Jim Davidson has left an indelible mark on Smithers.
The former mayor died last Tuesday at the age of 83.
His daughter Kathy said people had no trouble getting the mayor’s ear.
“If you went to town with dad on errands, you could be a while. If people had something to say, he stopped to listen.”
People have told her that his commitment to his town and St. James Anglican Church did not go unnoticed.
“They say that he gave a lot of time and commitment to the community, and to having the best town that we could have,” said Kathy.
“He encouraged people to try a different thing, or to work on an area or run for council, if they had an interest in it, to support the community. He believed in supporting everybody. He worked with First Nations; he worked with Smithers Community Services’ board to get it started.
“He was always a community builder.”
First elected to council in 1988, Davidson served as mayor from 1990-93, 1996, and 2002-08.
Growing up on her dad’s farm, Kathy remembers helping out by taking phone calls.
“As kids, we all knew how to take phone messages so that he would be able to call the person back and understand what the main topic was so he’d be ready to talk to them,” Kathy reminisced.
One of the many initiatives Davidson undertook to build community in the Bulkley Valley was getting special needs children to be involved in the education system.
“That was back in the ‘60s. There was no special education in public schools. So a group of parents worked together … to develop a society for education in the valley, and they got permission for Happy Valley School, which the school district agreed to house on the Telkwa school grounds,” said Kathy, adding that the special needs children were integrated more each year with the other children in the district as a whole.
Davidson’s long legacy list also included the airport runway expansion, establishment of a partnership to create the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest, the CN overpass, paving of Pacific Street, building of the new town hall building on Aldous Street, and chairing the Northern Development Initiative Trust and Northwest Regional Advisory Committee.
Coun. Bill Goodacre was a family friend and colleague of Davidson’s.
“He was a part of my life since I was born. I’ve always admired Jim, so when I finally got onto council in 1990 — the first year he was elected as mayor — it was a real pleasure for me,” said Goodacre.
“I always used to tease him. I’d say ‘Jim, you don’t give speeches, you give homilies.’ Whenever he talked he’d just wax eloquent about the people of the valley, about the beauty of the valley and the power of community.”
Goodacre said a lot of Davidson’s hard work went into taking over the airport when the federal government passed the responsibility on to municipalities in the ‘90s. He added that about 12 years of effort went into creating the Wetzin’kwa Community Forest.
“The timber belongs to the people. It’s something the community should have a stake in, and there is the idea that you have to demonstrate to us that you do more than forestry, you also have recreation opportunities there. We depend on the forest for a large part of our livelihood,” said Goodacre.
“It’s proven to be a real success story for the community. The Wetzin’kwa puts back thousands of dollars into community groups every single year.”
All that time spent on projects was also meticulous according to Goodacre, who passed reporters on to Davidson when they were looking for details on the new town hall.
“I said he knows what colour the gravel is, and that was not necessarily a facetious remark” laughed Goodacre.
“He lived the job … The quality of life here meant a lot to him. A lot of people have this idea of growth for growth’s sake but in Jim’s case, it had to be good for the community. He wasn’t opposed to development, but he definitely would go through everything with a fine-toothed comb … No special interest got his support; he was community first.”
Current Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach said he met Davidson as soon as he moved to town. Davidson convinced Bachrach to run in 2008, and left him with some sage advice.
“He told me simply to remember that the community isn’t a collection of buildings and streets … it is about the people, and to keep that in mind,” said Bachrach.
Another project that started with Davidson was the second sheet of ice. A goalie back when goalies did not wear masks, Davidson championed the cause starting in the ‘90s.
He spoke at the opening ceremony in January of all the people who put years of work into making it a reality, with the benefit going to their children.
“We ought not to forget that as we move on in this community, and face other challenges,” said Davidson.
A memorial will be held in August.