‘Buy BC’ agriculture minister Bill Barlee, 79

Former British Columbia agriculture minister Bill Barlee, the driving force behind the ongoing Buy BC campaign, died June 14 in Victoria at age 79, his family announced Saturday.

As the province’s minister of agriculture, fisheries and food from 1991 to 1993, Barlee developed and implemented the label program for B.C.-produced foods, Premier Christy Clark said in a statement Wednesday.

The Buy BC logo is now seen on almost every food product made or grown in the province, she said, describing Barlee’s "dedication to serving the people of British Columbia" as "exemplary."

Born Neville Langrell Barlee in Grand Forks, B.C. in 1932, Barlee travelled the northwestern U.S. and B.C. in his early adulthood, developing an expertise on historic towns and mining regions.

Barlee left a 17-year schoolteaching career in 1968 to become the publisher of Canada West magazine and author of two books, most notably Gold Creeks and Ghost Towns (1984). He later hosted the TV series Gold Trails and Ghost Towns (1986-96).

"History was Bill’s passion, and he shared that passion through his many books, his award-winning TV series… and his work to restore historical landmarks like the Kettle Valley Railway," Clark said.

Barlee first ran for and won provincial office in the riding of Boundary-Similkameen (now Penticton) for the New Democrats in a 1988 byelection, and became Premier Mike Harcourt’s agriculture minister when the NDP won government in 1991.

Barlee later served as the provincial minister for small business, tourism and culture from 1993 until his defeat in the 1996 general election by the current speaker of the legislature, Liberal MLA Bill Barisoff.

Barlee then returned to writing and also shared with museums across Canada from his collection of Old West artifacts and records.

No memorial service will be held "at this time," Barlee’s family said Saturday, but memorial donations can be made in his name to the B.C. SPCA.

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