Malcolm Alexander MacLean

[b. Aug. 14, 1842, township of Cornaigbeg on the island of Tiree, Scotland; arr. Vancouver 1885; d. Apr. 4, 1895, Vancouver.]

Though the man who was to be first mayor of Vancouver had only recently moved from Winnipeg and had to be persuaded to run, he grew into his role and established the office of mayor with a combination of pioneer spirit and distinction. MacLean, a realtor, was practically unknown to voters in Vancouver’s first election, but he presented himself well, had travelled widely and was not Richard H. Alexander, MacLean’s only opponent.

Alexander was the unpopular manager of the Hastings Sawmill, the biggest employer in Granville. The city’s first election was as honest as could be expected for the time, which is to say, not very. There was chicanery on both sides. MacLean won by 17 votes and “people were so elated that they took him in a buggy and hauled him all over what there was of the little town.”

Less than a month later the Great Fire of June 13, 1886 destroyed most of Vancouver. Mayor MacLean lost all his possessions, but plunged into organizing relief efforts and distributing rations sent from New Westminster. It became obvious he was willing and able to guide the citizens through the crisis. After the initial shock of the fire, MacLean called council together in a tent at the northeast corner of Carrall and Water Streets, and resumed the direction of civic affairs “without five cents in the bank, without an assessment roll and without even a chair to sit upon.” Challenges to his mayoralty were dropped and he went on to win the next election fair and square.

Just one year after the Great Fire, MacLean greeted the first train and the first steamship into Vancouver on behalf of its proud citizens.

For more read his entry in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography

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