An Active Activist

  • by David Shanahan
  • Published Feb. 15, 2024 in the North Grenville Times

Long before he was elected to the North Grenville Municipal Council in 2018, John Barclay had been deeply involved in community activism in the community. From the Oxford Mills Community Association to the Kemptville Farmers market, as Executive Director of the Old Town Kemptville Business Improvement Area (OTK BIA) to the Economic Development Committee, John served his time, as it were, gaining experience, community background, and a network of local groups and individuals before running successfully for Council. Following the last municipal election, he was named Deputy Mayor of North Grenville. Remuneration for councillors being what it is, John took on a part-time job, but his was an unusually public one.

In July of 2018, Jim Beveridge of the B&H – Your Community Grocer, hired John to help in his Produce Department. John had been advised that in order for him to run for Council, he would have to resign from the OTK BIA because, as a paid administrator of a municipal Board of Management, he would have a conflict of interest in running. John needed a job. Jim gave him one.

“I’m sure the Beveridges had bets on how long I would last: until the end of the campaign, six months; maybe a year?”, remembers John. “It was tough, but I hung in there and by the end of two years, I figured that I knew the job and what had to be done. I started doing weekly strength training with Richard Chartrand ( in order to physically handle the work.”

In a nice piece of synchronicity, the B&H had served as one of John’s first connections with North Grenville.

“When I left Toronto in 2009 to move closer to family in Ottawa, I was absolutely done with the hustle and bustle of city life. My very first small-town experience was a lovely chat with a B&H cashier about bird seed, of all things. I felt very much at home. Over the years, I came to understand how important this store was to the social fabric of Kemptville, if not all of North Grenville and Eastern Ontario.”

For many years, the B&H was the dominant retail grocery store in this part of Eastern Ontario, outside of Ottawa, Brockville, and Cornwall. With the highway bypassing Downtown Kemptville in the late 1970s, traffic patterns around the B&H started to change and B&H saw significant declines in the summer with fewer tourists coming into the store. The decline in the downtown traffic over the last 20 years would have been considerably more if the B&H had exited as did most other larger retailers. 

By 2011, John was working for the OTK BIA and volunteering on the board of the Oxford Mills Community Association. In 2013 he joined the Kemptville Farmers’ Market (then the Kinsmen Kemptville Farmers Market) as a non-vendor member of the Board, ostensibly to facilitate the Market’s move to the B&H parking lot where it remains today. Joining the BIA as their Executive Director in 2016, John recognized that the B&H was a key element in maintaining a vibrant downtown.

“At first, the job at the B&H was a means to an end, meeting expenses with a part-time job, but soon I came to realize the benefits of being so accessible to residents employed on the front lines of a popular downtown business. The Beveridges were very indulgent, to a point, of conversations I had with residents in the aisles while on their dime. For the most part, residents were respectful of the fact that I was working. That said, working at the B&H had definite political advantages, for which I’ll always be grateful.”

Just before Christmas last year, after five and half years at the B&H, John gave Jim Beveridge his notice. It was time to move on, motivated by a desire to have his weekends free once again and to use his experience working with nonprofits to raise awareness and to fundraise. On January 3, 2024, John began a new part-time job as the Executive Director of Community Involvement Legacy Homes ( Community Involvement Legacy Homes (CILH) provides independent affordable housing for persons with developmental and intellectual disabilities in Leeds and Grenville Counties.

“CILH does not provide the wrap-around social services and programming of organizations like Community Living North Grenville. It is a small non-profit charity that purchases homes with funding from various levels of government, private donations and funds from families and support networks and provides lifetime or legacy leases to tenants. We’re primarily involved in property maintenance and development. I’m excited about the possibilities to develop more opportunities for persons with intellectual disabilities to live truly independently.”

So, John will be a somewhat less visible presence around town now, but his involvement in the community has taken a different form and he remains one of North Grenville’s most active of activists.