Rob Hutchins, the seventh of nine children, was born on a family dairy farm in Devon, England on October 14, 1956. The following summer, Rob’s family immigrated to Canada with the intention of buying a farm in British Columbia. On their trip across Canada they stopped in Calgary for a rest and ended up staying for eight years. However, the call of British Columbia — and especially Vancouver Island – drew them on frequent holidays to the coast. Eventually, in 1965, the family bought a small farm of twenty-two acres on the waterfront in Mill Bay.
Rob graduated from Cowichan High School in 1974 and went directly into a Bachelor of Education Program at the University of Victoria, graduating in 1979.
That September, he joined the Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District where he taught for 33 years. In the 1990’s, Rob earned his Master of Arts in Education from San Diego State University. Over the course of his career, Rob taught at a variety of schools, teaching students from grade three through to grade twelve, and concluded his teaching career serving as a secondary school counsellor.
Rob and his first wife Teresa, a teacher in the Cowichan District, moved to Saltair in 1979 where they built their first home and had three children: Braden, Peter and Elizabeth.
Rob had begun his other career – as community volunteer — in Mill Bay as a volunteer fire fighter. While living in Saltair, Rob soon found himself serving as member of the Nanaimo District Teachers’ Association Executive, on the Board of Directors of the Big Brothers of the Cowichan Valley, as a fundraising chair for the Ladysmith Area of the BC Cancer Society, and on a host of school district committees. In the late 1980’s Rob began promoting Earthquake Awareness and Disaster Preparedness and has provided over 100 workshops to community groups, businesses and institutions over the years. In 1990, he authored the first School Earthquake Safety Manual for School District #68 and was assigned to provide awareness training to all school district staff.
Rob moved to Ladysmith in 1990 with his new partner Susan. Their blended family numbered five children with Kate and Wes joining Braden, Peter, and Elizabeth. In 1993, the new family bought the old Glen home at 33 Methuen Street (which boasted one of the oldest gardens in Ladysmith.) Rob soon became involved in the Ladysmith Emergency Preparedness Committee and in early 1993 was appointed as the Emergency Preparedness Coordinator for the Town of Ladysmith.
In September 1993, Rob began knocking on doors, seeking support to run for the position of Councillor for the Town of Ladysmith. He was strongly encouraged instead to run for the position of mayor. The election of 1993 saw a three-way race for mayor, and Rob won the position with over 50% of the vote. Over the next twenty-one years, Rob was acclaimed as Mayor four times. The only times he was challenged for the position were the elections of 1999 and 2011.
Over his twenty-one years as mayor, Rob also represented Ladysmith as Director on the Cowichan Valley Regional District Board. Five of those years, he also served as Chairperson of the Board. During these years, Rob also served eight years as a Director of the Island Coastal Economic Trust, five years as Co-chair of the Cowichan Watershed Board and, at the time of writing in 2015, is in his sixth year as Co-Chair of OurCowichan Community Health Network.
Early in his first term, Rob led the Ladysmith Green Street initiative, which resulted in the planting of 1,000 boulevard trees over a ten-year period, and fostered a dramatic community wide beautification and parks amenities development including: the re-make of Transfer Beach Park and the construction of the Amphitheatre, Spray Park and Eco Tourism Centre, three expansions to the Frank Jameson Community Centre, upgrades to Bob Stuart Park, the Aggie Bank, a face-lift to Aggie Hall, the second stage of First Avenue Revitalization with the addition of a modern round-about, upgrades the gateways of Symonds and Roberts Street, the creation of the Heritage Artifact Route, the construction of the Holland Creek, Stocking Lake, and Rotary Trails, the greening of the highway. In 2003, the Town was awarded the National Community in Bloom Award for 2003 and was recognized by Harrowsmith Magazine as one of the ten prettiest small towns in Canada.
Rob’s tenure as mayor also saw stewardship of such initiatives as the construction of new accesses to the waterfront lands, the establishment of the Ladysmith Maritime Society Community Marina and floating Welcoming Centre, the construction of the Rocky Creek Light Industrial Park, a southern boundary expansion in partnership with Saltair to create a site for a future heavy industrial park, the creation of the Spirit Square and Community Services Centre on High Street, a new RCMP Detachment on 6th Avenue, a new artificial turf field at Forrest Field, the upgrade to the Chemainus Highway, the relocation of displayed residents of the Ivy Green Mobile Home Park to Jim Cram Drive, and the transformation of the Ladysmith and District General Hospital to a Community Health Centre.
The Town of Ladysmith was the first community in the Cowichan Valley to introduce universal recycling in 1995 and the first community in Western Canada to introduce curbside collection of organics in 2005. By 2002, the Town had completed universal water metering and now has one of the lowest per capita water consumption rates in British Columbia. During Rob’s time as Mayor, the Town also invested millions of dollars in upgrading both water and sewer services, with the building of a new covered water reservoir and a secondary level sewage treatment plant.
In 2006, Rob, Council and Town staff took the first steps to build a better relationship and develop a true partnership with Stz’uminus First Nation. 2007 saw the signing of the first Community Accord between the two neighbouring communities. This led to a second accord in 2012 and the creation of a Memorandum of Understanding to guide future initiatives and relations.
Outside his roles as mayor and classroom teacher Rob and his family also built two businesses on First Avenue. They started with the Sunflower Café in 1999, and eventually operated both the Old Town Bakery and the Wild Poppy Bistro in the heart of Ladysmith.
Rob made two unsuccessful bids to become a MLA – in 2001 as a NDP candidate and again in 2009 as a BC Liberal candidate.
Rob chose not to run for an eighth term as mayor in the 2014 local government election. However, that decision did not mean a retirement from politics for him. Instead, he ran for – and was elected — to the positions of both Town Councillor and member of the Board of School Trustees for the Cowichan Valley School District 79.