When Doug Findlater first moved to West-bank in 1975, it was a small, unincorporated community.
“There was only a two-lane highway, no stop lights and a small commercial area,” said Findlater, 66. “If you had to do a big grocery shop, you had to come into downtown Kelowna to the Safeway.”
A lot has happened in the 41 years since.
Findlater and his wife, Willie, have raised two sons, he’s had a long, satisfying career with Canadian Heritage and two life-changing health crises.
The Westside has ballooned into a vibrant incorporated city of 35,000 — now called West Kelowna — and Findlater has been mayor of the community for nine years.
“West Kelowna and Kelowna have been good to me,” said Findlater. “I’ve seen the Westside grow and become more cosmopolitan. My wife had a long-time career as a teacher in Glenrosa and Peachland and we’re lucky that our two sons and four grandchildren live close by in Glenrosa and Grand Forks.”
Findlater grew up an Army brat, living throughout Canada and the U.S.
After his dad passed away, his family moved to Kelowna so Findlater could finish high school at Dr. Knox Secondary.
Then Findlater moved to Nelson to attend Notre Dame University (which has since closed), met the woman who would become his wife and landed his first job as a project officer with the federal government’s Secretary of State office in Nelson to help co-ordinate programs for youth.
By 1975, Secretary of State was opening an office in downtown Kelowna and Findlater and his young family made the move.
While his job was in downtown Kelowna, the family decided to first rent in Westbank, then buy a house in Glenrosa.
“We bought that house in 1976 and have been in the same home ever since,” said Findlater.
Secretary of State changed its name to Canadian Heritage in 1992, and Findlater was manager of the downtown Kelowna office and organized events ranging from cultural, heritage and Aboriginal celebrations to parties marking Canada Day, Olympics and multiculturalism.
In 1981, Findlater was in a car accident at the corner of Bernard Ave. and St. Paul St. in downtown Kelowna that fractured his pelvis and caused internal bleeding that almost killed him. The recovery was long and arduous and left him with nerve damage that he still has to this day in one leg.
Always an avid skier, he tried to pick the sport up again only to find it was unbearably painful with one weak leg. So in 1991, on his older son’s advice, he tried snowboarding with hard boots.
“I just cruise,” Findlater said. “But, it’s something I can do to this day because my strong leg can compensate for my weaker one on the snowboard.”
Later, he would have a quintuple bypass to avoid a heart attack and has had a “super-strong heart ever since.”
Findlater’s career with the federal government lasted 34 years, and when he retired in 2006, he was already entrenched in local politics.
He was around when two referendums shot down the idea of incorporating Westbank as a municipality.
“I wasn’t keen on incorporation to start with either,” admitted Findlater.
“But, by the time I was chairing the Westside Governance Committee from 2002-07, I became convinced our community, which had a population of 27,000 at the time, needed to become its own municipality.”
A third referendum in 2007 finally approved incorporation, and Findlater was elected as the top-polling councillor for the new municipality’s first council that same year on a 12-month term.
Findlater ran successfully for mayor in 2008, and fast forward to 2017, he’s still the mayor in his third four-year term.
During his tenure, a lot of infrastructure has been put in place, from roads and parks to water treatment, and master planning has been done to map out West Kelowna’s ambitious future for additional urban infrastructure while keeping the area’s rural flavour.
By the time the next municipal election rolls around in late 2018, Findlater will have been mayor for a decade and he’ll be in his late 60s.
“I have a hard evaluation to make of whether I want to commit to another four years as mayor,” he said. “It will definitely call for a more in-depth discussion with my family about the future.”