Northern Wilds Magazine
Gary Nelson served on Red Rock’s Municipal Council for a total of 17 years. He did two terms as a councillor and three terms as mayor. | SUBMITTED
Along the Shore

Gary Nelson: Red Rock’s warrior

Former Red Rock Mayor Gary Nelson possesses the soul of a warrior. Like all brave men born to lead, he is his happiest when he is taking on the challenges of life.

“I’ve always been that way…I don’t really know where it came from,” he humbly explained.

He was born in the railway town of Schreiber in 1942. His parents Charles and Martha had seven children and he was the second youngest. In the 1950s, the Nelson family relocated to Red Rock because Charles had found steady work at the Brompton Pulp and Paper Company as a locomotive operator.

Nelson was eager to join the workforce and when he was 16, he began driving a delivery truck for the Chapples Department Store. It was based out of Thunder Bay City and it sold clothes, furniture and groceries throughout the region. As soon as the young man turned 18, he went to the mill where his father worked and applied for a job. It took six months of his constantly dropping by the personnel manager’s office before he was finally hired on. Nelson worked in every department of the mill, except for the paper machines.

At the age of 38, he was promoted to foreman of the Shipyard and Grinder Room. He held this position for 20 years. He said that he never had to reprimand any of the staff. He credits this to his supervisor Gerald Sarrasin, who encouraged him to mingle. Nelson did this by visiting all the departments on a regular basis, and having coffee with the staff.

“You got to bend a little bit…you got to give,” he says.

In the early 1990s, the paper mill was experiencing some financial difficulties. Nelson and another employee had nothing to worry about, as their positions were secure. But not wanting any of the younger men to be laid off, they both took early retirements. Nelson explained that he and Carl Jarvela had been there long enough.

Nelson is not the kind of person who waits for things to happen. He is all about getting involved and doing whatever he can to help others. When he was 41, he joined the Masonic Lodge in Red Rock and held the position of grand master for two years.

“That’s an organization I’m very proud of,” he says.

Nelson volunteered with the Red Rock Fire Department for 20 years, and retired as the chief. Over the last few years, he has been volunteering at a local club called Teen Town. He has also served on Red Rock’s Municipal Council for a total of 17 years. He did two-terms as a councillor and three-terms as mayor.

Nelson has been married to Betty for 55 years. The beautiful brunette was born in East Angus, Quebec and came to Red Rock with her family when she was a child. The Anderson family stayed at the former internment camp down at Nipigon Bay, until the houses were finished on Rankin Street. Nelson and his wife have two children, Jamie and Tamara, five grandchildren and a great-granddaughter. He is grateful that none of his family has had to leave the area. His son works at Resolute Forest Products in Thunder Bay and his daughter is employed at the Nipigon District Memorial Hospital in the Health Records Department.

Nelson never misses a chance to promote Red Rock and all its charms. He explained that the price of houses and property taxes are very reasonable. The bush and wildlife are breathtaking and nearby. There’s no pollution and very little crime. Thunder Bay and its International Airport are only 100-kilometers away. And there is a strong spirit of volunteerism amongst the Red Rock citizens. The award-winning Beautification Committee, which is run by a group of dedicated women, ensures the town always looks its best. Several retired men affiliated with the local Royal Canadian Legion drive residents to and from medical appointments. Hard-working volunteers run the annual Live From The Rock Folk Festival. Nelson indicated another reason the community is doing so well is because of Michael Gravelle. He has held the position of Ontario Liberal MPP for the Thunder Bay and Superior North Riding for numerous consecutive terms and has been a great source of support to Red Rock.

The 78-year-old man that looks and acts far younger has achieved many things in his life. But what is even more impressive is that no matter what task he takes on, his primary motive is to help others and ensure Red Rock continues to thrive.

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