LES WATMOUGH, who passed away following a heart attack Oct. 27, is being remembered as a man who faithfully represented his constituents during his several decades of service as the Thornhill director for the Kitimat-Stikine regional district.
“He became known unofficially as the ‘Mayor of Thornhill,’ a title which really suited him,” said Helmut Giesbrecht, a former Skeena NDP MLA and Terrace mayor who knew Watmough, 83, professionally and personally. Giesbrecht said Watmough’s years of experience in the forest industry provided him a body of knowledge unequalled by others.
“He had by then accumulated a lot of first hand knowledge about local forests which gave him more credibility than most and he never tired of sharing what he had learned with others. He was always a gentleman,” said Giesbrecht.
But he also said Watmough’s knowledge of past events may not have always been welcomed by others.
“His account of events in Terrace’s past often included details that others had long forgotten and might only be remembered by a few of the rogues of times past who wished they could now do the same,” said Giesbrecht.
“The colourful and sometimes questionable activities of people who lived in this area were all part of the folklore he could relate to anyone who expressed an interest.”
“He never gave up the struggle to make the world a better place, he never wavered in his political beliefs or his commitment to his church and he never wavered in his duty to neighbours,” said Giesbrecht.
Current Skeena NDP MLA Robin Austin said Watmough, a longtime New Democrat, dedicated his life to helping others.
“He was somebody who always thought about other people and their needs and that’s what he spent a lot of time doing,” said Austin.
And Skeena NDP MP Nathan Cullen called Watmough a guide and a mentor.
“In an age when we are obsessed with only the latest and most shiny thing, Les was that constant companion, someone who held the stories of our community and shared those stories in ways that gave meaning to the moment now,” said Cullen.
Former Terrace mayor Jack Talstra, who sat with Watmough on the Kitimat-Stikine regional district board at various times, said Watmough was a classic “meat and potatoes” politician.
“He worked on water systems, sewer systems, lights, sidewalks, firefighting, parks,” said Talstra.
And although Watmough consistently argued against any thought of a Thornhill and Terrace merger, that didn’t stop him from sharing costs, providing rural residents access to city-owned facilities, said Talstra.
“To his credit, when it came to cost sharing, Thornhill always paid its share, and that included capital costs, when it came to recreation, to the library, to the swimming pool.”
Talstra remembered a trip he, Watmough and others made to Iskut on regional district business. Accommodation was limited and the pair ended up sharing a room.
“Neither of us were pajama-type guys,” said Talstra.
“Les said he was the only one who ever saw the mayor of Terrace naked. Of course, the same could be said by me of him.”
Born Oct. 8, 1931 in Lethbridge, Alberta, Watmough first came to Terrace in 1950 to dismantle Second World War-era buildings. He then left but returned for good in 1955, resulting in a long forestry career that ended in 1991 when he retired from a scaling position with Skeena Cellulose.
He was also a trapper and once served as president of the Western Trappers Association.
Other interests included obtaining his private pilot’s licence.
He was a staunch member of Christ Lutheran Church and a lifetime member of the New Democratic Party.
His political experience began in 1976 when he was elected as the Thornhill director of the Kitimat-Stikine regional district, a position he held until 2008 with the exception of the years 1982-1984 and 1994-1996.
In 2007, Watmough was recognized by the Union of BC Municipalities for 25 years of elected service.
A scholarship is being created in his name at Caledonia Senior Secondary School and donations can be made at the school. Watmough leaves wife Diane (they were married in 1961), four children and six grandchildren. An open house was held at Christ Lutheran Church Nov. 1. He was cremated according his wishes.
Former and current Skeena MLAs submitted these comments regarding Les Watmough:
From Helmut Giesbrecht:
I met Les Watmough around 1971. I can’t recall the exact event but it would have been at some meeting of New Democrats. He was the soft spoken fellow who worked as a logger, sometimes trapper and who people deferred to when there were discussions about the forest industry in this region. He had by then accumulated a lot of first hand knowledge about local forests which gave him more credibility than most and he never tired of sharing what he had learned with others. He was always a gentleman. When he became the Thornhill Area Director on the Regional District of Kitimat Stikine he took his role with a dedication that would set an example for any politician. In his 25 years of service he became known unofficially as the “Mayor of Thornhill” a title which really suited him. I witnessed his disarming style as I worked with him briefly on a committee to study Thornhill Amalgamation with Terrace and while attending a few Regional District meetings as an Alternate Director for Terrace.
In the ’90s I again had the privilege of working with Les as the RD Director while I was in Victoria as the MLA. He was a great help to both Gail Murray, my Constituency Assistant, and myself. He once commented that except for his age, he would have run against me for the nomination and there were times when I wished he had. I now wonder at times what might have transpired had both of us taken a different path.
In Africa there is a saying, “When an elder dies, it is like burning a library” and this comes to mind when I think of Les. His account of events in Terrace’s past often included details that others had long forgotten and might only be remembered by a few of the rogues of times past who wished they could now do the same. The colorful and sometimes questionable activities of people who lived in this area were all part of the folk lore he could relate to anyone who expressed an interest. He could make an incident of the past come alive with details and names. That “library” is now gone and we will be poorer for it.
Les Watmough was a “down to earth” kind of guy. He never gave up the struggle to make the world a better place, he never wavered in his political beliefs or his commitment to his church and he never wavered in his duty to neighbors. I feel honored to have known him. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
Rest In Peace old friend!
From Nathan Cullen:
Les Watmough was a long time organizer for New Democrats in the northwest but more importantly he was a defender of the people that live here and a friend to those who didn’t have much given to them by society.
Les was also a guide and mentor for me personally. In an age when we are obsessed with only the latest and most shiny thing, Les was that constant companion, someone who held the stories of our community and shared those stories in ways that gave meaning to the moment now.
I was saddened by the news of his passing and grieve with Diane his wife of many years.
Les was of this place and lived his life in accordance with a deeply help belief for fairness and the democratic rights of all people. We are made poorer for his passing yet richer for having known him.
MP Skeena-Bulkley Valley