Former Terrace mayor Jack Talstra has passed away.

Former Terrace mayor Jack Talstra passes away

He had been the longest serving mayor in the city's history

  • Fri Dec 5th, 2014 7:00am
  • News

The Terrace mayor who took the city through one of its darkest periods when a major forest industry employer closed down and who then laid the foundations for an economic turnaround has died.

Jack Talstra was 68. He passed away in Mills Memorial Hospital, surrounded by family, early this morning.

Talstra served as mayor from 1985 to 2008, a period of 23 years.

That period took in an economic revival of the city’s fortunes when a forest products company called Repap opened a new Skeena Cellulose sawmill here in 1988 but also years of instability when the company ran into financial troubles in 1997, ultimately resulting in it closing down completely early in the next decade.

Talstra and the city council of that period trimmed the city’s expenses and operations.

But he also took part in a campaign to position the city as the northwest’s shopping and service centre to surrounding communities.

And he lobbied the provincial government aggressively for several thousand acres of crown land just south of the Northwest Regional Airport on which to locate taxpaying industries.

Known first as the airport industrial lands, it’s now known formally as the Skeena Industrial Development Park in partnership with the Kitselas First Nation, half of which has now been sold to a Chinese economic development agency.

The city just last month renamed the main road into the park as Jack Talstra Way.

He was also named a Freeman of the City in a ceremony held at city hall Nov. 24, one of just four people to receive that recognition.

Current Terrace mayor Carol Leclerc said this morning the city lost a great person and leader.

“He was a strategizer. He was like a chess player, always several moves ahead of where we were going,” she said. “He was a great statesperson.”

Former mayor Dave Pernarowski, who officiated at the Freeman ceremony, this morning said “Jack Talstra showed outstanding community leadership during his long service as alderman and mayor.”

“His commitment to the City of Terrace and the region has been unparalleled. My thoughts and prayers are with the Talstra family.”

Illness had prevented Talstra from attending either ceremony but he was represented at both by family members.

Of Dutch family origin, Talstra was born in 1946 in Holland.

His family moved to Canada shortly thereafter, first to Houston and Telkwa before coming to Terrace in 1953 where they ran a farm in what is now known as the horseshoe residential area.

After receiving a law degree from the University of British Columbia and then articling in Terrace, Talstra established his own law firm, Talstra and Company.

Talstra’s years as mayor were preceded by a council position from 1976 to 1981.

He received another civic honour in 2009 by being made a member of the Order of Terrace and he also received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, struck to commemorate her 60 years on the throne.

He leaves wife Hilda, five children and eight grandchildren.

Below are some of the comments that have been coming in:

Through a fractious amalgamation vote with Thornhill, a divisive casino and slots proposal for downtown, uncertainty during the negotiation of the Nisga’a treaty (a cause he championed), the marathon Skeena Cellulose crisis and the subsequent economic downturn – it’s hard to think who else would be a better force for stability during such a time of trial.

Jack Talstra was a calming, steady influence during troubled times that would test the mettle – and influence – of any big city mayor.

But with Jack at the helm, somehow you weren’t worried how it would all turn out.

He could be prickly and difficult to deal with for other reporters, but I never found him to be that way. He was always accessible, always candid, and always able to see the bigger picture.

Along with being a strong advocate for Terrace on so many fronts, Jack was instrumental in building acceptance for the Nisga’a treaty, understanding the very real economic benefits for Terrace the deal would bring, as well as for the people of the Nass Valley who waited so long for justice.

During the Skeena Cellulose crisis, when hardworking residents of Terrace were losing their homes and businesses – all they’d worked for – he kept his cool, navigating our city through turbulent times, providing a moral compass, an anchor point when things could have gone off the rails.

On so many other issues, too, he was respected by political partners across the spectrum.

He never forgot the best interests of the people he served. It’s impossible to think of an equivalent mayor. He’ll be missed for his strong leadership, deep integrity, and great sense of humour.

And he will be long remembered as a consummate politician who mentored a generation of city councillors, administrative staff, and “members of the newsmedia,” as Jack would say.

Nobody who dealt with him will ever forget his leadership, integrity, firm ethical foundation or deep commitment to the people of Terrace and the northwest.

Thank you Hilda and Jack’s kids and grandkids, for sharing him with us.

Our hearts go out to you at this time.

Jennifer Lang, Editor, The Cloverdale Reporter, Cloverdale, B.C.

I remember the rare flashes of Angry Jack, because they were such a contrast to his normal diplomatic, cautious and soft-spoken nature.

Not that Mayor Talstra got unhinged or yelled, at least in public.

But I recall occasions where Jack decided criticism of past decisions at an all candidates forum or from some upstart politician at a regional district meeting simply could not stand.

His favourite tactic in these battles was to invoke the memory of deceased and beloved Terrace politicians and defend their honour.

The first sign was when Jack’s voice changed – it got hoarse with emotion.

you could hear a pin drop in the room because everyone knew Jack was starting to lay the lumber on someone.

“When you say that you’re saying the people who came before – the Ruth Hallocks and the Bob Coopers – you’re saying they couldn’t read a balance sheet. You’re saying they were idiots. You’re saying they weren’t very smart…”

I’m going by memory here, but the Talstra attack went along those lines and it was devastating.

When he was done, the targeted offender usually looked like they’d been Tasered.

Jack Talstra now enters that hall of fame of Terrace leaders who have gone to bat for so many before.

I’m sure it won’t be long before others invoke his name in political combat, and somewhere, Jack will be smiling.

***

Another telling moment I remember is when Bob Erb ran for mayor as a Marijuana Party candidate.

Jack was also the federal Crown prosecutor. And there were drug prosecution files on Bob in his office and next door at the RCMP detachment.

Jack told me (and I reported this) that he asked the then-RCMP Inspector to “lay off” Bob during the campaign, lest any police action be construed as an undemocratic attack ordered by the mayor on his political opponent.

Perhaps this is why Bob was able to offer rides to the advance polls to his voters, followed by a celebratory puff of free weed at his campaign office, without any police entanglements.

While that episode may have been uncomfortable for the RCMP, I believe it speaks to Jack’s character and sense of fairness. I’m sure many others have similar stories.

***

I close with the words Jack always left with so many of us:

“Be good.”

Yes, Jack, we will.

Jeff Nagel, Regional Reporter, Black Press, Surrey, B.C.

“I was very saddened to learn of the passing of former Terrace mayor Jack Talstra. Terrace lost a great man, who served his hometown for 23 years. Under his watch, Terrace weathered both good and bad economic times, thanks in part to Jack’s commitment to respecting the taxpayer and finding savings. My thoughts and prayers are with his family, and everyone in the community left with heavy hearts after Jack’s passing.”

Christy Clark, Premier, Province of B.C.

“He was an incredibly consistent and strong advocate through the good times and bad for Terrace and had a real vision for things. I think a lot of that is being realized now, so his legacy and his impact on Terrace and the entire northwest will live on. We came from different political backgrounds but he was always incredibly cordial and a mayor in the best sense of the word where if we could do things to help his town then he was always willing to work and talk. It was a good kind of politics, always civil with a focus on what we are here to do, so I always appreciated his council and we always go along really well.”

Nathan Cullen, Member of Parliament, Skeena – Bulkley Valley

“Jack Talstra was not only a close personal friend, he was also a colleague and an ally in the many projects we worked on together over the years. I have enormous respect for his dedication to fairness and his belief that all citizens in the area should experience progress together. His mostmemorable contribution to collaborative development is demonstrated in the agreement between Kitselas and the City of Terrace on the airport industrial park development. Jack Talstra will be remembered by the people of Kitselas as a friend, an ally, a supporter, and a respected leader.”

Mel Bevan, negotiator, Kitselas First Nation

“Jack Talstra showed outstanding community leadership during his long service as Alderman and Mayor.  His commitment to the City of Terrace and the region has been unparalleled.  My thoughts and prayers are with the Talstra family.”

Dave Pernarowski, former mayor, City of Terrace

“I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Jack Talstra. I served the city as a councillor for 12 years with Jack as our mayor. He was a great mentor and served the city admirably.

There will be endless stories of Jack’s leadership coming out in the ensuing days. Some of memorable ones include the entire council being in Prince Rupert in “Repap” negotiations and staying up all night. Under unbearable pressure, in a desperate situation, Jack led the council and stood firm to avoid accepting a poor offer.

The other great memory is a trip just Jack and I took to Victoria to lobby a minister. We excused ourselves from a convention early one morning and took the helijet to Victoria. I cannot remember the issue but it was quite serious and the minister had refused to give us an appointment for weeks. We arrived at the legislature and literally snuck in an unlocked side service door.

Jack confidently rebuffed anyone who questioned our presence wandering the halls at 7 am. We found the minister’s office and camped out in the foyer refusing to leave until we were granted an audience. Many many hours later when the minister realized we were not leaving and his only exit was past us he acquiesced.

Jack and I presented our case with Jack eloquently taking the lead. The minister informed us he did not appreciate being held hostage in his own office. Jack apologized however reiterated to the minister this was really important to HIS community and he had a duty of care to represent Terrace.

My thoughts are with Hilda and the family. Thanks Jack for your dedication and service to YOUR community.”

David D. Hull, former city councillor, City of Terrrace

“I was the reporter covering city council for the Terrace Standard from 1988 until 1993 and therefore had a lot of dealings with Jack.

There were two words that I thought best described him: affable and unflappable.I only managed once to break through that unflappable barrier and that was when he announced the plan to build a convention/recreation centre.I kept asking him where the money was going to come from and on the third time of asking he lost his cool, snapping that such negative attitudes were not helpful.But being Jack, he never held my negativism on that issue against me when it came to others.

The other memory that makes me smile is when I phoned him for a comment on some long forgotten provincial announcement. He replied, “You know what I’m going to say, Malcolm, so why don’t you just write it.”

That was something else he had, a sense of humour.

Malcolm Baxter, former editor, The Northern Sentinel, Kitimat, B.C.

“I am deeply saddened by the death of our long time Mayor of the City of Terrace, Jack Talstra. It is rare for anyone to dedicate over 20 years of their life to serving the community they live in, the way Jack did. He was always gracious and deferential in all his dealings, even with those whom he disagreed with. I hope that his example will help us to move to a more open and respectful dialogue in all our public discourse. Both Colleen and I would like to send our condolences to his wife Hilda and to Jack’s family at this very sad time.”

Robin Austin, MLA for Skeena