Published in the North Island Gazette, July 2015
With her feet firmly planted in Port Alice, Gail Lind has always been moving upwards. From Girl Friday to CAO; from the village hills to a mountain top, she commits to her goals, and puts in the work to make them happen. Gail is one of the few original Port Alicians, who for 50 years has journeyed the ups and downs of the village and has helped hold it together during tough times.
Born in ‘old’ Port Alice, the original community started in 1918 at the pulp mill site, she was the oldest daughter of Arlen Johnson, a logging camp cook, and Fred Lind (known as Skipper), captain of the Mahatta II tugboat – both also born in Port Alice.
Gail was 8 when the town was relocated in 1965 to ‘new’ Port Alice, 5 km North at Rumble Beach. She remembers the excitement of a brand new town and a new house across the street from present-day Lion’s Park. She called the uncleared woods there her playground, where she and her friends explored, picked berries and built forts.
“I feel very fortunate to have grown up here when I did,” she says. “I had a great childhood.”
In the 70s she says Port Alice was booming (the population was around 1800 compared to less than 800 today). It had a drug store, a clothing store, sporting goods store, laundromat, hair salon, North Island College, a dentist, and 3 RCMP officers; and Sea View Elementary and Junior Secondary School had about 200 students (compared to about 45 in 2015).
She went to work in 1976 at the Port Alice municipal office as ‘Girl Friday’ under Clerk Pat Gustafson. “Pat was tough,” said Gail. “Back then I had to re-type many letters over and over. No mistakes. Zero.” She learned to be very detail-oriented.
In addition to her municipal responsibilities, other assigned duties included selling insurance for ICBC, processing driver’s licenses for the motor vehicle branch and serving as the secretary for the recreation commission.
She took accounting and municipal government courses, and was promoted to secretary and then to administrative assistant. All while raising two children. Her ability to balance it all helped prepare her for the challenge of her life.
When the Port Alice mill closed down in 2004, taking the main tax base with it and more than 400 jobs (including her husband Trent’s), municipal workers were laid off in the office, public works, community centre and arena.
The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) recommended appointing Gail as combined CAO and Treasurer, leaving her and one administrative employee to run all the village business.
“I felt like I had to do it,” she says, “for the town and for my family.”
For the next few years, Gail often worked 10-12-hour days, 6 or 7 days a week.
“It was really tough,” she says. “There were days I was sitting at my desk and I’d think – I’m forgetting to breath.”
But she loved her hometown, she loved her job and was committed.
“I really enjoyed the work and I had really great support of council and remaining staff,” she said. “We were all in it together to save the Village. It was do or die.”
She successfully navigated those lean years, and in 2007, she hired a CAO and transitioned to Treasurer as she prepared for her retirement.
As another mill shutdown affects the town this year, she worries for the village’s future. “I hope that the town stabilizes and thrives once again,” she says. “It feels a little broken right now.”
Still, she loves that it’s safe and quiet and so accessible to the outdoor recreation she enjoys. “It’s just easy living,” she says.
For 37 years Gail walked to work, and since retiring in 2013, has increased her physical activity to include bicycling, running, and training for the Kusam Klimb – the 23km round-trip intense hike up Mount H’Kusam near Sayward, with the slogan ‘Are you tough enough?’. She and Trent completed it on June 20th, with a time of 5 hours 53 minutes, and are already planning to reduce their climb time next year. Gail is tough enough.