John Parker, former NWT commissioner and YK mayor, dead at 91

Former NWT commissioner John Parker, a leading political figure in the territory for decades, has passed away at the age of 91.

Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr confirmed Parker’s passing in a statement read to the legislature on Wednesday. He passed away on March 9 in British Columbia, where he was living.

Born in 1921 in Didsbury, Alberta, Parker came north in 1954. A decade later, he was elected Yellowknife’s mayor.

By 1967, Parker had been appointed deputy commissioner of the territory under Stuart Hodgson. Both, as was the custom at the time, held cabinet positions alongside the NWT’s executive council.

Appointed Commissioner of the Northwest Territories in 1979, Parker was the last commissioner to act as a leading political figure with day-to-day power in the NWT. At the time, the balance of power was slowly changing to allow for elected members to represent the people.

Tony Whitford, who held the post of commissioner from 2005 to 2010, told NNSL Parker had been instrumental in transforming the role from that of a decision-maker to a more ceremonial custodian of the territory.

“It had lots and lots and lots of power,” said Whitford, “but he surrendered that power to the elected members.”

By 1989, when he stepped down three years after becoming an Officer of the Order of Canada, Parker’s role was greatly reduced.

“I remember the move,” Whitford continued. “He left the chair … and then he sat in the gallery for a short period of time and months or weeks.

“Then he made the decision to leave the chamber completely so that there was no influence, or a situation where MLAs could see their boss there.”

Parker served many roles on boards and helping associations after his retirement, working with the likes of the NWT Power Corporation, Conference Board of Canada, the Canadian Red Cross, and the Institute for Research on Public Policy.

He chaired the Science Institute of the Northwest Territories and was a director of the Arctic Institute of North America.

In the legislature on Wednesday, Blake led a moment of silence in tribute to Parker.

“John Havelock Parker contributed significantly to the social, economic, and political development of the Northwest Territories,” Blake told colleagues beforehand.

“In 1986, M. Parker devolved the responsibility from the Commissioner’s Office to the Legislative Assembly. What we now know as the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly is a testament to his vision, hard work, and dedication.”

Blake continued: “On behalf of this House, I send our sincere condolences to his wife Helen, his children, and grandchildren. He will be greatly missed, and his contribution to the development of this territory can never be forgotten.”