A lot of Pictou County thoughts were flowing through my mind on election night as I watched Tim Houston climbing closer and closer to becoming Nova Scotia’s next premier.
Having my mind wander is not unusual.
I’ve spent a lifetime following the feats and accomplishments of Pictou residents, whether in sports, politics, medical and legal fields, or anything else.
And so, as I sat back and observed the Progressive Conservative totals moving towards a majority government, I found myself feeling proud of another winner in the county’s midst.
Okay, I don’t know Houston. Fact is, I’ve never met the man, a chartered accountant before his plunge into a very different pool.
But since rolling up his sleeves and capturing the Pictou East riding eight years ago, I’ve been closely following his career and work for Pictou County and Nova Scotia in general.
From afar, I remain a Pictonian at heart even though my career took me to metro 52 years ago—yes, a year before Houston was born. I was realizing that the 2021 election was, indeed, introducing Nova Scotians to a new man in the premier’s office.
Okay, the newcomer wasn’t born in Pictou County, rather in Halifax where he attended Halifax West High and Saint Mary’s University, where he became a chartered accountant and spent time in various locations.
Heck, that’s alright.
Lots of folks through the decades have been raised elsewhere, only to see the light, move to the county and do fine deeds.
Bet, though, it will take more than accounting or politics to get Houston and his wife, Carol, to move from Sinclairs Island on the beautiful Northumberland shores.
It’s my belief that an adopted Pictonian is just as credible as a native Pictonian. No official papers required.
But, for now, I want to return to my thoughts on election night as Tom Murphy and Amy Smith kept us up to date on the CBC.
My reflections weren’t completely on Houston’s victory, but on the night in 1999 when Pictou County’s John Hamm stickhandled his way to the premier’s post.
The distinguished New Glasgow medical doctor was certainly no stranger to me. Actually, there wasn’t much I didn’t know about the fellow who grew up on the other side of the East River.
Hamm and I were both born in 1938. But he’s older, by 46 days.
We went to the same church, to Sunday School together, sang in the junior choir. We participated in the same youth activities and had extensive interest in sports. We attended New Glasgow High School (NGHS) where we were greatly encouraged by athletic director John (Brother) MacDonald.
Our lives in sports went in different directions.
While I started writing sports while in school, Hamm was busy playing just about everything—tennis, hockey, basketball, you name it.
As an athlete, he was a winner, often a champion.
His earliest victories came while playing tennis at the West Side Community Club, where he won local competitions. Three times he played for Nova Scotia at nationals in Ottawa, and he was in provincials every year.
He accomplished a unique minor hockey feat when New Glasgow Stadium first opened—scoring the first goal by a Pictonian in the new building. He still remembers that one.
At NGHS, he played hockey, was a member of the track and field team, and participated on the tumbling squad. In Grade 12, he was also on the boys’ basketball club.
As a student at the University of King’s College, he played varsity hockey for the Dalhousie Tigers and basketball and hockey for King’s.
Another unique experience: he captained the King’s hockey team, a lineup that included another future Nova Scotia premier, Russell MacLellan. They also played tennis together.
One time when I interviewed Hamm, I asked him if he ever envisioned that he and MacLellan would become Nova Scotia premiers.
I loved his reply: “Oh my gosh, no, no, no. It was as remote a possibility as my making the NHL.”
Following his King’s days and subsequent medical studies at Dal, Hamm returned to Pictou County where he spent 32 years in the medical profession.
During the 1960s, when I ran The Chronicle Herald bureau in the county, our paths were crossing again.
I covered the New Glasgow Rangers in senior hockey for the Herald and The Hockey News, was public address announcer and wrote the game programs.
In the team’s biggest seasons, 1963-64 and ‘64-65, president of the club was, you got it, Dr. John Hamm.
He pulled a big gamble and won, convincing former NHL star Fleming Mackell to join the team. Mackell, just three years out of NHL stardom, broke scoring records and, in the second season when he was playing coach, guided the Rangers to the Maritime championship and a series in the Allan Cup playdowns.
Hamm’s explanation of the gamble: “We knew we had to make the team attractive and keep it competitive, and this just seemed to be a natural. (Mackell) was an exciting player to watch. He had tremendous drive and I think that’s what made him successful.”
Even while serving two terms as the premier, Hamm never closed his eyes to sports or athletic endeavours. Instead, he admitted they were even more important in his mind.
“My time in politics,” he told me, “reinforced my appreciation for the value of athletics and healthy activities, and the impact they have on the health of our people.”
So how did I come to think about him when it was Houston enjoying the biggest night of his life?
If I were to give a reason, I guess it would be the fact I’ve always maintained that personal pride in calling myself a Pictonian after more than half a century in Dartmouth-Cole Harbour.
Now—22 years and 21 days after John Frederick Hamm stepped down—I’ll start watching Timothy Jerome Houston with similar interest.