EMAIL mj.morris@live.ca


Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Premier Bill Davis visits Chapleau working the room with constituents even while enjoying ice cream cone on downtown walking tour

Premier Bill, MJ, Willie Memegos, Clare Hoy in cap
Bill Davis, who was Ontario's second longest serving premier from 1971 to 1985, held a cabinet meeting In Kapuskasing, called a provincial election while in Timmins, and made his first campaign stop Chapleau in August 1975.

Although Chapleau council presented a brief to the cabinet meeting in Kapuskasing, Mr. Davis decided to visit the community to discuss local priorities. 

The major priority at the time was to complete the new Chapleau General Hospital, extend services to it and realign Teak Street, but the needs of the elderly were high on Chapleau's list of priorities.

With a reduction in  beds at the new hospital, there was a great need for a facility for the special needs of the elderly. In the brief, there was a request for an extended care facility to be located at the hospital. In due course, Chapleau was told there was no funding for such facilities, and that was how Cedar Grove Lodge came into being.

In 1998, the Bignucolo Residence was opened -- about 23 years later.

By 1975, the airport was open with norOntair service daily but the airport commission led by Gene Bernier and Yvon Martel, wanted the runway extended and paved to bring it up to standard and stimulate the economy. Mr. Davis was told that a Ministry of Natural Resources water bombing base should be built at Gala Lake. Chapleau was an ideal location for the base.

Council had also started planning for a civic centre to replace the Town Hall, as well as for a new sewage plant and system as it had reached its optimum use.

Get this one!!! Council was asking for an "immediate" feasibility study to pursue improvements to the connecting link between Highways 144 and 129, commonly called the Sultan or Ramsey Road. 

The brief to the premier argued that "the opening of such a link (as a provincial highway) would greatly reduce travel time to and from the community and is necessary for increased economic activity in Chapleau."

So much for that one. Forty-two years later, as folks were travelling home for the 90th anniversary reunion of Chapleau, they were asking on Facebook, "How is the Ramsey road?"We avoided it by coming via Highway 129 and returning by Highway 144.

While in Chapleau, Mr. Davis visited the Chapleau Centennial Museum, and was taken on a tour of the new hospital site by William Memegos, the township public works superintendent, then off to the downtown area, where, always the politician he did some mainstreeting. First, he picked up an ice cream cone from Walter Broomhead at the Algoma Dairy, which gave the travelling press a photo op.

As an aside, it just struck me that in 1984, I think, Mr. Broomhead presented a dozen eggs to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau when the prime minister's train stopped in Chapleau. That's a story for another day.

While mainstreeting, Mr. Davis met a family from his Brampton riding, and he spent time chatting with them. Always work the room when your constituents are around, even if it happens to be downtown Chapleau.

Mr. Davis attended a coffee party at the Royal Canadian Legion Hall where the highlight was the presentation of a plaque to Mary (Muske) Campbell for her outstanding work for the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

A couple of days later, a column by Clare Hoy in the Toronto Sun was headlined "Backwoods Bill" and questioned why the premier would visit a place with only one flashing street light (at Birch and Lorne) and so on on the day he called an election. Not really complimentary to Mr. Davis or Chapleau. Chapleau citizens were not impressed and for a time the Toronto Sun was banned from Pearl Freeborn's corner store.

When I was editor of the Cord student newspaper at Waterloo Lutheran University (now Wilfrid Laurier University), Mr. Davis was Ontario's education minister and was awarded an honorary degree by the university. It bothered me for the longest time that I ran the Davis story as the headliner on page one, instead of something more radical in keeping with the sixties. But I was a good Progressive Conservative in those days, so I went with it.

As education minister from 1962 to 1971, perhaps his most lasting legacy was to establish community colleges in Ontario, a first in North America, a move that was much criticized, but they are still around. 

When I was news editor at the Brampton Times newspaper responsible for the front page in 1967, we ran every word Mr. Davis ever uttered on the front page. I didn't have to question myself at all as the paper totally supported him, and I simply ran the stories. Mr. Davis was also the consummate riding politician and never missed an opportunity to talk about Brampton -- or chat with constituents as noted on his visit to Chapleau.

Overall, Mr. Davis helped Chapleau. As premier, many considered him very bland, but he had a way about him -- a sense of common decency, so rarely seen today in our politicians that he stands out as one of the most memorable politicians I have known.

Stephen Lewis, who was at one time the Ontario NDP leader sent the following message to Mr. Davis to mark his 80th birthday, three years ago:
"You made politics an art that was at once humane, generous, respectful and urgent. We often disagreed but there always remained a quality of shared regard and friendship, how astonishingly different from the politics of today." Mr. Davis still lives in beloved Brampton. My email is mj.morris@live.ca

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Michael J Morris

Michael J Morris
MJ with Buckwheat (1989-2009) Photo by Leo Ouimet


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