Remembering Peter Pollen, who helped shape Victoria

Former Victoria mayor called Oak Bay home for more than 50 years

Peter Pollen

Peter Pollen

The night Peter Pollen was elected mayor for the City of Victoria, he came home, hopped into bed and stayed up until 4 a.m. reading Robert’s Rules.

He wanted to be prepared to handle himself properly at a meeting, recalls his wife of 63 years. Though it was a busy and overwhelming time, it was also enjoyable.

An alderman for two years, Peter served four terms as mayor from 1971 to 1975 then 1981 to 1985. He passed away Jan. 3 in his Oak Bay home at age 89.

Raising four teenagers during her husband’s time as mayor, Mary-Ann remembers those days with much fondness. The job was demanding at times, often leaving Peter with no energy to be social, but he wanted to do the job right.

“It was very interesting for me because I hadn’t been part of that world,” she said. “He was a man of so many interests and he knew how to go after them. He’s been a great force in our family.”

The pair met when Mary-Ann was 19 and Peter was 25 and both worked for Canadian Pacific Airline. For Mary-Ann, it was love at first sight. “He was the cutest thing I’d ever seen,” she said. “I didn’t even know if I’d be lucky enough for him to notice me.”

But Peter did notice Mary-Ann and the pair married in 1954, living in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver before making their way to Victoria in 1963 where Peter worked for the Ford Motor Company. He later took over the Ford dealership and went on to open Honda and Mazda dealerships as well.

During his time as Victoria’s mayor, Peter kept a phone book with a photo on the cover of Vancouver’s skyline filled with high rises. It reflected what he didn’t want Victoria to become. He fought hard for the kind of city he believed Victoria should be, the driving force behind height restrictions on buildings and the rehabilitation of Government Street in the 1970s. He also trumpeted the need for lower causeway development, and dabbled in provincial politics, serving one year as leader of the B.C. Progressive Conservative Party in 1985.

In May 2011, the Hallmark Society, the region’s oldest preservation group, honoured Peter with an award of merit for his contribution to the heritage preservation in Greater Victoria.

Victoria Coun. Geoff Young joined council as Peter was on his last term as mayor. He remembers Peter as a man who loved Victoria. “We certainly had lots of vigorous debates and didn’t see eye to eye on all of the issues. Peter formed his opinions on each issue individually,” said Young. “It would be unusual for anyone to agree with him all the time and certainly in the years since his retirement as mayor, he’d let me know his opinion on the issues and he certainly expressed them vigorously.”

A resident of Oak Bay for more than 50 years, Pollen continued to write letters to newspapers on issues that drew his ire. He still loved to talk business and politics, said Mary-Ann, and encouraged some of his grandchildren to enter the field.

Peter’s health started slipping in the summer. He passed away peacefully in his living room with his family by his side.

Looking back at her life with Peter, Mary-Ann remembers a man who was a wonderful husband and father who gave his family a wonderful life. She also remembers a man passionate about Victoria and helped shape what the city has become today.

“We had huge billboards all over the street corners, Bay Bridge, it was pathetic. He got rid of those and people from New York phoned him to say, how did you do that? How can we do that? He just told everybody take them down,” said Mary-Ann.

“We have lots of memories. He was a very interesting man.”