Hamilton's Reg Wheeler, 'mayor of the Beach Strip', left a long legacy

Reg Wheeler was a longtime Hamilton alderman, Dofasco employee, football player and 'outstanding citizen.'
Reg Wheeler, left, played with the Wildcats in the pre-Tiger Cat days. He was also involved with the Football Hall of Fame.

Former alderman, football star and local legend Reg Wheeler died Sunday.  Wheeler died after a long illness. He was 93.

His son, Len Wheeler, a Hamilton police officer, remarked on his father's "solid, long life."

"That a man could do so much in life, especially being a steelworker, working shifts," he added.

Wheeler's passing did not go unnoticed or unmourned at city hall.

Mayor Bob Bratina expressed his sadness at Wheeler's death Sunday in an email.

 "My sincerest regrets to the Wheeler family. Reg was an outstanding Citizen and member of the Gallery of Distinction," he wrote.

Bratina briefly summarized Wheeler's decades-long involvement in the city.

"Reg was a long-time member of Council and a Dofasco employee.  He and my father were close friends from Dofasco and football fans. Reg  played with the Wildcats in the pre-Tiger Cat era and was involved with the Football Hall of Fame."

Born in Hamilton in 1918, Wheeler's influence on Hamilton's civic and cultural life stretches back more than five decades.

A former pre-defensive tackle for Hamilton's Flying Wildcat Football Club, a pre-cursor to the Hamilton Tiger Cats, Wheeler was a longtime employee of Dofasco, where he worked as a foreman on the ingot floor for 46 years.

While there he founded the Dofasco employee recreational department, said his son.

His ambitions soon turned political. In 1960, Wheeler was elected east-end alderman, a position he held on and off for nearly three decades.

"We lived in Hamilton Beach," said his son, "what would have been the old ward six, where he was basically the mayor." 

Wheeler was the energizing force behind many improvements to the city's infrastructure, including the construction of the Burlington Street overpass and the restoration of Dundurn Castle. He also played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in Hamilton, where he later sat on the induction committee.

For his son, Wheeler's fight to get the Canadian Football Hall of Fame for Hamilton stands out as one of his greatest achievements.

"There was a battle for it," he said.

"Mr. Wheeler was instrumental in creating the hall for Hamilton," said Mark DeNoble, executive director of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

DeNoble said the HOF will honour Wheeler's memory with a moment of silence at next week's induction ceremony in Winnipeg.

As alderman for the Beach strip Wheeler also lobbied to have transport trucks taken off the main strip and diverted to the Skyway, a successful bid that made streets safer for kids, said his son who personally witnessed a child being struck and killed by a transport truck when he was a child.

In 2006, Wheeler was honoured for his many contributions to the city and inducted into the city's Gallery of Distinction. 

Wheeler may have been a tough guy on the football field, but his son said he was a great reader and artist too.

"Dad was quite a good artist on his own and an accomplished gardener. He was an avid reader and had a collection of books in his house dating back to his youth."

Wheeler is survived by his son Len and daughter Renee as well as 10 grandchildren and one great grandchild. Son Bob passed away from cancer. Wheeler's wife Grace died in 2007.