Former Puslinch fire chief mourned by his community

By Ariel Deutschmann

Wellington County has lost a good man, says family members of Doug Smith.

Smith was an active community resident and most noted for his time with the Puslinch Fire Department. Doug served as a volunteer firefighter for the department for 37 years, with 10 of those years spent as chief. He retired from the role in 2005. 

On Sept. 27, Smith passed away at the age of 83 at Guelph General Hospital. In Puslinch, council held a moment of silence and the flags within the township are at half mast until his funeral on Oct. 1.

Jim Campbell-Smith, Doug's son, said many community members have reached out to their family following the announcement, including Puslinch mayor James Seeley.

“It makes it emotional, but it's very nice and certainly helps to know that people recognize the contributions he's made in the community,” said Jim, describing his father as a “fairly quiet man” who did what needed to be done.

“I think we always knew how involved and special he was to us, but it's really nice to know that other people really cared about him, and respected him, it means a lot. It's very special, very special,” said his daughter Cathy.

Doug was part of the first group of volunteer firefighters who formed the department in 1967. Jim thinks it was the interaction with the community and being able to help out when people were most in need, that Doug enjoyed about the role.

“They did training in 67, 1967, and officially started doing fire calls on January 1, 1968,” said Jim. “Him being involved in the fire department was sort of, an 'all of our life' thing.”

“He got a call on Christmas morning when we were quite young, and of course he went off to the fire, and we had got to open one present and we had to wait until he came back,” said Cathy. “It was called 'whittle away' and it was a big, plastic knife to whittle something, and we had the three items totally whittled when he came home.”

John Uptigrove, fire training officer with Puslinch Fire Department, said Doug hired him in 1968. The two would go on to work together for over 25 years. 

“He was a great leader, he cared about this department and cared about his members and made sure they were well looked after,” said Uptigrove about Doug.

“Very rarely did I hear Doug complain, he took action,” said Seeley, who was hired by Doug in his 20s and knew the Smith family for many years.

Doug, who grew up in West Garafraxa, moved to Arkell in 1964 after marrying Glenna Smith. The couple remained married for 59 years and went on to have three children, raising them in a house that once belonged to Doug's grandfather.

While living in Arkell, Doug and Glenna volunteered with multiple organizations, including Arkell Church and the Farnham Cemetery Board, where Doug and Glenna volunteered for over 50 year. For their efforts, both were awarded Senior of the Year by Puslinch Township in 2011. 

“Our entire lives, he was involved in various organizations,” said Jim. “Even when he was growing up, his parents were involved in the community and he felt it was what you had to do to give back to the community you were involved in and living in.”

“He was a caring man and worried about his township that he lived and worked in. He loved the township, for sure,” added Uptigrove.

When he wasn't volunteering, Doug worked for Bell Canada. He started his career after high school and remained with the company for 33 years before retiring.

“As a family, because dad started so young at Bell, for most of what I can remember as a kid, he at least got three weeks or four weeks off in the summer, so we would all go camping and we would do long camping trips and travel,” said Jim, noting they travelled to both the east coast and the west coast.

Cathy and Jim agree their father taught them about the importance of family and community. When Doug became a grandfather, Cathy adds the grandchildren became important to him as well.

“Those three children were the apple of his eye,” she said.

Five years ago, Doug and Glenna moved from Arkell to Puslinch, where they lived down the road from Uptigrove.

“We would often stop and talk and stuff like that,” said Uptigrove. “He was always interested in the fire department and where it was going and how it was doing.”

Reflecting, Cathy said her father's influence has rubbed off on the family in different ways. 

“We all volunteer and do things like that. None of us are firefighters, although, several of my nephews are in the fire service and are paramedics, and I think dad doing that gave them that idea. He was very politically involved also, and Jim's followed in those footsteps for sure,” said Cathy.

“Each of us have chosen how to be involved in the community or to be a teacher, or something like that, but definitely by both (Doug and Glenna) of their influences, but dad more particularly.”

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