Lively election races in northern Wellington in 1954

The following is a re-print of a past column by former Advertiser columnist Stephen Thorning, who passed away on Feb. 23, 2015.
Some text has been updated to reflect changes since the original publication and any images used may not be the same as those that accompanied the original publication.

Last week’s column looked at some of the municipal elections in the central and eastern portions of Wellington. This week the compass points north.

Clifford, West Luther, Maryborough and Minto returned 1955 councils by acclamation. Other municipalities had elections that drew good turnouts of voters, even though there were no major issues debated during the campaigns.

In Peel the councillors were acclaimed. Voters had only to select a reeve and deputy reeve. Incumbent W.A. Walker retained the reeve’s chair by a slim 464-441 margin over 1954 deputy reeve John McQueen. Vying for the vacant deputy reeve’s position were Basil Peel and Herb Thompson. Peel took the election rather handily, 549-365. Turnout, considering that council had been acclaimed, was a respectable 68%.

In Drayton Reeve A.E. Andrews was acclaimed at the nomination meeting. Six men, including all four incumbents, tossed their hats into the ring for council. About 80% of the electorate turned out to give the old council a strong endorsement. Incumbents Ralph Henry, Percy Trussler, Alva Cherry and Don Reid led the two challengers, Ron Lambert and Carl Ellis, by wide margins.

In Arthur Township the campaign was also quiet. Voters endorsed Edward White for reeve by a vote of 396-379 over Morrison Allen. For council, the four winners all received between 440 and 490 votes: Bob Reid, Nelson Moore, Matt Shea, and Howard Preston. James Macdonald finished well back of the pack.

In Arthur village the election contrasted sharply with the tame and placid campaign in the township. Ratepayers had been grumbling about one thing or another for weeks prior to the nomination meeting on Nov. 26, when clerk C.B. Grieg had some difficulty keeping order. Nominators put forward four names for reeve and eight for council.

After the close of nominations, Reeve George Troup announced that he would not stand again due to the pressures of business. He claimed the town was in good shape, and took credit for the paving of the main street. Because it was a provincial highway, the province picked up most of the tab, leaving only $6,000 for Arthur taxpayers.

Dr. Scott Hogg, also nominated for reeve, declined to stand, but he suggested that portions of West Garafraxa and Peel were “ripe for annexation,” and that they would boost the village’s assessment by at least $150,000.

Councillor Allan McCullock, in accepting the nomination for reeve, listed some minor accomplishments of the 1954 council, and assured the ratepayers he would “do everything possible to keep taxes down.”

The fourth nominee, Howard White, spoke briefly, stating it was his “civic duty to stand for election as reeve.”

The nominees for council all had particular axes to grind. Marjorie McKerracher complained about the minuscule resources allocated to parks and recreation. Ken Elliot wanted steps taken to attract industry. Bill Elburg wanted nothing new undertaken in 1955 to keep taxes at an absolute minimum.

Ernie Evans provoked a controversy when he suggested that Arthur withdraw from the new county-wide mutual aid fire system. He would not allow the Arthur firefighters to go anywhere not under contract with Arthur. When questioned about a major blaze in Arthur, he explained that Arthur could call in other fire departments when needed.

The biggest blow-up of the evening was the matter of door-to-door delivery by Canada Bread. The company had been operating in Arthur without a pedlar’s licence. Carberry Heffernan and several merchants objected, and suggested that the company had received favourable treatment when no charges were laid.

Another big issue involved the Public Utilities Commission (PUC). Walter Dixon listed examples of what he believed was bungling and overspending by the commission, in refurbishing the water tower and the purchase of a water meter. He was particularly incensed that some major purchases had been made out of town, rather than through his company.

At the end of the evening, sufficient nominees remained for elections to all offices: two for reeve, seven for council, three for PUC, and four for the public school board.

Upset with the charges made at the meeting, Myron Bowman resigned as chairman of the PUC after the meeting, forcing council to make an immediate appointment for the remaining five weeks of his term. As well, an unsigned story appeared in the next issue of the Arthur Enterprise News, refuting most of the charges made by Dixon.

The campaign was short but intense, too short in fact for much advertising. Instead, electioneering took place on the sidewalk, in stores, and especially at the post office. When the ballots were tallied on Dec. 6, 606 of Arthur’s 665 electors had voted. That works out to over 91%, and is probably a record for Wellington. No one was surprised to see the jovial and personally likeable Allan McCullock capture the reeve’s chair, though his margin over White, 508-87, did raise some eyebrows.

For council, it was one of those years when the voters decided to clean house. Mrs. McKerracher was the only incumbent re-elected, and she placed fourth. Ken Elliot, in his first try for public office, topped the polls, followed by newcomers Peter McTavish and Everett Workman.

Walter Dixon barely managed to get onto the PUC, and in the school board election, newcomer Stan Goulding topped the polls.

Arthur’s new council was the youngest in years, and the ratepayers had optimistic hopes for solid achievements in 1955. Allan McCullock, the new reeve, was 35. A native of Bruce County, he had operated the Arthur Dairy since 1948. Ken Elliot was 29, and worked for the Waterloo Cattle Breeders Association. Peter McTavish was 35, and ran the International Harvester dealership. Everett Workman had farmed near Riverbank, and moved to Arthur the previous year. The senior member, widow Marj McKerracher, had been in Arthur since 1931, when she and her husband took over Irvine’s store. Previously she had been a nurse, and was a graduate of Columbia University.

The 1954 election in Harriston was almost as lively as in Arthur. The nomination meeting drew the largest attendance in years. No one challenged Mayor Percy Dryden. Four were nominated for reeve, but only two decided to stand: incumbent George Walkey and J.C. Dale. For council, 16 people vied for the six seats.

The operation of the works department provoked a number of questions. Costs had exceeded the budget in 1954, and much of the blame fell on Reeve Walkey. Several taxpayers were furious that council had voted themselves a pay raise while ending the year in a deficit position.

Most controversial was a proposal to construct a sewage system for the town. Councillor Oscar Lerch had proposed that a study be initiated, but it lost on a tie vote. After the meeting, Reeve Walkey had asked the clerk to omit any reference to the motion from the minutes, and he also asked the Harriston Review to publish nothing about it.

At the nomination meeting, everyone involved tried to explain their actions in the affair. Oscar Lerch tried to get the discussion back to the main issue: Harristonians wanted new industry, he asserted, but none would be attracted unless the town had a sewage treatment system.

J.C. Dale, taking advantage of the situation, stated that he would pursue a much more open policy with council discussions and meetings, with closed sessions only when absolutely necessary.

Interest was sufficient to achieve an 80% turnout. Dale barely managed to overtake Reeve Walkey, by a vote of 380-359. Council included three newcomers, including Fred Beck, who topped the poll. High Murray, another new face, placed second, and Gord Rabb fourth. Returning councillors were Oscar Lerch, Doug Dodds and Bruce Holtom.

All of the county’s 1954 municipal elections took place on Dec. 6 except Palmerston. The nomination meeting there was on Dec. 3, and voting on Dec. 20. The nominations brought out only a small crowd. Two men challenged Sam Wald, the popular mayor. All four incumbent councillors decided to stand again, along with two newcomers.

The meeting was a quiet one for the first half, hearing reports from Mayor Wald and Reeve George Bridge. Things heated up when councillor John Nicoll spoke. He accused his colleagues of a lack of progressive thought, and termed the 1954 council a “caretaker government,” lacking both initiative and aggressiveness. He then turned his guns on the Main Street merchants, claiming they took the least interest in the town but had the most invested in it.

Nicoll’s most significant remarks involved the situation at the Canadian National Railway facilities, which everyone suspected would be scaled down drastically if not eliminated completely. He saw dire straights for Palmerston in five to 10 years, and suggested the town work with the railway to prevent Palmerston becoming a ghost town.

Though nominated, Nicoll stated he would not likely be on the ballot, as he was “too old to keep on being a disturbing influence around the council table.” In fact, Nicoll was a Canadian National employee, and had recently been elected president of the Palmerston local of the railway employees’ union.

John Nicoll’s remarks at the nomination meeting set the tone for the campaign, which was conducted on the street corners and at the post office. On voting day the turnout passed the 78% mark. Sam Wald came back as mayor, capturing 60% of the vote in a three-way race. In the end, Nicoll decided to stand again. Despite his comments that had taken swings at most groups in town, he was re-elected, as was everyone on the old council. Though Nicoll did not succeed in changing the composition of Palmerston council, he helped set the agenda for the one in 1955 before councillors sat down at their first meeting.

Though it was not apparent at the time, the municipal elections of 1954 touched on some of the issues that would be important in Wellington in the second half of the 20th century. Change was in the air, and the big issues of the future would involve urban problems in the towns and villages. The voice of agriculture, dominant in the county’s first century, would grow progressively fainter as the decades passed.

*This column was originally published in the Advertiser on Dec. 3, 2004.

Thorning Revisited