Stanstead’s first mayor looks back
The Town of Stanstead, founded in 1995 with the merger of Stanstead Plain, Rock Island and Beebe Plain, is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Albert Simoneau, who was born in Beebe, raised in Rock Island, and still lives in Stanstead today, was a driving force behind the three-town merger and was elected as the new town’s first mayor.
“The government started the process in the early 1990’s to get towns to merge to save money. They started writing letters to us about merging around 1993,” said Mr.
Simoneau, the mayor of Rock Island at the time, in an interview with the Stanstead Journal. “We in Rock Island were interested and Stanstead Plain was interested, so a government representative came to explain the process.” After meeting with Stanstead Plain mayor Reynald Demers and his council a few times, a feasibility study of the merger, which came out positively, was done. However, while waiting to hear the findings of that study, Mr. Simoneau had been doing some studying of his own, coming to the conclusion that, for the merge to be really successful, Beebe and its industries had to be ‘in’.
“We had to approach Beebe – Ray Lussier was the mayor at the time. They were reluctant but agreed to do a study,” Mr. Simoneau explained. Beebe Plain citizens were a little more divided on the issue than those in Rock Island and Stanstead Plain. “There was a group of residents in Beebe who tried to fight it at first. A meeting was held and I went to it. I wasn’t invited but I went just the same. Some people weren’t happy to see me walk in!”
But with most people in the three villages supporting the merger (Stanstead Plain and Rock Island at about 75 to 80 %, and Beebe Plain at around 60 %), it eventually went through and the new town was founded on February 15th, 1995. An election was held to choose the new council and Albert Simoneau, running against Joe Gaboriault and Jean-Guy Joyal, was elected as the new town’s first mayor.
One challenge that came with the merge was the need to change a few street names, never easy when those names have been around for decades and decades. Rock Island’s Main Street, which met up with Stanstead Plain’s Dufferin, was changed to Dufferin Street, Rock Island’s Maple Street was changed to Leroy Robinson, the founder of the Stanstead Journal, and Beebe’s Church Street became Granite Street. “We really tried to keep street name changes to a minimum and we looked at the history of the streets and their names when we made our decisions.”
Asked whether, twenty years later, the merge was good for the three towns, Mr. Simoneau replied: “Yes, I do believe the merge was good: there are less administrative costs, more services and the mill rate came down. It’s thanks to Mr. Demers and Mr. Lussier, and their councils, that we had a smooth merger. We had very good secretary-treasurers too, at the time, and the cooperation was good as a whole.”
“You can see the town progressing. I like what I see going on downtown with arts, culture and sports. Industrially we’re doing better, even if the granite industry has gone down. The merger has been good and it will continue to be good; look at the two new developments starting in Beebe. And now the churches have had to merge but I think that, because the towns had merged, it made it easier for the churches to merge.”
“The last few years we’ve had a good mayor and a good group at council; the town can only be good if the councilors are good. But I see a better future for Stanstead, which should include more tourism. We really need a hotel in town!” concluded the former mayor.
The town of Stanstead is holding a special event to celebrate its 20th anniversary and to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Great Fire of Stanstead Plain, this Thursday, October 22nd, at the Colby Curtis Museum from 5:00 to 7:00 pm.
Albert Simoneau, seen here at his home in Stanstead, was the merged town’s first mayor.