Prominent Slave Lake businessman and former mayor Gerry Allarie passed away on Sept. 10, a victim of prostate cancer. He was just 65 years old.
“It happened so quickly,” says son Bruce Allarie. “It caught everyone off guard.”
Allarie was working at the store (The Brick) on the Thursday, Bruce says, and passed away in the hospital three days later.
Allarie served as Slave Lake’s mayor for two terms in the 1990s, and a dozen years altogether on town council. It was during his time as mayor that Slave Lake’s paved trail system was put in place (among many other things) and he had a lot to do with making it happen.
“He rammed it through,” recalls Bruce. “It would cost a million dollars if you did it now.”
Another highlight of Allarie’s first decade in Slave Lake was his prominent role on the local committee that bid for, won and carried off the 1994 Arctic Winter Games. It was a huge undertaking that is difficult to imagine ever happening again, and Allarie was a big part of it.
But managing difficult challenges was nothing new for Allarie. He’d made a career out of it, starting at a young age. He was a troubleshooter of sorts for K-Mart, getting new stores off the ground, as well as figuring out what was wrong with struggling stores and fixing it. The work took him (and his family) around Canada quite a bit, with stops in Vancouver, Dawson Creek, Toronto and Edmonton.
Allarie intended to become a math teacher, and had started on an education degree at the University of Alberta. He’d been working for K-Mart at the same time, and recognizing his potential, the company made him an offer he couldn’t refuse and he quickly moved into the management role. His first store was in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
Allarie was born in Westlock in 1952, to Pauline and Arthur Allarie. The family was from Jarvie. He spent much his childhood in Fawcett and finished his high school in Lac La Biche.
“He was a very caring young man,” says his mom Pauline.
One of his uncles, Armand Allarie, had started the dry-cleaning business in Slave Lake in the 1970s. When none of his kids wanted to take it over, Gerry and Bonnie decided to give it a try; that was in 1986, when Gerry was ready for a change.
“It was starting to wear on him,” says Bruce, of the K-Mart troubleshooting role.
Slave Lake was to be Gerry’s home for the rest of his life.
“He fell in love with it,” Bruce says.
As with every place Allarie lived in, he got involved in the community. He joined the Kinsmen Club, ran for town council and otherwise pitched in to help improve the community. He was also active in the Progressive Conservative Party, helping MLA Pearl Calahasen with several of her campaigns. Gerry had no notion of running for town council, says Pauline, until Stella Boisvert showed up at his office and urged him to do so, offering to “do all your paperwork.” He ran in a byelection in March of 1988 and won easily over two opponents.
While on town council, Allarie had a lot to do with the downtown revitalization project of 1989/90, whose most prominent legacy is the brick sidewalks and elm trees that adorn the town centre.
Bill Pearson was mayor then, and he remembers Allarie as having fresh ideas and lots to say, but also being willing to consider other points of view and change his opinions if need be.
“In my books he was a good guy,” says Pearson.
He was active in the chamber of commerce for 25 years, also serving on the Municipal Planning Commission and various other boards. He was also president and General Manager of the Slave Lake Wolves Jr. ‘B’ hockey club for four years (which included driving the team bus). In 1990 he was named Slave Lake’s Citizen of the Year. In 2005, Allarie received the Alberta Centennial Medal for ‘outstanding service to the people of Alberta,’ from Lieutenant Governor Norman Kwong.
Allarie branched out in business in 2005, becoming part owner and manager of the downtown furniture store The Brick. A more recent business venture was the establishment of a commercial/residential building in a downtown space left vacant by the 2011 wildfire disaster.
Allarie married Bonnie in 1981; Bruce was their only child. Bruce and his wife Erin have two sons, Myles and Nate, who were Gerry’s “pride and joy,” says Erin.
“He can’t be replaced,” Erin says. “He was more than a father-in-law. He was a best friend and business partner.”
He was also a valued mentor to current Slave Lake Mayor Tyler Warman. Warman told The Leader last week, “His expertise and experience were a huge asset to me. I know he enjoyed our conversations and constantly asked what was happening with the Town. I went to see him about a week and half before he passed away and had the opportunity to thank him for all he did for our community. He was a great asset to this region and will be missed by many.”
One who will miss him a lot is former council colleague, friend – and ultimately family member (through the marriage of their children) Peter Moore. Reached on a foreign vacation by email last week, Moore offered these reflections:
“One, Gerry’s big smile and the positive energy – how it filled the room, especially at family meals like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Second, talking to him a few days ago about events in and around Slave Lake he commented “it really doesn’t make a difference; what is important is family.
“Gerry knew what really mattered. That was Gerry and that is what I will remember and will carry with me.”
A memorial service was held for Gerry Allarie at The Gathering Place on Sept. 16. The family has asked that any memorial donations be directed to Crohn’s and Colitis Canada or the Canadian Diabetes Association.