The Challenges of being Cliff

This article appeared in the February 4th, 1997 edition of the Ladysmith-Chemainus Chronicle

At some point in the next few years, Cliff Tollefson wants to go to a Third World country and work for Canadian Executives in Service Overseas (CESO)

It’s the challenge that excites him, he says; it’s been this way most of his life, the reason why he has been a farmer, an economic development officer, an administrator, a government inspector of municipalities and a hotel owner.

But for the time being, at age 67 and healthy, his challenge is to tend to the needs of Ladysmith as a member of council.

Now two months into his new role, he admits he had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into but he never expected quite so many meetings.

“During January there were only four days when I didn’t have a meeting. If it wasn’t for the fact that my two sons and my wife keep things going at the hotel, I wouldn’t be able to manage.”

Just because Cliff’s an old-fashioned farm boy, it doesn’t mean there are hay seeds on him. No siree, he believes in law and order, apple pie and fishing. He runs a tight bar in his hotel and when he goes fishing, he takes along old buddy and fellow councillor Roger Gibson, just to keep away the bears and to use him as a Bailey bridge when crossing ditches.

The Tollefson family farm is outside Valleyview, in the Peace River district of Alberta. He and his three brothers homesteaded the site in 1951; his brothers still work it today. Cliff makes reqular trips back to the farm and while he says he’d like to do Ladysmith a favor by taking Gibson with him, Gibby has told him he isn’t up to milking range cattle twice a day.

After leaving the farm, Cliff took on the job of developing a sawmill for Natives in Northern Alberta. He later became manager of the band.

“This was to be my first insight to government and politics. It was even more complex than municipal government because education and social services were involved.”

He returned to Valleyview when it was time for his eldest son to start school. At this point, he bought a bulk fuel business.

He sold the business two years later and became band manager at nearby Sturgeon Lake, where he trained his own replacement.

Next he was administrator of Valleyview for two years and from there he joined the Municipal Inspectors Branch of the Alberta provincial government, working two years as one of nine inspectors.

Then he took on the enormous task of setting up local governments for each of the eight Metis settlements in northern Alberta.

“That was really interesting but after I got them organized, there wasn’t much challenge left for me, so I went to the Prince Rupert-Terrace area as economic development supervisor for the Native population.”

“This was a fascinating job. I flew all over the northern B.C. coast. I became acting district manager and eventually the district manager, but since I have never enjoyed public exposure, I wasn’t really comfortable in the job.”

“Besides, working for the department left something to be desired, so I said to hell with it. You have to look at yourself in the mirror when you shave, you know.”

Next stop: Ladysmith, where he bought the Travellers Hotel. That was 15 years ago and he says he has never regretted it.

Does he enjoy council? After all, being elected is different to being a bureaucrat.

He does, he says, though he went against his own best advice when he agreed to stand for election.

“I had been approached to run a number of times before, but I always maintained there was no way I would do it.”

Why this time?

Well it seems that his tree-top-tall fishing partner, that Gibson fellow had a hand in it.

“I wanted to see Roger back on the council, but he wasn’t interested. I eventually told him if he would run, I would run too.”

So Cliff Tollefson has a new challenge now, part of which must surely be to keep Gibby out of trouble.

And there is a promise of life after politics because he has already made up his mind that he is going overseas to work with the under-privileged.

“I’m going to do it, you wait and see. Life doesn’t end until you are six feet under.”

“I think I have a background that could be of use to CESO and I really do believe in the saying that either you use it or you lose it as you get older.”

“Besides, I am in good health.”

That despite the company he keeps at his favorite fishin’ hole.

contributed by: Rollie Rose

Cliff never realized his plan to work with the under-privileged overseas. He died of cancer at Ladysmith Hospital on September 27, 1998 at the age  of 69. He had been forced to resign from council that summer due to his illness.  LDHS