By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – Bagpipes and Red Serge preceded the Honourable Ken Kowalski into packed council chambers June 22. Kowalski, Speaker of the Alberta Legislature and Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA, was given the honour of investing Morinville Mayor Lloyd Bertschi with the Town’s first chain of office, new ceremonial regalia that pays homage to Morinville’s administrative and mayoral heritage.
“What we’re doing tonight is doing something that basically has its tradition and its history that goes back nearly a thousand years to the Dukes of Normandy when they initiated a chain of office recognition,” Kowalski said. “That history has remained and continued in many parts of the world, many parts of North America.”
The MLA said that Morinville was the first community in his constituency that had implemented a chain of office, something that had particular historical merit for the town, given that 2011 is Morinville’s centennial year.
“Although decorative, it’s one of the oldest symbols of authority granted historically, and will certainly from this day forward be one of the oldest symbols of authority granted to the wearer by the citizens of Morinville,” Kowalski said, adding that the wearing of the chain ensures the function of the office both in a business and ceremonial sense.
In receiving the chain of office from Speaker Kowalski, Mayor Bertschi said it was a great honour to be the first mayor in Morinville to wear the chain, although he was originally against the idea when it was first proposed by Councillor Joe Gosselin some years ago.
“I’ve come to appreciate that … the ceremonial pieces of the office that we hold are just as important as the work that we do,” Bertschi said. “It is very much my privilege to accept this on behalf of all the past mayors and on behalf of all the future mayors as well.”
The Mayor went on to thank the four former mayors who were invited to join the historic celebration, each of whom received a scaled down version of the collar. Bertschi extended his reminiscences of working with and accepting guidance from former mayors Ted Code, Mary Ann Balsillie, Ross Quinn and Bert Oullette.
Oullette, who was mayor in 1967, said he was pleased with the invitation.
“This is quite an honour to come, actually,” he said, remembering his term of office during Canada’s Centennial. “Our mayor that we had then had to quit and I took over without an election.
Oullette remained a Morinville resident until he downsized a few years ago and moved to St. Albert; however, the former mayor said he returns often to take part in activities at the Seniors’ Rendez-Vous Club. Travelling to Morinville from St. Albert and from 1967 to 2010, Oullette has noted many changes.
“It’s a big change, yes,” he said of the town he once governed. “And for the good. It really looks nice now.”
Added to those changes is the ceremonial chain of office, a collar which Kowalski referred to as a work of art. The approximately three-foot long collar is adorned with maple leaves, the Alberta wild rose and the coats of arms of Morinville, Alberta and Canada. It also bears the name of every administrator and mayor back to the beginning with room for 15 future mayors to be added.
However, none of it would have been possible without the persistence of Councillor Joe Gosselin.
“I’ve wanted a chain of office for a while,” Gosselin said. “I’m used to the pomp and pageantry of the military.”
Gosselin said that he first offered the idea during his first term, but the idea was rejected. It was during a co-council meeting hosted by St. Albert that the idea was again brought to the forefront of his mind.
“While I was leaving I saw their chain of office in a cabinet,” Gosselin said. “I saw it and I thought, ‘you know what – it’s time. We’re almost a hundred years old. We need to have our own.’”
Seizing on an opportunity when the mayor was not present at a council meeting, Gosselin approached his fellow councillors in camera to see if they would support funding the chain of office regalia.
“They all wholeheartedly supported it and left it in my hands to get one commissioned,” Gosselin said, noting that after considerable research he found a company in Ontario that could do the work. “Their standard one was smaller than I wanted because we had 25 previous mayors, including the incumbent. I got them to make one with 40 name bars on it.”
In addition to the six keeper medals that were commissioned for Morinville’s current and past mayors, Gosselin commissioned another 15 to continue the tradition well past Morinville’s centennial year.