Memorable Manitobans: Peter Ferguson Copland Byars (1910-1967)
Peter Byars was typical of people who are attracted to municipal governance. Selfless to a fault, sociable, and at ease speaking with anyone about anything at any time, he was known throughout Manitoba as “Mr. Municipality.” Born in Hamilton, Scotland in 1910, he emigrated to Canada at the age of 18, working at several jobs ranging from boilermaker’s assistant to bank clerk. In the 1930s, he was employed at a branch of the Bank of Nova Scotia in northern Saskatchewan. When he asked his employer’s permission to marry—a mandatory requirement at the time—and was refused, he resigned and took a job as Secretary-Treasurer of the Rural Municipality of Cory, now annexed into the City of Saskatoon.
At the outbreak of the Second World War, he enlisted in the Canadian army then transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force where he taught municipal administration at the Royal Military College in Kingston before shipping out to Europe, where he rose to the rank of Wing Commander. After VE Day, he applied his municipal experience as military governor of two counties in Germany then, in 1946, he returned to Canada and subsequently brought his wife and young family to East Kildonan, where he became municipal Secretary-Treasurer.
He attended the first annual convention of the Manitoba Urban Association, precursor of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, in 1950 and he later prepared a brief to the provincial government, on behalf of the MUA, which led to establishment of the Manitoba Provincial-Municipal Committee, and his appointment as a member of its research subcommittee. Byars was also an active participant on a subcommittee charged to look at local government in the Greater Winnipeg area, for which the group studied the metropolitan areas around Montreal, Toronto, Windsor, and Ottawa. The committee’s findings were eventually turned over to the Greater Winnipeg Investigating Commission of 1955 whose deliberations culminated (many years later) in the formation of Unicity. In 1957, Byars was on hand to celebrate the incorporation of East Kildonan as Manitoba’s sixth city, joining Brandon, Portage la Prairie, St. Boniface, St. James, and Winnipeg. An account in the Western Municipal News observed that:
An early-riser who often worked until long after midnight, Byars nevertheless had time for recreation, owning a family cottage at Victoria Beach, and indulging a passion for golf and curling. In 1950, he helped to found the Rossmere Golf and Country Club.
By 1961, when Byars was recruited to be City Manager for Halifax, he was serving as a member of the Civil Service Board, the Manitoba Hospital Council, and the Manitoba Municipal Enquiry Commission. Among the many accolades tendered on his departure, the City of Winnipeg made Byars an honorary citizen, and the Manitoba government invested him as a Scout in the Order of the Buffalo Hunt. After six productive years in Halifax, he was courted by the City of Edmonton and offered the position of City Manager and was hired confidentially pending notification of his employers in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, his appointment was released prematurely to the press, and in the aftermath, Byars refused the job. He died of a heart attack four months later, known to the end as a man of integrity and passion for municipal affairs, and a proud Canadian.
He is commemorated by Byars Bay in Winnipeg.
“Mr. Municipality moves to Halifax,” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 February 1961.
We thank Nigel Byars and Grace (Byars) Opseth, children of Peter Byars, for additional information used here.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 4 November 2017