Born in Prince Rupert, BC in 1925, Alistair served in the Canadian Navy during World War II before graduating with a B.A. and M.A. from the Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia. He then embarked on a career of unusual diversity that took him across Canada.
From 1950 to 1962, Alistair personally produced most of the research studies central to the work of the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board in British Columbia. He then led the long-range planning division of the City of Toronto Planning Board. Alistair’s next move took him into broader fields as a member of the Atlantic Development Board (later the Department of Regional Economic Expansion), where he worked on resource policies from 1965 to 1973.
In 1973, the first NDP government in Victoria claimed Alistair to head its Environmental and Land Use Secretariat, its central provincial planning program. Following government change in BC, he was seconded briefly to the Department of Fisheries in Ottawa.
In 1977, Alistair moved to his next major post as CEO of the Environmental Council of Alberta in Edmonton, where he stayed until 1988. From 1988 to 1990, he was Adviser to the National Conservation Strategy in Pakistan, having been appointed to this post by the International Union for the Conservation of Natural Resources. On returning to power in 1991, the NDP again called on Alistair, this time to head its new Crown Corporations Secretariat, which he did from 1991 to 1994.
Alistair was elected a Fellow of the Canadian Institute of Planners in 1993.
Less known was Alistair’s rapport with the First Nations people, built up in his childhood days in Prince Rupert. It provided him with the compassion and commitment to build the Burns Lake Native Development Corporation.
Those who knew Alistair and his work speak of him with great admiration. Jim Wilson, head of the Lower Mainland Regional Planning Board, recalls him as a man of massive and critical intelligence, a true scholar, and a skeptic blessed with a sardonic sense of humour. “Without his superb research, the Board would not have achieved the success it did.”
Bob Williams, Alistair’s political superior in British Columbia, says, “His work in the 1970s directing the Environment and Land Use Secretariat was, to my mind, the finest work of the day in integrated resource management. Indeed, the core process 20 years later was rooted in that early work. Also, the implementation of the Agricultural Land Reserve was all Alistair’s achievement.”
Any one of these achievements would crown any career. When Alistair Crerar died in Victoria in 1998, Canada lost a very distinguished planner and public servant.