First reeve of Airy Township Philip Roche’s photo to be placed at South Algonquin municipal building

The Township of South Algonquin council, at their meeting on Oct. 5, approved a request from Jane Luckasavitch to hang a photograph of her father Philip Roche, the first reeve of Airy Township, at the municipal building. The specific date and time for this photo to be put up has yet to be decided, but CAO Bryan Martin says the photo will be placed when the township receives it from the family.

Philip Roche was the first reeve of Airy Township from 1962 to 1971. He held office for two more terms, from 1973 to 1975 and again from 1977 to 1978. Luckasavitch told The Bancroft Times that she had been thinking of having a photo of her father at the municipal building for a while and finally got around to starting the process.

“I thought it would be just a matter of putting a photo in a frame with a small plaque and having it put on the wall in the council building. I never thought there would be a ceremony. I think photos of all reeves should be there,” she says.

According to Luckasavitch and family, Roche was born in 1915 and attended St. Pat’s College in Ottawa and the Toronto Normal School. He also studied at Gregg Business College in Toronto. He moved up to Whitney in 1935 to work in O.E. Post’s General Store. According to an article written by Roche in 1995 called “The story of Whitney and its suburbs,” sent to The Bancroft Times by the South Algonquin Libraries’ CAO and head librarian Charlene Alexander, Roche arrived in Whitney via a CN train, having boarded at Killaloe. He was employed at the general store as a store merchant and spare delivery person, and described Post as “a very gruff man” but they eventually became friends. He described his first impressions of Whitney (originally built by the St. Anthony Lumber Company, then taken over by the Ontario government and leased back to Post), which he describes in great detail, as “not good but nevertheless interesting.”

In the article, Roche described his first day on the job at the general store, saying there was a team of oxen with yoke harnessed to a small sleigh tied to a ring attached to a board fence outside the store, which he first entered rather nervously.

“A tall man, shabbily dressed and carrying a black snake whip in his hand [O.E. Post] stared at me with a wicked looking eye. A few cracks of the whip and he yelled at me ‘What the hell are you doing here?’ At this point, Mr. Post’s son Albert, who was married to my sister Mamie, a school teacher in Whitney that same winter, interrupted to introduce me to Sam Bowers, the owner of the team of oxen outside. I was to find through time that Sam, who lived with his aged mother, Mrs. Poff, at Hay Creek, was at heart a pretty good fellow, whose bark was worse than his bite. Mr. Post (Ollie to some of the older people), his son Albert and myself made up the inside store staff. Sometimes, my sister Mamie helped out. Dick Haahr was the delivery man, sometimes replaced by Alcid Martin and Louis Labarge, my future father-in-law, and also at times by Paul Nicholas,” he says.

Luckasavitch says that her father met his wife Lottie Labarge in Whitney and over the next few decades they raised a family of seven children. After a stint in the army, Roche had a number of different employment opportunities.

“[These included] foreman for Ontario Hydro as they expanded the energy network throughout Ontario, lumberman and log scaler for McRae Lumber and car salesman for McCarthy Chev/Olds. In the mid 1950s, he began the process of establishing an insurance and real estate business in Whitney which he operated until the early 1970s when he sold it,” she says.

During this period, Roche maintained a keen interest in politics at all levels of government and was an active member of the Liberal Party, both provincially and federally. Luckasavitch says he participated in campaign activities on a regular basis.

“In the late 1950s, he began the process of having the Township of Airy incorporated. This involved numerous lobbying activities including meetings with provincial officials and letters to relevant government branches. At the same time, he was organizing local interest in incorporation as well as keeping key stakeholders advised and involved in the process. This all culminated in the creation of the incorporated Township of Airy in 1962 with [my father] as its first reeve,” she says.

Luckasavitch reveals that during the many years that Roche was reeve of Airy Township, there were a number of things that he and his councils accomplished, including; an LCBO branch in Whitney, a new Canada Post building, the establishment of high school bus service to North Hastings High School in Bancroft, the establishment of a TD Bank branch in Whitney, paving and enhanced lighting for Whitney’s residential streets and the establishment of the Lester Smith Community Centre and enhanced skating rink facility. She adds that incorporation also opened up a new point of access for various funding opportunities for improvements to local infrastructure and facilities.

Roche was the local representative of the Nipissing and District Welfare Board and the Renfrew County and District Board of Health, and represented his township at their regular meetings. He served two terms as chairman of the Algonquin Forest Authority from 1980 to 1990 and he actively participated in the creation of the St. Martin of Tours Roman Catholic cemetery.

“His love for his community was all-encompassing and resulted in his having few recreational activities. He enjoyed watching the [Toronto Maple] Leafs, gardening and walking and caring for his beloved Springer Spaniels. He was an avid volunteer with the Home Support program for years and regularly drove folks out of town for medical and other appointments. His door and phone line were always open and he was regularly in the midst of helping someone out with problems. He was particularly adept at helping folks negotiate bureaucracy at all levels,” she said he remained in Whitney well into his 90s and passed away in 2009.”

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times