"I'm No Lady-I'm a Mayor!"

Boss of Kirkland Lake is Ann Shipley, housewife. She can bake a cake — or cook a politician’s goose

BRUCE McLEOD November 15 1946

"I'm No Lady-I'm a Mayor!"

Boss of Kirkland Lake is Ann Shipley, housewife. She can bake a cake — or cook a politician’s goose

BRUCE McLEOD November 15 1946

"I'm No Lady-I'm a Mayor!"

Boss of Kirkland Lake is Ann Shipley, housewife. She can bake a cake — or cook a politician’s goose


ONE December day during the 11th annual conference of American mayors in New York City a bustling 180-pound woman in dark furs and a floppy pancake hat stooped to enter a car outside the Hotel Astor. A convention official stopped her.

“Sorry, lady,” he said. “These cars are for mayors only. There’ll be other cars for (he ladies.” The big woman with the moon face and bright hazel eyes gave him a look. “I’m no lady,” she retorted. “I’m a mayor!”

When that story got around, 47-year-old Marie Ann Shipley, reeve—not mayor—of Kirkland Lake, Ont., and only woman delegate among the 750 mayors attending the convention, was in demand by the press. But stealing headlines is an old story to this blunt but jolly widow, who not only runs the affairs of a large home and three children but finds time to boss one of the world’s largest gold camps.

The area governed by Mrs. Shipley and a fourman council has never been incorporated. While Kirkland Lake has produced $600 millions worth of

gold and could have qualified as a city long ago, it is today neither a city, town nor village. It is merely t he show place, the administrative centre of Teck Township. Hence Mrs. Shipley is a reeve—not a mayor. “Most strangers call me mayor,” she chuckles. “I don’t bother to explain the difference. It’s too complicated.”

In this Northern Ontario bailiwick, where hardrock miners and grizzled bushmen affectionately call her “Fight ing Ann,” no one is much surprised to hear that “Annie has busted loose in the papers again.” When they read that Mrs. Shipley was being introduced around New York as “The Mayor of Canada,” they just grinned.

“Sure,” said one old Irish prospector, “and it’s Queen Ann they’ll be callin’ her next.”

While not all the 23,000 residents of the Township of Teck are Shipley fans, a substantial majority of them march to the polls every year to mark their ballots for Annie. This year they didn’t have to. After three successive years as reeve, Mrs. Shipley won a fourth term by acclamation. Not a man in the sprawling gold camp figured he could pitch a

political ball fast enough to ruffle this widow’s greying brown hair.

But jousting in the political arena has not always left Ann Shipley unbruised. She served three years on the township school board, then ran for council and headed the polls. But the next year, in 1942, she abandoned her council seat and made a pass at the reeve’s chair. She was defeated. R. J. Carter, who had been reeve of Kirkland for 12 years, was re-elected.

“I got my ears pinned back,” Mrs. Shipley recalls. “But the next year I made it—by 49 votes.”

That was in 1943, and since that time she has held a two-to-one edge on all comers. More men than women vote for her every year, though she doesn’t think this means anything.

“I campaign as a person,” she says. “Never as a woman. It’s got now so I’ve forgotten I am a woman.”

It wasn’t easy to forget at first. Her friends wouldn’t let her. They told her politics was no job for a woman. They said they wouldn’t vote for her —and didn’t. “I never Continued on page 49

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minded,” says Mrs. Shipley, “as long as they told me to my face.”

Today those people have had a change of heart. And because of their support Mrs. Shipley boasts a record in municipal politics equalled by few, if any, Canadian women.

She is a staunch Liberal, and admits aspirations in the federal and provincial fields. She puts it this way: “If 1

haven’t stubbed my political toe before the next federal or provincial elections,

1 might accept a nomination if offered one.”

She is, undoubtedly, vote-conscious, and some people accuse her of conducting a campaign 365 days in the year. They are not being critical; merely saying what they think is true. Keeping things Shipley-shape, they call it.

She is shrewd enough to know the value of publicity, and because she talks in a down-to-earth manner, has endeared herself to the press. She hates procrastination; believes the shortest distance between two periods is a short quote. No one can accuse her of putting on airs. Her language is sometimes colorful. The editor of an American news magazine once described her as being “judiciously profane”—a fact that causes her to blush slightly while recalling that as a little girl her mother often threatened to wash out her mouth with soap.

She admits she keeps a sensitive finger on the public pulse. She loves to mix with people and lias travelled thousands of miles just to attend a convention. Sometimes she has as many as five speaking engagements in a week. In one year, on jaunts through Canada and the United States, she made more than 150 speeches at everything from ship launchings and service club dinners to government

conventions and military parades. She writes all her own stuff, pecking laboriously with two fingers at the keyboard of her portable typewriter, which she lugs from home to office. And words don’t come easily. She’d rather cook a dinner for 50 people than write a single speech.

Her speechmaking is no less forthright than her press interviews. In Quebec, where she spoke at the launching of H.M.C.S. Kirkland Lake, she faced a noisy, restless audience, bored with speeches. When Mrs. Shipley’s turn came she walked to the front of the platform, jabbed a big hand at the crowd, and said: “Well, do you want to listen to me or not? If you don’t I’ll sit down.”

When she finished she got a bigger hand than all the gold braid and striped trousers in the house.

But frequent speechmaking is only one of several methods used by the reeve to keep her public Shipleyconscious. She doesn’t kiss babies, but she believes in establishing sound public relations. This summer, at a ball game in Kirkland Lake, players from the Montreal Canadiens hockey club were making an appearance. A kid fan wanted their autographs but had no pencil. Mrs. Shipley loaned him her new fountain pen with its two-year supply of ink. In his enthusiasm the youngster forgot to return it.

Though a bit on the expensive side, public relations such as this are considered worth while by the lady reeve. Actually she spends next to nothing on a campaign and refuses all contributions. On election day she fills her home wiLh telephones and volunteer workers and lets the ballots fall where they may. Opponents admit her organization is not only enthusiastic but efficient.

She’s a fiery talker, quick on the ad libs and makes use of a needle-sharp wit to harpoon critics who irritate her. She likes debate, often steps down from her reeve’s chair at a council meeting to indulge in cross-fire from the floor.

Opponents Are Ignored

When a close friend advised her to ignore the opposition in election speeches, on the grounds that every mention of an opponent’s name was a plug for him, Mrs. Shipley agreed. That night she went over a speech she was writing. “Believe it or not,” she says, “I had mentioned a certain gentleman 94 times. He got the blue pencil. I’ve rarely mentioned an opponent since.”

Occasionally she will admit the existence of an opponent through use of such phrases as—“that person” or “Mr. Wisebritches.” But never by name.

She works hard at whatever she does and handles her municipal housekeeping with the same calculated efficiency she runs her comfortable 10-room home. At first she dedicated both mornings and afternoons to municipal business. But lately she’s had to slow down a bit. She spends her mornings at home. Sometimes she works on a speech, but usually she works around the kitchen, in a shiny black dressing gown, whipping up a salad dressing, peeling potatoes or making butter from her own recipe.

By two in the afternoon she’s behind her desk, signing cheques, wading through the pile of correspondence that requires her attention daily. There is ink on her fingers, instead of flour, and the books at her elbow are full of municipal law and budget estimates— not the detective stories she likes to read in her leisure time.

The transition from homebody to reeve is smoothly done. When you watch her in action you get the impres-

sion she could figure next year’s tax rate with one hand and bake a cake with the other without once removing the cigarette tucked almost constantly between her lips. She is a chain smoker, and goes through two packages a day.

Seated behind her desk, in a dark afternoon frock, she hunches slightly, and when she talks the fingers of her large hands are spread wide apart for emphasis. With the exception of bright lipstick she uses little make-up. She has a round pleasant face and a determined jaw. She wears her short hair combed back off' her faintly lined forehead in a Grecian roll. She’s partial to earrings; never worries about her double chins. Once she is reported to have chided a photographer, “Don’t make me look glamorous. I’m successful in politics because no man’s wife could ever be jealous of me.”

But she nurses a grudge against news cameramen—not because of how they photograph her but because of how they photograph her hats. “My hats aren’t really bad,” she insists. “But in the papers they look like my milliner was Pansy Yokum.”

Numbers From One to 10

She likes tailored clothes. She hasn’t a clothes closet full of dresses, but those she has are expensive and in good taste. Her hands are so large she has to have all her gloves made to measure, and when she shakes hands, your fingers

remember it. She cares little for jewellery; wears a single ring with a green jade stone. “Expensive jewels never impress me,” she says, “because I can’t tell the difference between a diamond from Tiffany’s and one from the five-and-ten.”

For close work she wears glasses with colorless plastic rims, and when she’s talking business she sometimes swings them jerkily in her right hand. When shes not doing this she’s probably docdling. She doesn’t know why, but she has a habit of writing “some people . . . some people . . . some people,” line after line as she talks. Another habit she has never been able to break is filling page after page of paper with figures. She writes them one to 10, then starts all over again. “I do it unconsciously,” she says. “I often wonder


She enjoys a cocktail. She likes night clubbing and the theatre. In New York last year she went to see “Oklahoma.” After the show reporters asked her how she liked it. “I’d better not say,” she told them. “La Guardia wouldn’t approve.”

Two things she doesn’t like are people who chew with their mouths open and people who press up against her in an elevator or streetcar. “If thev persist in leaning against me,” she says, “I nearly go berserk.”

She has a keen card sense and is a good bridge player. As one friend put it, “She has a streak of luck longer than

a ball of yarn.” Many a visiting fireman has learned to his sorrow that she knows the odds on filling an inside straight. Her stories are a “must” at conventions. While many people attribute her quick climb up the political ladder to her vitality, others think her ability to mix with all types of people—Cabinet Ministers and soda jerks—is responsible for her success.

No one denies she is high-strung; sometimes inclined to bite off more than she can chew. During one of the contests for reeve, Mrs. Shipley’s opponent described her as being “too temperamental.” Then he made the mistake of adding, “like all women.” When the women of Teck marched to the polls on election day, they didn’t forget his remark.

One thing hard work has never helped Mrs. Shipley do is lose weight. She stands five-foot two, weighs 180 pounds and admits it. She tried dieting once but it made her ill-tempered, so she gave it up. “You should see me in slacks,” she grins. “Goodness, what a sight!”

She seldom eats breakfast and goes light on lunch. But at dinner she digs in. Rare roast beef is her favorite. So are frogs’ legs, shrimp, lobster and oysters. Dessert doesn’t interest her, but she keeps a cupboard well-stocked with cheeses.

When cooking she likes to use special sauces and sherry. She thinks garlic, discreetly used, can make most meals taste better, and uses about a dime’s worth a year. Her spaghetti dinners are famous around Kirkland, and at Christmas and New Years, calling in the reeve to carve the turkey is a ritual at several homes.

Mrs. Shipley can’t remember names but never forgets a voice. She likes music but plays no instrument. Her friends say, and she agrees, that she sings like a crow. She doesn’t get much time for reading; avoids anything “deep,” but sometimes tackles a mystery story and reads until two or three o’clock in the morning. She is up by 10, ready for her day.

Plays No Favorites

Because she is easily accessible to the public, people take advantage of her. Many never wait for an office appointment. They just drop in on Annie at home and talk things out in her living room. Their problems cover everything from welfare difficulties to mothers’ allowance and old-age pensions. Somebody wants a parking ticket “fixed.” Somebody else wants the reeve to intercede with the police on behalf of a boy who was caught stealing gum from a store counter. Mrs. Shipley always refuses. “I’m not the law,” she says. “Talk to the chief!”

She never plays favorites—even her critics admit that. Not long ago a close friend asked her for better drainage fronting his property. He showed her water, ankle-deep on his sidewalk. She told him he’d have to wait his turn. So he went to one of her opponents on council. The job was done, and Mrs. Shipley is still being ribbed by that friend.

People complain to her about taxes, noise, assessments, dogs, rents, bootleggers and frozen water pipes. They want to know what to do with dead cats, garbage, and husbands who won’t support their wives. She’s even been invited to “come and have a smell” of a septic tank that wasn’t working properly. Once a woman who knew the reeve was a good cook called to ask from which end she should clean a chicken. People even get Mrs. Shipley out of bed at nights to complain about the neighbors. And because she is a woman, other women come to her for

advice on intimate problems they’d never mention to a man.

One of her most vigorous hecklers is Roza Brown, a 93-year-old Hungarian eccentric who, though reputedly worth a fortune, lives in unbelievable poverty. She’s sure the reeve and council are out to “crook” her, and often invades the council chambers, trailed by several dogs, and defies Mrs. Shipley to eject her.

Reeve Shipley was horn Ann Killins, daughter of William Killins, an implement salesman near St. Thomas, Ont. Her father was Irish and her mother Scottish. When the future reeve of Kirkland Lake arrived on April 8, 1899, there were already three brothers and two sisters in the family. Later the family grew to nine with the addition of two brothers and another sister.

“Growing up with five boys,” says Mrs. Shipley, “taught me to be a good sport and take a licking gracefully. Maybe I was a tomboy. Anyhow, 1 knew how to hold up my fists in a fight.”

Her first ambition was to be an elocutionist. “Those were days before modern movies,” she explains, “and on the farm elocutionists were the only glamorous people l saw. Today 1 think they’re terrible bores.”

Practiced What She Preached

Until she was 12 she went to country schools. Then the family moved to Ottawa, where her father became a fair wage officer for the Department of Labor. Following graduation from collegiate, Ann worked for the Federal Finance Department. She was later transferred to the assistant receivergeneral’s office in Toronto. Two years later she married Dr. Manley Adair Shipley, and in 1928 they moved to Kirkland Lake. “Those were days,” Mrs. Shipley recalls, “you needed rubber boots to get across the Main Street during springtime.”

Ten years passed before she went into politics, and then she did it more to save face than anything. For years she had argued it was the duty of young women college grads to serve on the township’s school board. “Women with leisure time,” she said, “should take an interest in municipal affairs.”

Her doctor husband agreed. “Why don’t you quit crabbing,” he told her, “and run yourself? It’s a poor doctor who won’t sample her own prescription.”

She accepted the challenge—and in 1938 surprised both herself and her friends by winning a school board seat. She was re-elected in 1939 and 1940, and in 1941 ran for council and headed the polls. In April of that year, on his wife’s birthday, Dr. Shipley died. Some people think this made Mrs. Shipley turn more earnestly to municipal work. Politics helped keep her busy and took her mind off her sadness.

In the winter of 1941-42 Kirkland Lake had the longest and costliest strike in the history of Canada’s gold industry. Ann Shipley ran for reeve. It was a bitter campaign. Mrs. Shipley thought the strike ill-timed and saw in it disaster for the mining camp. But she fought to keep council from taking sides, and when her opponent, Reeve R. J. Carter, supported strikers’ demands, she condemned his action.

The strike was poorly organized, poorly financed and called at a time when gold mining was of little importance to a nation at war. Mrs. Shipley realized this, but as the strike bogged down into weeks of fruitless negotiation, embittered miners interpreted the I Shipley utterances as hostile. As she j explains it, “Misunderstanding of my motives tlirew me holus-bolus into the 1 ranks of capital. I shudder when I

think how labor turned against me.”

But she stuck to her guns. It cost her the reeveship by fewer than 400 votes, and she was relegated to the sidelines fora year. Meanwhile the strike failed. The Government nailed new wartime restrictions on mine expansion and development and ordered manpower from golds to base metals. This double blow sent Kirkland to its knees. Thousands left the community. Stores closed. Businesses, top-heavy with credit, went bankrupt. The population slumped from 26,000 to 15,000. The people of Kirkland had plenty of time to recall the Shipley warnings.

A less optimistic person might have decided this was a good time to stay out of the picture, but not Mrs. Shipley. She waded in with both feet and was elected reeve for 1943 by what she calls “an embarrassingly small margin of votes.”

Today, with the exception of the more radical elements, most labor men in Kirkland credit Mrs. Shipley with capable administration. They have dropped much of their suspicion, and respect her ability to talk their language. When a CCF organizer opposed Mrs. Shipley for the 1944 reeveship he didn’t get to first base. She doesn’t consider this significant, but many miners point to this victory as an indication of Ann Shipley’s rising prestige among workingmen. But she never makes labor problems a part of her campaign. She prefers to stand on accomplishment.

First thing she did as reeve was to cut her own salary by $300 -from $1,500 a year to $1,200. Next she persuaded councillors to take $5 a meeting instead of $8. And she wielded a heavy axe on travelling expenses. But these economies were but a drop in the bucket of township finance.

In February, 1943, Kirkland was in desperate financial shape. Revenues were down $162,000. Mine taxes had shrunk by more than $100,000. Debentures worth thousands of dollars remained unsold. Over bitter opposition Mrs. Shipley led a fight to have the township placed under government

supervision. One night she battled for three hours in council to make her point—but it probably saved Kirkland from becoming another ghost town.

She has fought vigorously for a revision of the mining tax system whereby the municipality is not allowed to levy real property taxes against its only industry, the mines. Instead it can tax only the net profit of the mines, after the Government has taken a substantial chunk. Mrs. Shipley thinks the mines are overtaxed, but insists the municipalities in which the mines operate do not get a fair share of these taxes. She says she won’t quit her job until the Government agrees to a revision.

Sometimes, when Mrs. Shipley crashes the headlines, her three teenaged children take a dim view of things. “They give me blazes,” she chuckles. “They tell me I look better at home than in print.”

Eldest of the trio is Mary Ann, 19. She’s an olive-complexioned, darkhaired girl who designs all her own clothes. She is ready for college. Daughter Marny is 12, has reddishbrown hair and goes to collegiate, as does 14-year-old George.

And as if Mrs. Shipley doesn’t have enough to keep her hustling at home and at the office, she is secretary of the Kirkland District Mines Medical Plan —a hospitalization scheme covering 15,000 persons in the Kirkland district. She is active in welfare work; was one of the founders of the local Children’s Aid Society, has assisted the Victorian Order of Nurses and the Canadian Red Cross. For two years she was chairman of the Association of Mining Municipalities of Northern Ontario.

In the course of administering these offices she meets many people. But one of her favorites is the little girl who knocked on her office door one day not long ago and asked for an interview. “I’m supposed to prepare a speech on a famous Canadian,” the little girl explained. “I want to talk about you.”

“And what do you know,” says Mrs. Shipley, a gleam of pride in her eyes. “She won second prize, too.”