Philanthropist Bob Hassell passed away last week.

Philanthropist Bob Hassell passed away last week.

A healthy legacy

Philanthropist Bob Hassell passed away last week. The benefactor is revered for his work in the community, including Peace Arch Hospital.

Vin Coyne, special to the Peace Arch News

When Bob Hassell climbed onto his bulldozer to help dig the foundation for White Rock’s first hospital in l951, he had no idea of the future leadership roles he would play in securing state-of-the-art health-care facilities for the community.

Then, Hassell was just one of many volunteers donating equipment, materials, labour and money to help build a 45-bed facility at a cost of $500,000.

He would return several times over the next six decades to head further expansion and acquisition of hospital facilities for what became Peace Arch Hospital – and ultimately make a major financial donation to help fund $24 million in health services.

Hassell died May 9 at his South Surrey home, ending a remarkable business career that included developments throughout the Lower Mainland, California and Florida. He was 89.

Born in Cumberland, he spent most of his life in South Surrey. With his parents and six siblings, he moved onto property on North Bluff Road (now l6 Avenue) in l936, after the Sumas Prairie flood the year earlier wiped out the family farm.

He and brothers Reg, Lawrence and Dick cleared the land with a horse, cart and scraper blade, selling and delivering the wood for $4.50 per cord.

In 1937, he and Reg used the same method to open North Bluff Road from the planned King George Highway (now King George Boulevard) west to their property. Later, they purchased an early-model tracked tractor to push the road through to Stayte Road and, in the early l940s, the two Hassells got the contract from Surrey to open North Bluff from Stayte to Johnston, then later through to Ocean Park.

Shortly after the Second World War, they were joined by their brothers to form Hassell Bros. Bulldozing Contractors.

The new company was part of early road and subdivision development in White Rock and Surrey, clearing land on the east-end hillside. Later, they took on major projects, including the Lake City Industrial Park in Burnaby, runway preparation for Comox airport and the then-large Riverside residential development in Surrey.

In 1946, Bob married Florence Lapierre, whose grandparents had settled in the Hazelmere area in 1907. They remained lifelong partners in business, recreation and community service.

Only a few years after his first hospital excavation project, Hassell returned to play a much more dramatic role in the next chapter of hospital expansion.

By 1958, the hospital was running at 100 per cent occupancy. The next few years saw services strained to the limit. After five years of further planning and negotiations, the board received word that Victoria had given approval in principle for a new hospital of 100 beds, in the first stage, and from 200 to 250 beds in the future.

Leading the battle to complete the promised facility was Hassell, who headed the building committee before serving several terms as board chairman.

His tough business style, his ability to cut through bureaucratic red tape and his disdain for government delay tactics earned him the good-natured title of “board emperor.”

When Surrey council blew cool on a 1966 hospital request to sell municipal bonds to help finance the latest building project – mainly because the hospital carried a White Rock name – Hassell got immediate approval to change its name to Peace Arch District Hospital “to better reflect the areas served by the facility.”

After a series of tough, closed-door negotiations and a sod-turning ceremony in open defiance of a provincial stop-work order, Hassell was able to push through the facility in a form very close to what was originally planned. The six-storey, 108-bed acute facility, costing some $3.5 million, officially opened in July 1968.

Despite his no-nonsense public image, Hassell was private about his business and personal achievements, avoiding accolades and public appearances.

The Hassell family continued to support the hospital over the years and, in 2007, Bob and Florence Hassell donated $3 million to the Partners in Caring Campaign, the largest single gift ever made to the foundation.

The acute-care tower was named in their honor in 2008.

Hassell served as honorary chair of the partners campaign, which so far has raised $24 million to finance five major projects, four of which have now been completed. In 2009, the Hassells were recipients of the Giving Hearts Award sponsored by the Association of Fundraising Professionals for outstanding philanthropy.

The Hassell family has asked that donations in his memory be made to the hospital foundation.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

One man is dead after a shooting in Fleetwood Sunday evening. (Shane MacKichan photos)
One dead after targeted shooting in Surrey

Incident took place near shopping complex at the corner of 152 Street and Fraser Highway

Items collected from last year’s Ocean Park Food Drive. (Contributed file photo)
Ocean Park Food Drive expands, open to residents south of 32 Avenue

Homeowners south of 32 Avenue and west of 160 Street encouraged to put donations on doorstep

(Black Press Media files)
‘Potentially damaging’ winds expected in Metro Vancouver

Wind is expected to pick up late Sunday night

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Menno Place. (Google Street View image.)
B.C. care home looks to hire residents’ family members amid COVID-19-related staff shortage

Family would get paid as temporary workers, while having chance to see loved ones while wearing PPE

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James and Premier John Horgan announce $5 billion emergency fund for COVID-19 unemployment and other relief, B.C. legislature, March 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
Carole James stays on to advise B.C. Premier John Horgan

Retired finance minister to earn a dollar a year

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A pedestrian makes their way through the snow in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Wild winter, drastic swings in store for Canada this year: Weather Network

In British Columbia and the Prairies, forecasters are calling for above-average snowfall levels

NDP Leader John Horgan, left, speaks as local candidate Ravi Kahlon listens during a campaign stop at Kahlon’s home in North Delta, B.C., on April 18, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

Most Read