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Derek Mahon: Wrapping up 16 years of public service in Battleford

It’s a time of reflection for Derek Mahon as he wraps up 16 years of public service on Battleford town council. Mahon has served five terms in total — four as a town councillor and the last term as mayor.
Derek Mahon: Wrapping up 16 years of public service in Battleford_0
Photo by John Cairns

It’s a time of reflection for Derek Mahon as he wraps up 16 years of public service on Battleford town council. 

Mahon has served five terms in total — four as a town councillor and the last term as mayor. 

But now he is stepping away to concentrate on his business and his personal life. Mahon has some projects that will force him to travel out of town for extended periods of time. 

“There comes a point in time when you go out during the day, drive X number of hours, meet X number of people, drive back, and then are expected to be at different functions and council meetings and committee meetings,” said Mahon. 

He noted the immense time commitment required as mayor and noted it was a much greater commitment than being a councillor in terms of the number of functions you must attend. 

“When you’re the mayor you can’t hide,” said Mahon. 

As well, he has to juggle personal time with his family, with his children all living outside the community. He has a son who lives in New Brunswick and a daughter in Saskatoon, and another son who is attending law school in Australia. So, he’ll be doing travelling to see them as well.

“I’ll be turning 55 years old on election day,” said Mahon, so it’s “freedom 55 from politics.” 

It closes the book on a long period of public service at Battleford Town Hall for Mahon. 

He was born in 1961 in North Battleford at what is now Battlefords Union Hospital, and has been a Battleford resident pretty much all his life.

He has a younger and an older brother, and a sister who died when she was two years old. His parents had immigrated to Canada in 1956 from Northern Ireland and his father worked for the town for 20 years. 

“The reason they came here is because my mom’s uncle was living here at the time and that’s the reason they ended up in Battleford,” said Mahon.

His schooling took place at Battleford Central School, Battleford Jr. High School and North Battleford Comprehensive High School.

Outside of school, Mahon held a number of jobs over the years. His first job was actually in the media.   

Mahon was a delivery boy for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. His route included the southern part of town for a number of years.  

For post-secondary training Mahon enrolled in the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in civil engineering technology and graduated in 1984.

Upon graduation, he returned to Battleford where he worked for Sanburn Construction, the family construction company. 

In August of 1989, Mahon started working for the Saskatchewan Water Corporation and then a couple years later began working for area First Nations. 

He started working for what was then the Confederation of Tribal Nations, a tribal council for the Battlefords area. 

That tribal council eventually split up a few years later, with some joining Battlefords Tribal Council while others were independent bands. 

After that Mahon worked for BTC as a project manager for a number of years. When a faction of BTC split off to become Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs, Mahon set up a consulting company to do First Nation project management. 

“I’ve just had my 25th anniversary working with First Nations on Sept. 21 of 2016,” Mahon said. 

Prior to getting on town council, Mahon was on the recreation board back when Gary McArthur was mayor. That was before he was elected.

He then decided to run for council, and was elected in 2000 as the top vote getter in the race. He has been the top vote getter in every race that he ran.  

Mahon served two terms under Mayor Gail Sack, and then another two terms under Mayor Chris Odishaw. Council terms lasted only three years in those days. 

When Odishaw decided not to run again in 2012, Mahon put his nomination in for a four-year term as Mayor and won by acclamation.  

“I guess nobody else wanted the job, so I got the job,” said Mahon.  

As a lifelong Battleford resident, Mahon can point to many changes he has seen in the community over his time in the town.

He watched the growth and development happen from the time he was a young person in the community.

“There used to be a point in time where you could almost know everybody in town. You could walk from 18th Street where there’s a few houses, the old railway tracks that were down there, and at the other end of town was about 32nd Street, there were a few houses in that neighbourhood.”

The downtown was the main commercial area in those days, and he recalled doing sewer and water work in the industrial area and Riverbend subdivision, and in the highway commercial area which is now Battleford Crossing where the Co-op Gas and Convenience Store and Tim Hortons are. 

“That sewer and water was put in back in the Alex Dillabough mayor days, back in the late ‘70s,” Mahon said. “It sat in the ground for a long time before development got going to any extent.”

He said the Highway 4 twinning project “actually defined the intersections to that area.” The 29th Street intersection really spurred development there, he said. 

“Then people were more inclined, I guess, to spend money and invest. And there has been significant investments done in that area by Battle West Properties — Dean Kupchanko, the Kramer family, Riverbend Properties — so it’s a big jigsaw puzzle that takes time to develop and obviously it’s a pretty nice area that started, and I think as time moves on it’s going to be a really nice area.” 

Battle Springs was another subdivision that started with planning during Gail Sack days and into Chris Odishaw days, with the main work mostly complete by the time Mahon took over. 

“It really became a nice developed area,” said Mahon. He also notes a number of lots that used to be available are now filled up and extensive commercial development has taken place. 

In addition to the highway twinning project and the subdivision development, Mahon pointed to the water treatment plant upgrade as a Canada-Saskatchewan infrastructure project, with each level of government responsible for one-third.

The water-sewer system and lagoon system is set up for 6,000 people so “it can accommodate a lot of growth.” 

The last census had Battleford’s population at a little over 4,000. He said it would be interesting to see what the next census numbers are for Battleford.

“Obviously, as you approach the 5,000 neighbourhood that’s the threshold where a lot of costs rise. The policing costs jump substantially when you hit that 5,000 number.” 

Another project that was a major one for the town during Mahon’s time was addressing the cemetery sloping and relocating a number of graves there. It was an issue that prompted a “lot of sleepless nights,” Mahon admitted. 

“A lot of thought went into that project, how it unfolded” said Mahon, who said the process was handled with professionalism by everyone involved. 

Overall, Mahon’s background in project management proved valuable in his time in office on council. 

“I came in with the knowledge of the sewer and water systems,” said Mahon. “That background, in the civil engineering area, that helps to understand all the capital projects.” 

As for issues facing the town recently, Mahon acknowledged the issue of the Canada Post office in the community has been a big one, with ongoing discussions. Canada Post has been looking into a new permanent location and there have been inquiries about the existing building on 22nd Street. 

Another issue is the RFP process for a private liquor store, which has come to council in recent years for discussion. It’s Mahon’s understanding that more than one application has been filed for that license, but it’s a provincial decision. 

Considerable work has been done over the last while at the Town Hall and with the ongoing Opera House project at that location. 

“Over the last number of years a number of things that have been taking place in the inside of the building. The boiler system has been replaced … the windows have been replaced indoors, “ said Mahon. Work was done on the roof as well.

He said there has been “lots of discussion in regard to how you get 250 people from ground level to Opera House level.”

All in all, these are issues the next mayor and council will tackle. 

For now, Mahon will stay busy with his consulting work with First Nations and for now has closed the book on his time in politics. But it may not be a permanent goodbye. Like a number of candidates running in North Battleford, Mahon might be persuaded to try a political comeback at some point.           

“As you move forward, you never say never,” said Mahon. “But at this point it’s not in the cards.”

Mahon had a final message to Battleford residents as his time winds down.

“I’d like to thank the people of Battleford for having the confidence in me to put me in office for five terms,” said Mahon. “It’s been an pleasure to be the 30th mayor of Battleford.”