Trailblazing London, Ont. politician Jane Bigelow has died

CANADA - London Mayor Jane Bigelow stands beside the Queen in Victoria Park on June 27, 1973. (Photo by Reg Innell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

The first woman to be mayor of the city of London has died, and tributes and condolences for the trailblazing politician continue to grow.

Holding the position from 1972 to 1978, Bigelow was the first woman to serve as London’s mayor and was a steadfast supporter of environmental causes, social issues, and the arts.

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Dianne Haskett, London’s mayor from 1994 to 2000, said that Bigelow’s tenure was monumental for the city of London.

“In those days, it was a very staid conservative community. It wasn’t entirely monumental for Canada because we had had some pretty amazing women mayors that went ahead of her, like Charlotte Whitten in Ottawa,” she told Global News on Wednesday.

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“And there was a very strong woman representative on council, Margaret Fullerton, who always let everybody know that it was not entirely a men’s club. We had some good examples but Mayor Jane really set the stage for those of us who followed.”

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Bigelow also made waves during a high-profile visit from Queen Elizabeth II when she broke with protocol and did not wear a hat to greet her.

“I don’t think it upset the Queen at all. If you look at pictures of that visit, the Queen seemed very happy in the presence of our mayor, who was a very, very gracious host for the occasion,” Haskett said.

“But it was a huge thing for London and the Commonwealth that a mayor would not greet the queen with a hat on.”

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Haskett, who unsuccessfully ran for the Conservatives in a 2006 federal byelection, added that Bigelow was well-liked and respected, even by those on the right of the political spectrum.

During Haskett’s tenure as mayor, she and city council refused to acknowledge the London Pride Festival or issue a Gay Pride proclamation in 1995. The Ontario Human Rights Commission later determined that the decision was discriminatory. The City of London issued an official apology in January 2018.

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Ed Holder, the city’s current mayor, offered his condolences to Bigelow’s family via Twitter on Tuesday evening.

“Jane’s legacy lives on — from paving the way for greater diversity in local politics to her passion for the environment,” he said.

Peter Fragiskatos, Liberal MP for London North Centre, also shared his sympathies online Tuesday night, tweeting, “London is better because of her leadership and the ideas she championed.”

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Terence Kernaghan, New Democrat MPP for London North Centre, called Bigelow a “trailblazer known for her commitment to the environment, the arts, & gender equity.”

“A staunch NDPer, Jane will be sorely missed by all who knew her,” he wrote.

Cheryl Miller, who was city councillor from 1997 to 2010, said that despite different political philosophies, she admired and was inspired by Bigelow.

Jane didn’t bend. I love that. Usually, women were malleable and tended to bend a bit more than men. But she didn’t. And I admired that about her. And, to me, it said, ‘OK, that’s good. She can do it. I can do it,'” she told Global News.

“But not only that, she was she was willing to buck the trend. And that’s so hard in politics.”

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She said Bigelow wasn’t popular among “old-school politicians,” but didn’t care and held true to her convictions.

“I saw her back then because quite frankly, why would I be hanging out or admiring an NDP when I’m a blue Tory? And yet I liked what she said, I liked what she did and I loved the honesty and that she did it for all the right reasons.”

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Bigelow died Tuesday. She was 92.

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