Gwyn Sproule is the first woman and sixth person in Cumberland’s history to receive the Freedom of the Village, a time-honoured tradition to acknowledge her many years of service.
At a special council meeting Thursday, Mayor Leslie Baird presented the 20-year councillor with a framed photograph that Sproule placed alongside the five previous recipients on the wall in council chambers.
Sproule first campaigned for office in 1999 for Area A director of the Comox Strathcona Regional District. In 2002, she was elected to her first term at Cumberland council. She is a founding member of the Comox Valley Land Trust, the Cumberland Community Forest Society and the Perseverance Streamkeepers Society.
“Your love of Cumberland and its history, this is your passion,” said Baird — the first woman to be elected mayor of the village. “From the beginning, you led the way with many articles, maps and interesting conversations with council. You reached out and interviewed the senior population of Cumberland, learning of their personal experiences. Your teaching experience led you in educating many of the new residents on our past of how Cumberland developed.”
Sproule has opted not to seek re-election this fall. Having published several local history books, she plans to continue researching the history of the mines, the ethnic townsites and the Wellington Colliery Railway. Her biggest wish is to see the railway right-of-way take after the Kettle Valley Railway in eastern B.C. by becoming a linear parkway for bikers and hikers.
When she first set foot in Cumberland in 1976 — shortly after arriving in Canada from England — Sproule was fascinated by the village’s heritage buildings, many of them boarded up.
“To me, it looked like the Wild West, and I was charmed,” Sproule said.
Two years later, she moved into a house on Comox Lake Road where she continues to live today. She was fascinated to learn that a once thriving Chinatown across the road had only been pulled down 10 years earlier. Her curiosity and concern led her to interview many old-timers about the past, and to record their stories.
Over the years, she has seen Cumberland’s population grow from around 1,800 people to almost 5,000 today.
“I want to thank the various people who have run for council in the past, and worked together to make Cumberland the livable community it is today,” Sproule said.
The other members of Cumberland council, and several other guests said a few words about Sproule during the ceremony.