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Victoria skyline Pollen’s legacy

Pete Pollen VM
Former Victoria mayor and current Oak Bay resident Peter Pollen holds a photo he showed to his council to prevent Victoria’s skyline from becoming like that of Vancouver.

Longtime Oak Bay resident among six heritage award winners

When he was Victoria’s mayor, Peter Pollen kept a telephone book in his office. On the cover was a photo of Vancouver’s high-rise skyline. It was exactly what he didn’t want Victoria to look like.

“I held it up in many meetings and said ‘Do you want this?’” he recalled this week. “The reason why James Bay is still full of little houses … is because we wouldn’t rezone it for high rises.”

In four terms as mayor, first from 1971 to 1975, then from 1981 to 1985, Pollen fought hard for the kind of city he believed Victoria should be. Buildings higher than 10 stories? No. Ditto for street-side billboards. But he was also clear on what he did like.

He was the driving force behind the rehabilitation of Government Street in the 1970s – that included trees in planters and a statue of Captain Cook on the upper causeway. He also trumpeted the need for a lower causeway development.

After an architect did preliminary drawings for the causeway, Pollen telephoned then-premier Dave Barrett to drum up some funding.

“He got on the line and said ‘What can I do for you?’ I said ‘We want to build a lower causeway in front of your magnificent legislative buildings.’”

Drawings were sent over and Barrett called Pollen back. “He said ‘I’m ready to go to the treasury board, but how much?’ I said $800,000 and he said ‘It sounds like a bargain, Peter.’ And that’s what happened.”

For these reasons and more, the region’s oldest preservation group, the Hallmark Society, is bestowing on Pollen an award of merit.

At a May 3 gala at St. Ann’s Academy, he’ll be honoured with the award for his contribution to heritage preservation in Greater Victoria. Pollen will actually be on vacation at the time, but says he is tickled about receiving the award.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been given an award before, other than my marriage,” he said.

Pollen has lived in Oak Bay for 50 years. Now retired, he continues to write letters to newspapers on issues that draw his ire, most recently the mega-yacht marina proposed for the Songhees area of the Inner Harbour.

Former Monday Magazine publisher Gene Miller said Pollen was a popular mayor who understood the spirit and nature of Victoria.

“People felt that Peter was a defender and a protector of Victoria’s unique personality. They saw him as a champion of memory and that is a significant aspect of Victoria’s identity,” Miller said.

A four-person jury chose Pollen for the award. He had been nominated by society member Nick Russell.

The non-profit Hallmark Society has hosted the awards night for 37 years and currently hands out six awards to recognize and promote heritage preservation in Greater Victoria.

Other recipients this year include Oak Bay Church congregation for their efforts in restoring the 1914 church, homeowners Ann McPherson and Michael Sarosiak for restoring their residences at 825 Foul Bay Rd. and 1566 Hampshire Rd. For writing the story of her grandfather’s business, Built by Luney Bros. Ltd., author Nancy Hughes will also receive an award of merit.

In addition to the annual awards the society has undertaken several projects, including restoring the 1865 Ross Bay Villa on Fairfield Road, documenting photographs from three core neighbourhoods, and restoring and uploading to the Internet a film of downtown Victoria shot in 1907.

Pollen cautioned, however, that not all heritage preservation projects are worth doing.

“Like the Northern Junk project by the Johnson Street bridge – preposterous,” he said. “What Hallmark does is great, don’t get me wrong, but you have to differentiate between good heritage (projects) and the shoddy stuff.”

All about history

• The non-profit Hallmark Society has hosted its annual awards night for 37 years. It hands out six awards to recognize and promote heritage preservation in Greater Victoria. The 2011 gala happens May 3, 7:30 p.m. at St. Ann’s Academy, 835 Humboldt St. Tickets are $10 at the door.

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