Former Pointe-Claire mayor Bill McMurchie says he fully supports the idea of renaming a park after Olive Urquhart, the city’s first and only female mayor.
“I think she would be worthy of any recognition along those lines, for sure,” said McMurchie, who served as mayor for 15 years from 1998 to 2013.
He said Urquhart, who was mayor from 1954-1956 and again from 1958 to 1961, was a “true pioneer.”
“Olive Urquhart was ahead of her time,” said McMurchie, who got his first summer job with the city in 1956 when Urquhart was mayor.
“She was a very progressive lady and fluently, fluently bilingual,” he added.
Mayor Tim Thomas recently floated the idea of naming a park after Urquhart on his Facebook page. He says the idea of renaming Voyageur Park after Urquhart has been well-received by the public. He noted that Voyageur Park in the Oneida district of the city was once named after Urquhart but was later changed.
A street in the area now bears her name, but Thomas was surprised by how many citizens were not aware Pointe-Claire once had a female mayor. “It was 60 or 70 years ago, so she was way ahead of her time.”
Half of Pointe-Claire’s eight council seats are now represented by females and Thomas said honouring Urquhart, who died in 1987 at age 79, is long overdue.
“Given the number of former male mayors and councillors who have seen parks and public buildings named after them in our city, it is incomprehensible to me that our first female mayor would not receive the same honour.”
Andrew Swidzinski, president of the Pointe-Claire Heritage Preservation Society, also lauded the initiative.
He said Urquhart was only the second female mayor to be elected in Quebec, after Elsie Gibbon in Portage-du-Fort in 1953.
Swidzinski said Urquhart was “not only a female pioneer, but also a capable mayor who made a lasting impact on the city.
“Olive Urquhart played a significant role in shaping our present day city,” he said. “In particular, Mayor Urquhart was in large part responsible for the northward expansion of Pointe-Claire and the creation of its industrial park, which she ensured would be zoned commercial rather than residential to guarantee higher revenues for the city’s coffers.”
Swidzinski said Urquhart also pushed back against developers in the Pointe-Claire Village in her day.
“In 1960, after consulting local merchants, she rejected a developer’s plan to replace much of Pointe-Claire Village with high-rise apartment buildings,” he said.
“Her achievements also included the conversion of Stewart Hall into a cultural centre, the acquisition of the site of the Lakeshore General Hospital, the construction of the water filtration plant, and the fluoridation of Pointe-Claire’s water supply in 1955, which has contributed to the dental health of generations of Pointe-Claire residents.”
McMurchie said Urquhart was a visionary when it came to building Pointe-Claire into a prosperous suburb of Montreal. He said the creation of an industrial park laid the foundation for the city’s future.
“The creation of the industrial park was a big, big event in Pointe-Claire because previous to the annexation of those farmlands, that was not an industrial area.
“So when Pointe-Claire took over those farmlands, the foresight they exhibited by zoning that land commercial/industrial guaranteed that Pointe-Claire for the next 50 years or so would be different from other municipalities.
“An industrial park was a fantastic revenue base, combined with growing residential population. The marriage was perfect.”
Olive Louise Urquhart (née Price) was born in Verdun in 1907. She married Thomas (Tom) Urquhart, a school board commissioner and contractor, in 1927 and moved to the Valois district of Pointe-Claire.
They had one son, Glen, who died in Victoria, B.C. in 2017 at age 75.
Olive Urquhart was first elected to city council in 1951. Interestingly, she was acclaimed as mayor both times in 1954 and ‘58.
“They didn’t dare (run against her),” McMurchie said with a laugh.