David Searle, former MLA and the first Speaker of the NWT legislative assembly, died at age 84 in North Saanich, B.C. on March 1.
His family recalled his love of the North, as he lived in Yellowknife between 1946 and 1981.
His daughter Kristi Searle, who resides in Vancouver, said in an interview last week that David first came to the North from Edmonton as a 10-year-old in 1946. His father was drawn to work at Con Mine after serving in World War II.
The family was long shaped by the post-war years, she said.
“I think the North was always special to him and to us because that is where it all began and he was there as a little boy,” she said.
“As a young child, they grew up with no running water … in Old Town. They grew up with nothing, and they always made the best of everything.”
Over the years, he took summer jobs at Con Mine to saved money to go to the University of Alberta and attain a law degree in 1961.
He had also joined the Canadian Officers Training Corps and served in the Royal Canadian Army reserve as a military policeman.
In 1963, he co-founded one of the largest law firms in the NWT: de Weerdt Searle.
During the first legislative assembly in 1967, under the government of Commissioner Stuart Hodgson, Searle was elected and served three terms. He became the first Speaker of the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories in 1975.
He ran for federal office as a Liberal candidate in 1979. He lost the seat very narrowly to Dave Nickerson under the newly-elected and short-lived Progressive Conservative government of Joe Clark.
For many years he was also the president of the Northwest Territories Law Society, which he founded in 1978, sat on several corporations and community organizations and served as a lawyer for the development of the NWT diamond mines in the ’90s.
Searle moved to Vancouver in 1981 and worked as a lawyer for major law firms Davis & Company and Fasken, Martineau, Dumoulin until his retirement in 2006.
He was also an adjunct professor with the University of British Columbia faculty of law from 1991 to 2004.
Searle’s first wife Dorelle passed away 27 years ago and he married Celia Stock (formerly Asselin) in 2000.
Among the favourite memories Stock had of David’s life was in the formation of the diamond mine industry and the opening of Canada’s first diamond mine, BHP’s Ekati diamond mine.
“David was a significant player in the development of the laws and the government in the Northwest Territories and also in the diamond mines because he was an external general counsel for BHP Billiton, and he conducted all of the economic benefit agreements and negotiations with First Nations,” Stock said. “So he was really quite integral and critical to the opening of Canada’s first diamond mine.”
In April 2000, Searle was awarded the Order of Canada and was recognized for his leadership roles as Speaker and lawyer. He was also acknowledged for being the first president of Scouts Canada in the region and for organizing outings where he “acted as a father figure to countless boys.”
“The Order of Canada is one of the highest awards you can get in Canada and it was a huge honour and something my dad always wore very proudly,” Kristi said.
Frederick Blake Jr., current Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, issued a statement on March 4 to express condolences in light of Searle’s death.
“Mr. Searle was the first person to fill the role of Speaker for our legislative assembly, so naturally his performance set a high standard for Speakers to come. He worked hard to keep decorum in the House and paved the way for what the role came to mean in a consensus system of government,” Blake Jr. stated. “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr. Searle.”
Searle is survived by brother Wayne, his wife Celia, daughter Kristi and stepsons Edouard and Nicolas, as well as eight grandchildren.
He is predeceased by his first wife Dorelle and son Marc.