PORT HARDY—The North Island lost a vigorous champion last week when Al Huddlestan, chairman of the Regional District Board of Directors and former Port Hardy mayor, died Mar. 26 following a extended battle with pancreatic cancer.
“I have no hesitation in saying (Huddlestan) was probably the best chair the regional district ever had,” Port McNeill Mayor Gerry Furney said. “And I say that having served as chair myself.”
Huddlestan, 62, continued working on behalf of the North Island right up until he entered a palliative care facility in Nanaimo. On March 5, he appeared at the legislature in Victoria with other regional district chairs to lobby Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Mary Polak on coastal ferry issues.
“Al was a tireless advocate, and he worked right up to the last minute,” said Greg Fletcher, RDMW administrator. “He basically went right to the hospital from that meeting.”
Huddlestan’s passing leaves a void on both RDMW board of directors and on Port Hardy Council, from which he served as regional district representative and chair since his election in 2009.
Port Hardy Mayor Bev Parnham said Huddlestan’s replacement to the RDMW board would likely be appointed during council’s next meeting on April 9. At that time, she said, Port Hardy would likely establish a date for a by-election to fill his spot for the remaining 18 months of a three-year term.
“We’re really going to miss him,” said Parnham. “He was a very good friend for over 30 years, and always gave a lot to the North Island over the number of years he served as either mayor or councillor and on the RD.”
Dave Rushton, Area D director and vice-chair of the RDMW board, will serve as chair until Port Hardy appoints Huddlestan’s replacement, said Fletcher. The board will then vote to select a chair and vice-chair, perhaps as soon as its next regular meeting April 16.
Huddlestan, born in Victoria in 1950, moved to Port Hardy in 1978 and remained, splitting his time between public service and private enterprise.
He first served as Port Hardy Councillor for one term in the mid-1980s, then served two terms as mayor from 1986-1993. After returning to council in 2008, he was appointed again the RDMW board and held the office of chair until his passing.
He was diagnosed with cancer in late 2011 and began undergoing treatment down-Island, while continuing to attend council and RD board meetings when he was back home.
“I was amazed at his ability to fight through this whole thing and carry on at the level he did,” said Rushton. “He really amazed me; it’s a testament to his tenacity. And he’ll be missed; there’s no doubt about it.”
Huddlestan served during some trying times on the North Island, including as Port Hardy mayor at the time the Utah copper mine began phasing out its operations.
“Al did a lot of good negotiating with the mine to make sure the town would be OK in the transition,” said Parnham. “He was incredibly diplomatic. He could look at things from different perspectives, and always had a way of getting things to happen.”
In recent years, Huddlestan was instrumental as board chair in overseeing establishment of a regional heritage bylaw and securing a pair of North Island historical pieces. He backed the Woss Community Association in its efforts to keep steam locomotive 113 against a bid by the Alberni Valley Heritage Society, and fought to reclaim the Hornsby steam crawler tractor from a private collector who had taken it from Vancouver Island in 2005.
Between stints in government, Huddlestan was a successful entrepreneur, and served as president of the North Island Trail Association when it completed the North Coast Trail in 2008.
“Al was a guy who was absolutely full of life,” said Parnham. “He cared about his community, about Port Hardy and about the North Island.”