Sadness at the passing of Art Cowie

Post by Mike Klassen in


Art Cowie

Sweet, self-centred, visionary, stubborn. Art Cowie was all of those things and much, much more. Art was dead serious when he said to me that city authorities should name a park after him. The Cowie hubris was amazing, but no one was as dogged a defender of innovative planning and bold politics like Art.

With the loss of Cowie, Arthur Erickson and Abraham Rogatnick in the span of one year, Vancouver has lost some of its most original souls in too short a time.

Art was a park commissioner, city councillor, and MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena before famously stepping down for then new leader of the BC Liberal party Gordon Campbell. Art was never far from public life at any time. If there was a political campaign going on, or a gathering of political junkies, you could ALWAYS count on Art being in the room.

Art Cowie's great legacy may not be a city park – although friends may find a small corner of the city erect a bench and plant a few flowers and call it Cowie Park – it may be his insistence that Vancouver allow him to build fee-simple rowhouses.

Art was a fantastic writer, and published many fine and passionate articles on his website. One of his favourite topics was the fee-simple rowhouse. For this kind of housing to exist in the Province of BC legislation is required to allow for a so-called "party wall" or common wall owned by both property owners on each side.

Cowie lobbied for this change, and the first step was to get the City of Vancouver to approve a demonstration project at the corner of 33rd Avenue and Cambie Street. Because of sudden health issues, the project Cowie managed at 33rd & Cambie has stalled. One hopes that Cowie's legacy is honoured with that project being brought to completion.

There are rumours that the Province will be tabling legislation to allow for the common wall needed for fee-simple rowhouses, and that it will be referred to in name as "Art Cowie's act". There is a hint that this might come true, as Premier Campbell sent out this statement on Sunday evening in memory of Art: 

Premier Gordon Campbell issued the following statement today on the death of noted B.C. planner and former Member of the Legislative Assembly Art Cowie.

“Today we say goodbye to a great British Columbian who dedicated himself tirelessly to the betterment of Vancouver and the entire province of British Columbia.

“Art Cowie’s passion for making Vancouver one of the most liveable cities in the world cannot be overstated. From his roles and responsibilities with the Vancouver Park Board to his position as director of the Pacific National Exhibition, Art was resolute in his belief about the importance of making Vancouver and British Columbia a better place for all citizens.

“Art was a successful community and regional planner, landscape architect, former Vancouver Park Board member, Vancouver City Counsellor and MLA who was generous with his time and passionate about his community.

“As MLA for Vancouver-Quilchena from 1991 to 1993, Art was committed to the future and well-being his constituents. His decision to step aside as MLA to give me the opportunity to serve British Columbians in the Legislature is something for which I shall be forever grateful.

“Art Cowie will be truly missed throughout British Columbia. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Art leaves behind his wife Cathy, daughters Lisa and Sharon, step-daughter Corrie and their families.

Read more in the Vancouver Sun, and on Michael Geller's blog.


I have shared a great many personal, professional, business & political adventures with Art Cowie since meeting him in 1970. And, adventures they were. He was a stimulating, enthusiastic & positive individual with great insight & courage. The livable, attractive Vancouver of today is what Art, along with the rest of the TEAM group, helped to form. His vision & talents will be missed but, Vancouver is a better place because of him.

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.

Sorry to hear of Arts passing. From the time we met at Cumbernauld and worked together I have always enjoyed his enthusiasm and energy that he expressed by actually making things come to fruition.

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