POLITICS

Former B.C. cabinet minister, TV host and author Bill Barlee dies

07/04/2012 04:38 EDT | Updated 09/03/2012 05:12 EDT
VANCOUVER - Colleagues and friends are mourning the death of a former British Columbia cabinet minister who left his mark on the province's culture, especially through a program that highlights locally produced agricultural products.

Months shy of his 80th birthday, Bill Barlee died June 14, far removed from the public spotlight and following a career that included the jobs of politician, teacher, author, television host and publisher.

For some, Barlee's death was a surprise that only became known weeks after he died.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Premier Christy Clark credited Barlee with creating the Buy BC program to help the province's agriculture industry.

"The Buy BC logo is now seen on almost every food product made or grown in British Columbia," said Clark.

Meanwhile, Gerard Janssen, the NDP's whip during the 1990s, said he had just become aware of Barlee's passing, but was eager to recount his former colleague's dedication and commitment to B.C. wines.

In one instance, Barlee was the agriculture minister and left a restaurant because it didn't serve B.C. wines, said Janssen, who was then the MLA for the Vancouver Island riding of Alberni.

"He said 'what do you mean you don't. I won't eat in a place that doesn't serve B.C. wines.' And he listed off, as he did, a whole bunch of names of great B.C. wines and we didn't eat there," said Janssen.

The following day, the restaurant sent Barlee wine and free tickets to come back and eat, saying the eatery now had the wine, said Janssen.

Born in Grand Forks, B.C., Oct. 15, 1932, Barlee worked as a school teacher for 17 years, but left the profession in 1968 and began to write.

He published a local history magazine "Canada West" and wrote the books "Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns" and "The Guide to Gold Panning in B.C."

Dipping his fingers into the broadcast industry, Barlee also co-hosted the television series "Gold Trails and Ghost Towns," which ran from 1986 to 1996.

In 1988, Barlee took his passion for the province into politics, winning a byelection for the NDP in the riding of Boundary-Similkameen.

After winning re-election in 1991, Barlee served as ministers of agriculture, fisheries and food, and small business, tourism and culture for the NDP, but lost by 27 votes in the 1996 provincial election to Liberal Bill Barisoff.

After leaving provincial politics, Barlee ran unsuccessfully for the federal Liberals in the riding of Kootenay-Boundary-Okanagan in the 2000 election.

Gary Mitchell, director of collections, research and access services at the Royal BC Museum, said he met Barlee about 28 years ago.

"He was absolutely passionate for our history, our story, our British Columbia story, and totally dedicated to having it delivered in a meaningful way," said Mitchell.

Even after his political career, Barlee would come into the archives to chat and have coffee, and even donated materials to the archives, like glass-plate negatives and black-and-white photos.

Barlee will be remembered as a "very, very solid minister of tourism and culture," a "passionate minister, and a very respectful and gentle man who was aware of people and the stories they had to tell," said Mitchell.

"He was a throwback in many ways to a gentler time. He really was a great story teller, but a really great fellow."