It is not likely you will find anyone more surprised than Ian Hamilton about how the 2016 civic election turned out.
Hamilton was all set to run for his third term as mayor when he sat down with his nomination paperwork in front of him, and had the now-famous “aha” moment that changed the course of the election race.
“I’m as surprised as anybody about what transpired,” said Hamilton. “It was one of those moments. And I stopped one morning and thought ‘wow.’ I never allowed myself to think I wasn’t going to run.”
After 10 years — seven as mayor and the first three as a city councillor — Hamilton had become used to making decisions based on what was in the best interests of the city of North Battleford. But this time, he was making a decision based on what was best for him personally, and his family.
“This was one of my most selfish decisions, in a sense. And people say, ‘oh, it’s not selfish,” but it is,” said Hamilton.
“In this respect I wasn’t thinking about community, or anything like that. It was all about me. And that’s what I mean about being selfish. It seemed like the right decision for me at that point in time.”
After a couple of days, and after speaking with his wife and daughters about it, Hamilton realized he could “do different things. You could be something different in the community. And I will be. I’m not burying myself in the ground or anything like that. I just want to participate and contribute in different ways.”
While Hamilton is most closely connected to the city of North Battleford, his upbringing was interesting.
He grew up on the grounds of Saskatchewan Hospital where his father and grandfather were involved in various capacities.
“We had a Hamilton presence on the grounds from about 1930 to about the late ‘80s,” said Hamilton.
The Sask. Hospital community was self-sustaining, said Hamilton. They had their own chickens and pigs and horses, grew their own vegetables, and there was an orchard there.
“We had tennis courts, we had ball diamonds, we had a golf course,” said Hamilton. “As a child you couldn’t ask for anything more.”
His mother’s side of the family was closely connected to the town of Battleford going back to the early 1900s. Hamilton himself did his early schooling in Battleford, which was where the Sask. Hospital kids were taught.
Hamilton chose North Battleford because of professional opportunities there. After graduating commerce at the University of Saskatchewan, Hamilton found a job and earned his CA designation in 1980. His wife Charlotte is also from North Battleford, and the deep family connections to the whole Battlefords community are something Hamilton conveys to his children and grandchildren.
“It’s part of my whole fabric,” said Hamilton. “The Battlefords is our home, it’s our community, it’s what we live and breathe.”
His time as an accountant proved valuable in the various community initiatives he has taken part in. Hamilton volunteered for various boards and organizations including the Battlefords Sexual Assault Centre and Battlefords Residential Services, Inc.
“As an accountant, you’re kind of sought after,” said Hamilton, because boards are “always looking for somebody to take care of the finances.”
He also was on the Battlefords Chamber of Commerce, and through that became involved in community initiatives. The one that particularly motivated him was the effort to build a new community recreational multiplex in the city.
Hamilton was part of the steering committee struck to spearhead efforts to build a curling rink, aquatic centre, field house and theatre.
But Hamilton recalled a point in that process when progress was seemingly grinding to a halt.
“We were getting to the point where it was beginning to stall,” Hamilton recalled. “I was disappointed and frustrated by the lack of progress.”
It was a random conversation on the street with someone who was also involved in the efforts that got him motivated to run for the first time.
Hamilton was “venting” about the issue, he recalled, and “she looked me in the eyes and said ‘OK, I’ll vote for you.’”
“What do you mean by that?’” Hamilton had asked her. She explained there was a municipal election coming up.
She said, “If you’re so passionate about this thing, put up or shut up, you know, go and put your name out there.”
Hamilton said he went home and thought about it a lot, and talked it over with his wife and family.
“OK, I’ll run for council.”
Hamilton won his seat on council in 2006 and served the next three years under Mayor Julian Sadlowski.
As he described it, Hamilton started off as a single-issue candidate — getting the CUplex built. “It’s not necessarily the best way to enter politics,” he said. “Yet it was very beneficial to me to get myself involved.”
Hamilton’s interests broadened significantly, he recalled. “It was all about community. It was great.”
In 2009, Hamilton threw his hat into the mayor’s race to succeed Sadlowski. There were four other candidates including former mayor Wayne Ray, educator Reid Stewart, former school board trustee Joyce Salie and longtime councillor Brad Pattinson.
Ultimately the race came down to Hamilton and Pattinson. Hamilton’s campaign was well-organized, and as the election approached he was confident he was “way ahead.”
His wife, Charlotte, was not so confident. She urged her husband to do one last round of campaigning before election day.
Hamilton went out for one more round of door knocking and remembered one house specifically that night where he talked to two people who remarked he had been the only candidate to visit them during the campaign. They said they would vote for him.
“It’s two votes that made a difference,” said Hamilton, who learned a familiar lesson — every vote counts.
By a 15-vote margin, Ian Hamilton defeated Brad Pattinson and became the new mayor of North Battleford.
During that first term, Hamilton went to work to achieve his goal of getting the multiplex — that later became known as the Credit Union CUplex — up and running.
There were some tense meetings, including one special meeting in which council approved funding for all four components of the CUplex.
While the concept went through, some changes were made before its final composition, Hamilton had taken a strong stance throughout in favour of building all four components.
“I was always a stalwart in the sense of saying there are no compromises here,” said Hamilton.
“For me it was a slam dunk, I wanted all four of them. I didn’t want to compromise on any of them, because I felt we as a community, we had to go forward,” said Hamilton.
“If we were going to demonstrate anything to the larger community of Saskatchewan and Canada, and demonstrate to those looking to North Battleford to invest, if we’re not willing to invest in ourselves first, why would we expect someone else to invest in North Battleford. So I think it was a game changer.”
He points to a “change in attitudes" as to what North Battleford saw itself as among the residents — from a laid-back attitude to “we can be more, and we are going to be more.”
In the Hamilton years in office, there was growth and interest seen in the southeast quadrant. Some proposals that came before City Hall — such as one for a proposed First Nations Heritage Park — didn’t come to pass, but recent years have seen a new strip mall, the Walmart expansion, expansion of Home Hardware, a new Dsicovery Co-op gas bar and other developments.
An impressive development coming to that area is the 105-room new Comfort Inns and Suites hotel.
He credited the CUplex as a catalyst for the development seen. “Again, foresight in terms of what can happen over there,” said Hamilton.
Another area of focus has been reviving the downtown. Hamilton’s second term efforts ramped up to include establishment of the downtown business improvement district. He pointed to the deal for a new movie theatre downtown as vitally important to reviving that area. Construction is expected to start in early spring of next year.
“A movie theatre is really, really important,” said Hamilton. “An entertainment centre in the downtown is huge.”
Hamilton could cite as a major accomplishment passage by council of the zoning bylaw and official community plan, which included packed meetings in council chambers at City Hall. The mayor saw the document as vital towards making sure banks and professional offices stayed located in the downtown core.
“We thought we needed to ensure there was vitality downtown with the banks, professional offices, accounting, medical, those sorts of things,” said Hamilton.
A major effort has been the community safety initiatives. The establishment of the HUB, the hiring of community safety officers, the hiring of Herb Sutton as community safety coordinator and various initiatives such as Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design marked his second term.
The initiatives came about in the wake of annual Crime Severity Index numbers in which North Battleford ranked as first in the nation in crime severity for communities over 10,000.
Hamilton still bristles about North Battleford being referred to as a crime capital. “Those of us that live here know that’s not what we are,” said Hamilton.
Still, said Hamilton, the focus was on developing partnerships with local organizations and with the province and federal government to address the root causes of the issues with respect to crime in North Battleford — poverty, homelessness and addiction and mental health issues.
“I think we’ve done a great job. We have,” said Hamilton. “We are working very diligently and very productively to address some of those issues, which are not some things that municipal governments are necessarily responsible for, but we’re trying to build the partnerships … to address these things.”
Through it all, Hamilton could count on working with skilled professionals in the City’s administrative ranks, first with former City Manager Jim Toye, who later moved on to Prince Albert, and then in recent years with City Manager Jim Puffalt.
Hamilton credits an atmosphere in which council adopted a governance model “that empowers our administration to do their jobs.”
He noted adoption of the city’s strategic plan as another highlight — a document broad enough in scope to allow administration to “start planning to think about how they’re going to make certain things happen in the city without being proscriptive. And I’m really pleased about that.”
In the past few months, Hamilton and the rest of administration dealt with the biggest crisis to hit the North Battleford water supply since 2001— the Husky oil spill into the North Saskatchewan River.
Hamilton credited administration officials for being prepared to handle that situation by establishing the Emergency Operations Centre and getting it up and running, and finding alternative sources of water for the city. A supply line from Battleford and four new wells were quickly constructed, and a pre-filtration system is to be installed so river water can be accessed again.
Now Hamilton is focused on wrapping up his time in the mayor’s office at City Hall before the swearing-in takes place of the new mayor and council Nov. 7.
He says the transition to new Mayor Ryan Bater has gone smoothly, so far.
“We’ve been doing this the last couple of weeks,” said Hamilton.
“Ryan and I have chatted a number of times. He’s not new to the arena. We’re trying to make this as seamless as possible. We get along very, very well. Just a passing of the torch very willingly, which is kind of neat in some respects.
“There was no adversarial change of governance. So it’s pretty nice to be able to speak to Ryan on a transitional basis that is empowering going forward … very much forward thinking."
As for the future, Hamilton plans to resume his accounting practice and contribute to the community as a volunteer. And he will be able to spend more time with his wife and three daughters, who he is proud to say have all chosen to move back to the Battlefords area to pursue their careers and raise their families.
After 10 years of public life, Mayor Hamilton is ready to resume being a private citizen once again.
“I’m really going to miss this, there’s no doubt in my mind.”