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City of Victoria celebrates first woman to serve as Mayor with tree planting ceremony

Gretchen Mann Brewin was first elected as the Mayor of Victoria in 1985
Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps (left) and former Victoria Mayor Gretchen Brewin plant a Garry Oak tree in the Mayor’s Grove in Beacon Hill Park. (File submitted/ Derek Ford)

A new Garry Oak sits in the Mayor’s grove in Beacon Hill Park to honour the first woman to serve as the mayor of the City of Victoria.

Gretchen Mann Brewin was elected as a city councillor in Victoria in 1979, before being elected as mayor in two consecutive terms from 1985 until 1990, during which she played a key role in bringing the Commonwealth Games to Victoria.

Over the weekend Brewin and current Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps planted the Garry Oak tree amongst 34 others, including some planted by Winston Churchill (a Hawthorne Tree in 1929), The King Prajadhipok of Siam (an Oak in 1931) and Lord Robert Baden-Powell (an Oak in 1935), a British Army officer and the founder of Boy Scouts.

“It was lovely, a really beautiful day with a wonderful crowd,” Brewin said. “Garry Oaks are endangered, and they’re a really quirky kind of tree sometimes growing tall and sometimes really digging into the ground… not that I’m drawing any parallels to my own personality.”

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After her role in municipal politics, Brewin transitioned to provincial politics, serving as an MLA for Victoria Beacon-Hill from 199-2001, during which she served as the first deputy speaker and speaker in the Legislative Assembly. She also served as a parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Social Development and Economic Security and as the Minister for Children and Families.

Now Brewin has retired in Vancouver, keeping herself busy with her dog, grandchildren, and extracurricular activities, including volunteering at a local soup kitchen.

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“I’m a recovering politician, so I always keep my ear to the ground,” Brewin said, adding that she thinks the current Victoria council is doing a good job. “There’s a lot going on in the city that they’re improving.”

For Helps, it was an interesting opportunity to meet a leader in politics.

“Gretchen Brewin’s legacy is her tremendous record of service that includes blazing a trail for myself and many other women in leadership roles,” said Helps. “As we watch this Garry oak grow and flourish, it will provide a lasting demonstration of what time and perseverance can accomplish.”

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