Dr. Howard McDiarmid……
Have you ever heard that name? (Scottish). No?
Dr. McDiarmid was a real character.
He was born and raised
on the Canadian prairie
and he spent most of his adult life
on the west coast of Vancouver Island
in British Columbia
where he was the driving force
behind the creation of
the beautiful Pacific Rim National Park
which was opened in 1971.
Here is a photo , from the Globe and Mail,
of Dr. McDiarmid.
He is described as … having a round face,
with a ready smile…… and prominent ears,
a rascally sense of humor,
and he was a good story teller.Howard met his future wife, Lynn, in Winnipeg ,
while he was going to medical school there
and she was a nurse working there.
However, a challenge
to their developing relationship arose
when, despite her affection for good old Howard
Lynn decided to get out of Winnipeg,
and go to Bermuda to work.
Anyone who has been to Winnipeg in the winter
can understand why she might have done that.
So while he was still doing his internship
in Vancouver by now
Howard travelled to Bermuda
to continue the courtship.
As he later recounted:
“One afternoon we were sitting on a hill in Bermuda
overlooking Hamilton Harbour
the beautiful blue ocean ..
contrasting with the colourful pastel houses,
sailboats bobbing in the wind,
which prompted me to say to Lynn,
‘Let me take your away from all of this!’”
And amazingly, two days later,
Lynn accepted his proposal.
Dr. McDiarmid started his practice in the 1950’s
on the west coast of Vancouver Island
in the small logging village of Tofino
and he divided his time between there
and Ucluelet, which is a small fishing village
30 miles to the south.
He must have driven the coastal road
which connected the two villages,
many times, so he had a constant view
of magnicent old growth rainforest
on one side of the road,
and the white sands of Long Beach
and the Pacific Ocean….on the other.
This apparently had quite an effect on him,
because early on in his career
Howard got the idea
that the area should be preserved
as a National Park on the Pacific Rim,
So, with that in mind, in 1966
he contested his first general election
as a member of the Social Credit Party.
The NDP had reigned supreme
there for many years
so the doctor’s prospects seemed rather poor.
However, the local Socreds raised $18k,
a lot of money at that time
and they spent it all…
free salmon barbecues,
meet and greets for workers finishing their shifts.
No beer parlour in the area was safe
from the doctor and his campaigners.
On election day, they even hired an aircraft
to fly over the polling booths
trailing a sign reading:
“Stay on Top: Vote McDiarmid.”
The result was that Howard
won the contest by a good majority.
Now, Howard’s wife did not approve
of his political career.
Nevertheless, he had now entered
the blood sport of
the British Columbia politics of the time
and he went on to serve two terms
in the provincial legislature
under the leadership of W. A. C. Bennett…
Howard managed to make friends
on both sides of the aisle.
because he found his political niche,
somewhere between the right and the left.
He became known, paradoxically, as
the “middle of the road….. maverick”…
the McDiarmid paradox….
“middle of the road….maverick.
One issue that the good doctor
rather astutely became associated with
early on in his political career
There were many abstainers in the ruling Socred party
and Premier Bennett himself was a teetotaller,
but Doctor McDiarmid had Scottish ancestors,
and he enjoyed a wee drink from time to time.
At one point in the legislature
he made an impassioned speech
on behalf of fellow drinkers,
and after that he became known as
“the drinking man’s friend”,
as well as the “middle of the road maverick.”
Both of these qualities
seemed to play well with the B.C. voters.
There was a comical postscript
to this speech on the merits of alcohol
when Howard was caught drinking a beer
in public at a beach party.
He was arrested, and charged by the RCMP.
The timing was bad….
his campaign for re election was underway,
but the judge dismissed the charge,
and the good doctor got himself
re-elected …. for a second term.
However Dr. McDiarmid’s main goal as a legislator
was not the promotion of alcohol,
but rather the preservation
of his beloved Long Beach
as a federal Park.
As he noted in another speech in the House ,
as it was, each summer “7000 campers
were….defecating…… micturating….. and copulating
amidst the splendours of the area.
He thought something should be done about it.
But he had to serve 3 years on the government benches
before he got his first face to face meeting
with Premier Bennett.
and when he finally got that meeting
he used it to press his case for the Park,
as well as for improvement of
the cross island mountain road
which would give access to the park.
His timing was good.
An election was approaching.
Premier Bennett asked, how much?
The doctor said…. $2.3 million.
The Premier got on the phone
to the deputy minister of highways.
There was a short conversation,
and while the official was still on the phone,
Bennett turned to McDiarmid and said,
“The Treasury Board has approved it.
You shall have your park.”
Government was very efficient back then.
The Pacific Rim National Park was opened in 1971
and of course Howard attended the dedication,
and then the next year, 1972,
he decided to take on other challenges.
He moved south, to Victoria, B.C .
He ran again there, in the next election,
but he was defeated
as part of the NDP sweep
which saw Dave Barrett
put Wacky Bennett out of business.
So ironically, when McDiarmid’s cross island highway
was completed later that year
the official ribbon-cutting ceremony
was presided over, not by McDiarmid,
but by the new local NDP member,
which must have rankled a little
with the fellow who started the whole thing.
However, McDiarmid had the last laugh:
he later returned to the area
to build the beautiful Wickaninnish Inn resort
which opened in 1996.
Dr. Howard McDiarmid was a great character.
He died in Victoria, British Columbia
in August of this year.