Municipal government

Why British Columbia commandeered Merritt’s municipal government for 18 years | infonews

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April 30, 2022 – 07:00

Residents of Merritt were stripped of their right to vote for their local government for 18 years in the 20th century.

After defaulting on its debt in 1933, the city was “in the hands of a commissioner” until 1951, according to an article in the November 8, 1951 edition of the Vancouver Daily Province. The news was that Merritt’s next election would be his first since 1928.

“The mayor and three aldermen will be elected for a two-year term,” the article read. “Three other aldermen will be elected for a single year. After that, all terms will last two years.

Merritt - FILE PHOTO

Merritt – FILE PHOTO

Image credit: Pixabay

Cameron Bridge, director of the Nicola Valley Museum, said the city defaulted on hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. It is the result of an investment made in the 1920s by a private company to deal with an aging electrical network.

“The city kept growing and needed another source of electricity to power the city,” he said. “And it just so happened that at the same time there was a man who owned one of the big mills who also wanted a new source of electricity.”

This man was Henry C. Meeker and he owned Nicola Pine Mills. He entered into discussions with the city and reached an agreement to invest in a power plant at the factory. Electricity would be generated by burning wood waste and sold to the city at 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour.

The factory started on April 29, 1928.

“It was a big red day,” Bridge said. “There was a big party once it was up and running.”

But with the Great Depression only a few years away, it wasn’t long before the factory began to suffer severe financial losses.

“There wasn’t as much construction, not as many lumber orders,” Bridge said.

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So Meeker came up with a plan to take out $125,000 in bonds to save the factory and have the city guarantee them.

The mayor at the time was not in favor of the idea but after some back and forth a plebiscite was scheduled for January 1931.

Meeker promised residents that if they voted to secure the bonds, there would be more local jobs and a stronger power grid.

The plebiscite grew from 161 to 90, and Meeker invested the money in new equipment and more land.

“He had a few new orders, but it didn’t go so well,” Bridge said.

It was 1932 when Nicola Pine Mills defaulted on its payments, which put Merritt in receivership.

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Meeker left the area in 1932, according to a 1995 newsletter from the Forest History Association of British Columbia.

The city would be run by three commissioners while its local government was run by the province – Sidney Charles Burton from 1933 to 1941, Frederick S. Gay from 1941 to 1948, and WW Watson from 1948 to 1951.

Alan Collett was the person elected mayor in 1951.

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