Looking Back with 3 Former Mayors of St. Marys

By Stewart Grant

At this time of Canada’s 150th anniversary when we find ourselves reflecting on our own history here in St. Marys, who better to visit with than three former mayors who collectively have led the town for 27 years?

Dick MacPherson served as Mayor in the years of 1981 and 1982, back when municipal terms were two years in length. Gerry Teahen served three consecutive terms of three years each, from 1983 to 1991. Jamie Hahn was mayor for a total of 16 years, from 1992 to 2003 and then a four-year term from 2007 to 2010.

This past week, I visited separately with each of them to reflect on their time in office…

IMG_6966Dick MacPherson (1981-82 Mayor)

“The first thing I did as Mayor was hold a meeting at my house with council to see what everyone would like to see happen in town in the next 20 years; to learn what was important to each one of us. You just couldn’t do that now. Everything must be a public meeting. Unfortunately this makes it more difficult nowadays to find common ground.”

“It was much simpler back then. Ken Storey was the clerk, later the CAO. Bob Cousins was the treasurer, and Len Love the Recreation Director. Eric Taylor headed up Public Works and had a team of Public Works workers led by Alan Hawkins. We had a fire chief, a police chief, and three secretaries that took care of all of us. And these were the paid employees that provided governance of the town. Since then, a lot of provincial legislation has demanded that towns be run more formally, and the size of government has grown.”

“One thing that I don’t think is well understood in town is that St. Marys is a “separated town” from Perth County, and it has been this way since the 19th century. This is relatively rare for a town our size…at one point there were only 7 such towns in Ontario that were separated from the county. Normally all the reps of the various communities have a spot on County Council, and the County sets its own budget and administers it. We did a study of the advantages and disadvantages of joining the County and found at the time we were far better off financially by staying independent and more easily could make our own decisions. However, it is still very important to have good co-operation with the county, especially for issues such as bridges, snowplowing and that sort of thing.”

“There’s always been some tension about whether we should encourage big shopping centres versus protecting our downtown businesses. Certainly I always stood on the side of protecting the downtown. The last couple of councils have done a great job of enhancing our downtown, through encouraging investment in the buildings, designating heritage areas, and forward thinking with the planning of the new streetscape and allowing for greater accessibility.”

“I was at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame this weekend and in all of the years, I have never seen a crowd like that at the induction. Aside from one of the speeches going on for far too long, I was really impressed with everything else.”

IMG_6972Gerry Teahen (1983-91)

“Back then, the Queen Street Bridge was the big thing. The controversy was that it was a historic bridge and as such, some felt that it shouldn’t be widened. There were two factions, and together we came up with a good design which widened the bridge as much as we could while keeping the existing abutments. When I was Mayor and we opened the bridge I was very proud of what we did.”

“You had asked me about the Car-Mar Games, having took part in it when you were growing up. It was an event that brought together St. Marys, Ontario and Caro, Michigan. We had a great comradery back and forth between the two towns; it was a great opportunity to exchange ideas, compete in sports, and make great relationships. To this day, Mayor Dick Ransford and his wife Sue keep in touch with Roberta and I. The Games ran for four or five years and brought new people to our community to see what we were all about.”

“The get-togethers with the other towns named St. Marys (Ohio, Georgia, etc) were also great events to meet and share ideas. We had special events, a banquet, that type of thing. It was another example of trying to develop tourism and bring people to our community. As a small town that’s not right off of a major highway, it’s important to do these things to let people know what we have to offer. The Stratford Festival is a big opportunity for St. Marys if we can tap into that and get even a fraction of those tourists to visit the town.”   

“My siblings and I moved to St. Marys in April 1966, and Roberta and I were married in June 1966. Since the beginning we absolutely loved St. Marys. I think St. Marys is a wonderful community and my time here as Mayor was spectacular. I really enjoyed the people I worked with, including all of the councilors. We didn’t always agree on everything but we always worked together and tried to do what was best. I think we did a tremendous job.”

“The reason why we now reside in Exeter is because my daughter Donna and husband Fred are there along with three of our grandchildren and we wanted to be close to them. But my family absolutely loved our time in St. Marys.”

IMG_6981Jamie Hahn (1992-2003; 2007-10)

“In looking back it’s interesting to see how certain things have come full circle. In January of 1993 we started the process of looking into OPP policing for the Town of St. Marys as opposed to maintaining our town police force. By June, we held a public meeting to consider deployment in St. Marys of the OPP. In July of 1993, Town Council voted 5-1 in favour of a contract with the OPP. The OPP had better support, better resources, better training and better professionalism than what the town force could offer.”

“On August 25, 1994 was the official news conference at Toronto’s CNE where they announced that the new home of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame will be in St. Marys, beating out Guelph which was the other finalist. They were impressed with our vision. I noted at the time that ‘This was one of the most historic days in the Town’s 151-year history.”

“Now we just had the Hall of Fame induction last weekend [2017]. There were 300 or so at the golf tournament, and another two thousand people at the induction. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame is unquestionably St. Marys’ number one attraction.”

“On June 14, 1995 I announced that St. Marys will now have a second walkway to beat all walkways. First we had the fabulously successful ‘Riverview Walkway’, and now, we have a pleasant stroll over the historic Sarnia Bridge. CN’s initial asking price for the Sarnia Bridge and 3 miles of track was $40,000, but Ken Storey and I negotiated the deal for $2,586 plus HST.”

“Upon announcing the deal for the Solis Foods plant in July 1996, I said ‘St. Marys is more than a pretty face; it’s a bustling industrial town!’ Back in those days it seemed we were opening up new businesses, factories, and residential buildings all the time. The scissors were hot and we were buying a lot of ribbon for all of the ceremonies.”

“They gave me the nickname of Mr. Zero. I scored a perfect ten years with no tax increases. We didn’t need to raise people’s taxes because of all the additional assessments coming in from all of the new industries that came to town. I didn’t gamble with taxpayers’ money.”

“In October 1996 the St. Marys Memorial Hospital’s future was in jeopardy. I said at the time, ‘Nothing has caused a groundswell like this, the biggest uproar in my 18 years on council.’ In December about 2,000 filed into the arena to reject all options that were offered. One of the highest priorities was preserving our hospital, and that’s why I sat on the hospital board for twelve years.”

“To be Mayor you’ve got to have thick skin, good listening skills, a very understanding family, be accessible to people and be committed. There were times when I was away six nights a week to attend council, committee meetings and other events, and I couldn’t have done that without such an understanding family.”

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