Sept. 2, 1862 Bodmin, England; d. July 21, 1938. Glassware merchant Fred Buscombe was a resident of the working class neighborhood of Mount Pleasant. It was a time when neighborhood as well as downtown commercial development in the city was flourishing. The expansion of streetcar lines to outlying communities allowed working class families to own homes while working downtown.

Low water pressure in neighborhoods on the south slopes of False Creek was a hot topic on the campaign trail in these years and Buscombe left his mark on the city by fostering the development of The Greater Vancouver Water Board. As the construction boom escalated, white-skinned workers were in short supply, and resentment of Asian workers led to ugly incidents of racism. During Buscombe's second term as mayor council passed a motion asking the federal government to suspend the immigration of East Indians into Canada. This was seven years before the ill-fated Komagata Maru passengers were refused entry into Vancouver.

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Alexander Bethune * 1907-08 b. Jan. 1, 1852 Peterborough, Ontario; d. June 10, 1947 Bethune, a shoe merchant, had shown his commitment to the city, serving five years in the role of alderman. During his term as mayor, council asked the federal government for use of the Kitsilano Indian Reserve for city purposes.

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Charles Stanford Douglas * 1909 b. Oct. 1, 1852 Madison, Wisconsin of Scottish ancestry; arrived Vancouver 1889.

Douglas served but a single term of office after defeating four other candidates. An American journalist turned Vancouver realtor in Vancouver, he officiated at the opening of the first Granville St. bridge.

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Louis Denison Taylor * 1910, 1911 b. July 22, 1857 Ann Arbor, Michigan; d. Jun. 4, 1946. Arrived Vancouver Sept. 17, 1896. Michigan-born L.D. Taylor was one of the most popular mayors of Vancouver, serving seven times between 1910 and 1934. It was his flamboyance that usually got "L.D." back into office, most often during a period of growth and enthusiasm, following a nose-to-the-grindstone administration. A tireless promoter of the amalgamation of Point Grey, South Vancouver and Vancouver, he was, however, not in the mayor's chair when amalgamation finally occurred in 1929. That honor went to Mayor Malkin, who slipped into office in between Taylor's two 4-year terms. Taylor was called a courageous, capable administrator and initiator of many civic improvements. He opened the airport at Sea Island, and supported the development of the city archives. Between periods of public office, Taylor published and edited mining newspapers and produced a paper called "The Critic," essentially an editorial leaflet on contemporary public issues. Being American-born, Taylor's property qualifications were challenged twice during his public life. The first came in 1915, when Justice J.J. Clement ruled Taylor lacked property qualifications to serve public office. A by-election a month later returned him. The second challenge came in 1933, but there was no disruption of his term. In that final term the earliest and harshest years of the Great Depression were stripping Vancouver of its possessions and its dignity. Taylor let it be known that unemployed men were expected to go to provincial work camps or have their relief payments cut off. But Taylor's image with those who supported him in that stand became tarnished when he suspended Chief of Police C.E. Edgett for inefficiency. The next mayor-to-be blamed Taylor for bankrupting the city and that, along with an impression that he was too old for the job, was enough to defeat Taylor in the next three elections.

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James Findlay * 1912 b. Oct 5, 1854, Montreal; d. Oct. 19, 1924. Arrived Vancouver June 1887. Findlay's background in mining and commerce led to an efficient, business-like civic administration. The monarchy-struck city got a reprieve from the mundane when the Duke and Duchess of Connaught visited in 1912.

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Truman Smith Baxter * 1913-14 b. Nov 24, 1867 on a farm near Carlingford, Fullerton Township, Perth County, Ontario; d. Oct. 1956. Arrived B.C. 1890. Baxter, a former teacher and merchant and Vancouver alderman (1900, 1905-06, 1912) was unfortunate in coming to the office of mayor just as the province, and indeed the rest of the country, fell into an economic slump that lasted until the middle years of World War I. All civic departments were reorganized to adapt to the financial crisis and war priorities. At the outbreak of the war, city council voted a two per cent cut in pay of civil servants, but also formed a Charities and Relief Committee to look after those most in need. Mayor Baxter claimed it was really his idea, not Gerry McGeer's, to locate the new city hall in Mount Pleasant.

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Louis Denison Taylor * 1915 (see above)

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Malcolm Peter McBeath * 1915-17 b. Dec. 2, 1880 Bruce County, Ontario; d. Jun. 15, 1957. Arrived Vancouver 1907. An alderman in Vancouver from 1912-14, McBeath sat in the mayor's chair for two years immediately after.

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Robert Henry Otley Gale * 1918-21 b. 1878 Quebec; d. July 26, 1950 Gale stepped into the mayor's chair at the end of WW I when housing shortages, economic and social disruption, Spanish flu, the communist revolution in Russia and the general strike in Winnipeg made for a chaotic, reactionary time. Fearful that communist unions would take over workplaces and society in general, the city set up a conciliation committee for settling disputes between itself and its employees following formation of the Vancouver City Hall Employees Association in 1918. Mayor Gale's greatest achievement was promoting the recognition of Vancouver as a major western port, now a more credible claim since the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914.

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Charles Edward TisdallCharles Edward Tisdall * 1922-23 b. Apr. 9, 1866, Birmingham, England; arrived Vancouver, April 1888; d. (in office as alderman) Mar. 17, 1936. When Mayor Tisdall stepped into the mayor's chair he became the only mayor selected under the system of proportional representation, in which the candidate for city council getting the most votes became mayor. As an earlier MLA (Conservative), a Park Board member for 15 years, and an alderman, Tisdall's popularity and familiarity among the electorate no doubt helped him achieve the highest civic office. These were the early years of the rise in prosperity since the end of the war, a phenomenon that helped fuel the drive for more schools, parks, and the expansion of port facilities in Vancouver.

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William Reid Owen * 1924 b. Nov 25, 1864, Ontario; arrived Vancouver 1899; d. Mar 22, 1949, Vancouver.

Vancouver's mayor in the mid-decade of the Roaring Twenties was strongly identified with one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, Mount Pleasant. At the time he became mayor, Owen was a realtor and insurance agent there, and earlier had been its first blacksmith. His years in office were the first really good years economically since the postwar slump. Both public and private sources moved to develop recreational facilities and entertainment centres, building parks and golf courses. The number of movie houses grew rapidly. Owen was the first Vancouver mayoralty candidate to use radio in his campaign. He gave a ten minute speech over Station CJCE.

Before becoming mayor, Owen was on the Board of Directors of the Vancouver General Hospital and held an insurance policy with the VGH as beneficiary worth $10,000.

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Louis Denison Taylor * 1925-28 (see above)

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William Harold Malkin * 1929-30 b. July 30, 1868 Burslem, Staffordshire, England; d. Oct. 11, 1959. Sandwiched between L.D. Taylor's double terms of office, merchant and importer William Malkin benefited from public disillusionment with Taylor. He gained the distinction of being the first mayor of Greater Vancouver following amalgamation with Point Grey and South Vancouver in 1929. One of Malkin's campaign slogans during the electoral race in 1928 was "It's time for a change." Another was "When you vote for Malkin, you vote for law and order, civic morality and fairness to labor."

Malkin later donated a 2.4 hectare park behind his Kerrisdale home to the city as well as the money for construction of Malkin Bowl in Stanley Park, the latter dedicated to his late wife Marion.

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Louis Denison Taylor * 1931-34 (see above)

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Gerald Grattan McGeer * 1935-36 b. Winnipeg, Manitoba; died in office Aug. 11, 1947 during his second term. Gerry McGeer's campaign against L.D. Taylor, called the most exciting in the city's history, was really a lot of name-calling with snide intimations about law and order and the lack of it, and managing public dissent. The election itself was a slaughter for Taylor who lost by more than 20,000 votes. McGeer was voted into office on a mandate to fight crime, and to do away with slot machines, gambling, book-making, white slavery and corruption in the police force. True to his promise, McGeer confiscated 1,000 slot machines in his first week. His extraordinarily zealous and vigorous management style led many to call him a megalomaniac. He was both praised and vilified for his reading of the riot act, putting down a strike by 2,000 workers from federal government camps and calling in police to arrest the leaders. In April 1935 unemployed men from the camps converged on Vancouver, marched to Victory Square and demanded financial assistance from the city. A delegation paid a call to the mayor. The mayor had them arrested and then went to Victory Square and read the Riot Act, calling on the crowd to disperse. That night, police raided worker headquarters, a riot ensued and police on horseback were called out to control it. This led to a serious fracture in the population, with Mayor McGeer firmly entrenched on the side of the moneyed interests of the city fearful of communist takeover, while alienating many would-be supporters who sympathized with the strikers. Meanwhile, his proposal to float baby bonds to finance a new city hall opened him to charges of extravagance and corruption, further alienating him from more voters in the city. He won his choice of Strathcona Park at 12th Avenue and Cambie for the city hall after yet another bruising battle. (Many people, particularly businessmen, wanted it downtown). In 1947 McGeer won the mayoralty again with a huge majority, but died in office just six months later. More has been written about Gerry McGeer than about any other of the city's mayors. And speaking of writing, McGeer wrote a book (1935) titled The Conquest of Poverty.

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George Clark Miller * 1937-38 b. Jan. 9, 1882 Huron County, Ontario; d. Mar. 17, 1968. Arrived Vancouver 1841 from Manitoba.

Miller was the first mayor elected under the at-large system, running as an independent. Wards had been done away with by an earlier plebiscite and party politics made its entry into Vancouver government. The strain of deprivation in Vancouver in the '30s and the indignation of the public over political showmanship made administratively-minded Alderman Miller a timely candidate in the election for the 1937-38 term. His slogan ''Let's stop bickering and get down to work" may have been easier said than done, but Miller was a realist. He made no extravagant promises, and would not promise not to raise taxes. He stood for law and order and was opposed to civil protests, specifically those by the unemployed or against the Spanish civil war. A decade later, when then Mayor Charles E. Jones died in office (Sept. 1, 1948), Miller took over the mayor's duties until the end of the year.

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James Lyle Telford * 1939-40 b. June 21, 1889 on a farm near Valens, Ontario; d. Sept. 27, 1960. A newcomer to the civic political arena, Mayor Telford was, however, no stranger to politics, having represented the CCF in the provincial legislature. In this election he offered "help for the forgotten man," tapping into the frustration of the voters after nearly a decade of poverty. Once elected, Telford resigned from the CCF because he felt civic office should be free of party politics. Despite his obvious working class following, Telford won the mayoralty with fewer than 2,000 votes in a campaign with six other candidates. His challenges to the status quo and his socially unacceptable situation as a divorcee combined with economic improvement and the changed political climate of wartime combined to end his civic career at the next opportunity.

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Jack (Jonathan Webster) Cornett * 1941-46 b. Mar 10, 1883 Lansdowne, Ontario; d. Aug. 19, 1973. Arrived Vancouver 1907, settled in South Vancouver. The last reeve of the municipality of South Vancouver, Cornett (a shoe merchant) was seen as a stable founding father of modern Vancouver, and was trusted to run the city during the disruptive years of WW II. His term was largely taken up with issues of housing and road improvements. He was an active chairman of the city's ARP (Air Raid Precaution Committee). It was not until the war ended and he was in his final year in office that the mayor's efforts came to fruition. Funding for housing improvements from upper levels of government finally came through, allowing the city to undertake a ten-year plan to improve city streets, sidewalks, sewers and lighting, and provide adequate fire protection in the harbor.

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Gerald Grattan McGeer * 1947 (see above)

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Charles E. Jones * 1948 b. Jan. 19, 1881 Whitby, Cheshire, England; d. Sept. 1, 1948 in office. Arrived Vancouver 1905. Already an alderman when he took over the position of acting mayor when Gerry McGeer died in office, Jones was duly elected the following December, but he too died in office, with former Mayor George Miller assuming the mayor's duties for the remainder of that year. Jones lobbied for the development of new industrial areas of the city, the filling in of False Creek and the accommodation of the automobile with bridges and high-speed thoroughfares.

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Charles Edwin Thompson * 1949-50 b. Sept. 17, 1890 Grey County, Ontario; d. Apr. 19, 1966. Thompson was a teacher, rancher, automotive dealer, and from 1945 to 1948 an alderman. His apparently contradictory combination of progressive and regressive policies make him a hard character to pin down. He felt that improvements to public transit, roadways and sewer lines and efforts to equalize civic taxes should be provided to law-abiding and politically correct citizens. However, civil liberties were impaired during his term through a policy requiring all civic employees to be screened for communist sympathies.

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Frederick J. Hume * 1951-58 b. May 2/92, New Westminster; d. Feb 17, 1967. This wealthy philanthropist and nine-year mayor of New Westminster donated his salary to charity while he was mayor of Vancouver. Although he won with a 3-2 majority in an election notable for its absence of issues, Mayor Hume was particularly concerned about smog and litter-something generally assumed to have been issues of a later period. While mayor, he worked to establish low rental housing, hoping to do away with slum housing altogether. His community involvement outside civic politics included founding CJOR radio (as CFXC) in 1924, and the owning/operating of the Vancouver Canucks from 1962 until his death. More than 2,000 attended his funeral in 1967.

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A. Thomas Alsbury * 1959-62 b. 1904 Edinburgh, Scotland; d. c. July 21, 1990. Arrived Vancouver 1907. The first mayor born in the 20th century, Alsbury gained notoriety with his policy of closing Board of Administration meetings to the public, saying he had "no intention of taking a second look at the policy." Despite his progressive goals and humanitarian interests, (he'd worked for the CCF for 24 years before resigning upon election), his abrasive, hard-nosed personal style alienated many would-be supporters and eventually led the Non-Partisan Association (NPA) to reject his candidacy for the mayoralty term of 1963-64. He later became a lively radio commentator on civic and provincial affairs, and became involved in improving the lot of senior citizens.

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William George Rathie * 1963-66 b. Apr. 1, 1914 Vancouver, B.C.; d. Nov. 26, 1994 The last in a long line of NPA mayors, Rathie's terms of office coincided with a new emphasis in civic politics on the issues of the urban environment and its livability. As a tax expert and accountant, these were perhaps not the kinds of issues closest to his heart, but his contributions were noteworthy. A 20-year program for Vancouver's redevelopment, encompassing transportation, low-cost housing, and downtown revitalization was under consideration and led to, among other things, new Georgia Viaduct giving easier access to the downtown. Low-cost housing projects including MacLean Park and Skeena Terrace were developed. Rathie got into hot water over the amount paid for renovations to the mayor's office at City Hall, something he defended as necessary and fitting to the city's highest office.

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