By Craig Westcott | Irish Loop Post
Their portrait sits on the wall of the council chamber inside the town hall, their smiling faces looking down on the current crop of citizens who have volunteered to serve on Bay Bulls council. Earlier this month, the current group honoured the founding fathers of the town’s municipal council by holding a special ceremony to thank them for their contribution.
Three members of the town’s first council, elected when the Town was incorporated in 1986, have since passed on. Their family members joined the four founding councillors who are still alive to accept plaques of recognition from Mayor Harold Mullowney, who offered a heartfelt thanks to the current council’s first predecessors.
Mullowney thanked Town staff Sandra Cahill and Askley Wakeham for making the event possible. "This was put together largely by Ashley and Sandra, who went back through the records and gathered tremendous information," said Mullowney.
The mayor said he was glad so many showed up to recognize the town's first councillors.
"We all owe a debt of gratitude to those who've gone before us," said Mullowney. "In many ways, they’ve set the standard for the Town of Bay Bulls. They were a tremendous group of volunteers. They gave their successors a base from which to grow, and we’ve certainly worked at that and tried to grow the town over the years. I still remember when I first came on council over three decades ago and we had a budget of less than $100,000. It’s 15 times that now, so we’re growing continuously, and we’ll continue to grow in this area. In many cases, those who went before were an inspiration to us. They were mentors to us, and they’re still there to help us when we need it, on occasion, and for that we’re very grateful. Their dedication and commitment is not to be forgotten and will be acknowledged here today, and they will be remembered for this. Again, our most heartfelt thanks. "
Mullowney then read a poem about volunteers and the dedication and selflessness they show for others.
"We are still completely a town run by volunteers, and this is a volunteer position," the mayor noted. "There are a lot of towns in this province that are not completely volunteer. I remember at a joint council meeting in Ferryland a few nights ago, we asked how many towns were paying any stipend. I don’t think there was a single town on the Southern Shore taking a stipend; they all are completely volunteers. So, it’s great that we can still find some individuals to step up and take that on."
After the reading, Mayor Mullowney handed out plaques to each of the first councillors, or their loved ones. Betty Mulcahy, wife of the town's first mayor, the late Alphonsus, or Phonse Mulcahy, accepted the plaque. She also cut a ceremonial cake in honour of the occasion. Jill Hearn, daughter of the late Ambrose Hearn, who was a first councillor and the town's second mayor, accepted on behalf of her family. Gordon Williams Jr. accepted the plaque on behalf of his late father, Gordon Williams Sr. First councillors Dave Walsh, Kenny Williams, Irene Ploughman and Bud O'Brien were all on hand to accept their plaques personally.
Ploughman well remembers those years on the town's first council.
"I guess I was in my active days," said Ploughman. "I was with the (fisheries) union, fighting for union workers’ rights, and I thought I’d give it a try and I got elected. Surprise, surprise!"
Ploughman can't remember how many people ran for election that first year, but recalls it was a fair number. She was the only woman to win a seat.
"I was the first woman and they were all mostly businessmen except for Kenny and Phonse, or Mr. Hearn," said Ploughman. "But you were up playing with the big boys. It was alright, you know. We got some things done."
Ploughman said the men treated her fine and were respectful towards her.
Like many town councils, the new one in Bay Bulls had to consider whether water and sewer services were feasible.
"Water and sewer was discussed, but it was way out of reach for our first council," said Ploughman. "We were worried about not trying to overtax the people of our community. We had to be trained and broken in. It was different.”
Walsh, who ran the local Foodland supermarket, one of the busiest at the time in the Sobey's chain, was the only person elected who had some municipal experience. He had worked as the chief assessor with Metroboard. In fact, it was the looming expansion of Metroboard into Bay Bulls that motivated the local business community and citizens to establish a council.
"Well, I knew what was coming, so I figured we could do a better job on our own, and I think we did," Walsh said. "A lot of red tape was overcome. We just used common sense, but it’s not that common anymore... So we got together and we thought we’d like to have a little input into our own destiny. And I must say, they were a great crowd of volunteers, and not only those of us who served on council, but also the people in the community. They were all behind it."
Walsh served six years on council, four of them as Deputy Mayor. He remembers the first election drew a large turnout of interested candidates.
"Phonse was the man," said Walsh. "He came first."
Walsh placed a very close second.
"But none of that matters, you know," said Walsh. "We just took it that way: whoever had the highest vote was the mayor, and that’s the way we did it. Gordon Williams and Ambrose Hearn, and Phonse Mulcahy, they were great fellows to work with, but now they’re all gone."
Fortunately for the town, that first council, with as diverse a cast of characters as has ever served, were all smart individuals and all dedicated to looking out for the community's best interests.
"It was energy plus," Walsh allowed. "I figure the first town council was like the Energizer bunny. It was just go, go, go. But we balanced our budgets, moved forward one step at a time, got familiar with everything, went to some meetings, learned a little bit about what it’s about. It was a great learning experience."
Walsh looks back on those years fondly, and not only because of the council experience. He and his family loved living in Bay Bulls, he said. "On a personal level, the happiest days of our lives were up here, working alongside of each other and serving the people of Bay Bulls and the Southern Shore," said Walsh. "It left a big impact, a big footprint on our lives. To speak on behalf of the remaining four (councillors), it was certainly an honour and a privilege for us to serve."
O'Brien too has many memories of the first council. At the time he was owner of the town's fish plant and the biggest employer in the area. He played a key role in convincing the provincial government to let Bay Bulls form its own administration instead of falling under the auspices of Metroboard.
O'Brien said Metroboard had a been a headache for a while, sometimes interfering whenever somebody in the community wanted to build or develop anything.
He remembers talking about Metroboard with local businesswoman Rosemary Gatherall and the pair decided to call a meeting of 10 or 12 people in the town who might be like-minded, such as Terry Crane and Gordon Williams.
O'Brien arranged a lunch meeting with the deputy mayor of Municipal Affairs and put the questions to him as to how the people of Bay Bulls could go about getting their own council. "He said if you've been able to totally exist without it (a council) you're better off, but if you can't exist without it, you're going to be forced into something like this Metroboard," said O'Brien. "He said, 'Perhaps you are better off with your (own) council.'"
The deputy minister had further advice, O'Brien recalled - not to overburden the town's tax base by spending too much on heavy equipment.
"I said, ‘The Bay Bulls crowd will not be fond of paying taxes,'" said O'Brien. "'We've got to make sure we keep those taxes very low. And I've got a vested interest in that. I don't want to pay high taxes either. I own a business and I'll be the one who is grabbed (for extra taxes).' So we went home and we called together those 10 or 12 people and we said, 'Now boys, let's put together a committee to put this other crowd (Metroboard) out and to put in a council.' And we did. And we had lots of people who ran, and boy, we had a good council. It was a lot of fun."
O'Brien said the new council set the mil rate at 1.5 mils, the lowest on the island. "So that didn't hurt anybody," said O'Brien. "And we said it's impossible to have water and sewer. Bay Bulls is huge, it's long. If you went from the Quays on the southside right down to Gunridge on the North side, you're talking about four or five kilometres… The other thing was street lighting. We figured we were going to need 30 street lights. I said, 'Why don't we put one on every second pole?' They thought that over... and so we did that. And we worked it like that."
Despite the collection of strong personalities, O'Brien said there were no big rackets. The first council was greatly aided, he said, by the personality of Phonse Mulcahy, who was a retired government worker with a huge interest in his community. "Phonse did a lot of work," said O'Brien. "He'd get out of his bed every morning and he'd go right around the harbour and he'd notice things."
O'Brien said the first council also understood the importance of helping businesses and not hurting them.
"It was an interesting council," said O'Brien. "Now sometimes they have trouble getting quorum. We never did, they were all interested and they all put in their two cents worth."