Alberta’s most colourful mayor

Photo by Marya Volk

Kerby Centre has recently taken over the operation of the Veiner Centre in Medicine Hat.

But less recently — in fact, over 100 years ago — the namesake of the Veiner Centre, Harry Veiner, was born.

Harry Veiner was an enigmatic, mountain of a man — both in his personality and his literal stature. And boy was he fast.

But back to the beginning: Harry Veiner was born in Dysart, Saskatchewan in 1904, to a family of Jewish immigrant farmers. In 1930, he would move to Medicine Hat, Alberta, the town he would eventually become mayor of, and opened a hardware store.

His business became successful and his holdings expanded into a series of farms and ranches in the area; during the Second World War, Harry Veiner enlisted and rose to the rank of lieutenant-colonel, and oversaw the logistics of POW Camps in Canada.

But Harry’s story truly begins when he became mayor of Medicine Hat in 1952 — a position he would hold all the way until 1966, and then again from 1968 to 1974.

Harry Veiner relentlessly promoted Medicine Hat and was instrumental in bringing several major industries to the city, including Goodyear and Northwest Nitro-Chemicals.

“Every mayor in Canada likes to picture himself, publicly and probably privately, as a working dynamo, tirelessly slugging for the municipal weal,” wrote Eddie Olynuk about Veiner in an article of Macleans Magazine, circa 1959.

“More often than not, that picture’s pure election fodder. But one man comes astoundingly close to fitting it.”

Beyond just “slugging” it out for Medicine Hat, Harry Veiner was also known for his athletic prowess.

The 6-foot, 230-pound, non-smoker and non-drinker outraced the mayors of Brandon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Pincher Creek and Lethbridge having challenged them to footraces over his tenure.

In fact, by reports, Veiner also managed to outrun a thoroughbred horse in a 25-yard sprint at a picnic in Brooks — winning by a whopping 10 yards!

Veiner “outwrestled, greased-pig-caught, bundle-pitched and stock-car-driven almost anyone who’d take him on.”

But Veiner’s prowess on the field was only matched by his incredible generosity.

In addition to going to bat for his community, Veiner was a well-known philanthropist. From major acts like donating parcels of land to Medicine Hat College, to small acts of kindness, like depositing $10 into a child’s first and newly formed bank account — Veiner was always giving back.

“He was so approachable… he was so tall; you’d look way up… but he would bend right over and talk to little kids. He was generous, beyond, beyond…” said Carole Werre of Medicine Hat, in an interview.

“Even if you needed a washing machine, if you really needed it, he’d get it for you.”

A man of local legend, Harry Veiner would go on to be recognized for his efforts. In addition to having the Veiner Centre as his namesake, he was named citizen of the year by Medicine Hat College in 1973 and was awarded the Order of Canada in 1982.

“His material and moral support of community, church, and education activities has contributed to the economic growth of his city of Medicine Hat, of which he was mayor for 24 years,” his Order of Canada entry states.

Harry Veiner passed away on Sept. 23, 1991, at age 88, but his legacy of generosity, stalwart dedication and kindness is alive both in memory and in the work the Veiner Centre continues to do.