He came for the paycheque but stayed for the lifestyle.
A twenty-something James Nelson first arrived in Trail back in 1948. He was a single strapping farm boy from Battleford Sask, who was ready to tackle the industry on the hill.
Sixty-six years later, the long serving Warfield politician and 17-year village fire chief is still not ready to bow out of public service. He didn’t win the mayoral seat in the Nov. 15 civic election – but given the chance, he’d give it all another go.
“If they had another election next week, I’d put up my name,” said Nelson, known to all as Jim. “It’s been a good run for both of us,” he said nodding to his wife, Jane. “I’ve enjoyed serving the Village of Warfield, it’s been a privilege and one of those rewarding things in life.”
Nelson became part of village politics about three decades ago following a very long run in the Warfield Volunteer Fire Department.
“I needed to have a good diversion from my job at Cominco. Some take to drink, I took to the fire department,” he chuckled.
Within months of finding and marrying a lovely Trail girl, Nelson joined the firefighting team. The year was 1950, which is when the village was incorporated from a water district into a municipality.
Soon after, Warfield’s fire truck was moved from a red shack on Wellington Street in Annable, to the village hall on Schofield Highway. The site not only housed the vehicle, but became the cornerstone of the community until the fire service was regionalized in 1983.
Nelson’s wife of almost 65 years, Jane (née Aiken), fondly recalled when families would gather in the fire hall on Saturday evenings to watch television and sip on a bottle of pop.
“They had a TV, and of course, we didn’t have one at home,” she said. “Over a period of time it developed into a social club and became part of the make up of the fire department.”
Shorty after the tank room foreman retired from Cominco, Nelson took a rookie run for a seat on village council.
He won first time out. Notably, the mayor during Nelson’s first term was Bill Trewhella.
Both men ran for the Warfield mayoral seat last month. Though neither was elected, Nelson said running against his longtime friend became a full circle moment almost three decades later, because both still have so much passion for their community.
“Bill and I have the same interest in that the village is top priority,” he added.
Serving on the fire department opened many avenues, Nelson continued, adding that his philosophy was to knock on front doors and converse with constituents face-to-face.
Over the years, he often carried through with home visits to settle problems ranging from parking disruptions to neighbourhood disputes.
“It was very rewarding to set up dialogue with citizens and resolve their problems and move them ahead,” noted Nelson.
As past president and a founder of the Warfield Credit Union, Nelson says developing that organization is one of his proudest accomplishments while in office.
“Our first meeting for the Warfield Credit Union was on the tail gate of a fire truck,” he recalled. “We were all young people raising families and at the time banks were not allowed to lend money for automobiles.”
What began as a 50 cent investment for village residents, in time grew into an $18 million revenue solution, that has since transitioned into a branch of Kootenay Savings Credit Union.
“A lot of legacies, including this subdivision, came from that,” explained Nelson, from his home on Whitman Way in the Emerald Ridge development. “The slide at the Warfield pool, the park behind the community hall, and other projects were generated from the profits.”
Another major feat completed during Nelson’s time while he served as mayor, and one he is particularly proud of, is the development of the village’s own water infrastructure.
“Teck decided it wasn’t their core business to provide water to Warfield,” he explained.
A group of citizens approached Nelson during his time as Warfield mayor, willing to plan and implement a new water supply for the village.
“It took seven years to work out a deal,” Nelson noted. “This to me, is one of the major steps here in the village by a concerned group of citizens. And that committee is one of the reasons the village installed a water system on time and on budget.”
There are still a few unresolved matters on Nelson’s agenda that he planned to focus on had he been elected mayor for another four years.
Dialogue with Teck regarding sharing industrial taxes is one, investigating amalgamation in the region is another.
But he’s feeling confident that five new faces on council is a positive step forward for the village.
“There’s no question you need new ideas and new blood to come along and move things ahead,” Nelson said.
“Certainly their view will be somewhat different than yours, but they should be.”