An Interview With Gordon Bryant

Interviewed by Bob Harkins, July 19,1988
Background: Gordon Bryant was a former mayor and businessman of Prince George.

Gordon Bryant: I was born in Nanaimo, August 13, 1913. My parents on both sides were born in England, but they came out with their parents a number of years earlier. The first relatives to arrive here was 1856 in Nanaimo. He was a lay preacher and also of course, Nanaimo's first teacher. I spent my early days in Nanaimo, until I was about ten years old, then we moved to Courtenay. My father was a harness maker, so he was inthat business up there for many years. I had the balance of my public school and high school in Courtenay and Comox area. I worked around there for a short time, after leaving school, two or three years; the automotive business mostly. From there I went to Prince Rupert and spent two or three years there. I arrived in Prince George, first time-in June 6, 1945. I was looking for a place where I could get my heels into something in business. `I didn't accidentally come to Prince George. I came to Prince George after, sort of, thinking things out for myself and looking across the business face of the province. I was sure that Prince George was going to grow. I could see that the rail lines were going to go eventually up north. The air transportation was already here, and they put in a fine airport during the war. We had highways of sorts, admittedly. But there essentially was going to good highways, east, west north and south. So, in my books if somebody wanted to get a start in the business world, Prince George looked like a good place. That's the reason I came. Nothing else really.

Well, I didn't know too much about the characters of people per say. I met most of the population more or less in a hurry. I had decided that I was going to have an automobile dealership here; I had the dealership contract in my pocket, and I proceeded forthwith to buy a piece of property and buy a motor dealership, which I did. Which I did. Of course, I met a lot of people in a hurry, and I found them all very very friendly. They welcomed me into the business community. Generally, it appeared to be a great place to live. I bought a house, brought my wife and daughter out here, a young daughter. My impressions: of other things were a little different, but the people were nothing but first class as far as I was concerned. As far as the town itself was concerned, I thought it was pretty backward, hadn't kept up. Maybe a good reason for that, didn't have no money, didn't have no budget. It was pretty backward, in many respects, it felt like it was never going to grow anywhere, to the extent I thought it would. At that time city council was quite content to keep things status quo and not get ready for any expansion or development. It seemed to be too interested in that. I thought in that area, that certainly all good people on the council. Jack Nicholson was the mayor at the time, and we didn't have any trouble getting along with Jack. I had a run in with him when he moved in 1946 and 47, moved a bunch of army buildings to the downtown core area, after my spending a fortune to set up a substantial and well built automobile dealership, and to move these shacks in across the street, didn't go down very well with me. I proceeded to complain about that pretty heartily, I didn't like it and I thought it was wrong, and it was wrong. A lot of them, or some of them are still downtown in this core area, still, even to this day. The odd one. Real firetraps to start with. But the town great place to live, great place to enjoy, at that time, just like it is today. It didn't have all the amenities then, of course, but they came in time.

I had a Chrysler dealership, Dodge and DeSoto cars and some Dodge trucks at the time. I built a pretty substantial dealership there, probably went in over my head, and I did. I had a reasonable amount of cash, and was able to buy a home here, and got a mortgage from Standard Oil Company to help build the building. The payments were $225 a month at 3% interest. Even then, it was tough slogging, I had more investment than I had people in the whole area to purchase automobiles. I had to look for customers all the way from 100 Mile House, right out through McBride and Valemount, west to Smithers, even through to Terrace. We tromped that trail pretty hard getting enough sales to maintain the dealership in the manner which it had to be maintained. By 1950, we had 25 employees in that dealership, and as I say, I probably overbuilt it to start with, but there weren't too many people around to give you advice on business analysis in those days. It was easy for anybody with ambition to get into hot water pretty fast. However, I was prevalent and I stayed with the business until 1957, and then leased the property out until just five or six years ago when I sold it. But we had a lot of great times.

Well, except for a couple of larger mills, Eagle Lake and Upper Fraser, and they weren't really that large and the Trick Lumber Company, most of the mills were what we call bush mills. And in this forest district here, there were 650 of them. That's a pretty big district, it went west to Smithers, and north to included Chetwynd, Fort St John and all that area. And one area I remember, just particular, in the north section just up north of Prince George, now the Hart Highway area, there was probably something like from the city boundary out, 40 or 50 small mills, bush mills. They would port them, they would move them from one site to the other, one show to another in the same area. Just by comparison, today we have one large bush mill now, I call it large bush mill, very sophisticated, out at Bear Lake. It was finally developed by the Pas Lumber Company. That will out cut today all those fifty mills in one 24 hour shift. More was cut than what they could cut in a day. So that's just the difference. They were primitive, to some, quite a degree, they use automotive gasoline power, a lot of them little portable power plants and portable mills. The conditions for the men were very poor. Camps were just hovels where the men had to stay during the winter time, and that condition prevailed until the late fifty's. It was very sad conditions and low pay. Even the strike in 1953/4, all they were worrying about was five cents an hour.. It was only at that time I guess, that conditions for the workers started to improve. Government got interested in conversation with people like that, and it started become moulded into contracts through the IWA and what not. They were pretty sad conditions. Not necessarily larger mills like Eagle Lake, they tried to do a pretty good job, and a few other larger mills along the CNR line. But, my God, before that, the other ones were something I wouldn't want to work in.

Well, I should have gone into the real estate business then, instead of going into it later. Well, it was a pure example, I came say in `45 and I bought, probably one of the prime residence, wouldn't you say so, one of the prime residence of the city at that time, up on McBride Cr. $6700 cash, that was the price of it. The house, the last time it sold, I think it was $95 000, and that house is fifty years old, no, pretty near 60. So, I remember going down to city hall when I was looking at this house, because I'm always interested in what the taxes are, I got a hold of the city clerk down here, Billy Fraser. I asked him what the taxes would be, I wanted to know before I bought the house, I didn't want to buy a liability that I couldn't handle. He said the taxes were$36.00. I said $36.00 a month. No, he said, for the whole year. Thirty six dollars a year. And that was the taxes on that house, that's probably today they're somewhere around $15, 1800 dollars or better. So, the real estate situation was rather sad, I guess. There were a lot of lots subdivided both in the city and outside the city, in the old Fort George area, and South Fort George, that were all there, all the lots were there, no services on them, nothing. Some had little dirt streets, and others didn't. The western part of the city there was a water line, and a tower from Central Fort George out there that they got their water from. It was a one inch line or so, serving thirty, forty houses scattered around, something like that. The market was very, very soft. (Unintelligble). Mention the housing, down, when I came in here, I wasn't too sure where I should build. So, I took an option on a few lots around. Some on third avenue, where the Bank of Commerce is now built right across from Northern Hardware, or where they were, I guess they're still there, ya. I had five lots in there that I got an option on. To get an option, you simply went to the City Hall and said "would you hold that for me a few days `till I arrange my financing, and they said sure." Or you went to the Government offices and did the same thing, if they owned the land. And most of the lots were owned by either the government or the city, because they had reverted during the depression, back to the Crown or to the city, non-payment of taxes, mostly. So I had an option on the site where the Bank of Commerce is, five or six, seven lots in there. Also, down here on the corner of George and Fifth Avenue. So, I decided finally, in a day or so, to buy the lots from the city. And I had to go up to the Government building and buy one lot from them at the corner of George and Fifth for a thousand dollars. And I got three alongside of it from the city for $840.00, and four behind for $640.00 each. So, that was the real estate situation. There wasn't very much movement, prices were very low, very depressed and they were glad to make the sale just to get them on the tax roll. So, there wasn't any question about being able to buy a lot from the city over the counter, you were able to do that. Same up at the Government office, you could by Crown land, city land, anything you wanted, over the counter.

Bob Harkins: Who were the movers and shakers of the town, the establishment, the community?

Bryant:  Well, would depend on whether you are talking about the leaders in it politically, or the leaders in it commercially. We had to shake a few of those down in later years and I could you about them later if you like. There was our good friend Alec Moffat, GB Williams, Vic Morgan, Ivor Guest, Griffiths, they were the people who knew what was going on downtown, A.M. Patterson Clothing Merchant, they were some of the people. There were some others, Harold Assman, a younger man at that time, but pretty active in what's going on. They were the boys who said to the Mayor and Council at that time, this is the way we see it, and this is what we think and that's the way it got done.

Harkins: What about party politics then? Who had most of the power back then in those days, say provincially?

Bryant:  The first years I was so busy I didn't pay too much attention to it, other than what was going on in the city. I didn't think they were doing a good job. They were doing a good job as they knew it, but they couldn't see what was coming. Provincially, well, there really wasn'tmuch going on, as far as I could see. We had McInnis here, he was a CCF MLA and he looked after the constituency and kept it in some kind of shape.. There was no development politics going on. There was nobody pushing for anything at that particular time. Harry Beaumont came in as the member after Mclnnis, didn't he? He tried to do certain things in the area of recreational development schemes and what not. But, I think that he kind of got took to the cleaners a little bit with the people who promised to do certain recreation development schemes and sold the land in various areas to these promoters who never did put in their schemes and eventually capitalized on the sale of the land, eventually that's what happened. So, politics weren't much of a factor provincially then, until the Wacky Bennett's started to came in an deal in `52. We were hollering for roads and that sort of thing, and we did under Carson, Minister of Highways in the 40's and 50's got that Cariboo Road started. You know, it was a dirt trail from here to Cache Creek, a terrible mess. The pressure on that got that road started. The Socreds came in and put a lot more effort into it than anybody before, as far as the North was concerned.

Harkins: When you arrived as a new business in town, how were you greeted, was it a town that was encouraging new businesses? Was it a friendly reception? Were people encouraging?

Bryant:  On the surface they did ya. I think one of the most sincere persons, I can't say that for all of them, but I certainly say that for ... Alec Moffat was one, when I was having a little tough time in the business there for a while, and Alec Moffat took me aside one day and gave me a damn good talking to. He told me to dig my heels in, and don't pay too much attention to what other people were trying to do to me. I appreciated that very much, I'll always remember that.. Any way he could help me, he did help me, not financially or anything, but he let me know what was going on.

Harkins: In the car markets and the dealerships, was it pretty competitive back then?

Bryant:  Well, ya, there was too many dealers for the population that was here. Sure it was competitive, ya it was hard. One General Motor dealer with two ends of the franchise, a Ford dealer, and a Mercury Lincoln dealer, who was new too, came in around the same time I did, Fred Walls and Son. A town they claimed there was 4300 people living in Prince George, but I'll tell you, you'd sure have to do some head counting to find that many. You could throw a stone across the main street at any time of the day or night, and never hit anybody.

Harkins: What was the main street like back then?

Bryant:  Well, it was board sidewalks and dirt. There was no pavement. No pavement in the residential areas or on the main street, it was all dirt. There was a silent policeman on the corner of George and Third, and you'd have to swing around that to make your left turn and then go back up again. It wasn't there all the time. Dr Eddy Lyons, who was one of the main doctors here at this time, he used to wipe it out about at least once a week. After leaving the office, and had a hard day, used to bend the elbow a little bit I think, and he get a great big (gig?) about a mile long and he wiped it out at least once a week. They finally took it out, I think it came to the point. That was the only light that was burning in the main street in the middle of the night, therewas light on it, just the one light. Amazing, backward, that's the thing. I don't know if the people who grew up here didn't know anything else or what. It was really a backwoods you know. Gee whiz, I went after the City Council, I hadn't been here three months, and I went after the city about their attitudes towards tourism and visitors. It was just non-existent. You couldn't buy a newspaper after 5 or 6:00. There was no drug stores open, no news stands, nothing! Absolutely nothing! The place in darkness. You could understand some of that, pretty low budget, no tax money. The city had no tax money! I don't know if they had $50 000 dollars a year coming in, that'd be about it. Not like today, where they have millions, many millions. The fire department has a bigger budget now by ten times than the city had.

Harkins: When did that start to change? When did you see the change? What brought about the change, where the city started to get progressive and started to change its attitude and its philosophy?

Bryant:  Well it didn't really start to change until they could see it coming. They could see the progress. The lumber industry started to expand firstly. You got better marketers in the lumber business. People like BC Spruce Mills came in, and the Rustads came in, in the late 40's and 50's and started to build the lumber business in a different concept than this area ever knew it. I'm pretty well about right on that. You remember that? Those are the guys who went out and pushed the sales. The BC Forest Service attitude changed too, about that time, changed with the government.

(Another person interjects) If I may interject, I think one of the things and Gordon may agree with me, is when the BCR, the PGE at that time came through in the early 50's that gave us quite a boost in here.

Bryant:  52 ya

Second person again:  People like Frank Jamieson and that gang came in with the construction companies and the Hart Highway went north, that gave us that little boost which we needed along with the lumber, to give us more of a basic. I think that was a lot to do with the economy in Prince George.

Bryant:  It was the market started to expand, that was obvious. They were talking about pulp and paper back in the late 40's too. It just didn't happen in the 50's. Macmillian was in here, had a man in here, and he gave this thing up, he gave this area up. He could have it, but he retrenched out of here, and they've regretted it since then. Probably the country better's off without one person, one huge conglomerate taking over at that time, which they had the capability of doing. It allowed other people, Prince George Pulp and Paper people, and Noranda and those to come in and make their deals with the government. Perhaps he pulled out of it, but that's not the true story, perhaps he pulled out of it, because he couldn't make the right kind of deal with the government for the timber rights. But no, he was market conscious, and he was concerned that he couldn't market all the timber here that was available.

Harkins: One of the issues back then too, and I just wonder if you can recall it, or if you took sides in it. That was the issue that, basically I guess saw the defeat of Jack Nicholson, who was mayor when you were here, and that had a lot to do with the development of the city's own hydro power at Willow River. Do you recall that issue at all?

Bryant:  Oh yes, very much so. Well I was on the side of having it integrated with the BC Power (unintelligible) `cause for the amount of power they could develop out there - you're talking about the Bowron coal - yes, and the Willow River and the hydro - Willow River - and then there was the other one about the Bowron coal, putting a plant on site and feeding it with coal, there were two or three of these proposals. And, in my books, I was sold on BC Hydro sooner or later, and we did get it of course. I was one of the proponents of that project, as you're probably aware. That was one of the things in my term of office, was to get rid of our own power plant and get the thing going. Because the industry needed it, it was obvious they had - you had Prince George Planer Mills having more power than we had in the city, there were (load in the spares and breakdowns to keep our hospital going, that sort of thing. You had another little power plant up at the army site still operating and it cut in once in a while to help the hospital-out when our plants broke down. We had five big thermal units down here at First Avenue, big old engines and they were expensive to run, could break down anytime, and certainly our output wasn't no way that we could keep up with it and the way we were going. Now the Bowron River scheme and also the coal, the other one on the Tabor Coalfields, I think it was Tabor wasn't it, wherever that coal was, (interjection from somebody else) Bowron River (Bryant speaking again) Bowron River coal ya. They had something going for them, but we had no way of financing it, to bring the bulk power in that was needed and to keep up the growth pace that would be necessary. So, I was against it, and I didn't support it. When I had the opportunity of getting into office, city office, then we moved to sell the thing, our plant, which wasn't much, to BC Hydro, which was done.

Harkins: Well the cost of power back then, relatively speaking, was high as the dickens wasn't it. I mean I can recall it being ...

Bryant:  I can recall it was high, because I was running an automobile dealership here at the time, down here, and it doesn't sound like very much money now, but my bill for power was $350.00 a month. Those times, it was just an awful amount of money. That's like $3500.00 a month today. I put in a 5kw diesel plant in the backyard of that dealership to run the lights and the power that we needed, put a diesel plant in there, and had it in there two, three years until the city adjusted the power rate downwards. It was a terrible price for commercial usage. They had no sliding scale. I recall a couple of the old hotel owners here, Ferdesco, Zimmaro, phone me up one day and ask me if they can come over to my office in the garage and asked, "Will you give us the truth about this power plant, how much does it cost you to run. We're thinking of putting them in the hotels." They were being dug into pretty deep with the cost of power through the City Hall. It was terrible. It was terrible. It was fine for you and I burning one light in our house, but anybody who tried to use it commercially, just couldn't make it go. It was just too expensive. So, anyway, they readjusted the rates, and Dezell, who was the mayor of the time, I think it was the early 50's, after Nicholson, and Assman, who was on the council, they started to buy up a few more engines and expand the plant. They also got some advice and structured the rate, so that the more you use, the lesser the costs got. But it was always horrible, the price of it.

Harkins: The 1953 strike had a huge impact on the City, and changed the face of the city didn't it?

Bryant:  Yes, I think it did. I think it made people who probably should have been interested in this situation along time ago more aware that in order to keep the economy going properly, you'd better have a pretty happy work force, that's for one thing, and the conditions for them should change, which it did. It made people more aware, merchants, politicians, and everybody that ... cause it came to life what the conditions were. I doubt we would have (unintelligible) through this long strike, sure it bettered us and all that, but it brought a lot of things to life.

Harkins: Were there any visionaries in this community at the time, that could look down a few years and see what was going to happen, say in the 60's.

Bryant:  Well, that's pretty difficult to rally answer that question. I'm sure there was, but nobody was really active in doing anything. I'm sure that people like Bob Carter who was a planner and headed the Planning Commission before we got professional people to do it. I think that he looked down the line quite a ways. I'm not too sure about ... some of the business people no doubt had some visions, there's no question about that. Moffatts were always progressive at that time, as far as business wasconcerned. Rutledge was a progressive business man. A number of others, they were always looking for something better., and hoping. But I don't know how much were doing that much about it though. Usually, I thought that the Chamber of Commerce was always, and the bankers and so forth, were always trying to promote something different, but there's nobody taking it anywhere. The city didn't take it anywhere. The City Council didn't take anything past the City Council table. Really, they didn't go out and fight and try and work with the Provincial Government to any great degree. Garvin Dezell, was a well respected member of the community, and in fact a good mayor, no question about that, he did a good job. But he did it in his way. If he felt like telling somebody to "Go to Hell," then he told them to "Go to Hell." And, he did it, just he did in the downtown section. "We don't need any of your distress money, how dare you call this area distressed," this sort of thing. We can lift ourselves up our own boot straps.

Harkins: When you got involved in politics now, was this a long deliberation, or was there some specific thing that triggered you and you decided to get involved. What set the scene for your entry into local politics.

Bryant:  Well, I think it was, there wasn't any question, that I had a self-interest, and that is that I had a good sizeable investment in here, in my books anyway, it was a pretty sizeable investment. And, it was doing as well as it should do. I knew that the city was going to grow, somehow or other, despite the City Council or anybody else. I thought that there wasn't much point in me just shooting off my mouth about progress and various other things, unless I really do something about it. And uh, I really went into it and got involved, tried and got lost as an alderman firstly, and then went for the mayor job. But really, to get the city pointed in the right direction . . . that was my ambition to do that and get certain basic things done up at the city and the city hall and that area, and basic things done that would ensure good quality growth. And if we had that, then my business was going to succeed. It's as simple as that. And of course, all my competitors andeverything and companion in business, they're gong to succeed too, it's not just totally for me, but for everything. But I couldn't see it going along too much longer without some total reorganization, some new policies and that was the purpose of it.

Harkins: What year were you elected for mayor?

Bryant:  For the years 54 and 55.

Harkins: Now when you sat in the mayor's chair, what did you set about to achieve?

Bryant:  I set about to do certain things. First of all, was to reorganize the actual government, the bureaucracy itself, in the city hall. Install a city manager plan which Council went for. Hire professional people in the bureau, in the city hall organization, professional or as close as we could get to professional managers, or at least treat `em as such. Professional engineers to do the city's work. We hired the first professional engineers, we hired the first city planners, the first department. We hired an associate engineering company to be a continuing force behind the city engineer. The first city engineer was George Hartford, if you remember. He replaced Charles East. Charles resigned as soon as I an my council went into office. I think it was based on the election promises that we were going to do certain things. So he resigned and moved out. There was the power situation, with BC Hydro. We had to get that going. And generally, review all the land policies the city had and change all that. And start a subdivision program. I was successful in setting up a very good program with the provincial government, because they owned the bulk of the land that was needed for expansion. That was a deal that Bennett and I personally worked out, and it certainly was a great deal, because they got all that money, in that millions dollars in the sale of land grants that they gave to the city, and in lieu of them not developing the land that was next to the city, Central Fort George etc. they hadn't put any decent roads in, they hadn't done anything. So we made that deal and, and ...So, you asked me a question and I hope I've answered it, but the whole thing was based on turning the city around and getting it's nose pointed around in the right direction, so that it could keep pace with the growth that was upon it. And we did, we managed that. And the city has benefited from that ever since, with that basic policy of getting professional people. I wonder sometimes about the city manager file, and I see the mayor today, or he did a few months ago, suggesting a raise from $25 000 to whatever they thought he might get, 50, make it a full time job. But, I was against that proposal, because we do have a City Manager. I'm critical of how they operate the City Manager portfolio mind you, even today, I'm critical of it, because when you hire an executive to do the job, or to carry out your policies, then he should carry them out without question, and not be throwing all the business back into the Council chambers for them to make the decision. This has been going on here for quite a number of years, where it all gets thrown back to the City Council, and they have to mill through it and mill through it like that. If we're going to have a full time mayor and council responsible, then we should fire the City Manager. But that's not really the right way to do it, Bob. The right way to do it is to make them responsible for the authority they have, to make the decisions and the council sets down its policy. Here I am sitting down, talking to an alderman, but that's the way it should be. Put their job on the line, whether its the City Manager or the City Engineer.

Harkins: Gordon it was you that as mayor that gave the fireman a professional look, you were the one who really put them in uniform, weren't you?

Bryant:  Well, that's true. I couldn't ... the fire hall was on George St at that time, right where George and Fourth Avenue, just about in there, about next door to the Prince George Hotel, just an old building with one engine in it. But anyway, I guess they were doing all the job they really needed to do, volunteers and about two or three men maybe, something like that. Anyway, I put them in uniform. I remember August Domberier, his first day out, he took an awful beating walking down George Street in this brand new shiny uniform with the gold braid on it and his captain's epaulettes and so forth. But anyway, he got used to it and everybody was happy about it. I think the citizens liked it, but it's sure cost the city a lot of money since that happened. I'm just looking at the current budget, I don't know what the budget was back then, I forget, but I doubt if it was $75 000 a year, our budget to run that fire department on George Street. I doubt it. Anyway, the current budget is $4, 800 000. So, just last week, a couple of weeks ago I went up to City Hall, and I got a hold of Chester, because I couldn't find the Fire Department budget anywhere else, but in his office. And he said, "what do you want, what do you need that for, are you planning on privatizing the fire department, and I said yes I am." In fact, I'm doing a study on it and I've been studying it for some time. For $4 800 000.00 if I was twenty years younger, I'd be up at City Hall and asking the city for the contract for $3 000 100.00 to save them a million six hundred thousand dollars annually, and make myself a hell of a lot of money. That's the direct result of putting the fire department in uniform some thirty four years ago. They didn't stop just with uniform. You got to have the new fire trucks to go with it, a new fire hall, which we were talking about outside just a few minutes ago, and of course all the pensions and all the upgrading. Now the firemen get to go to the Fireman's provincial conventions and the Firemen's national conventions, so they can go and see how all the other boys are being treated by their cities. So, it was a hell of a mistake.

Harkins: Aaron Thompson was the first City Manager. Can you reflect on Aaron a little bit?

Bryant:  Well, well Aaron was actually ... he wasn't hired as City Manager to start with. He was an accountant type, and he came with good recommendations from the city's accountants and the City Clerk, Mr Williams, David Williams was the city clerk at the time. Things were getting a little busier and Williams needed an assistant, so Aaron came in was recommended and was hired to work with David, Dave Williams. So then when Dave Williams saw fit to leave the services of the city, I'm sorry he left, but he did at that time, there were reasons why he left, which I think' I can talk about. Council adopted the City Manager plan and so we looked around, and we weren't that big yet, and Aaron was the kind of fellow that could get along with the public really well. He got along with all the alderman and the mayor and so forth, and even the employees liked him and all the people he had to work with. So, we thought, okay let's give him a go, and that's what happened. And I think he filled the job pretty well after that. I think he'd have been there, if he hadn't got vicious on the outside, and he had some trouble, private trouble, not necessarily all of his own making either, and he was, he'd probably still be city manager today, quite possible.

Harkins: Now, when you left city hall, did you leave on the basis that you figured you had done what you had set out to do.

Bryant:  Well, I had my own business to look after too, which is difficult. I would have liked to have stayed another couple of years, but nothing had changed, so that was all right. The thing was set down, the programs were set. Now you could go to City Council and get an answer on your zoning, you could get an answer on your engineering problems, any facet of development you could get an answer on. The policy of lots, the residential lot program was set up. The first one we did was in conjunction with CMHC on Hammond, and what do you call that subdivision, (Harkins) Nechako. Nechako Subdivision. That was the first one. The second one was Seymour. These were only possible, made possible because of the deal I made with the provincial government on land assembly. They were only possible, it was the only way to go. You couldn't just hodge-podge things, you had to block by block and extend your services block by block. It was the only way. And it's proven successful. I saw that was well on the way, and I had no reason to think that I "dumped" anything on them. It was there, and it's the same program still in effect.

Harkins: When you got back into the business full time in 1956 and 1957, how was business when you got back?

Bryant:  Well I wasn't too happy with the progress I was making in the automobile business. I was also in the insurance business. It wasn't generally known, but I was in the insurance, Northern Insurance Agencies. About that time, we had just purchased out an old established insurance agency known as Fred Shearer Ltd. So, we had a pretty good thing going there, so I decided to get over there and get into real estate department and development and what not, through that entity. We had the insurance business running, we had set that up ten years before. We had that insurance agency running over there on 3rd Ave.. with Wilson and Muirhead at its helm. So I decided to give up the automobile business. And I did. I leased my premises off to another dealership, and did lease it until just a matter of seven or eight years ago when I sold the buildings. So, I went over to, the insurance agency, which I owned half of along with a Vancouver broker and set up a real estate department in there in 1957. Then we sold that out to BC Land and I went over and established my own real estate office separately. Again, but I was already in it for a few years before I set up my own business. So, I was happy with that business and I liked it, and it was my cup of tea basically.

Harkins: Actually, the appeal real estate business had for you wasn't going out and selling houses one on one. You soon saw the potential and you started to do land assemblies and development, and basically, during those boom years, Gordon Bryant was associated with probably every major commercial real estate assembly and development in the city, weren't you?

Bryant:  Ya, I think so. Not all of them, but the bulk of them, ya.

Harkins: You were associated with Spruceland were you not? What was the attitude then of the downtown people, because here you were, scaring the he- out of them really because you were going to put in some pretty viable competition and bring it out of the downtown area, weren't you?
It must have gotten pretty political?

Bryant:  Oh ya, it was pretty political all the way through, I guess. I don't like to think that my end of it was political. We had a job to do. But the downtown businessman's association was certainly politic on it, no question about that. They were driving the mayors and the aldermen crazy with their terrible problem. They should have looked after their problem a long time ago, of course. You couldn't get anybody in the downtown area to agree on what to do with downtown. They wouldn't say well let's develop our own thing. Even in recent years, you still can't get people to listen to do anything downtown. They want somebody to come in from the wild blue yonder and do it. So, I had a pretty good education being on City Council. That helped me out quite a bit. That helped my find my way. That was the best university I'd been to, because when I had to go back to council I knew how council was thinking. Because, councils all generally think the same: they've got the interest of the taxpayer at heart. They have to answer to the taxpayer. So, when you go before council with a proposition, you'd better have all the answers for each individual member of that council, so he can respond to his inquires from his taxpayers about the propositions.

Harkins: What were some of the other developments you were associated with, and what ones, when you look back, do you take a great deal of pride on?

Bryant:  Well, I like them all. I like the little deal about ... when Kresge's came in, that was one of the first little developments I did. We had to close off a lane. Well, that took the access to City Hall to get that lane closed off. Percy Williams was on the council at that time, and he had an army backed up to it, so we had a little tussle about that, but everybody came out happy. And I liked the next one that came along, the Hudson's Bay Company, we had to close a lane off in behind there. As a matter of fact, I had to, I just, I had to get out of my own building because they were going to tear it down. I didn't own the building, I had a lease on it, the Old Citizen building. I liked that one, that was a downtown move. I didn't have any objections on the downtown merchants on that deal. Another little deal I did with the city there was to create 35' Ave. We had to get better access to the west of the city and to the downtown area, so we took 31 ' Ave and ran it into 5' Ave. and took out some houses, including the City Engineer's Charlee's house. So, I liked all those little jobs. It was like Highland resources, that came along later. We did that job. My partner and I Ken McDermott were up to our boot heels for three quarters of a million dollar, before we took a nickel out of it. Now three quarters of a million dollars is more like a billion today. That was a lot of money. You couldn't talk to a banker for anything over than 10, 15, 20 thousand dollars in those days; they weren't interested in anything over that. But anyway, we managed to get it all together. That was a challenging deal. I had to work in cooperation with the city. But I knew the ground rules before I even paid a nickel for the land, because we were the ones who set them up. All the services had to be put in. That was one of the things we did back in `55. Nobody had a subdivision anymore unless all the services were in and paid for and no local improvement taxes whatsoever. And we don't have them in any of the new subdivisions, no local improvement taxes. Most cities are saddled with, burdened with thatsort of stuff. We weren't, we were in pretty good shape.
Back to shopping centres, that came about, because I made up my mind that, okay we're now in, we're no growing, were going to need shopping centres, houses are going up. I figured if I don't step in and take a piece of the action, somebody from out of town is going to come in and do it for me. So, that's how I got involved there. I put myself up and ... I actually initiated them. I didn't wait for them to come in and knock on my door. I went to Woodwards, I went to other known developers who had some successes in the province. I said, how about it. Could I interest you in coming in and doing something in Prince George, I think there's a need. So you make the proper surveys, economic surveys and the whole thing, and decide that it would be a good thing, and you pick out a piece of land that you felt was viable and cost effective. Then, once you had all your facts together, then you went to the city, not before. We went to city and laid it all out, answer all the questions. Then you get the objections you were talking about, ofcourse. They were pretty hot and heavy. I didn't get through one of those, without somebody trying to upset it, the Shultons or Moffats or somebody. They'd come along. Harold Moffat, atleast he was fair. He'd come out to the public meetings, for the public zoning bylaws. For example, with Spruceland, he put a cheque on the table for $25 000 for the corner lot at 5' and Central, the corner lot. That was the only corner of two or three lots, where there's now a service station, or was, I guess it's still there. Anyway, he sabotaged the whole thing, without the corner lot, we didn't have anything. We couldn't have somebody else shrunk a few lots. But he offered that to the city, The city had the right, through its government connections, which we'd set up a long time ago, to act as an agent for the Crown on that land you see. All of it had to be approved as it went along, but there was never one proposition disapproved. That was the kind of opposition we got. Then we had the brothers go out and try and buy a lot on the other corner. They didn't succeed in, but they tried to buy it. The same with Woodwards. When the downtown boys heard what I was doing there, they went down there seeking options to purchase all those thirty two Italian home sites down there, in that swamp, you remember that ... terrible place. I was down there dealing fairly with those people, when they came in and tried to buy "stuff' in the middle, right in between us. That's how, if you want to call it dirty tricks, that's what they did. In the case of Woodwards, I recognized they were all Italian people, and very good people. We gave them a good deal. What we said, is "okay, how would you like a nice new home up on 15' Ave. or Spruceland, or wherever it was building, a new subdivision anyway. The average price at that time being $17, 18 000 for a home and lot, a good price. So, this is what we offer you, plus another $5000 for displacement." So in the average around $20 000 or $22 000 a piece for each of those junkyards down there. And none of them were worth more than, what $500.00 a piece, if that you know. But anyway, here them downtown boys came and tried to buy up that "stuff' up in the middle. It was organized. It wasn't just somebody trying to make a buck or anything, they were trying to stop it, take a slice out of the middle of your assembly. So one Italian fellow down there, he agreed with me that he would take this money. I went back the next night and he disagreed, and I found out why. So I went back another night and I didn't go to him. They hadn't made him an offer, but he had tried to raise me, you see, raise us. Well we couldn't do that, because we had to treat everybody fairly. And, so I went to one Italian fellow, he was obviously the Godfather down there, no question about it. So I told him the problem. I said I don't think I'm going to be able to buy any of this propertythat I've got the options on now. So, I'd give them some money and an option, provided that I pay them all out, as soon as I get it all in. That's the way it goes. So, he said, "well, who is it?" So, I told him and he said "Come back and see me tomorrow." So, I went back tomorrow night, and he said "Gissepie's [sic] going to sign with you." That finished the downtown boys right now. So, those are the kind of things that happen.

Harkins: Well, Kelfor, Pine Center, must have been an interesting one, because that involved the Golf Club, and you had to do a lot of, sort of adapting there, to put that one together, didn't you?

Bryant:  Ya, yes, it was an ideal location, and a location that I had for many years prior to that, or a good number of years prior to that, always considered would just be a hell of a location for a major centre, but it was turned by Woodwards, it was turned down by the Spruceland developers, eventually. Maybe I was trying to sell it too early, you know. But, Chunky Woodward came up here, along with Grovner and Lang, (part of the company building Woodwards) and they turned it down. Lang was kind of liking the idea, and they turned it down They wanted to be more a part of the downtown, which, that helped the downtown people, even though they did try and sabotage it. They would like to see it right on 3' Avenue. It's unrealistic to think that you're going to do these things these days. Anyway, it was an interesting challenge to get that thing together. And again, we looked for a developer. I had a good friend in Jim Forsythe, `cause Jim was part of that Spruceland development as well. I don't know if you're aware of that or not, but he was. So I had a long association with him. To get 1200 members of that golf club together and sell them a deal, I should have had a (expletives removed) bronze medal for that one, at least a bronze medal. That was something. The politics out there in that golf course, is good riddance! I just sort of walked away from that posse and said, "there's the money, take it or leave it." I couldn't get involved with them, I'd get hashed to death or whatever. They had to hash themselves to death, or whatever, but they got a good deal, ya they got a good deal. A million dollars in one form or another, for their giving it up.

Harkins: Now city hall during this development. There you had a saw. I was covering City Hall at the time ...

Bryant:  Moffat was the mayor at the time, that didn't help.

(Harkins) No, he was going to walk out, there was all kinds of ploys there. But really, you had kind of a split vote there, and you had to swing it one way, and you had one critical vote. And, who was she?Well, I think that that lady, she could always be depended on to do the opposite of what the mayor wanted to do, at any given time. And she, I was going to say, worked under three mayors, or four. But Carrie could be depended upon to vote the opposite to the chair.

(Harkins) That's Carrie Jane Gray, just for the record.

Bryant:  But, I got along very well with her. She never said an unkind word about me particularly, that I could recall. But I treated her right. I was brought up to respect a lady under any circumstances, even a lady politician, treat them properly. I might voice an opinion on her, but in her presence I would always treat her right. I got on the good side of Carrie Jane Gray, because she had been on Council for many, many years before I ever came around. One of the first things I did when I came on Council was to look at the budget. They had proposed the new budget earlier, and then we reviewed it, a new council reviewed it. They do it a little differently now, they get the budget out of the way before a new Council comes in. I see that as a bureaucratic move to do that, because if you get elected thisfall, you don't get to look at the budget until the following year, or pretty close, that's the way it is. Anyway, Dezell had given her menial things to do. He treated her terribly, in my opinion. As an aldermen, he treated her poorly. He didn't give her a chance to do anything to get her name in the paper, or something for her to get her teeth into. So the first thing I did when I got into the city was to look at the budget. And she was in charge of cemeteries, that's her job. And the cemetery was in a hell of a mess. So, I got the budget increased for her, probably by about ten fold. Instead of $350.00 a year, probably stepped it up to about $3500.00 a year. And the only reason I got it past the Council, was I embarrassed the Council by going out and taking pictures of it and throwing it around the table, and saying "this is your cemetery, and this is where your kinfolk, and you are eventually going to end up, what do you think about it?" There were weeds this high. So, I gave Carrie a budget, and she now thinks I'm a great guy, you know. And I gave her more responsibility too. I gave her health, and her and I personally cleaned up, except for doing the shovelling, all those backhouses along 3'd Avenue, every store, including the former Mayor Patterson's had a backhouse behind his store, a privy ya, a privy. Dozens of them up here, as late as the mid 50's. And then Cow Bay, or I call it Cow Bay, down along 15' Ave, 16', there was a whole bunch of bootlegger shacks down there, and they were a hell of a mess too. Guys running out, terrible little shacks for accommodations, so she cleaned that one up. And she was good at it too. She'd walk in and tell some of those old timers what in hell was going one, and just what she was going to do about it, and that was that. So, that answers the question about Carrie Jane and her vote to help the golf course thing.

Harkins: But she was one of the swing votes, wasn't she?

Bryant:  Yup. Well Harold had a tough job, and I can understand him.But Harold finally said, "by God that Bryant beats us all the time, we'd better get him on our side."

Harkins: And he did. So, tell us about that one.

Bryant:  After that, he phone me up one day, and says "you'd better come down here," so I came down and he says "how about doing something for the downtown, instead of all this stuff all around the place. So I said, "do you think downtown's ready, what do you want me to do?" And he said, "Well, we've got to clean up around here, do something, get some activity going, so what do you have in mind?" And I said, "why don't you start first with that deal that Dezell had, going a few years ago." He told both federal and provincial funds to go to hell, because "nobody's going to talk urban renewal in my city, my city doesn't need that kind of money." Dezell said this, the money offered to him, to start an urban renewal project on George Street. Anyway, he turned it down, much to the shigrim of many people at the time, including me. So I said to Harold, "let's get this thing going, we go down there, and we got the old Randy property down there, a couple of lots that we can do something with, we've got the old Ritz-Kifer and all that jazz, there's a good place to start." So we discussed some thoughts around that, and I said "well I'll come back and see you in the next couple of days and I'll give it some thought." So I came back in a few days, and I had some ideas about what I could put together, and I named my terms and conditions and what not, and I ended up with a contract to promote this thing with the city. The contract was for $60 000.00 to pay me if I brought forth within a two year period, a developer who would make a commitment to develop a plan that was suitable and acceptable tothe City of Prince George for that whole block. That was the contract in simple terms. Within one year, I had brought in a developer, I brought in a plan which was acceptable to the city.Mind you, I was reporting to the city every month, so they knew what was going on. Every week there was a council meeting, I had to report in. I had an office in the City Hall up here, and I have the City Hall staff stenographers, and everything, so I worked out of here. So, I contacted my friends and said "what about it?" Before I contact the developer, I have a commitment from the Department of Municipal affairs and the government that we like your idea. Why should we be renting space off from somebody else, when we can be renting off the city and help the city with their urban renewal plans and not have to put up any urban renewal funds. That's a good idea. And they bought that idea. So, that's how the thing got off the ground. So with that, and the government's backing, on the commitment of leasing that whole block in there, the thing was built, it was built you know. I had a little problem. Jeffries can be a little problem. He got a little concerned about ... or whatever happened, I got called into his office one day, and the city solicitors were there, and said what guarantee is this, this is after the thing has all been ... well, I asked for my $60 000.00, and he did want to pay it to me. He said, "well I don't know if the guarantee of these developers is good or not." I said, "you've got an irrevokable letter of credit for I forget how many thousands and thousands of dollars that they would proceed." I think it was about a half a million dollars or something, just to proceed. You've got to have those sorts of things. "Ah well, something still could go wrong." So, I got half the money, and then I just sat on my ass until they paid the other half after it was built, or pretty well built. So that's the way it was done. I think that was one of the more unique developments, and certainly it's a lasting one, it will be there until God knows when. Later, they put the hotel in, and they got in trouble for that. I wasn't part of that, but the developers came back and put a hotel on, and that cost them their shirt. I liked them all, Bob. They were all challenging, and they were all, even the smallest ones, they all represented the challenge of getting the thing done.

Harkins: When you look back, Gordon Bryant has had a pretty substantial and evident impact on this city, really haven't you. Do you take pride in that?

Bryant:  Oh you bet. That's why I'm still here! I live in California half of the time, but this is still my home and I like it.

Harkins: When you drive around town, you see a lot of things that are there, because you put them there.

Bryant:  Well it wasn't all me. It took teamwork. But I think the city itself can take a lot of pride in it, because this city hasn't had the need to cry on Federal and Provincial shoulders near as much as a lot of cities do, not they shouldn't, but they haven't found a need to do it. They kept themselves in pretty good financial shape, they've been able to keep up with the growth situations from time to time. They've been able to wage through the recessionary periods without putting too much charge on them, simply because the city is well planned, both financially, in its fiscal planning and its physical planning. Sure, individual criticism here and there, they're always going to be some. But, it's been well done, and I think every citizen should take pride in that. Some guy with an idea like me can get that done, but then it takes the whole spectrum of civic government and interested citizens to approve of it and to see it through.