This is the final week before the municipal election — the last few days of campaigning door-to-door, attending countless community functions and smiling gamely under all circumstances — even while getting pie in the face. The Town of St. Marys is fortunate to have choices among creditable candidates for mayor and council and next Monday’s results are hard to predict. But one thing is certain: they will not lead to the replication of the milestone inaugural meeting, Jan. 7, 1963, when Helen Mills Wilson was sworn in as the first woman to serve as mayor of St. Marys.
Helen Mills, born in 1902, moved with her sister Kay and their parents, W.J. and Kate Mills, to St. Marys in 1911. This outgoing, hospitable family was soon an integral part of the community, active participants in many groups and organizations.
In 1926, Helen married Alexis (Lex) Wilson and they moved into Ardmore Park, the historic limestone house on lovely wooded grounds in the west ward. They had two children, Lex and Lynn.
In the 1940s, Helen Wilson began writing a regular column for the St. Marys Journal Argus, usually presenting current local issues from her viewpoint. For example, she gave positive reports of the fledgling Little Theatre group and of fundraising for the new St. Marys Memorial Hospital. She also championed her west ward neighbours, many of whom did not own cars and walked to work or school. They were greatly inconvenienced by the loss of the steel Park Street Bridge in the 1947 flood. Wilson was encouraged to run for town council on this issue and, in 1948, became the first woman councillor. Although she lost the following year, a footbridge did get built in 1950, a pedestrian link across the Thames River at Park Street.
Wilson ran again and had several years’ experience on town council by the time she became mayor in 1963. During that year, significant events for St. Marys and area included: tendering for a large vocational addition to the collegiate, starting construction on Wildwood Dam, opening a new curling club at the golf course, and replacing local switchboard operators with automated dialing.
Helen Wilson, like any politician, was not universally popular. Some found her to be opinionated and self-centred. But she was never hesitant to voice her concerns, often with disarming humour, and she was intensely loyal to the citizens of St. Marys. She was acclaimed in her second term as mayor. At the inaugural meeting in 1964, her council looked forward to discussions on sewage treatment, garbage disposal and zoning revisions for new development — familiar issues 50 years later.