Former Whitehorse city councillor Duke Connelly photographed in 2011. Connelly is remembered by his peers as a hard-working, kind-hearted man. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)

Duke Connelly remembered

‘He was one of a kind’

A former Whitehorse city councillor was remembered as one of Whitehorse’s “more colourful characters” by Mayor Dan Curtis at Whitehorse city council’s April 20 meeting.

There, Curtis acknowledged the passing of former councillor Duke Connelly who served three terms on council and “worked tirelessly” for his community. The statement came after the city had announced earlier in the day city flags were flying half-mast in honour of Connelly following his death, as well as in solidarity with the people of Nova Scotia after the April 19 mass shooting there.

As the flags continue to remain at half-mast until April 26, Connelly’s former council colleagues and city staff are recalling his fierce personality, the strong stance he took on issues facing the city and his commitment to those in his community.

“Duke enjoyed being regarded as an irascible curmudgeon and was quick to poke at pretensions,” Norma Felker, assistant city clerk, said in an emailed statement April 20.

Connelly served as a councillor for three terms from 1991 to 1994 and then from 1997 to 2000 before being elected to his final term from 2000 to 2003.

Felker recalled Connelly coming to meetings prepared, having reviewed all available material ahead of time.

“When he was assigned to boards and committees, he never missed meetings and dived enthusiastically into the issues that those boards and committees were working on,” she said. “He took his job as a councillor very seriously and always had the best interests of the city at heart.”

Current councillors Samson Hartland and Dan Boyd both served with Connelly on council; Boyd from 1997 to 2000 and Hartland from 2000 to 2003.

“Duke did bring a different perspective,” Boyd recalled, describing Connelly as enjoying “wearing the black hat” on council.

While Connelly often had an argument to make on any given issue, Boyd said he and Connelly got along well.

As Boyd commented, he didn’t often argue with Connelly, but would rather simply state his thoughts on a matter and vote accordingly.

At that time, the major issue facing council was the Argus development at the bottom of Two Mile Hill. Today the site is home to Walmart, Canadian Tire, Mark’s Work Warehouse and more. Council was asked to consider a number of matters on the potential development that the Yukon government was involved with. There was an economic slow down at that point and work was done to encourage development in the interest of the economy. Among the efforts city council considered and ultimately approved was the waiving of the requirement to set aside part of the land for public use or, in the alternative, cash-in-lieu for the development to happen.

“He said it how he saw it,” Boyd said.

Connelly remained clear that he would not support waiving of the public land or cash requirement and did not, Boyd recalled.

Boyd noted it seemed at that time, the public appreciated having such diverse opinions on council.

And while Connelly was always quick to argue his point of view, he was just as quick to lend a hand wherever needed. He never drove by anybody who was struggling with a flat tire or mechanical trouble, Boyd said.

When Hartland was considering running for council at the age of 21, it was Connelly who told him exactly what was involved and outlined the issues being dealt with at the time.

“His life was open book,” Hartland said, as he recalled Connelly telling him that he better be prepared to put in the work if he wanted to be on council and then sharing with him what that meant.

“He was one of a kind,” Hartland said.

In 2002, going through personal challenges, Hartland missed several council meetings, walked out of one and made accusations of a conspiracy to tear down the former Sewall House in Shipyards Park. He later acknowledged he had been dealing with personal stress and had a nervous breakdown, speaking publically about it when he ran for office in 2015.

Hartland said he worked to reconcile with people like Connelly after and Connelly was “super-accomodating” to that.

He was a kind, forgiving person, Hartland emphasized.

There’s no question, Connelly left a legacy for many Whitehorse residents, Hartland said, highlighting as well issues like the planning of the Canada Games Centre, the city’s procedures bylaw (which impacts how the city and public interacts), and more in Connelly’s legacy to Whitehorse.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

Whitehorse city council

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