Nothing embodies the spirit of Cumberland more than the annual Empire Days celebrations, when the community comes together to honour their heritage.
Fittingly, Cumberland Mayor Leslie Baird has played a key role in that annual celebration, which marks its 127th year this year.
She has been an active member of the Cumberland Empire Events Society for 23 years, but her involvement began much earlier.
“I danced the maypole when I was in school,” she recalls. “My sister Maxine Anderson was a May Queen and my sister-in-law Louise Ellis was a May Queen also. My family has been part of it for many, many years.”
Empire Days is one of several Cumberland events Baird has lent her talents to.
Born and raised in Cumberland, Baird is an active member of the Rotary Club of Cumberland Centennial and a long-serving member of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #28.
And when it comes to grass roots politicians, there might not be any who can compare with Baird, who won her mayoral seat by acclamation in both her first and second term. She and her husband of 47 years John live in a house that dates back to the early days of the village.
“We actually live in the Baird House. It was built for the Bairds in the 1800s and has gone from one son to the next. (Local historian) Judy Hagen thinks we’re the only family in the Comox Valley that still retains their original house.”
And proudly displayed on a wall in their Maryport Avenue landmark is a framed land sale purchase deed for the property signed by none other than Robert Dunsmuir, the coal baron who founded the village in the late 1800s. (The picture on today’s front page shows Baird holding the deed.) “Apparently he didn’t sign many documents,” Baird notes.
Baird’s interest in politics is definitely a family affair.
“My father-in-law Doug Baird was an alderman, my brother-in-law Sandy Baird was an alderman. It was a natural lead-in. My only decision was whether to go into union work (she spent 18 years with Comox Valley Home Support and had been asked to sit on the United Food and Commercial Workers executive) or get involved in politics. I knew if I went to the union I’d be away from home, so I decided to go into politics and stay home and in my community.”
Baird says Cumberlanders are fiercely proud of their community and their strong worth ethic has produced “some very, very successful people” – two-time Olympic runner Terry Tobacco being one of them.
Baird has been successfully battling cancer for the past six years, and is happy to take her doctor’s advice to keep on doing the things she loves doing.
And that’s good news – for both her and her beloved community.