Labrador City -
There's new leadership on the way for Labrador City.
Mayor Graham Letto officially announced he would not make another run for the mayor's chair Aug. 25 after sitting around the council table for 20 years.
"I have mixed emotions," he admitted in an interview with The Aurora Wednesday. "It's a big change. After 20 years on council, I still feel like I have something to offer."
Letto left his hometown of L'Anse au Clair in 1972 to pursue an education degree at Memorial University, but after a year, he decided to take some time off. He landed a job at Wabush Mines as a summer student in 1973 and by September, he was working at the Iron Ore Company of Canada (IOC).
"I started out as a labourer, then I went to attendant, and then I went into supervision in 1977 until my retirement in 2002," he recalled his career at the mine. "I had a good career, and I have no regrets."
Letto said he met his wife, Audrey, shortly after he began working at IOC, was married in less than a year, and started a family right away. He had two children - daughter, Michelle, and son, Michael - and said his family solidified his commitment to remain in Labrador City.
"It's a great community," he said with a smile. "We made a lot of good friends here, our kids were born here, grew up here. It has good education, lots of recreation and my wife and I loved it here. Labrador City was our home."
By 1978, Letto was involved in various community groups including the Kinsmen Club. He was very active with the organization and quickly branched out to other service groups including Boy Scouts, and in 1989, he decided to take it a step further and run for town council.
"That was quite a feeling actually," he remembered his first election. "It was the first time I ever entered politics, and I considered it a great accomplishment. I was very eager to get involved, I took it on full force and I enjoyed it from the first day."
As a town councillor, Letto was able to get involved in the issues, represent the community, and he took on many challenges. He noted the issues then weren't much different than those today, but there are two that stand out in his mind.
"Hydro was there right from the get-go," he stated. "IOC sold its utility to Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and then came the rate increases, so that was an issue from Day 1 on council. It was the beginning of the end for good hydro rates."
Not long after the election, Letto explained, IOC also informed the community it was reactivating the pellet plant in Sept-Iles and there was a fear if there was ever a slowdown in Labrador west, the local plant would close and never reopen.
The town council at the time fought to keep the plant open on the premise IOC was mining Labrador ore and producing Labrador concentrate, so it should leave the plant in Sept-Iles alone.
Letto said he loved being involved in municipal politics and after three successful terms as a councillor, he took a shot for the top job.
"I'm a very ambitious person, and since Mayor (Darrel) Brenton wasn't going to run, I felt I had the expertise, knowledge and drive to fill that position," he said. "I had some ideas that I thought would be beneficial to the community, so I ran."
He went up against former MHA Perry Canning and former councillor Ern Condon for mayor in 2001. He campaigned on several issues including: changes to the Trans-Labrador Highway, eliminating the poll tax, beautification and enhancement.
Letto remembers the thrill of running for mayor the first time and said it was a good challenge to run against two well-known and respected men in the community.
He won the second election for mayor by acclamation, and said it felt natural to stay in the top job because there were a lot of issues to deal with.
During his career on council, Letto was also a board member, vice-president and president of the Combined Councils of Labrador and Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador. He's represented the community on the Atlantic Mayor's Congress and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities; and he served on all major committees of council.
The mayor also tried to break into provincial and federal politics, but he said municipal politics is where his heart lies.