It was a shock when we heard that Don Cameron had died on Sunday, January 4. He was such a presence in this community, even years after he left public life. Most days, before the pandemic, Don could be found at his seat in Tim Hortons in the Kemptville Mall, chatting with the regulars, having a warm greeting and a few words for the many who stopped to say hello. I think that, for the many new comers to North Grenville over the past decade and more, the part Don played in, literally, making North Grenville was unknown. But for those who knew and remembered his contribution to this community, his part will always be remembered and valued.
There is so much to say about what he accomplished in his 80 years, and long before his political career in Oxford-on-Rideau Township, he had been a public servant and a businessman, someone who enjoyed his football, baseball, curling, antique cars, and, most of all, his family. He was a warm and caring man, who showed an interest in all those he met, no matter what their status or position.
But the role he played in establishing North Grenville is one that this community will remember. Don had been a member of Council, and then Reeve in Oxford-on-Rideau, and had served as Warden of the United Counties of Leeds & Grenville. Then, in 1995, the Ontario government announced its intention of pushing through the amalgamation of many municipalities around the province. There would be no choice in the matter.
Don was an important player in the talks that ultimately led to the creation of the Township of North Grenville in January, 1998. It would not be called the Municipality until 2003. The negotiations were not easy, and much heat was generated among the mayors, reeves and councillors of Oxfords, South Gower, and Town of Kemptville. The fact that Don was chosen as the first Mayor of the new North Grenville was a testament to the respect and admiration he won from his fellow politicians and residents.
Immediately, however, Don was faced with an enormous challenge. On the day the first North Grenville Council met, the great Ice Storm of 1998 hit and everything was thrown into chaos. But, with Don Cameron leading the way, this community came together and performed heroics until power was restored weeks later. It was a real baptism of fire.
But even before North Grenville came to be, Don Cameron had secured for its people one of the great assets we enjoy still: the Ferguson Forest Centre. Another of the Mike Harris Government’s initiatives, aside from amalgamation, was their decision to close the Ferguson Forest Station. The story is told elsewhere in this issue of the Times, and Don’s vital role in saving the FFC is described there.
What can be said here is that, without Don Cameron’s leadership at the time, ably supported by Owen Fitz’Gerald and others, the FFC would have been destroyed, the land sold and built on, and a precious and valuable asset, not just for North Grenville, but for the provincial forest industry, would have been lost. Don stood up to the provincial powers and let them know, in no uncertain terms, that the FFC would never be surrendered.
Don Cameron’s leadership in the years as Reeve of Oxford-on-Rideau and Mayor of North Grenville was a case of the right man in the right place at the right time. The FFC is his legacy to the people of the Municipality he did so much to establish. Quite a record.
His role may best to expressed by his colleague and successor as Mayor. Bruce Harrison said this about Don: “Don Cameron was the best person to be elected as Mayor of North Grenville in our inaugural year of amalgamation. It was a pleasure to work alongside Don in laying the foundations of our community, building the future with action and vision.”
Our condolences to Don’s family and friends, and to all those many, many people who knew and valued him. A Graveside Service will be held in the spring. Donations may be made to the Kemptville Hospital Auxiliary or Foundation.