Wayne Hutchinson Remembers the Village of Fenelon Falls
March 16, 2022
Wayne Hutchinson at the former site of the Fenelon Falls Council Table, now a room at the back of the library, with a Village of Fenelon Falls Sign
Wayne served on Fenelon Falls Village Council from 1980 until amalgamation in 2000.
“One day I was talking to Gord Goddard,” who was then principal of the public school by day and councillor in his spare time, “and I started whining about the roads and the parking downtown. So he said why don’t you run with me. I was young and thought, OK, I got nothing to lose… and then I was elected. Once I was on council, I realized what an accomplishment it was do to what they did with so little money. The biggest lesson of being part of the village of Fenelon Falls was how closely we had to work with the provincial government in order to keep the municipality running. We were often talking with the MP or MPP, who tried to help the community as best they could. The province expected municipalities to have a balanced budget, but it became practically impossible when everything was downloaded onto the municipalities. So we had to work with them at every turn to get a grant to keep us afloat and be able to do the work that we needed to do.”
“My favourite part of being on council was planning the events, we had a lot of great community celebrations over the years.” Back when Fenelon Falls was its own municipality, its council was actively involved in the community in a way would be impossible today. Many large community events were directly supported by council, and it was a time when councillors volunteered for many other community organizations—like the Lions, Rotary, Legion and churches. It has often been said that the same ten people ran everything in town.
It was a close-knit municipality, where everyone knew each other personally. The municipal employees worked well together—Al Finney served for the village for 35 years and Clarence Alldred had a similarly long term of service. Practically everyone in town knew Martin Slykhuis at the arena, while Ross Arscott and Gary Thibault helped with public works. Mary Baker ran the village office applying for countless grants to fund each project. She was ably assisted by Lorna Jackett, Anne Hayter and Joanne Young, the treasurer.
There were a lot of memorable personalities on council over the years. “When I first started Keith Wilson was Reeve, and I was still looking after the liquor store.” Being volunteers, many councillors had a day job. Ben Jowitt was also the treasurer of the Ross Memorial Hospital, Stan Carroll (high school teacher), Tony Vincent (retired OPP officer), and Alice Gilroy (bookkeeper). Marina McLennan served as reeve and was very hands on. “When something came up she took the time to go and talk to the people involved and understand the issue before we made a decision.” Garnet Graham “was a very active councillor, he had a lot of ideas of how to improve the community.”
One day, at Bellwood’s garage, the mechanics got into a rather lengthy discussion about what the village should be doing differently… which ended with them saying ‘If you know so much, you should run.” Roger Bellwood and John Brumwell both did, and so began Roger’s political career. He served on council for fifteen years, and was the last Reeve of Fenelon Falls. It was kind of like how Wayne got into politics.
As the years went by, “there were more decisions made in Roger’s garage than there were in the council office.” Often several councillors would gather there and talk over how they were going to handle the issues of the day. Members of the public also could walk into Memory Lane Motors and have a private meeting with the Reeve. Roger would take the time to try to help them.
Council was almost like a family. The members knew practically everyone involved on any issue. Members of the public often attended the meetings. “We tried to get people to apply to be on the agenda and explain what they were going to talk about, so we could have a chance to discuss issue first.” At the end of every meeting we always opened the floor up for anyone who had a question. “Then council had to give some kind of reaction on the spot.” When they weren’t sure what answer to give, they bought time by putting it on the agenda for the next meeting. “The presentations were always respectful, no one stood up and argued with each other in front of council. But there certainly were those who came up to us afterwards, one-on-one, and to say ‘you aren’t listening to that idiot!’”
“We typically had 1 or 2 unscheduled presentations from the public at a meeting. It was a wide open door policy, often people showed up at the last minute. 90% of the time we could help with their problem. But there were always a few that we just couldn’t help. Often we would go out for coffee to talk it over with them afterwards.”
“Being on council was fun and challenging at the same time. Some of the big issues back then were parking, making sure that a flood like 1980 never happened again, and the hydro plant.” Each of these issues loomed large in their day, but in hindsight, a lot of us take the outcomes for granted. There were once parking meters (and angle parking on the main street) inspired by a need to keep people cycling through because of a general shortage of parking. Downtown merchants wanted a much more welcoming experience for their customers, and the issue was resolved by the village creating municipal parking lots within walking distance of the main street, and providing free parking.
In 1980 an inordinate amount of water came down the creek running through the village, flooding much of the community. In places there were 3 feet of water, it filled basements, and particularly made a mess of May Street. “At the time we were discussing it, I remember there literally was water on the floor of the council chamber.” The village applied for grants that enabled them to widen the drain under the main street, install a new storm sewer running down Francis Street towards Cameron Lake, and to work with the Conservation Authority to clean out the stream.
One of the most contentious issues was the building of the power generating station. A few years before Marina McLennan had secured the rights to the water power for the village, and the inactive power station still existed under Falls View Restaurant (the Locker). The village received a proposal of a large upfront payment, plus a guarantee of at least $100,000 per year. Village council recognized everything that the money could finance and accepted the offer, but the issue proved polarizing. A well-organized lobby group started a petition, collecting the signatures of anyone they could get, including high school students and people who lived outside of the village. For years, many who looked at the Falls could only see how little water was passing over it. The revenues funded the revitalizations of the south end of Garnet Graham Park and Water Street, the new arena and community centre and many other community projects. For the foreseeable future the hydro plant will continue to finance improvements within the village of Fenelon Falls. “At the time we knew that our municipality was on its way out, and it was a way for council to provide for Fenelon Falls moving forward.”