Campbell was born in Vancouver, where he became a lawyer. In 1962, he joined Vancouver City Council as an alderman, representing the Non-Partisan Association (NPA), a conservative civic party. Running as an independent, Campbell beat out William Rathie in the 1966 election, ending the NPA’s long, unbroken domination of city hall. In 1970, he won the NPA nod to replace Rathie as the party’s mayoral nominee and again won the mayor’s office.
As mayor, “Tom Terrific” (as he was both affectionately and derisively called) proved to be brash, confrontational, and controversial. During his term, the City held a referendum which authorized the then-controversial development of an underground shopping mall and office towers, now known as Pacific Centre, Vancouver’s largest development. As the Lower Mainland‘s population topped one million, Campbell took an assertively pro-development stance, advocating a freeway that would cut through a large part of Downtown Eastside, the demolition of the historic Carnegie Centre, and the construction of a luxury hotel at the entrance of Stanley Park (the Bayshore Inn) and another at the north foot of Burrard in which it turned out the mayor had invested (it is now an apartment building and never became a hotel).
It is, however, Campbell’s confrontations with the city’s burgeoning youth counterculture for which he is best remembered. They included attempts to suppress and shut down the alternative newspaper, The Georgia Straight, whose editor Dan McLeod was repeatedly beaten by city police and the blocking of the final concert of the 1970 Festival Express rock and roll tour, which was held in Calgary to avoid risking a confrontation with the Vancouver mayor’s stated intention to use police to stop the festival. There was even an incident in August, 1971, when Vancouver police charged on horseback into a group of about a thousand hippies having a “smoke-in” on the streets of Gastown. That came to be known as the Gastown Riots and led to the arrests of 79 people, of whom 38 were charged with various offences. A judicial inquiry later criticized the action, characterizing it as a police riot.
Campbell chose not to run for re-election in November 1972 and returned to private life and legal practice. He died in 2012.
- Vancouver Sun February 3, 2012 12:35 PM (1971-05-10). “Former Vancouver mayor Tom Campbell dies”. Vancouversun.com. Retrieved 2012-02-03.
- 1971 Report of Mr. Justice Dohm on the Gastown Riots, from the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association
- CBC television clip of Doug Collins interviewing Tom Campbell about Vancouver’s hippie problem.