Inside the City Hall on Dixon Street in Galt, Christmas trees and festive garnishes twinkle on the way to the Mayor’s office. Santa has yet to climb down the chimneys on Christmas Eve; the anticipation of the holiday is still in the air.
Doug Craig believes in Santa Claus. There’s a sign on his desk that says so, and it stays there all year. It represents his wishes for in the future and his accomplishments over the past 14 years as Mayor of Cambridge, Ontario. It also congers up that little boy, still inside him, who grew up in Toronto.
Doug didn’t know his father who left when Doug was three years old. His grandmother, legally blind and living on Welfare, took him in for a year.
“It was a difficult life,” Doug says. “As you reflect back on things you realize…” He stops and smiles.
The boarding house was on Yorkville Avenue. In the 40’s and 50’s, it was a downtrodden and dreary street. Two other families lived on the same floor with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall.
Doug remembers his grandmother putting milk outside on the window ledge in the summer to keep it cool. He also remembers one special Christmas.
“I turned to my grandmother – this is very vivid – I said that we didn’t have a Christmas tree,” he says.
His grandmother turned to the lamp in the room. It had a fringe. “That’s our Christmas tree,” she had said.
“So we decorated it.” Again, he smiles.
Unfortunately, his grandmother was unable to keep the small boy. Doug moved into foster care for five or six years near the Beaches in Toronto. From there, he moved back with his mother and his step-father. It was an abusive home.
“I grew up in that situation,” he says. “So, I was out of the house as much as possible. I grew up on the streets of Toronto.”
He found an outlet in sports. From football and rugby to baseball, Doug got himself involved in the activities in and around his neighbourhood.
“I was part of everything that was happening,” he says. “You could exclude the negative things in your life to some extent.”
In recent years, Doug Craig found that he had a gift for story-telling. His words reflect a vulnerability in the characters he creates. His short story, Christmas House, is a sweet yet haunting story that finishes – spoiler alert – with hope and peace. We write what we know.
He is working toward having an anthology of his short fiction, based in Cambridge, written before the end of his Mayoral term. He has three complete stories with three more in the works – but he knows where the unfinished stories are going in terms of plot.
“I know that sounds weird, but it’s how I operate. I’m a big picture person, not a detail person,” Doug says. “I look in terms of vision and future and where things are, and can jump around on a number of levels.”
You need that ability to be mayor. You also need a great team behind you. Lina Veglia, Karen Pepper, and Maria Betchley, his office administrators, take care of details.
“Seriously, I don’t,” he says with a grin. “It’s kind of nice.”
Doug received his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto and went on to teach for 32 years; his last ten at Silver Heights Public School in Hespeler. His joy came from teaching children.
“Kids in grade five or six…” he says, “no matter how you feel when you walk in in the morning, they bring you up to a higher level. They’re still enthusiastic and are the essence of what kids are all about.”
His wife, Ginny, a farm girl, was the instigator for the move from busy Toronto to the rural area of Hespeler. They were in their home for 10 years before realizing they lived in Jacob Hespeler’s homestead – given to his daughter for one dollar and all his love.
The couple brought up two boys, David and Michael, in this home. Michael lives in Cambridge and manages a not-for-profit model railway in St. Jacobs. David is an IT manager in Vancouver.
His greatest accomplishment in office? Cambridge City Hall.
“It was the most controversial thing I ever went through,” he admits. “[The controversy] was relentless. People didn’t like the building; the design. Half way through [development], I read an excerpt from 1856 about the Old City Hall. The town didn’t like the design…doesn’t that sound familiar?”
He is also proud of the School of Architecture and the Dunfield Theater. The theater was another difficult slog. Self-sustaining, the venue supports the arts and brings in thousands of people each year who frequent restaurants and local shops.
“I’m not elected to be popular,” he says. “You have to believe in yourself.”
The Old Post Office in Galt will be another coup. The building will feature the first digital library in Canada while keeping its quaint and familiar exterior.
In the past 14 years, Doug has drummed up enthusiasm for local festivals and celebrations to increase awareness of the environment, the mighty river that connects us, and the heritage of Galt, Preston, and Hespeler – the City of Cambridge.
The 68 year old is leaving the door open for a sixth term, but is taking into consideration his age and the fact that his wife, Ginny, would not be opposed to his retirement. He’ll make his decision in December 2017.
The man has been criticized in all manner of media and literally yelled at on the streets for some of his decisions. There isn’t much that intimidates him – except maybe an evening speaking at Toastmasters where topics are given seconds before going onto the stage.
In 2000, he won by a mere 26 votes. Had he lost, he would have had the opportunity to work with a friend who now clears half a million per year.
He leans back into the leather chair in his cozy office. “Regrets? None at all. Life goes in different directions. I’m building a city. I’m in the best part of my life.”
Doug is leaving in the morning for a surprise Christmas visit to his son in Vancouver. He will spend the holidays at home with his family, a few friends, and Milo, their nine pound Chihuahua, as he does every year. It’s a far cry from days spent in a one room boarding house with his grandmother.
“I have never worried about money in terms of having a lot of it. I wasn’t interested in that,” he says. “I was interested in just life and having a family…because I’d never had that.”