The Saanich Peninsula and Greater Victoria communities are mourning the sudden death of former MLA Clive Tanner, who helped transform Sidney and the region through his extensive public service and professional career in the book-selling industry.
“Clive was a giant in our community for some 40 years,” said Sidney Mayor Cliff McNeil-Smith, a close personal friend of Tanner and colleague on countless community boards. “He had an enormous passion for Sidney and the area. While he was successful in different businesses, he gave a huge amount of his time to the boards of innumerable community organizations. I really learnt the meaning of community involvement through working with Clive and others on community boards. Clive wanted to see individuals succeed to their absolute full potential.”
McNeil-Smith said Tanner showed great interest in people from all walks of life. “He could and would cajole, provoke and debate and ultimately inspire people in ways that helped yourself become a better person,” said McNeil-Smith. “Sidney is a better place because of Clive Tanner. I’m a better person from the time that we had together and he will be dearly missed by his family, my wife and I, and many, many others.”
Tanner died on Sept. 9, at the age of 88 in his home in Sidney, where he has lived for some four decades. He leaves behind his wife Christine, whom he married in 1961, three children (Rebecca, Peter and Marc Tanner), six grandchildren, countless friends and a legacy of local service that saw him serve and support multiple organizations whose very presence has come to define the Saanich Peninsula. They include, among others, the Sidney Business Improvement Association, Shaw Centre for the Salish Sea, Sidney Museum and Archives and Mary Winspear Centre.
He also spoke for the people of the region as the first elected MLA for the newly-created riding for Saanich North and the Islands between 1991 and 1996, after having served as the minister of health in Yukon’s territorial government during the 1970s.
Tanner, who was born on Jan, 7. 1934 in the Greater London area, first came to Canada as a child evacuee during the Second World War, then permanently shortly after he had completed his service in Royal Marines in the 1950s.
Tanner made his professional mark in the book-selling industry, where he worked for some 50 years. Perhaps his most immediately visible legacy in that industry remains Tanner’s Books, which he and his wife founded in 1982 after moving to Greater Victoria from the Yukon.
“We bought the business when it was just a small little corner thing,” said Christine Tanner. “We always thought that Sidney needed a good book store because we used to like the ones in Victoria. So we thought we will make it go.”
That love continues to live on through the used book store Beacon Books and of course, Tanner’s Books, which McNeil-Smith purchased in 2001 after having worked in the industry for a national book retailer.
“It was just a very unique experience to see community so front and centre … and I learnt that early on working through the book store,” McNeil-Smith said. “It was a great introduction to the community and one thing led to another and that is how we got involved in community organizations.”
Tanner, for example, had been pushing for what would become the Sidney Business Improvement Association in the 1990s, well before its actual creation 2012. “He never gave up on a good idea,” McNeil-Smith said. “He had big ideas and always found ways to forward them.”
Perhaps the best idea was the concept of marketing Sidney as Booktown, a concept launched in 1996 and modelled after Hay-on-Wye, England, a town of 1,800 people with 40 bookstores. “They (the Tanners) said, ‘why can’t we do this in Sidney? At one time, we had 12 different bookstores under 12 different names under several different owners. Some people thought Clive owned most of them.”
Local retail expert Richard Talbot, who also knew the Tanners well, said Sidney was very much in what he called the “doldrums” before the Tanners arrived.
“The concept of Booktown really put a whole shot in the arm in downtown Sidney and it gave us some focus,” said Talbot. “He was very much a mover and shaker in the revitalization of downtown Sidney and making it attractive to not just the local trading area, but well beyond.”
Talbot also remembers Tanner as a passionate person. “You couldn’t get out of that store (Beacon Books) without having an endless conversation about politics, downtown, military history, whatever,” he said. “He was always very attentive and very interested in everybody and what they were doing.”
McNeil-Smith sees Tanner’s legacy through the stores that he created but perhaps more importantly, his genuine community involvement that has improved the quality of everybody. “From when Clive and Christine came to Sidney in the early 1980s, Sidney has come a long, long way.”
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