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Service to be held in April for former Coaldale Mayor

Posted on March 28, 2024 by Sunny South News
Sunny South News Photo Submitted by Jack Van Rijn Coaldale to say goodbye to former mayor: (Left) The Town of Coaldale’s current mayor, Jack Van Rijn, Manager of the Birds of Prey Foundation, Colin Weir (right), joined Alan Graham (centre) and a majestic owl, to celebrate Graham’s 103 birthday in 2023.

By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News

An upcoming public service will honour the incredible life of Alan Graham and his contributions to the community of Coaldale.

Born in 1920 in England, Graham and his family emigrated from overseas to Canada in 1922. The family put down roots less than a kilometre west of Coaldale. Graham received his education, up to grade 11 in Coaldale, before completing his grade 12 education in Calgary at Mount Royal College. His family founded and ran W & J Graham Commercial Honey, a successful honey farm. After enrolling in the Airforce Officer’s training program, Graham faced medical issues which prevented him from flying, and was subsequently honourably discharged and directed to return to Coaldale during the the Second World War to help keep the family’s honey farm operational.

Continuing the family apiary business, Graham found a career as a commercial beekeeper, where according to his published obituary, he became “instrumental in change and a major contributor to the development of the beekeeping industry.” Throughout his apiary career, Graham also served as president of the Southern Alberta Beekeepers Association, the Alberta Beekeepers Association, and the Canadian Beekeepers Council,  and was a founding Director of the Alberta Honey Producers Co-operative.

His contributions and dedication in this field earned him the title of Master Beekeeper in 1961 and a Lifetime Membership to the Honey Cooperative in 2015.

In the January 27, 1971 edition of the Taber Times, it was reported that Graham were among 10 apiarists from Southern Alberta whose honey was pooled and exported to Japan in a $150,000 export deal. The bulk shipment and deal also brought about a study on the potential impacts of Canadian honey as an export to Japan. 

Ten years earlier, the Taber Times reported on the news that Graham had been awarded the title of Alberta’s 1961 Master Beekeeper. The article noted, at the time, Graham operated, “about 1,400 colonies with two full time assistants and two or three summer employees. Graham was praised as a, “continuous fighter for welfare of the beekeeping industry in this province and in Canada as a whole.” 

Chosen by a panel of judges selected by the Beekeeper’s Association the article noted, “as well as being an extremely efficient beekeeper, the winner must be an outstanding individual in his community.”

As noted in Graham’s obituary, Graham’s, “passion for bees remained undiminished,” even after he retired from beekeeping. Graham retired from apiary career in 1975. After selling his business, he switched gears and began working as a realtor. Later, when he retired from real estate, Graham was recruited by Plant Genetics Systems, and worked as the company’s Hive Inspector until he was 85 years old.

Local historical records also document Graham as “instrumental in the establishment of the Coaldale Library”, and an active board member of the United Church. An article published in the June 16, 1967 edition of the Sunny South News reports on the official opening of the Coaldale and District Centennial Library earlier that week. “Mayor Alan Graham gave a brief history of the library”, reads the article, which also notes Graham served on the library’s first board back in 1945. Graham was also a founding member of the Kinsmen Club of Coaldale. Founded in 1950, the club celebrated its 74th birthday earlier this month.  

In addition to a robust community presence, Graham played a significant role in municipal politics in Coaldale. He was first elected as the Town’s mayor in 1953, and served in this role until 1957, and again from 1962-1967. Nearly thirty years after his second mayoral term, Graham was elected for a third and served the Town as mayor from 1998-2001. In honour of his continued commitment to his community and dedication to civic duty, Graham was named Coaldale’s Citizen of the Year in 1994.

Current mayor of Coaldale, Jack Van Rijn, spoke to Graham’s legacy and his profound impact on the Town of Coaldale and the broader community.

“Alan was a beloved figure in Coaldale; when we celebrated his 103rd birthday, it included a delightful tour of our town, reminiscing about his time on Council and witnessing the changes.  A cherished tradition, our lunches together always included a trip down memory lane.  His unwavering support, like when he signed my mayoral nomination despite struggles, embodies his dedication to our community’s growth,” said Van Rijn. 

Van Rijn noted Graham took great pride in the growth and progress of Coaldale and remembered his time with the municipality fondly.

 “Alan loved to reminisce about his time on Council and the changes that have taken place. When I ran for mayor in the 2021 election, Alan signed my nomination paperwork, and although he had trouble handling a pen and signing, he was determined to do so, which he did.”

“Alan will be missed,” Van Rijn added.

A public gathering celebrating the incredible life of Alan Graham will be held on Saturday, April 13th, in the Civic Square Atrium starting at 2 p.m. His family has requested, that, “in lieu of flowers, that you consider planting a bee friendly pollinator in your yard (or pots) allowing the bees to ‘continue their buzz!’”

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