'Grand old man of council': Former Edmonton mayor, councillor Terry Cavanagh dead at 91

Former Edmonton mayor and city councillor Terry Cavanagh died Sunday at the age of 91, his family confirmed.

Cavanagh spent a total of 27 years serving on Edmonton city council

Former Edmonton councillor Terry Cavanagh and then-councillor Bryan Anderson at the official opening of the southwest neighbourhood named after Cavanagh in May 2016. (Crystal Brightwell)

Former Edmonton mayor and city councillor Terry Cavanagh died Sunday at the age of 91, his family has confirmed.

Cavanagh served the city of Edmonton as interim mayor twice and as a city councillor for a total of 27 years.

He had strong ties to local immigrant communities, especially the Chinese community, where he was "an honorary member" of the May family, his daughter, Gay Coyle, said Tuesday.

"He could say 'vote for me' in 15 languages," she said.

Cavanagh spearheaded the effort to have the Hotel Macdonald building designated a Municipal Heritage Resource, effectively saving it from the wrecking ball.

Canadian Pacific Hotels purchased the hotel in 1988, and began a $28-million restoration campaign. 

In 2015, Cavanagh was honoured for his efforts by having a meeting room at the hotel named after him. His family donated a painted portrait of Cavanagh wearing the chain of office that now hangs in the meeting room.

"Both he and my mom were really proud of what he did with the Macdonald Hotel," said Coyle.

A 'true gentleman'

Cavanagh loved baking pies, tarts, and bread, Coyle said. Her father did all the Christmas baking, and would cook a big turkey dinner for the holidays.

"Why? Because he liked to eat," Coyle said. "Dad used to say that 'people eat to live' but he said 'we live to eat.' "

Most Saturday nights, she remembers her father would bake a beef or steak pie.

She described him as a "true gentleman" who opened doors for women. He was also an athlete who played hockey, baseball and golf at the professional level, she said.

He left Edmonton for Ontario after high school to play hockey for the Galt Red Wings of the Ontario Hockey Association. At that time, he was a teammate of Gordie Howe.

Council years

Cavanagh was first elected to Edmonton city council in 1971. He was later known as the "grand old man of council," said former Coun. Bryan Anderson, who served with him.

He would spend time with groups of people who had a vested interest in how the city was run, Anderson said.

"I never met anyone who knew as many people," he said, adding that Cavanagh was "everybody's friend."

"He was friendly to everyone, and received that back from everyone," he said.

That friendliness extended to his relationships with other councillors, which is why Cavanagh was selected to be mayor if the sitting mayor left or died, Anderson said.

Decades of public service

In November 1975, mayor William Hawrelak died in office. Council chose Cavanagh to serve out the mayor's term.

Cavanagh ran for mayor in the 1977 election and was defeated. He stayed out of politics for six years. He again won a council seat in 1983, and was re-elected three years later.

In 1988, Mayor Laurence Decore resigned his seat to take a position as leader of the Alberta Liberal Party.

Cavanagh was chosen again by council to serve as interim mayor. He sought re-election as mayor but finished with fewer than half the votes of Jan Reimer in the 1989 municipal election.

He won his old council seat back in the 1992 municipal election and was re-elected four more times, serving until 2007.


Cavanagh was predeceased by his wife, June Cavanagh. The couple had been married since 1948.

They had three children: a son,Terry, who died in 2012, and two daughters, Gay Coyle and Valerie Fitzgerald. He also had seven grandchildren, and 10 great-grandchildren.

Cavanagh had Alzheimer's disease for the last six years, Coyle said.

In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made to the Alzheimer's Society of Alberta.

Former mayor and city councillor Terry Cavanagh, with the walker, attended the ribbon-cutting in 2016 of the new southwest neighbourhood bearing his name. (Crystal Brightwell)