Memorable Manitobans: Robert Ashley Steen (1933-1979)
Lawyer, MLA (1966-1969), Mayor of Winnipeg (1977-1979).
Born at Winnipeg on 12 August 1933, son of Manley Roy Steen (1896-1988) and Harryette Ashley (?-1993), brother of Warren Steen, he graduated with a BA from the University of Manitoba and received a law degree from the University of Manitoba Law School. He was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1959 and practiced law until 1976 as a partner in the firm of Forrester, Steen, and Associates.
He was involved in politics from an early age, participating in mock Parliaments as Premier and Speaker of the Manitoba Tuxis and Older Boys’ Parliament. He served in Ottawa as Executive Assistant to Gordon Churchill, Minster of Veterans Affairs in the Diefenbaker Government (1961). In 1966 he was elected Progressive Conservative MLA for St. Matthews, but was defeated in 1969 and 1973.
He then moved into municipal politics, and won by acclamation as Winnipeg City Councillor for Westerminster Ward. He sat first as an Independent. He ran for Mayor in 1977 and was supported by Stephen Juba and Ed Schreyer. In that election, he defeated Bill Norrie by 1,819 votes. The 1977 mayoralty campaign was the focus of a National Film Board documentary, The New Mayor.
He was a member of the Manitoba Centennial Corporation, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, Winnipeg General Hospital Board of Trustees, Misercordia General Hospital Board of Directors (also Chairman), Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg Convention and Visitors Bureau, Joint Inner City Community Winnipeg Policy Commission (Chairman, 1974), President of the Conservative Club of Greater Winnipeg, President of the Manitoba Association of Urban Municipalities (1973-1974), and Executive Member of the Canadian Federation of Mayors and Municipalities (1973-1978). He served on the Advisory Board of the Winnipeg Foundation.
After only two years in office as Mayor of Winnipeg, he died of cancer on 10 May 1979 and was buried in the St. James Cemetery.
“Weddings,” Winnipeg Free Press, 30 December 1961, page 10.
“Steen: man of honor,” Winnipeg Free Press, 11 May 1979, page 3.
Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 9 June 1979, page 59.
Obituary [Manley Roy Steen], Winnipeg Free Press, 26 July 1988, page 35.
Obituary [Harryette Steen], Winnipeg Free Press, 29 July 1993, page C11.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough and Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 1 July 2022