KELOWNA, B.C. — Former Kelowna mayor Jim Stuart, a farmer who became a politician and oversaw a period of rapid growth in the city, has died. He was 84.
Stuart was mayor from 1986 to 1996, winning election twice and being acclaimed twice.
He was also an alderman, first winning a council seat in 1973.
Mayor Colin Basran confirmed Stuart's death in a news release.
City officials say Stuart's 30 years in office served as a bridge between Kelowna's farming origins and the mid-sized municipality it was becoming.
In a statement, Basran said the city's current expansion gives him some insight into what Stuart was dealing with during his time in office.
"As Kelowna goes through another extended period of expansion, I can imagine the forethought mayor Stuart needed to call upon to steer the city from its past to its future," he said.
"Change is never easy, and mayor Stuart guided the city through probably its biggest shift ever. I know it must have been difficult for him, but he always had the best interests of the city in mind and he guided his council through many difficult decisions and directions."
During Stuart's time as mayor, Kelowna's population rose from 61,950 to 89,445.
His family moved to Kelowna in 1911 and like the vast majority of its residents in the early 20th century their livelihood was directly tied to agriculture. Stuart bought a 16-hectare orchard in 1953 and by the mid-60s he was involved in local politics through his involvement with an irrigation district and then the regional district.
In 1986, Stuart was persuaded to run for mayor.
Like most areas of B.C., Kelowna experienced a rapid population growth in the years after Expo '86, which triggered community debate about the pros and cons of development.
"Some people are really anti-growth but it would be folly to just shut our gates on everything," Stuart said in a 1993 interview with Okanagan Life magazine.
The surge of newcomers, Stuart said, helped to create a more vibrant and interesting Kelowna.
Construction boomed in Kelowna in the late '80s and early '90s, even as other parts of Canada fell into recession. In 1992, Stuart claimed, the city had issued more building permits than the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan combined.
Walter Gray, who succeeded Stuart as mayor in 1996, said he regarded his predecessor as one of his mentors.
"He had a wealth of wisdom which he freely shared," Gray said. "Jim strongly believed that the local taxpayer should get full value for every tax dollar spent."
Stuart Park in downtown Kelowna is named for him. Stuart was awarded the Freedom of the City Award in 2001, the highest award the municipality can bestow. It has only been awarded to 17 other people since its inception in 1946.
(Kelowna Daily Courier)
— This report distributed by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2020.
By Ron Seymour, Kelowna Daily Courier, The Canadian Press