Eleventh in a series of pioneer profiles
Former Slocan mayor Bernie Czelenski turned 85 this month and the whole town celebrated.
To his surprise, they turned out in large numbers for his birthday party at the Legion hall.
“There were a lot more people than I anticipated,” he says. “A lot were old customers, plus some darn good friends … well, they were all friends. Some I hadn’t seen in quite a few years. It brought back memories.”
Czelenski came to Slocan 40 years ago with his son to establish a garage where Mountain Valley Service is now. In 1984, he filled a vacancy on village council, and a few months later was elected mayor.
He earned a hands-on reputation. After the village bought a footbridge to place across Springer Creek, “I thought hell, I can build these myself a lot cheaper.” So he did, and helped put up two more.
During his time in office, the village completed major upgrades to the ball park, including a reseeded field and new washrooms. Expo Park opened on Canada Day 1987.
The first logger sports day was also held, and Czelenski designed a village logo.
“I used to enjoy getting my hands dirty,” he says. “I didn’t want to rely on everybody else.”
Mayor Bernie, as he was affectionately known, was re-elected in 1986, defeated in 1988, elected again in 1990 and 1993, and then lost in 1996, 1999, and 2002. In all, he was a mayoral candidate in nine straight elections.
“I tried to work with people and help them the best I could,” he says. “Left some pretty good marks, I hope.”
Born in Watson, Sask., Czelenski was the seventh of nine children in a farming family. When he was six, they moved to an area just north of Prince Albert and he attended the local one-room school. In his mid-20s he served as a trustee on its board.
Czelenski and his brothers learned carpentry and mechanics from their father, a blacksmith.
In 1955, he moved to Alberta and managed a garage in Kinuso, then later came to Nelson and worked as a mechanic and welder. Striking out on his own a few years later, he cast about for a place to start a business, and decided Slocan fit the bill.
“I just figured it’d be a perfect place for a very good living, which it was … I really enjoyed it here. I liked the people, plus the weather’s nice compared to Northern Alberta. Then I met my wife here too.”
When he first arrived, the sawmill was going full blaze, providing the village with a stable economy. No longer. These days, the idled mill worries him.
“That’s a bad one. It employed a lot of people and brought money to town,” he says. “I don’t like the idea of logs going out when they should be manufactured here. I don’t know what we’re going to do now for taxation with the mill down.”
But he remains bullish on the village’s prospects.
“They’ve got the new dock at the beach. Got a gazebo if a person wants to sit. I think something can still be done to save this country — I hope, anyway.”
After his wife Joan died nine years ago, Czelenski was going to move back to Northern Alberta, where he still had family. He sold his place and headed there — but soon discovered his mistake.
“It didn’t suit me. I was there just a few days and [realized] that’s not for me. I had to turn around and come back home. This is still home. I’m happier than heck here.”
Previous installments in this series