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Relentless champion, Art Cowie, dies

November 23rd, 2009 · 11 Comments

For those not reading other blogs, the sad news came over the weekend that Art Cowie died. Cowie, a one-time TEAM councillor during the new wave that swept in to town in the 1970s, was a tireless advocate for having the city try new housing forms. That didn’t win him many friends on the west side, but he never quit trying to get people to see beyond single-family-land.

Several tributes to him elsewhere, including Michael Geller’s blog, civicscene, and citycaucus.

I saw him at council recently, sounding different and frailer, but still arguing just as passionately. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

When you drive by the townhouses under construction at Cambie and 33rd, think of him. They’re an experiment who forced the city to try: fee-simple townhouses, where, as happens with most other cities, the townhouses are owned individually, not as part of a strata with all the attendant problems that brings. It doesn’t sound that revolutionary, but in Vancouver, it is. And it never would have happened without his persistence.

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  • Bill Smolick

    I worked closely with Cowie on a campaign for civic office in 2003. Good times, on the whole. A decent guy.

  • Frothingham

    I was not aware that it is possible to build fee-simple Townhouses. We are indebted to Mr Cowie for helping bring this about. Hopefully it will become much more common. Mr. Geller we trust you will carry on the Mr. Cowie’s good works.

  • Rob Grant

    I saw Art on the street a couple of months ago and was shocked at how frail he looked, but as he talked about his townhouse scheme, he still showed the idealism of someone who deeply cared about this city as well as the tenaciousness to make it a better place.

  • Frothingham, Thank you. I do intend to carry on from where Art left off. At our last meeting in St.Paul’s hospital I promised him and his wife Cathy that I would complete a publication that Art started to documents the process of building a fee-simple row house in Vancouver. Hopefully it will be finished by spring, so we can take lots of pictures. That’s what he asked for.

    I am also hoping to continue with a similar demonstration project in West Vancouver that he began almost two years ago.

    Art really was a one of a kind person. He had a passion for landscape architecture, urban planning and politics that was unequaled in our city. To obtain an appreciation of the key issues that have faced our city and region over the past 10 years, I highly recommend his blog Vancouver Hotspots which you will find at

    Here you can read his thoughts on many of the issues that we talk about today, and one which we don’t like to talk about! It’s item 27, written in 2000.

    Art was a four time Park Board Chair and I think it would be fitting if a park was named after him. Since he was Chair during the time when the new park was created at the western end of Deering Island in Southlands, one option would be for the Park Board to consider renaming the Deering Island Park in his honour.

    Just a thought.

  • Joe Just Joe

    Michael, I wish you all the luck on continuing the fee-simple process. Hopefully you can drop by some of the community vision meetings and explain the concept the the pros/cons of them to those involved in the shaping of our future communities.

  • I met Art in 1990, when he was on his way to beating Doug Mowat (but hadn’t announced yet!) for the privilege of representing Vancouver Quilchena. Always a fun-loving and caring man, he was one of a kind. I had lost the Socred nomination to Doug that year by 6 votes, and one of the first calls I received was from Art.

    “Hey Alec, how the hell did you do THAT!” He encouraged me to run again, but the whole process made me wonder why anyone would. After he stepped aside for Gordon, I knew his interst in running for anything again might wane. “I’m pretty tired of it all, to be honest, but who knows, eh?” And he’d laugh, through that familiar -soft-sinister little chuckle. It was wonderful.

    Over the next two decades, we laughed, a great deal, mostly thanks to the political foibles of others, and he was always willing to listen and never shy to offer an opinion. He was particularly fond of his planning ideas and we spent many an afternoon on the boat, debating away.

    And I will fondly remember spending time on that boat in False Creek and the endless political discussions about how the city was headed for trouble, over this matter or that.

    Sad, too, that he was gone so quickly.

    Fiesty, but fair, he was a good friend and I will miss him dearly.

    May God rest his soul and provide Cathy and his children peace in knowing that he loved them and spoke so deeply and proudly of his love and admiration for all that they had accomplished and meant to him.

  • Bob Ransford

    With the passing of Art Cowie, our community has lost a great visionary, an innovative urbanist, a creative thinker, an engaged civic leader, an entrepreneurial risk-taker, a skilled debater, a tireless public servant and a caring and decent man.

    Art’s interests and his skills spanned a wide range. I knew him to be a gifted landscape architect, a very knowledgeable urban planner, a creative artist/sculptor, an expert on cemeteries and memorial parks, an authority on the horse racing industry and its facilities, an experienced political strategist, a skilled sailor and a pretty able writer.

    I considered Art Cowie to be a friend, a mentor and an occasional collaborator on matters political, business and community service. Art always offered me his advice, opinions and his broad grasp of history when it came to my writing and other public commentary on urban issues. Often, his input caused me to rethink things or look at things in a different perspective.

    Art was never afraid to disagree and argue the contrary, but he always put forward his position in such a respectful way, with his easy-going tone – always with that little, bright smile on his face.

    I remember a particular day about four years ago, when Art and I were working together on a project where we shared a common passion—a concept to develop a community memorial park in my hometown of Richmond, a place that has never had a cemetery or other site to honour those locals who passed on.

    Art and I were driving around Richmond looking at prospective sites and he was telling me about his childhood years. Then he said to me “you know, I’m not a young man anymore and I am starting to feel my age. I am 71 now.” Art went on to tell me that he worried about having only a few years left and that really bothered him because he had so many ideas he still wanted to explore and pursue.

    Art Cowie was a man full of ideas. They were all good ideas about making the community a better place for everyone.

    But Art did more than dream about ideas. He talked about them, tinkered with them, drew them on paper, championed them, fought hard for them, lobbied and rallied others to support them, took financial risks to implement his ideas and he made many of those ideas real.

    Art’s idea—the ones that shaped our region in a real way and the ones that are yet to be implemented—are his rich legacy to all of us.

    May this very good man rest in peace.

  • MB

    Perhaps, Bob, this is a column?

    Art seemed to recognize the common good even in his private projects, and he championed them both. He appeared to have a ‘bridge’ personality, always respectiful of the the other guy’s POV, never polarizing.

    It’s sad to realize that someone who loved life so much was snatched away too early.

  • KLH

    I am glad his housing experiment is underway – he was always very excited when speaking of it.

  • For those of you who might be interested, the funeral for Art Cowie will be held on Wednesday, December 2 at 2 PM at St. Mary’s Church at the corner of Larch and West 37th. A Celebration of Life will be held after at the Tea House restaurant in Stanley Park from 4-7pm.

  • Roy Mulder

    Art was one of the greatest visionaries, I ever had the pleasure to get to know. His enthusiasm and ability to make things happen are an inspiration to any activist be they political or otherwise. He never wasted a moment or an opportunity and did it with a smile on his face. He will be missed by us all.