Bill McRae at the cenotaph in front of city hall on Remembrance Day 2017. (File photo)

Flags lowered in honour of the late Bill McRae

Community leader, businessman passed away July 9

Flags were lowered in front of city hall late last week in memory of City of Terrace Freeman Bill McRae who passed away July 9. He was 96.

McRae will be remembered as a person who put a firm stamp on the city during his decades of business and public involvement.

He was one of a core group in the 1950s to buy property as the location for a modern hospital, an action which helped an intensive lobbying effort and which bore fruit with the opening of Mills Memorial Hospital in 1961.

Within the business community, McRae was part of the founding of Skeena Sawmills, becoming its managing director in 1960, a position he held until 1981.

McRae was also on city council in the 1960s and in 1989 was named a Freeman of the City of Terrace, a designation that notes an individual’s civic and other accomplishments. Just five people have so far been honoured in this fashion.

Born in Smithers on Jan. 7, 1924, William Hugh (Bill) McRae worked in mining and in forestry as a young man before enlisting in the army during the Second World War and being posted to England to serve with the Canadian Scottish Battalion.

That battalion was one of the Canadian units to storm Juno Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944 with McRae, in a 2019 interview in The Terrace Standard, describing the assault as: “You don’t know what’s going on around you and you don’t question why, you just do or die.”

By the end of that day, just 19 of the 45 men in his platoon were accounted for.

In 1948 McRae moved to Usk to help run his father’s store and the post office. With it having the only phone in that area, he soon met Helene Adams who would need the phone while helping father Dick run his business.

The pair married in 1951 and had five children. McRae, after the store burned down in 1951, joined his father-in-law in the Adams Lumber Company. With that mill becoming obsolete in the late 1950s the McRaes moved to Terrace, leading to the start of Skeena Sawmills.

After leaving Skeena Sawmills, McRae became a forestry consultant, writing reports and giving advice in advocating for a strong forest industry in the northwest.

Both Bill and Helene continued their involvement with health care — he on the hospital board and she through the hospital auxiliary — and also by being active with the Dr. REM Lee Hospital Foundation in helping raise money for the purchase of medical equipment both at Mills Memorial and at Terraceview Lodge.

Longtime Terrace residents will remember their helping organize the foundation’s annual cash calendars which raised enough money for the eventual purchase of the first CT scanner for Mills Memorial.

Through his time on Terrace council, McRae sat on the finance committee which guided the construction of the Terrace arena.

In the early 1980s, McRae was a key player in arranging for support for laid off forestry workers through a federal assistance program and in 1989, then-Prime Minister Brian Mulroney wrote McRae to acknowledge his efforts.

In his later years, McRae and friends kept active with a small mill and with Helene sought to preserve the area’s resource history.

Retired from active civic and business life in recent decades, McRae kept a hand in local affairs, joining in with other community members in advocating for a replacement for Mills Memorial Hospital.

Although recognized as a priority within the region, a replacement appeared stalled in 2016 when the province indicated there would not be new construction.

McRae then wrote Premier Christy Clark to insist that a replacement be built.

“Now we need the province to show a priority on the replacement of our hospital. We need the province to show leadership, to recognize the urgent need for modern heath care in the northwest and to place a priority on the replacement of our hospital,” McRae wrote.

A replacement was announced the spring of 2017 with a business plan approved two years later calling for a new Mills and a new Seven Sisters mental health residential facility at a cost of $447.5 million.

The City of Terrace published a tribute to McRae July 10 saying, “We know he will be sorely missed by his wife Helene and their many generations of family in Terrace and beyond.”

Terrace Standard

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