An interview with Eleanor McKinnon, the Weyburn-born personal assistant to the late Tommy Douglas for most of his political career, helped lead to the writing of a new a book on Douglas, launched on June 22 in the building that housed the church he pastored in Weyburn.The co-authors of Tommys Team: The People Behind the Douglas Years, Stuart Houston and Bill Waiser, launched their new book at the T.C. Douglas Centre, which was the former home of Calvary Baptist Church when Douglas came to Weyburn as its minister in 1930.Houston spoke first, explaining how the book came about, and related that partially it came through an interview with Eleanor McKinnon, daughter of Norman McKinnon, who at the time Douglas arrived in the city owned and operated McKinnons Department Store in downtown Weyburn.Eleanor McKinnon was one of the most able women to ever grow up in Weyburn. She did the equivalent of what a novitiate nun would do: Eleanor McKinnon dedicated her life to serving T.C. Douglas, and she and his wife Irma were protectors of T.C., he said.Houston noted he and his wife interviewed her initially for a book he was writing on the history of medicare, and with all the extra information she gave about herself and her role, this led to thoughts of the other people in Douglas life that he could write about.One of the remarkable aspects of Eleanors story is that she was from the wrong side of the political fence, as her father Norman was a staunch Liberal, and was a capitalist store-owner, or as Houston described him, Norman was the Sam Walton of Saskatchewan. Imagine, the foremost store in Saskatchewan was not in Regina, or Saskatoon or Moose Jaw, but in Weyburn.The seemingly unlikely connection to Douglas came as McKinnon also happened to be a long-serving and highly-influential deacon at Calvary Baptist Church, and due to a fundamental disagreement with a previous minister, the church found itself in need of a minister late in 1929, and it came down to a choice between two classmates at Brandon College, Tommy Douglas, and Stanley Knowles, who went on to be a celebrated statesman and politician in his own right.Weyburn should be proud of how the career of T.C. Douglas began in Weyburn, Houston said to the small crowd gathered for the book launch.Houston noted also that when Douglas first ran for a federal seat after serving as the premier of Saskatchewan, he only garnered 31 per cent of the vote from the city of Weyburn; part of the reason, said Houston, was that Weyburn was a one-industry town: the Mental Hospital, with a Liberal, Jimmy Gardiner, in power in Regina.
The hours passed nervously as the vote results slowly trickled in, and by morning Douglas had just squeaked in with the votes coming in from the rural municipalities.Speaking later, Waiser first noted that the new Douglas book was Houstons idea, which he shared with him when Waiser dropped by to see him in 2007, and they decided to try and tell the story about the revolution in government that occurred when Douglas took power in 1944 and held the reins as premier until 1961.He (Douglas) wasnt always warm and cuddly, but he was a good judge of character and would never settle for second best, said Waiser, adding, In the 40s and 50s, when people were talking about creating a new world, Tommy not only talked about it but he did it.Rev. Ross McMurtry commented to the authors, Its very important for those of us who lived through this for people in Saskatchewan, Tommy Douglas did not invent medicare; he harnessed the pioneer cooperative spirit and was able to bring it to fruition. Its important to give credit to the the early people who supported cooperative medicare.