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William Arthur Pritchard

Reeve of Burnaby: 1930-1932
Councillor: 1928-1930
Awarded Freeman Status: July 7, 1975 (Presentation Made July 21, 1975)

Freemen - William Arthur Pritchard

Throughout the 1920s and into the 1930s, a financial crisis was looming within the Municipality of Burnaby. Although precipitated by a worldwide Depression, in Burnaby the situation was made acutely worse because of the unique characteristics of the community’s development which saw a small population base unable to raise enough tax dollars to support even the most meagre standard of living for the majority of the citizens. It is not surprising then that it was at this juncture of development when so many in the city were unable to support themselves, that the Burnaby voters decided to call upon the leadership of a labour hero like William Arthur Pritchard to help agitate for change on behalf of the working class.

William “Bill” Arthur Pritchard was born on April 3, 1888 in Salford, England, the son of a miner and factory worker. In May 1911, Bill moved to BC and within a week of arriving became an active member of the Socialist Party of Canada. From 1914 to 1917, he served as editor of the Western Clarion – the SPC newspaper. He became such a well-known socialist figure that when he travelled to Winnipeg to participate in the General Strike in 1919, he was one of only seven people arrested and imprisoned for his participation in the event despite the fact that he was in no way directly involved in its planning or development.

In 1922, Bill and his family settled in North Burnaby in the Capitol Hill District. Almost immediately after his arrival, Bill began to advocate for change and a planned development scheme in the city that heretofore had been left to grow unchecked into what he referred to as a “scramble of residences and businesses without a proper system of roadways and other services.”

Persuaded to run for Council in 1928, Bill was elected as Councillor and served in that capacity until 1930, at which point he ran successfully for the position of Reeve – a post he held until the end of 1932. One of Reeve Pritchard’s highest priorities while in office was to attempt to provide work for as many unemployed as possible all the while trying to elicit more support from the provincial and federal governments – both of which he felt were failing to live up to their responsibilities in regards to unemployment relief. Bill was a strong advocate of the belief that relief work should be more than just “make work” projects and instead focused the labour on projects that would see a comprehensive development scheme for Burnaby – including planned sewers, roads and water supply.

Despite Bill’s best efforts, however, Burnaby was forced into receivership and at the end of 1932, a Provincial Commission stepped in to take over the governance of the city. Reeve Pritchard, having done all he could as a champion of the unemployed, stepped down as Reeve but left behind an undeniable legacy of courage and determination. He was rewarded for his enormous contributions to the city in 1975 when he was chosen to be made a Freeman of Burnaby.

William Pritchard died on October 23, 1981.

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