In the days ahead many tributes and retrospectives will be written about the late Bill Norrie, the second longest serving mayor of Winnipeg (1979 - 1992.) Most will look at his days at city hall but I wanted to take a look back at the roots of his political career which lead right back here to the West End !
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. Another characteristic of the man is that regardless of what he was involved in, he always reached the highest level in a very short time.
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. He graduated in 1944 as the boys honour student of the year and was class valedictorian.
November 19, 1946, Winnipeg Free PressFrom 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.
November 8, 1946, Winnipeg Free PressIt 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 !
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.
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.
After graduating in 1950, Norrie attended the University of Manitoba's school of law and continued on with 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 PressNorrie was elected UMSU president for 1951 - 52 in a close race against Harold Buchwald, (the voter turnout was 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 was busy constructing new buildings at Fort Garry so that faculties could be transferred from Broadway. This included a new, two storey Student Union building attached to a new field house.
UMSU was told that they would have to come up with nearly $25,000 ($225,000 in today's 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. This 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 the Manitoba Rhodes Scholar 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 Norrie, 30, ran unsuccessfully as the Liberal Progressive candidate in the provincial constituency of Wellington.In 1964 he ran for school trustee and won. He was re-elected three times, (trustee seats at the time alternated between one and two year terms), and was chosen chair of Winnipeg school division in 1967 and again in 1968.
Left: October 5, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press
Norrie was first elected to city council in 1971 and was deputy mayor when Mayor Robert Steen died on May 10, 1979. He sat as acting mayor until the by-election was called. On June 21, 1979 Bill Norrie was elected mayor of Winnipeg.
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