Saturday, 7 July 2012

The West End's Bill Norrie

Winnipeg Free Press, June 19, 1979

Bill Norrie, the second longest serving mayor of Winnipeg (1979 - 1992), died on July 6, 2012. This is a look back at the early days of his political career.

One thing that struck me while researching this post was Norrie's commitment to public service. Going right back to his junior high days, there doesn't seem a time that he wasn't an active member of a handful of organizations, most often in leadership roles.

The Norrie family home (source)

Bill Norrie was born in the City of St. Boniface in 1929 to Scottish immigrants William Sr. and Mary Rae. His sister Margaret was Scottish-born as well. The Norrie children grew up in the West End at 787 Banning Street, an address he resided at until he graduated from university in 1955.

Norrie attended Principal Sparling School on Sherburn Street. While there, he was a captain of the school's cadet squadron and he graduated in 1944 as the boys honour student of the year and class valedictorian.

November 8, 1946, Winnipeg Free Press

From there, it was on to Daniel McIntyre Collegiate Institute where Norrie was involved in numerous activities, ranging from representing students on the war memorial committee to singing in the chorus. He was student body president in his final year.

It was traditional for prominent high school students to sit on Eaton's Junior Executive Council. It was a cross between an advisory body and public relations team. They put on fashion shows and other special events and were expected to do a little modelling as well !

At Daniel McIntyre Collegiate's graduation ceremony on June 7, 1946 Norrie gave the valedictorian speech, though at the 1947 graduation ceremony he was presented with the Governor General's gold medal, (I'm not sure which year was his actual graduation.)

Norrie also received an Isbister Scholarship for the highest GPA in Grade 11 and used it to attend United College for his Bachelor of Arts. In 1949 he became the College's senior stick.

December 28, 1948, Winnipeg Free Press

The United Church was always a big part of Norrie's life. In high school he was part of the youth wing of St. Paul's United Church. 

It was through St. Paul's that he became a participant in the Older Boys’ TUXIS Parliament of Manitoba, forerunner to Youth Parliament of Manitoba. He served as a minister in 1947 and premier in 1948.

February 20, 1951, Winnipeg Free Press

After graduating in 1950, Norrie attended the University of Manitoba's school of law and continued on in student politics. He was secretary of the 1950 - 51 UMSU executive which included future community leaders like president Art Mauro, vice president Walter Dowhan and Manitoban editor Harold Buchwald.

March 15, 1951, Winnipeg Free Press

Norrie was elected UMSU president for 1951 - 52 in a close race against Harold Buchwald, (the voter turnout was an astonishing 75%.)

It was a challenging time to be in charge as both the school and student union were strapped for cash. Much of the trouble had to do with resources being stretched over two campuses. The U of M still had many active buildings at their Broadway campus across from the legislature and were busy constructing new ones at their Fort Garry so that all faculties could be relocated.

This new construction included a two-storey Student Union building attached to a new field house. Norrie's UMSU was told that they would have to come up with nearly $25,000, (about $225,000 in 2012 dollars), to furnish the building. In order to raise the funds, UMSU cancelled the main student musical for the year, unilaterally cut the fee they paid to the National Federation of Canadian University Students in half, and bumped up student fees. 

Their austerity plan, and some good negotiating with the U of M, worked and the building opened - furnished - in 1952.

Jan 9, 1953, Winnipeg Free Press

Soon after the opening, though, Art Mauro stepped down as UMSU's rep on the U of M's building committee saying that someone who could "forget past grievances could maintain better relations with the administration and board of governors." (Winnipeg Free Press, Dec. 6, 1952, p 1.) The man who took Mauro's place was outgoing UMSU president Bill Norrie.

Known later in his political career for his conciliatory manner and consensus building, he didn't last too long in the position, either.

The two sides bumped heads over who would control the new student union building. Just three weeks after taking on the post, Norrie very publicly quit the committee "
...as a protest against the complete and utter disregard of the president and board of governors for the recommendations of the UMSU." Before leaving, he called U of M president Dr. Gillson a "stumbling block" who "many students had lost complete faith in." (Jan 9, 1953, Winnipeg Free Press p. 1) It was probably a good thing that Norrie was awarded the 1953 Manitoba Rhodes Scholarship and was soon off to Queen's College, Oxford to complete his studies !

Upon his return to Manitoba, he received his law degree in 1955 and began practising law with Tupper, Adams and Adams, then Richardson and Company. That same year he also married Helen Scurfield, a fellow UMSU executive member and U of M grad.

October 26, 1964, Winnipeg Free Press

With his schooling over with, Norrie moved on to party politics.

In 1955 he became a member of both the Manitoba Liberal Progressive Association and the Manitoba Young Liberals, serving as MYL president 1956. These were happy times for the Liberals as
Douglas Campbell was premier of the province.

In 1959 a 30-year old Norrie ran unsuccessfully as the Liberal Progressive candidate in the provincial constituency of Wellington. In 1964 he ran for school trustee and won and was re-elected three times. He was appointed chair of Winnipeg School Division in 1967 and again in 1968.

Left: October 5, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

Norrie was first elected to Winnipeg city council in 1971 in the Kelvin Ward and in 1977 was appointed deputy mayor. Upon the death of mayor Robert Steen on May 10, 1979, he became acting mayor.

He ran successfully in the June 21, 1979 mayoral by-election and was re-elected four times, serving until 1992.

Former mayor Bill Norrie dies at 83 Winnipeg Free Press
U of M mourns Bill Norrie University of Manitoba
William Norrie Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame


Christina Smythe said...

It's so sad to hear about the passing of Bill Norrie. He was not just a politician. He was a true public servant. Someone should create a memorial page for him on Evertalk within Facebook. https://apps.facebook.com/evertalk

jacklyn johnson said...

Rest in peace Sir William. Thank you for your guidance and leadership. You were a wonderful mayor and our beloved city will miss you! Thanks for the heads up on the Evertalk page Christina.