Nova Scotia

Longtime mayor who transformed Lunenburg leaves a lasting legacy

David Laurence Mawhinney died at age 79 on September 15. He served as mayor of Lunenburg from 1979 to his retirement in 2012 and was instrumental in the town's UNESCO designation.

David Laurence Mawhinney served as mayor for 33 years, helping to make town a tourist destination

Mawhinney served as mayor of Lunenburg for 33 years. (CBC)

There won't be a formal funeral for the former mayor of Lunenburg, N.S., but members of the community and his family are left with a lasting legacy of his 33 years of stewardship.

David Laurence Mawhinney died at age 79 on Sept. 15.

He served as mayor from 1979 until his retirement in 2012 and he was instrumental in securing the town's UNESCO designation. 

He was a 'forward thinker'

David Mawhinney ( top left) with his siblings Michael, Alison and Suzanne and their parents on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2015. (submitted)

His son David said his father was a "forward thinker" who recognized the need to prepare for the town's economic future by transitioning from fishing to tourism in the 1990s.

"My father started promoting the idea of working with the federal government to see about the UNESCO designation," he said.

Mawhinney emigrated to Canada with his parents from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1948 with his Presbyterian missionary parents after their home was bombed in the Second World War.

He died on the 72nd anniversary of his arrival in Canada.

According to his obituary, he served various Presbyterian congregations in the province before eventually obtaining a master's degree in divinity at Montreal's Presbyterian College. 

He served with the Presbyterian church in various capacities until just before his death. 

Lunenburg allowed him to create a 'foundation'

Mayor Mawhinney was a common sight on the streets of Lunenburg (CBC)

He settled in Lunenburg in 1973. His son said it allowed him to finally build a family and have stability in his life.

"He led a nomadic life for much of the first 30 years of his life. I think that he decided fairly early on that he wanted to create a foundation," his son said. 

"The choice when he came to Lunenburg in 1973 was a very wise choice because it was a world that he had known as a small boy. It was very close to the community that he had come to when he was seven, and he felt very much at home there."

Entry into politics

Family life led Mawhinney into politics as a result of his involvement with the school board when his children were young. 

He was elected to the town council in a by-election in 1976 and was elected mayor in 1978.

"I think that it sort of appealed to him in many respects because he was the type of person that was very good at synthesizing and coming up with an answer to build consensus," David said. 

The mayor of Lunenburg, Rachel Bailey, says the former mayor was a mentor. (CBC)

Mawhinney was a mentor to his successor, the current mayor of Lunenburg, Rachel Bailey.

She said he left such a "tremendous legacy of accomplishments and relationships in his wake" that makes it hard to be succinct about his impact on the community.

"He was an eloquent speaker and a very levelheaded leader and certainly was a natural leader. And so he put that to very good use to the benefit of of this community in particular," she said, "but also was a strong individual and a powerful voice among the spiritual community."

No formal funeral

David Mawhinney said there has been an outpouring of support from the community but the family has chosen to forego a formal funeral because of the current circumstances.

"He chose medically assisted dying, and we did a family service here because we were in our own bubble," he said. 

Bailey says the public will have a chance to sign books of condolence at the town's bandstand on Sept. 23 and 24.

The mayor says the town will look at commemorating his legacy in other ways.



Vernon Ramesar


Vernon Ramesar is a reporter and video and radio journalist originally based in Trinidad. He now lives in Halifax.