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It wasn’t unusual for me to be at Coldstream council meetings, but one night in 1990 or 1991, I was extremely ill.
At some point, things got the best of me and I must have laid my head down on the table. The next thing I remembered was hearing a loud bang.
I opened my eyes, looked ahead and there was Ernie Palfrey, with gavel in hand, saying, “Well, at least we woke him up.”
The ironic part was that Ernie had been accused occasionally of nodding off in the mayor’s chair himself.
I felt a bond with Coldstream’s mayor of the day from the first time I met him. Perhaps it was because we both had deep Okanagan roots and had changed orchard sprinklers and lugged bags full of apples. It may also have been because he was who he was — gruff and not afraid to speak his mind (a departure from today’s sanitized, politically correct version of politics).
But not everyone was fond of Ernie and that was clear in 1991 when council asked the government to investigate allegations that Palfrey breached his oath of office.
Among the claims were that he connected his property to sewer without permission and municipal equipment plowed his driveway. While the investigation was underway, Ernie was removed from all committees.
Ernie, who provided explanations for all of the allegations, felt betrayed.
“I’m not leaving, I’m staying,” he said.
But while council may have lost confidence in Ernie, many residents had not. I remember standing outside of the municipal office as a large crowd gathered. They were seething over what they considered an attempted coup.
“They are crucifying the guy,” said resident Nelson Anderson at the time.
“We are the ones who voted for him, not these guys. He’s our mayor,” added Jamie Kidston.
Ultimately, the conflict between Palfrey and council was resolved (details have never been released), he remained as mayor and, in fact, went on to hold the job until he lost the election in 1996.
Many found themselves drawn to Palfrey’s broad smile and down-home charisma.
It wasn’t unusual to find people gathered around him at special events or in the coffee shop as he regaled them with stories of Coldstream’s early days.
My last interview with Palfrey was in 2010 when the community gathered at the old Coldstream Elementary before it made way for a new school.
“We had lots of fun in the basement. In the winter, we’d go down and toast sandwiches on the wood furnace,” said Palfrey, who started Grade 1 in 1934.
“We played marbles and got into soccer. We’d often play against Mackie School.”
For my own family, our memories include going to Ernie’s farm to get fresh-squeezed apple juice in the fall. My then little girls would explore the orchard while the former mayor and I discussed the crop, the weather and, inevitably, the political scene.
Ernie was tied to the farm he had known his whole life and that was never more evident then when he had three six-week-old calves killed by dogs in 2001.
“When I find one dead calf and it’s been bitten by dogs, I’m a pretty upset man,” he said, fighting back a mixture of anger and tears.
I didn’t always agree with Ernie’s political views but that’s to be expected with anyone. What I did, though, was have tremendous respect for him as a person.
When many people only sit on the sidelines, he took a stand and was an active member of society, whether as a volunteer firefighter or by sitting on council.
But what I will miss most is a genuine character who loved being around people and sharing his unending pride in his community.