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, and even though it was a busy and overwhelming time for the couple, it was also enjoyable.
An alderman for two years, Peter went on to serve four terms as mayor from 1971 to 1975 then 1981 to 1985. He passed away on Tuesday in his Oak Bay home at the age of 89.
Raising four teenagers during her husband’s time as mayor, Mary-Ann remembers those days with much fondness. The job was a demanding one at times that often left Peter with no energy to be social, but he wanted to do the job right. Mary-Ann was at his side for many of the mayor’s social events that often left her exhausted as well.
“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 when they were both working for Canadian Pacific Airline. For Mary-Ann, it was love at first sight. Their first date was the company Christmas party.
“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 got hitched 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. It wasn’t until he was urged by a former mayor that Peter decided to take a stab at city council.
During his time as mayor, Peter kept a phone book in his office that had a photo on the cover of Vancouver’s skyline filled with high rises. It was an image he didn’t want Victoria to become.
Peter fought hard for the kind of city he believed Victoria should be, and was the driving force behind height restrictions on buildings, 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, 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. Peter was tickled about receiving the award.
Victoria Coun. Geoff Young served his first term as councillor while Peter was on his last term as mayor. He remembers Peter as a man who loved Victoria and worked hard to move it in the direction he felt was best for the city.
“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, such as the mega-yacht marina proposed for the Songhees area of the Inner Harbour.
He still loved to talk business and politics, said Mary-Ann, and encouraged some of his grandchildren to get into the field.
In the summer months, Peter’s health started slipping and he had a weak chest. 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. She also remembers a man who was 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, 83, who spent much time sailing and travelling with Peter once he retired.
“We have lots of memories. He was a very interesting man.”
Peter leaves behind four children, 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.