Former Kelowna mayor Jim Stuart, a farmer-turned-popular-politician who oversaw a period of rapid growth in Kelowna, has died.
He died Saturday at age 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.
City officials say Stuart’s public service served as a bridge between Kelowna’s farming origins and the mid-sized municipality it was becoming.
“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,” Mayor Colin Basran said Monday in a city news release.
“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.”
Stuart’s family had 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, after a time of tumult at Kelowna City Hall caused by some bitterly contested elections, Stuart was persuaded to run for mayor.
Like most areas of B.C., Kelowna experienced a rapid population increase in the years after Expo ’86.
From 1986 to 1996, Kelowna’s population rose to 89,445 from 61,950, a nearly 5% annual increase that 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.
But he also knew that population increase alone wouldn’t address Kelowna’s historically tight job market. His own three children moved away to the Lower Mainland to find employment.
“We know the need first-hand for more jobs here,” Stuart said in the same article.
Construction boomed in Kelowna in the late 1980s 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.
Chief city endeavours during Stuart’s time as mayor included the construction of Waterfront Park, a project that included a partnership with a hotel chain for the development of the Delta Grand, the expansion of sanitary sewer systems throughout the city and the building of the art gallery.
But there were also missteps, including a city effort to build a new hockey arena that was rejected by voters in a 1988 referendum.
Walter Gray, who succeeded Stuart as mayor in 1996, said Monday he regarded Stuart 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’s municipal career included membership on the Regional District of Central Okanagan board and a directorship with BC Transit. He also was an executive member of the Municipal Finance Authority.
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 been awarded to only 17 other people since its inception in 1946.