Pioneer, Former Mayor Mourned
Article from Prince George Citizen, written by Bernice Trick, April 1, 2009
Former mayor Harold Moffat died Tuesday in Rotary Hospice House following a lengthy illness. He was 93.
Mr. Moffat was elected mayor in late 1969 and served until 1978, when he retired from politics. But he remained busy with family, his beloved coffee gang, his love of horses, the debate he encouraged daily at Northern Hardware, and the community that he played such a vital role in developing.
His family's Northern Hardware and Furniture Co., recognized far and wide for its uniqueness, is still known for its motto, "If we don't have it, you don't need it."
A funeral service will be held Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. at Knox United Church.
He is survived by Helen, his wife of 70 years, son Ted, and daughters Marilyn and Valerie, all of Prince George, brothers Donn, John and Corky, sisters Betty and Joyce, seven grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
Mr. Moffat was born at his South Fort George home in September 1915, the year the city was incorporated and, fittingly, he died on the day the Northern Hardware reached 90 years in business. He was born to Northern Hardware co-founder Alex Moffat and Emma, his mother, who died when Harold was six. Mr. Moffat became part of a much larger family when Alex married Florence, and six brothers and three sisters were born. He attended Central Fort George elementary school, and graduated in the class of 1934 from Baron Byng high school.
During his years as mayor, Mr. Moffat was keen on keeping the city competitive in terms of investments, and ensuring the community was safe and an affordable place to live. During his mayoralty he saw the oil refinery and Prince George pulp mill added to the city's tax base, and experienced some exciting changes in growth. The first parkade was built downtown, and an amalgamation referendum in 1975 pushed the city borders farther afield to encompass areas like Hart Highway, College Heights, South Fort George and Blackburn as part of the city. He was also a driving force in the development of the Plaza 400 complex. His approach was a "let's get on with it" attitude. "I don't even look at the Municipal Act unless I think it might do something for me. I fly by the seat of my pants; you get into a lot of theory and bickering while years go by and we're not accomplishing what we should be," he once said.
Mr. Moffat's community pride and spirit started long before he became mayor. He served 23 years on as a School District 57 school trustee from 1943 to 1966, serving as chairman for three years. It was during his service that Prince George secondary school, with a trades component he envisioned as the forerunner of a college, and dormitories for out-of town high school students were established. In 1963 his vision was realized and he was a driving force in establishing a college program that was to become the College of New Caledonia. Mr. Moffat was named by the province to serve on its first governing council in 1967.
Between his years on the school board and his mayoralty years, he served as chair of the city's Industrial Development Commission.
- by Valerie Giles, Ph.D.
Harold Moffat – Principled, Noble, Honest and True
The very first Remembering…column, published in the Prince George Citizen on Saturday, February 7, 1998 was about Harold Moffat. It was entitled “The value of a dollar and the joy of work” and was my attempt to explain how this principled man lived his life and ran his business. The sidebar heading was “Harold Moffat: he’s enjoying each day and loves to work. We might wonder how he got that way.” I then proceeded to describe family life in his childhood. It is generally acknowledged that to understand the man, one must first understand the child.
I knew about Harold Moffat by reputation before I moved to Prince George. The writer and astute observer of human nature, Paul St. Pierre, had told me that I would never understand the heart and soul of Prince George until I met and talked with Harold Moffat. When I finally had the privilege of meeting him, I became determined to write his story. It took a lot of convincing, but he finally agreed to let me interview him. The result was the book “Harold Moffat and The Northern Hardware: Prince George Icons.” Writing that book was a joy and a labour of love for me. I have such profound respect for the person, his values, and the way he lived his life.
Everyone who ever encountered Harold experienced meeting a true character. Direct and honest in his opinions, he was a man of his word. He managed The Northern Hardware according to the business ethics taught by his father and company founder, Alex Moffat. Through the decades he quietly extended credit or made cash loans to people who otherwise would have been turned away by the banks. He happened to be an excellent judge of character and everyone he ever helped eventually came in to pay back the store.
Admittedly, he held some controversial opinions. Those who engaged him in debate or lively conversation would quickly find out his reasoning. He was, after all, a creature of his era and was true to those old-fashioned principles that were all about fairness, honesty and knowing that one’s reputation counted for everything.
In addition to the dedication to customer service, people shopped at The Northern to experience Harold Moffat. Until the last few years, he worked full days, holding forth at the back counter. Friends and customers knew to find him there and that there would always be an entertaining discussion going on. The truth is, he loved to “stir the pot” and some of the best exchanges and most quotable remarks were those conversations over that counter. If you paid close enough attention, you could detect the twinkle as he provoked people to join in.
Harold Moffat lived as an exemplary community-minded citizen. In addition to the contributions made through his business life, he served nearly a quarter century on the school board and almost a decade as Mayor.
Born the same year that Prince George became a city (1915), Harold Moffat grew up with the city and could remember seeing people ride horses down Third Avenue when it was little better than a dirt road. I think it is fair to say that he loved his family, his horses and his business – and probably in that order!
1 April 2009
Dr. Giles is a Prince George-based writer and researcher.
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