THE PAS -- When it comes to this close-knit northern town, Al McLauchlan is like the cat that came back 'cause he just couldn't stay away.
The affable retired Mountie moved here three separate times before staying for good and is now proud to serve as one of The Pas's most visible mayors in years.
"We as a community know what we need to survive, and we all work together as a family," says McLauchlan, 58.
That statement sums up McLauchlan's approach to governing. He's an accompanist, not a soloist, a virtue indicative of his compassionate nature.
That caring was evident during his time with the RCMP. Rather than just arrest, rearrest and arrest again, he would consider the factors that caused people to run afoul of the law.
"If I could deal with the root causes of crime, then I could solve the problem, not just enforce the law," McLauchlan says.
He helped solve many problems during 26 years in uniform, most of them in northern Manitoba, and most of those in The Pas.
Raised in Port Hope, Ont., McLauchlan was no stranger to small-town life when he made The Pas his first posting as a young constable back in 1976.
As luck would have it, the love of his life, Johanna, was here waiting for him. After marrying, the couple had the first of two sons in The Pas before transferring to Brandon.
They enjoyed the city, but the north would summon them again, first to Norway House, then back to The Pas, then up to Pukatawagan and finally once more to The Pas in 1991.
"I liked helping communities and people to overcome their problems and of course loved to celebrate the communities' success," McLauchlan says, reflecting on the favourite aspects of his career.
McLauchlan handed in his badge in 2001 only to become an instructor, and later co-ordinator, for the law enforcement program at Keewatin Community College, now University College of the North.
Three years later, he and Johanna branched out -- literally -- when they formed Rocky Lake Birchworks. Today it is Western Canada's largest producer of birch syrup, with customers in Italy, Australia and China, among many others.
But something was still missing, so, in 2010, without having ever held any sort of office, McLauchlan was elected mayor.
Though he hasn't carried a sidearm in a dozen years, he still cuts an imposing figure. With his thick mustache, bushy sideburns and broad shoulders, he could easily be mistaken for a farmer.
But he is so easy to approach, few shy away from the opportunity. His accessibility is so legendary, one local radio personality gushed on his blog about how often Mayor McLauchlan is willing to go on the air to take questions.
And no one is a more tireless advocate of The Pas. That's much-needed as often-overblown crime problems overshadow the good press the town should be getting.
"The poor reputation the community has is based on a false perception," McLauchlan says. "If you look at the community and compare it to any other community, then The Pas is miles ahead. What small community in the south has a hockey arena, a curling rink, an indoor pool, a first-class wellness centre, a university college, French immersion, a walking path which encompasses the community?"
When McLauchlan put his name on the ballot, he did so out of the standard motivations of wanting to give back and make a difference.
But he was also legitimately excited about the prospects around him. The Pas will always be a lumber town, but he expects steady growth as it awaits a mining boom and solidifies its position as a service centre for northwestern Manitoba.
"Housing starts will increase as the demand strips the existing stocks," he predicts. "We see this now as there is no apartments available and homes are selling fast."
Sounds like The Pas will need a strong mayor in the years ahead. This looks like a job for Al McLauchlan.
Jonathon Naylor is editor of the Reminder newspaper in Flin Flon.