British Columbia

Final chapter ends for Jim Munro, co-founder of renowned Victoria bookstore

Munro, who has died at age 87, co-founded the renowned Munro's Books store along with his first wife, Nobel Prize-winning author Alice Munro.

Munro, who died at 87, championed Canadian authors and gave his business to longtime staff members

Jim Munro purchased and restored a grand 1909 bank because he thought "people who liked books would enjoy a beautiful building."

Jim Munro, co-founder of Victoria's renowned Munro's Books, has died at age 87.

Bookstore staff said Munro died suddenly Monday while at home with his wife and daughter. Earlier in the day he came by the bookstore for lunch with a longtime staff member and friend.

When he retired in 2014 after operating the store for 51 years, Munro gave the business to longtime staff members, whom he described as his extended family.

Jim Munro (centre) handed ownership of the store to four longtime employees on his retirement in 2014: (L-R) Carol Mentha, Sarah Frye, Ian Cochran, and Jessica Walker. (Josh Chislett)

That year he was also named to the Order of Canada "for his vital championship of countless Canadian writers and for his sustained community engagement as an independent bookseller."

Jessica Walker, a co-owner and manager of the bookstore, said Munro "placed great trust in us and gave us great freedom. He loved us." 

"He sat on heritage boards, he was very involved in culture, more than happy to write a letter to city council about things he felt passionate about," Walker said. "He loved discovering new books and new writers and introducing them to the world."

Early years 'pretty tough'

Munro launched the bookstore in 1963 with his first wife, the Nobel Prize-winning short story writer Alice Munro, in a long narrow shop across from the movie theatres on Yates Street. 

The first five years in business were "pretty tough," he said. 

In 1984 he purchased a vacant 1909 Royal Bank building near the Inner Harbour on Government Street. He said it was very inexpensive at the time because "nobody wanted a used bank building."

Munro's Books was named by National Geographic as one of the world's top 10 bookstores. (CBC)

With his second wife, textile artist Carole Sabiston, Munro set about restoring the grand neoclassical building with its 24-foot ceilings and Corinthian columns.

"The whole idea was to have something of an iconic structure," he said in an interview on CBC Radio One's Sunday Edition with guest host Laura Lynch.  "I thought people who were interested in books would enjoy a beautiful building."

Ranked in world's top 10 bookstores

Earlier this year National Geographic included Munro's on its list of the world's top 10 bookstores. 

Munro said he enjoyed getting to know celebrities and celebrated authors as well as half a dozen prime ministers who came by the store to sign their books.

He said John Diefenbaker came on his 80th birthday, and they provided a cake for him. Munro was impressed that the former PM remembered many names of former residents from his native Saskatchewan who came to see him.

"[Munro's] enthusiasm and generous spirit were the hallmarks of the business he lovingly built and tended for more than fifty years," bookstore staff said in a statement.

"He will be greatly missed."