Mayor John Harwood chats with Susan Mulkey of the BC Community Forests Association and George Brcko, manager of the Wells Gray Community Forest during a BCCFA meeting in Clearwater.

VALLEY VOICES: Harwood reflects on a lifetime of service

Clearwater’s mayor since incorporation 10 years ago likely will not run again in 2018

By Keith McNeill

John Harwood, Clearwater’s mayor since incorporation 10 years ago, likely will not run again in 2018.

“It’s in the high 90 per cent certainty,” he said. “The main reason is the physical part of the job. I don’t want to be a deficit to Clearwater because of mobility issues.”

READ MORE: Harwood re-elected as mayor – 2014

Even if he doesn’t run again, many would say that he already has done more than his fair share to this community and the North Thompson Valley.

Born in Plymouth, England, Harwood apprenticed as a fitter and then worked in the dockyards.

Deciding to immigrate, he borrowed money from the Canadian government to help pay his passage.

Landing in Halifax, he took the train to Vancouver.

“That was a long train trip,” he recalled.

He worked for a while in the Lower Mainland, then saw an ad looking for tradespeople to act as teachers.

At the interview he was told he was too young, but nevertheless he was offered a job with the Birch Island School District.

“I had no idea where Birch Island was,” he recalled. “I spoke to a moving company and was told, ‘We don’t move anything onto islands.’ It was only later that I found it wasn’t actually an island.”

He took summer school to qualify as a teacher and then travelled to Clearwater to teach in the high school. The year was 1966.

Soon after his arrival be began getting involved in the lack of health care services in the Valley.

“I was flabbergasted that there was no doctor here or medical services,” he recalled.

There was a fly-in doctor who came into Vavenby, and Alice Moilliet, who was a nurse, provided most of the health care available to the residents of this part of the Valley.

He went to speak at the newly formed Thompson-Nicola Regional District about the need for medical services here. Unfortunately, most of the members of the interim board were Social Credit appointees. The chair ruled that the meeting was to be in camera and Harwood was not allowed to speak.

“I told myself that’s not going to happen again,” he said.

When the opportunity came he ran to be TNRD director for Area A (Clearwater-Vavenby). The year after that he was vice-chair and for the following two years he was chair.

One of the highlights of that time was a meeting in the gym at what is now Raft River Elementary. Two government representatives tried to explain to more than 300 local residents why they didn’t really need a hospital or doctors in the community.

At the end of the meeting the two said they couldn’t stay longer, saying, “It’s a long way to Kamloops.”

“The room erupted,” Harwood recalled. “That was exactly the reason why we needed a hospital.”

Another highlight was when he tape-recorded the health minister, Ralph Loffmark, who had been telling the local hospital committee one thing in private and saying other things in public.

A member of the Opposition played the tapes in the Legislature in Victoria. Fearing that Harwood had more, the government suddenly agreed and the hospital got built.

Harwood only served on the TNRD board for four years (he is now back on it again as District of Clearwater’s representative).

He felt it wouldn’t be appropriate for him to continue as a director. At the time he was suing the TNRD because the Sportsplex roof had collapsed.

He tried running for provincial politics a couple of times but didn’t get the nomination.

All that time he didn’t stop teaching and he continued to take an interest in what was happening in the Valley.

A non-profit organization that he helped run, Yellowhead Community Services, ran childcare contracts from Barriere to Blue River.

In 1999 he retired after 34 years of teaching – much of that time as a principal.

He was also president of the North Thompson Teachers Federation eight times, which meant he got to know both sides of the negotiating table.

After retirement he ran for school board, was a trustee for 12 years, and served as chair as well.

Clearwater had looked at incorporation several times before it actually happened and Harwood served on some of the committees looking into it.

When the town finally incorporated, he decided that he had some skills that he could bring to the table and so ran for mayor.

“I detest running for election,” he admitted. “I hate saying I’d be good at this and good at that. I find it hard being put in that position.”

District of Clearwater, along with other rural communities in this province, face a number of challenges, he said.

“Rural B.C. has been devastated the last 25 years,” he said. “We’ve managed to survive and, hopefully, we’ve laid the groundwork to continue.

He noted that when he first came here there were many sawmills in this part of the Valley. Now there is just one, and it requires fewer people to operate it.

“We need to keep our economy going in different directions,” he said.

Things such as high speed Internet are critical in attracting new businesses and keeping existing ones.

The wildfire situation last summer showed the value of incorporation, he felt.

“When you look at how the town came together, it showed people there was a team looking after their interests,” the mayor said.

A high priority issue is the one that got him into public life in the first place – health care.

“Possibly the most important thing is to keep the doctors here. That’s a core value to the town,” he said.

Harwood gave credit to his family for the support given him throughout the years.

“I couldn’t have been doing this without their support,” he said.


John Harwood signs the oath of office as mayor of Clearwater during the 2011 inaugural meeting. Administering the oath is Judge Chris Cleaveley, who grew up in Roundtop. Cleaveley has administered the oath at all four District of Clearwater inaugurations. “He makes me swear more than anyone,” says Harwood. Photo by Keith McNeill

John Harwood stands in front of one of his favorite projects: Dr. Helmcken Memorial Hospital. He played an important role in getting the first hospital built. Times file photo

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