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Obituary - David Searle

David Harry Searle, CM, QC passed away March 1st, 2021 at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. He was in his 85th year and had been battling cancer for 5 years. 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.
He is survived by his wife, Celia Stock, daughter Kristi, brother Wayne (Irene), stepsons Edouard (Shantelle) and Nicolas (Amy) Asselin, and eight grandchildren (Makena, Kai, Dax, Samuel, Madeleine, Gabriel, Pierre and Claire). His first wife, Dorelle, and son Marc (Lisa) predeceased him.
David was born in Edmonton in 1936 but moved to Yellowknife with his family in 1946. He always considered himself a northerner and ‘Yellowknifer’. He and his brother Wayne worked at the Cominco (the Con) gold mine in high school. They both attended the University of Alberta where David joined the Canadian Officers Training Corps and served in the Royal Canadian Army reserve as a military policeman.
After receiving his law degree in 1961, he co-founded what became the largest law firm in the Northwest Territories (NWT): de Weerdt Searle. He practiced law in the NWT until 1981 and served as a Crown Attorney until 1967. He was the founding President of the Law Society of the NWT in 1978. Throughout his legal career David hired and mentored many articling students and young lawyers, all of whom went on to legal careers and many to positions on the Bench.
David and his family moved to Vancouver in 1981. He became a partner with the firm Davis & Company where he worked until 2001. He then joined Fasken, Martineau, Dumoulin until his retirement in 2006. From 1991 to 2004, he was an Adjunct Professor at the UBC Faculty of Law where he taught graduate courses in environmental law. Being David, he did not really retire, but rather decided to continue service to the government of BC as a Member of the Environmental Appeal Board, the Forest Appeals Commission, and Vice-Chair of the Oil and Gas Appeals Tribunal (2004 – 2018).
David had a concurrent political career. He was first elected to the NWT Legislative Assembly in 1967, serving for 12 years. He became its first elected Speaker on May 1, 1975. He used to say, “I am the only Speaker of the House in Canada who is also called Ewokti.” He was instrumental in bringing a representative, fully elected government to the area, and in the devolution of federal power to the NWT, leading to more democratic representation.
In the corporate world, David was a Director on the Boards of corporations such as Pacific Western Airlines, BHP Billiton, NorthwesTel and Alexco. He played a critical role in the diamond industry in the NWT and was a major contributor to the opening of BHP’s Ekati diamond mine, the first diamond mine in Canada.
David was actively involved in Scouts for over 40 years, and he was the first President of Scouts Canada in the NWT. He played a large role as a cub, scout, ranger and rover leader. He was also a member of the Scouts Canada Foundation. In 2004, David was honoured to be awarded the Silver Wolf (the highest Scouting honour) by Scouts Canada “for service of the most exceptional character to Scouting”. Through his involvement with Scouts Canada, David was a mentor and father figure to countless boys, including his long-time friend, lawyer Jeff Echols.
In 2000, in recognition of his accomplishments in the North and for his sustained devotion to Scouting, David was appointed a member of the Order of Canada.
A man of uncompromising moral and ethical principles, David led by example. He imparted his values to family, friends, colleagues, democratic institutions and ultimately, to his beloved Canada. Whether his family welcomed his advice or not, he always emphasized the value of a “full, hard day’s work”, something that will never be forgotten by those who knew him.
David was a renowned raconteur, bon-vivant, and a generous soul with a great sense of humour. He loved gardening and was a rose specialist. In Sidney and North Saanich, David was known for riding his Ural motorcycle with his standard poodle Coco in the sidecar. He loved entertaining at his home, organizing family events and travelling. Although he travelled to many places, he spent a lot of time in Maui with his family who will always fondly remember these experiences.
Our family extends many thanks to all the VIHA doctors, nurses and care team who helped David. Because of the pandemic, we will hold a celebration of life for David later this year.