He had one of the briefest stints as mayor in St. Albert’s history but the impression he made on people during that time lasted the rest of his life.
John DeBruijn, who passed away on Aug. 9, was first elected a town councillor in 1962, soon earning himself a reputation as having a sharp eye for finances and an open ear for argument, so long as the arguer had a basis in logic. When both of those went a little sideways in 1965, he was the best fit to fill in the vacancy in the mayor’s chair.
In March of that year, the St. Albert Voters’ Rights Association took legal action to invalidate the results of the October 1964 municipal election. Then Mayor William Veness was removed from office, along with three other councillors. A municipal inspector was installed on council in order to form quorum and DeBruijn was appointed mayor with Richard Fowler as his deputy mayor.
The next vote was just four months later. By then, DeBruijn was happy to let Fowler take the lead. Before the ’60s were out, he had served a few terms before he decided that he had had enough of the elected life.
He might have lived the rest of his life mostly out of the political limelight, but there are very few people around that don’t have him to thank for one reason or another. He chose to offer his administrative talents to the cause of building a new community hospital and became a major proponent of the project and a long-serving member on the hospital board. He would later be appointed as a lifetime trustee in recognition of his outstanding commitment to its work.
That first hospital was a lengthy five-year process that, upon its opening in August 1970, board chairman William Flynn joked that “it was the hospital board in office longest – without the hospital.”
“That was a passion for him,” his son, Doug said this week.
“The first hospital … he was devastated when they tore it down. When they decided they were going to build the second one, he got involved again. That seemed to be the calling that he enjoyed more. Running for politics … he wasn’t a great – what would you call it – politician. He couldn’t go out and electioneer. He didn’t like doing that sort of stuff.”
“You would never have caught him out on the highway waving at people to win an election,” his brother Larry added. “He was a no-bullshit guy.”
Doug said that he was “a pretty strong disciplinarian: black and white, rigid.” He always wanted them to give their best and didn’t suffer sloth. After all, he had been a working man ever since he was 14 and took a job as a cook’s assistant at a northern Alberta lumber mill.
When progress was on standby, however, he couldn’t hold his patience or offer a mild temperament. The two brothers reminisced that their father loved to watch Edmonton’s CFL team but only if the players were doing well. If the team started to falter, John would leave in a huff. Sometimes he left too early though.
“He couldn’t sit through a game if they were doing bad. He would get mad and walk away. Couldn’t watch ’em. He missed more comebacks in the Wilkie days,” Larry recalled, referring to the golden years when Tom Wilkinson was quarterback.
Another one of his passions was the fabled Perron Street Arena, popularly known as the Ducky Dome, the former ice rink located right downtown. He helped to finance the project in order to provide the recreational facility to the growing townsfolk. It opened in 1971, the year after the hospital took in its first patients.
All in all, he helped St. Albert to figure out its growing pains from being a town of approximately 5,200 (then slightly smaller than Wetaskiwin) to the city that it is today. And he did it without much in the way of recognition like having a school or a street named after him either. He did his work and he did it with integrity.
Doug said that his dad was sharp in finances, and always did his homework, and that’s what earned him the people’s respect. “When you do your homework, you get the job done.”
John DeBruijn also was a proud serving member of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment militia, retiring as a lieutenant but remaining active with the Edmonton Garrison Officers’ Club and the Royal Canadian Legion No. 273 in St. Albert. He also helped out on the board of directors of a cadet camp near Athabasca.
The family is planning a private service.