Success in politics demands a keen analytical eye for current events. At 91 years old, Scugog Township’s first Mayor, Lawrence Malcolm, shows immediately that retirement has extinguished none of that focus. A discussion of the regional political scene, then versus now, stokes a fire.
“There were no consultants then,” he remarks with a twinkling of sarcasm. “Supposing we were considering fixing a road: some councillors and I would visit the site, make a decision. Today the township’s paying someone $20,000 to tell them about their staffing.”
Lawrence points proudly to deep roots in Scugog. In 1844, Lawrence’s great-grandfather and his two brothers evenly divided 200 acres of farmland in North Nestleton, not far from his current home. Weavers by trade, the three Scottish immigrants plied a new, radically different vocation in dairy farming.
In 1921, his father bought out the others. He remembers North Nestleton as a great place to grow up.
“No, we never felt isolated,” he recalls. “We had two social centres nearby, the Foresters’ Hall and the Church. As teenagers, we played badminton in the hall.”
The depth of those family roots became apparent when Lawrence seriously considered leaving.
“I went to school in Lindsay; had in mind to become a high school teacher and run a hobby farm. But I was homesick, and finally decided to stay on the family farm rather than move all over as a teacher.”
The Malcolms remained prosperous through the depths of the Great Depression, thanks to continued milk orders and sound financial planning.
“Most farmers were okay during those years if they had a small mortgage, even though prices for products and livestock dropped almost overnight. If you owed a lot, that was trouble – much like what some people face today: $300,000 mortgages with an economy in trouble. And I read where the average Canadian carries $85,000 in credit debt. Gives me shivers.”
Working as his father’s assistant, a chance visitor to the farm in 1945 would shape his future for all the years that followed.
“My younger sister was teaching school east of Bowmanville. She brought home her friend Gwen for the weekend. We were married three years later, 61 years this July.”
Not only did 1948 bring marriage – a union which ultimately produced seven children – it saw a succession in ownership of the Malcolm farm. After his father suffered a heart attack, Lawrence bought the property, which continued to prosper. Not that there weren’t occasional challenges, he recalls.
“Delivering the milk could be tricky. Highway 7A wasn’t then what it is today, and would often flood in spring. And I remember, in winter, making some deliveries with a horse and cutter, the snowbanks were so high.”
A seemingly trivial conversation between the Malcolms ignited Lawrence’s political career.
Gwen and Lawrence Malcolm - 2009
“I was reading the Holstein Journal one night and said to Gwen: There must be more to life than milk and cows.”
“The neighbours encouraged me to run for school board and at first, I resisted.”
Finally, he relented, joining Cartwright Township’s council in the late 50s. With the mid-term death of the incumbent reeve, other councillors urged him to seek that office.
“I lost that election, but it might’ve been a blessing – I almost lost my Gwen to hepatitis in ’59.”
Lawrence resumed political life in the 60s. In 1967, he ran successfully for reeve of Cartwright, a position he held for six years.
Headquartered in Caesarea, Cartwright Township’s government controlled roads, parks, welfare, and taxation. Looking back, Lawrence views its administration as part of a simpler era, but one he thoroughly enjoyed.
“Our workers were non-union, which gave us flexibility in their assignments. I liked the responsibility of running the ship. It was like the salt and pepper on my meat and potatoes!”
The improvement of the Blackstock Arena and construction of the Nestleton Community Centre number among the major initiatives completed during Lawrence’s tenure as reeve.
Township government changed to a regional structure in 1974. Cartwright and Reach Townships, Scugog Island, and Port Perry amalgamated into what we now know as the Township of Scugog. The newly-formed region needed a mayor, and reached out for Lawrence Malcolm’s leadership.
“I would’ve been one of three candidates running for Cartwright’s ward councillor,” he said, “so I figured, better to be shot for a sheep as (be shot for) a lamb, and ran for mayor. I was prepared to lose and go home, but turned out I won the election.”
His first year in office, the job demanded all of his considerable skill, as the new governing body worked to create a common infrastructure.
“That year, we consolidated the bylaws from each of the four old administrations. We had 1,104 alone in Cartwright.
“We still had one on the books that said when a horse and buggy meets a car, the owner of the car had to shut off his vehicle, steer the horse around it. Got rid of that one. Most of the others went easily through Council after we rewrote them.”
Lawrence was defeated after two terms (four years) as mayor by councillor Jerry Taylor. He retired from politics, wintering in Florida. But opportunity came knocking yet again.
“One of the regional councillors (Reg Rose) was also an Anglican minister. The church told him to decide between callings. That created an opening on council. Stepping into that job was like becoming a deputy mayor.”
A cancer scare at age 69 ended Lawrence’s run in politics once and for all. He took an interest in gardening and has served the church as treasurer and clerk of session.
Our discussion concluded and together we toured Lawrence’s study. The room is chock full of mementoes of a political life well spent: a grandfather clock which was a gift from the Region of Durham, photographs and plaques, a handful of old campaign cards. As well, one item which might not seem to fit: a modern keyboard.
“Lawrence gets great pleasure from that instrument,” Gwen confides. “He plays well for a man of his years.” “You have to stay mentally active to stay young,” Lawrence adds.
Even a casual observer can see that Lawrence
Malcolm has remained young, both in spirit and mind. And it’s just as clear his political acumen hasn’t slipped an inch, either.
By Scott Mercer
Focus on Scugog