Obituary – Former MLA Dennis Barton

Dennis Barton

Few people had more impact on a community than Dennis Barton did on Slave Lake.
When he arrived in 1965 it was booming with the recent discovery of oil, but the infrastructure to support the growth simply did not exist.
It was an all-hands-on-deck type of situation and Barton turned out to be just the type of energetic community-builder that was needed. He threw himself into it.
Barton died on Feb. 27 at the age of 82, after an illness that had him hospitalized for about a month.
Barton’s list of accomplishments is long, being a former MLA for Lesser Slave Lake from 1971-75, and helping the Slave Lake Native Friendship Centre when it was struggling to survive.
“The Friendship Centre was going broke,” recalls his wife, Wendy. The organization got through the crisis, with Barton’s help. That might not sound like much, but considering all the other hats he was wearing, it stands out as something special.
Alex Courtorielle was executive director of the Friendship Centre at the time. Reached by phone last week, he recalled Barton is a good mentor, with his business know-how and philosophy of community first. You might get things cheaper in Edmonton, Barton told him, but if you’re going to ask local businesses for support, you should be doing your shopping at home. It’s a lesson Courtorielle says he took to heart.
“It made so much sense,” he said.
Another of Barton’s roles was representing Lesser Slave Lake as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.
The party he belonged to [Social Credit] was not in power, and Barton took the ruling Tories to task over and over again about what he saw as ignoring the needs of the region.
He was big on promoting tourism, transportation infrastructure, economic development – pretty much anything and everything that he felt would improve the lives of his constituents.
On March 7, Barton was honoured with a special ceremony at the Legislature, with Wendy, their daughter Lora, granddaughter Emma, and Wendy’s sister, Sandra, and brother.
Oddly enough, it was when he was campaigning in the 1971 election that Barton hurt himself – an injury that may have played a role in his final hospitalization.
He was playing floor hockey with some kids in Slave Lake when he shattered his femur and busted his knee. It was somehow put back together, but gout, arthritis – and ultimately an infection of the knee were factors in his final illness.
Barton was known in his later years for his passionate ownership of racing horses. That was his great hobby and he was remarkably successful at it.
But he was perhaps best known as the proprietor of Barton’s Drugs in downtown Slave Lake, along with his wife Wendy, who was a pharmacist. Slave Lake did not have a pharmacy when Dennis came to town in early 1965. By the fall of that year, Dennis and Wendy had set up their store, on a Main St. that was axle-deep in mud – much of it tracked into the store in the course of a day of business. It was Dennis’ job to clean the floors every night after the store closed. The family lived in the back of the store for their first five years in town.
Dennis was known for being kind, generous and helpful to all sorts of people. He extended credit to many – often with little assurance the bills would ever be paid. He didn’t like to see kids doing without Christmas presents, or whatever it happened to be. Tributes to his kindness and helpfulness poured in on social media when news of his passing appeared there a few weeks ago.
For example: “Mr. Barton was a good and fair man. He treated all with respect and both have treated my family with care and respect for many years.”
And: “Dennis, everyone that knew you and the things you done for our community and how you always helped others. We salute you, job well done.”
Another example: One day Dennis came across a young fellow wandering around the drug store, acting a bit strangely. It was Brian Nordbye of Grimshaw, who had stopped in with his wife Joanne to have a look at the store. They got chatting and Dennis found out the Nordbyes were on their way to Edmonton to see if they could get a bank loan to buy a drugstore in their home town. Joanne recalls later when they were driving, Brian told her, “If this doesn’t work out, I’ve been offered something in Slave Lake.”
The offer was that Bartons would help them set up a competing drug store in Slave Lake, and they could pay the money back over time.
“We were two kids without two nickels to rub together,” Joanne says. “They got us a good start in life. Everything we have is because of them. I have always been very thankful for Dennis and Wendy.”
A lot of people had their first jobs at Barton’s Drugs. Dennis had rules. He wouldn’t let anyone work at the front till until they could demonstrate that they could count back change. Students who worked there had to show him their report cards, to prove their marks hadn’t declined due to the time they spent working at the store.
“When I think of Dennis,” says Marilyn Dawson, “he was just the most loyal friend anybody could have. There wasn’t anything Dennis couldn’t tackle. If he wanted to do anything, he went at it, full force.”
There might not be enough space to hold all the people who want to pay their respects to Barton at his April 9 memorial service.
Barton was born in Edmonton, grew up in Naples and Barrhead. He was married to Wendy for 59 years.

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