The NWT’s first elected speaker – a lawyer and politician who was said to have been instrumental in bringing a representative, fully elected government to the territory – has passed away.
David Harry Searle died on Monday at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital in British Columbia, according to an obituary published online by Kristi Searle, his daughter.
Searle was 85. He had been living with cancer for five years.
“David was a renowned raconteur, bon-vivant, and a generous soul with a great sense of humour,” his daughter wrote.
“We have lost a shining light and a great Canadian whose legacy to the North is massive and enduring. An architect of fully representative government, his visionary work helped shape the contemporary Northwest Territories.”
Searle was born in Edmonton in 1936 and moved to Yellowknife with his family in 1946 but “always considered himself a northerner and Yellowknifer,” his daughter recalled. She told Cabin Radio he was raised in Old Town in a Con Mine house with no running water.
Searle later worked at the mine in high school and went on to attend the University of Alberta.
Receiving his law degree in 1961, Searle established his law practice in Yellowknife in 1963 with Justice Mark de Weerdt. He also served as a Crown prosecutor and practised law in the NWT until 1981. During that time, he served as the first president of the Law Society of the NWT.
Searle was first elected to the NWT Council, the precursor to the Legislative Assembly, in 1967. He served on the council and assembly for 12 years and became the first elected speaker in May 1975.
In 2000, Searle was appointed a member of the Order of Canada for his role in shaping the government of the NWT, including bringing a representative, fully elected government to the area and helping to devolve federal powers to the territory.
“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,” current Speaker of the House Frederick Blake Jr said in a statement.
“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. Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mr Searle.”
Searle was an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Law from 1991 to 1996 and 1997 to 2004. After retiring, he became a member of the Environmental Appeal Board and the Forest Appeals Commission, and vice-chair of the Oil and Gas Appeals Tribunal in BC.
During his time in the North, Searle sat on many boards including the Board of Trade and the Yellowknife District Hockey Association.
He was the first president of Scouts Canada in the NWT and, in 2004, was awarded the Silver Wolf “for service of the most exceptional character to scouting” by Scouts Canada.
Searle’s daughter described him as “a man of uncompromising moral and ethical principles” who led by example. She said he loved entertaining, travelling, and gardening – he was a rose specialist – and was known for riding his Ural motorcycle with his poodle, Coco, in the sidecar.
She told Cabin Radio he was a “larger than life force” and many people in the NWT have reached out since hearing of her father’s passing.
“He’s touched so many people through his career, and through his volunteer work and just being a family person,” she said.
“The stories are amazing that have been coming out and that’s probably the most beautiful part is that, my dad was a story teller, but for us, it gives us so much comfort to relive those stories.”
Searle is survived by his wife Celia Stock, daughter Kristi, brother Wayne (Irene), stepsons Eduoard (Shantelle) and Nicolas (Amy) Asselin, and eight grandchildren. He was predeceased by his first wife Dorelle and son Marc (Lisa).
Flags at the NWT Legislative Assembly have been lowered to half-mast in recognition of Searle’s passing.
Due to the ongoing pandemic, a celebration of life will be held later this year.