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Feature Article

LEGENDARY REALTOR, LEGENDARY LIFE

Written By: Krista Goheen
Published By: Calgary Real Estate News
Article Used with permission of the Calgary Real Estate Board. © Copyright Calgary Real Estate News, 2007
2005-01-03

Legendary REALTOR, legendary life

Instead of people walking their dogs along the Bow River Pathway, or couples holding hands, or runners pounding the pavement, imagine the edges of the river littered with CPR train tracks. This would be the face of Calgary’s Bow river way if not for the contributions of retired REALTOR and former City of Calgary Mayor Jack Leslie. In his 85 years, Jack has achieved many accomplishments with the love and support of his wife, Jean, and his children. Here is his story.

Jack’s father, John Cook Leslie, formed the real estate company J. C. Leslie Co. Ltd. in 1905, as the prospects for success in Calgary were growing alongside its population. In 1922 when Jack was two years old, his father purchased a large abandoned home in the Rockcliffe subdivision, on the banks of the Elbow River. The home still sits in its original location, a familiar landmark on Sandy Beach below the 15th hole of the Calgary Golf and Country Club.

The real estate company, now one of the oldest in the city, was one of the first companies to take up shop in the Burns building, with Jack’s father specializing in farm properties. He mainly sold farmland between Calgary and Red Deer, along the Foothills, and grain farms to the east. It would take Jack a few years to eventually join his father in the family business, in the meantime joining the Royal Canadian Air Force where he became a pilot and a flying instructor.

Jack trained hundreds of men to fly that fought in the war, his wife, Jean, says. The two have been married since 1942 and have three daughters: Kathleen, Marilynn and Fay.

After his discharge from the air force in 1945, Jack joined J. C. Leslie & Co. for a few years, then left to join Prudential Insurance Co. of America as a mortgage loan appraiser. In 1947, Jack’s brother Gordon bought his father’s company, with Jack buying into it in 1952 after leaving Prudential.

While still a partner in the company, Jack’s love for the outdoors drew him to start a fishing camp at Kootenay Crossing with one of the real estate company’s other owners, Doug Agnew, running the business in the summer. Jack built the log cabins out at the camp and he and Jean entertained a large number of tourists with trail rides, hunting expeditions, fishing and other activities.

Those were exciting years, Jack says, we had some great summers there. We built up quite a clientele and there were lots of rainbow trout on the river in those days.

Eventually, the government expropriated the camp’s land in 1958 because it was freehold land.

Jack went back to work at J. C. Leslie & Co.: In those days, the training you had to be a REALTOR was there were [a few] classes, but mostly you learned the hard way as an apprentice with a firm, he says. The average selling price of a home was about $5,000, but it was going up every year, he says.

One day, Jack picked up a newspaper to read that the City of Calgary had sold a piece of land for a price significantly lower than its appraised value.

I thought, 'I can do a better job!' he says.

At the persistence of his good friend (and Calgary Legend of Real Estate in his own right) Kent Lyle, Jack ran for alderman.

Jack served as an alderman from 1961 until 1965 in Ward 4, earning a whopping $1,200 a year for his work with the city. At the time, Calgary was a bustling city with a population of 241,000. It was as an alderman that Jack achieved what he says was one of his greatest accomplishments to the city leading the grassroots initiative to stop CPR development along the Bow. The battle would take two years, but was done with the help of CREB solicitor alderman Roy Deyell and others.

That’s a major achievement for Calgary, because it’s one that lasts forever, Jack says.

He became mayor in 1965. He says he always had the support of the Calgary Real Estate Board, of which his father was one of the founding members and an original director: My father was in it for years, he says, when Calgary was just peanut sized.

Jack served as mayor until 1969.

People still come up to us and recognize Jack as a former mayor, Jean says.

It was as an alderman and mayor that Jack’s role and reputation as an active citizen who gets jobs done was cemented.

Although Jack says he made many good deals as a REALTOR, one of the sweetest deals he ever made was when he was not in real estate. The effect of this deal is a familiar and welcome attraction for both Calgarians and tourists.

It was in 1967 and I had sold my business when I became mayor to avoid conflict of interest. One of the big eastern developers, Maxwell Cummings, came looking for my cooperation. When he found he did not have to 'go under the table' as he had with some Montreal mayors, he was so pleased he decided to give a gift to all the citizens of Calgary. At great expense he bought the Statues of Man which were on display at Expo '67 and had them shipped to Calgary where they have become a great attraction, Jack says.

In the time that he was mayor, Calgary’s population had increased to 370,000. Jack also foresaw the city’s growth and the importance of road infrastructure far in advance. He took an awful lot of flack to have Crowchild Tr., one of Calgary’s great access ways, finished properly.

After his term, Jack bought back his share in his father’s real estate company and He never really retired, Jean laughs.

The ball was rolling, and Jack had just begun to make a difference.

After I got into politics I started to see the need for things and from there I just seemed to get involved, he says.

He fought to have more parkland declared in the city; was instrumental in the development of Prince’s Island Park; inaugurated the first Arbour Day in the city in 1968; initiated expansion of the Calgary Airport and had the airport receive its international designation; started the Plus-15 walkways downtown and was an advocate for low income housing in Calgary, among other accomplishments too numerous to mention.

Now, it seems Jack’s life has come full circle.

I was born and raised on the banks of the Elbow River, where we enjoyed the fresh air and trees, the horses, the cows and that sort of thing, he says.

This love of the outdoors and preservation for nature is still a huge theme in his life, particularly evident in the home he and Jean have chosen to spend their retirement in. Nestled in the woods of Bragg Creek, the beautiful log house Jack started building when he was 78 is now complete, allowing the grownup Jack Leslie to listen to the sounds of the river he so loves.

This article was written for Calgary Real Estate News, a division of the Calgary Real Estate Board, for the series “Legends of Real Estate” showcasing important members of the Calgary Real Estate Board. Please visit the Calgary Real Estate Board online.This article is part of the collection of the Calgary Real Estate News. Please visit them online.

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