Harold Steves

Interviewed by Ken Novakowski

Harold Steves was born in Vancouver in 1937 and grew up on his family’s farm in Steveston. It was a diverse farming and fishing community of Japanese, Chinese, Ukrainian, and First Nations families. An early memory of Harold’s just before his fifth birthday is of his childhood friend giving him her teddy bear when the government’s internment of people of Japanese origin forced her family to leave their home.

After finishing high school, Harold attended the University of British Columbia, graduating with a degree in agriculture. He became an activist at UBC organizing a demonstration against fee increases. He first became active in politics when he joined the CCF in 1959 after learning that Richmond farmland had been rezoned for industry without any notice being given to farmers.

In the sixties, Harold was active in the Waffle caucus and the Ban the Bomb and anti-Vietnam War movements. He would take his guitar on marches and help lead the singing. In 1968, he and other farming activists in Richmond were concerned about the raw sewage that was being dumped from the houses built on farmland. They formed the Richmond Anti-Pollution Association, the first environmental group in Canada. It ran candidates in the Richmond civic election, which was when Harold was first elected to Richmond City Council.

As a result of Harold’s work on farmland issues, he is known as the founder of B.C.’s Agricultural Land Reserve. In 1972, he ran successfully for the NDP in the election which resulted in the first NDP government in B.C. In the years preceding the election, Harold and other activists had been campaigning within the NDP for an agricultural land bank. Just before the 1972 election, they elected a majority on the NDP executive and setting up a land bank became policy, which led to the Land Commission Act of 1973.

After one term as an MLA, Harold returned to work as a science teacher and was again elected to Richmond City Council. He was re-elected to successive terms on council until 2022, when he decided to retire from politics. Harold’s many accomplishments on council include creation of the Richmond Nature Park, Garry Point Park, Terra Nova Rural Park, London Heritage Farm, Britannia Shipyard Park, Garden City Lands, and geothermal district energy in Richmond.
Harold first learned about unions when he became a member of the UFAWU at age 15. His union activism includes attempting to form a union at the Vancouver Art Gallery, organizing a union for firefighters when Richmond changed from a volunteer to a paid service, sitting on BCTF (BC Teachers’ Federation) committees including the Labour Affairs Committee, organising for the BCTF to join the BC Federation of Labour, and leading the BCTF’s contingent in Operation Solidarity. While he was an MLA in the Barrett government, he voted against excluding fishermen from workers compensation coverage, clauses in the new B.C. Labour Code that he did not think were pro union, and against legislating workers back to work in the dying days of the government.

Key words

Japanese internment, agricultural workers, United Fishermen and Allied Workers’ Union (UFAWU), CCF (Co-operative Commonwealth Federation), NDP (New Democratic Party), City of Richmond, NDP youth organization, Steveston, League for Socialist Action, Ban the Bomb, Anti Vietnam War movement, Richmond Anti-Pollution Association, environmentalism, Vancouver Art Gallery, Lulu Island Bog, Richmond Nature Park, Richmond Science Teachers’ Association, Waffle Caucus, land banks, Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR), Delta coal port, Barrett government, B.C. Labour Code, workers compensation, Richmond Firefighters, Land Commission Act, land speculation, Socreds (Social Credit Party), B.C. agricultural insurance program, nationalisation of natural gas, resource royalties, Richmond City Council, B.C. Pollution Control Board, community schools and centres, Terra Nova Rural Park, Richmond Civic New Democrats, BCTF (BC Teachers’ Federation), Operation Solidarity, BC Hydro, FortisBC, BC Federation of Labour, London Heritage Farm, Britannia Shipyard Park, Garry Point Park, Garden City Lands, RCA (Richmond Citizens’ Association), protest and labour music, geothermal district energy, soil conservation, turning manure into soil, Greenpeace, Irving Stowe, Fumiko Kojiro, Lum Poi, W.A.C. Bennett, Bill Sigurgeirson, Paul Sigurgeirson, Len Closier, Colin Gablemann, Gordon Dowding, Paul Phillips, Will Pollock, John Conway, Bob McMath, Cliff Anstein, Peter Dent, Nell Bedows, Ann Hamilton, Dave Barrett, Dave Stupich, Dave Yorke, Tom Berger, Bill King, Rosemary Brown, Ernie Novakowski, Bill Vander Zalm, Ray Haines, Moira MacKenzie, Charlotte Diamond.

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