This Sask. town could be home to the oldest mayor in province's history
When Joan MacPherson moved to Burstall, Sask. in 2007, she was planning to retire after more than 30 years working as a nurse and business owner.
"I thought it was about time to put my feet up and watch television for the rest of my life, but I guess it isn't time for that yet," she said.
MacPherson, 81, was elected Mayor of Burstall last November and has been working hard to get up to speed on the ins and outs of her community over the past six months.
She had never held public office before, but decided to throw her name in the ring because there was only one candidate for mayor.
"I was compelled by my conscience, I wanted to give the people of Burstall a choice," MacPherson said. "I didn’t think I’d win and I’m still in a bit of shock over it."
Gwen Pope, MacPherson’s younger sister, said she wasn’t surprised about MacPherson’s decision to run, or her win.
"She’s up for the challenge," Pope said. "I always knew that if she wanted to do it, she could do it."
MacPherson is believed to be one of the oldest mayors in Saskatchewan history and potentially the oldest first-time mayor.
The Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and Ministry of Government Relations told CTV News they don’t keep records on the age of mayors in the province and couldn’t confirm if MacPherson is the oldest mayor in Saskatchewan history.
During the campaign, MacPherson enlisted the help of her pastor to record a series of videos, which were posted to social media.
MacPherson opens each video with a simple, "Hello Burstall, my name is Joan MacPherson and I’m running for mayor."
She then dives into a topic on everything from what she loves about the community to issues she plans on working on if elected.
Burstall sits just a few kilometres away from the Alberta border in southwestern Saskatchewan. The town is home to about 300 residents. (Marc Smith/CTV News)
MacPherson said she was immediately attached to the community when she visited her sister there before moving to town.
"I found that Burstall has a lot of friendly people," she said. "We have wide paved streets, beautiful trees, a very good water supply — routinely I drink water out of the tap at home — and great recreation facilities, and they are within easy reach of nearly every family."
Since taking over as mayor, MacPherson has leaned on her fellow councillors, which includes former mayor Tegan Bodnarchuk, as well as the town’s administrator, to help her get started.
"It’s been a steep learning curve," she said. "If I ever look good, it’s because of them."
Bodnarchuk is the only member of the town council with previous experience. There’s actually a 57-year gap between MacPherson and the youngest council, 24-year-old Brendon Burnay.
"They’re really good people, they all have full time jobs and so, they do this as a labor of love, a commitment to the community, the same as I do," MacPherson said.
Through the first six months, MacPherson said she’s learned one important lesson.
"I'm realizing that I can't fix everybody's problem, I can't fix all the problems, and that's just the way it is, no matter how much I would like to," she said.
"I don't need to know everything about everything. I don't know very much about landfills or lagoons, and things like that, but I can do a lot of editing of documents, compose letters and things like that."
Working on a solution for the town’s full landfill is one of MacPherson’s main focuses moving forward. The town is working on a partnership with Fox Valley to deal with the issue.
Local business owner Shelley Fauth said she’s been pleased with the job that MacPherson has done so far.
"I was surprised [when she announced she was running], I think a lot of people were, but she knows her stuff and understands what she’s supposed to be doing and we’re giving her a chance," Fauth, who owns Shevy’s Restaurant, said.
MacPherson took over as mayor during the COVID-19 pandemic, but she said the town hasn’t really felt the impact of the virus with only a few cases to date.
"People haven't lost jobs and had businesses go belly up and those sorts of things," she said.
MacPherson added the town has seen some young families move into the town during the pandemic.
Burstall is celebrating its 100th year as a town this year and the town is planning a homecoming event for next summer to commemorate the milestone.
"It’s Burstall’s 100th birthday, so I’m not that old yet," MacPherson said.