Michael Behan started his career in Fort Frances as a young journalist for the Fort Frances Times, writing editorials on council decisions and reporting on sports. Today, he works as deputy mayor.
When he first arrived in town, Behan received a taste of municipal life by serving on the Museum and Cultural Centre Board for several years where he learned about the proper procedures of council.
He also served on the board of directors for the Fort Frances Chamber of Commerce, serving one term as president. He was also part of the Muskie Touchdown Club and volunteered with the Fort Frances Aquanauts. As an extension to his longstanding passion for sports, Behan served as president of the Fort Frances Bowling Club and the Sunset Country 5-Pin Bowling Association.
After over three decades of civic work, in which five were served on town council, he has become accustomed to the balance required when decisions that affect many fall on the shoulders of a select few.
“You certainly realize right away the balancing act you have to do,” he said. “Just like in writing editorials, some people love it, some people hate it. You can’t please everybody. And so you do your best to make decisions that you think are right, that are reasoned and informed, and ones you can defend.”
Behan was born in Ottawa but spent most of his childhood living abroad because his father worked for Global Affairs Canada, formerly known as the Department of External Affairs, and was posted at embassies outside of Canada. He spent two years of his childhood in Moscow, Russia, three years in Oslo, Norway, and four years in Brussels, Belgium.
Behan recalled some of his earliest memories living in Russia at the height of the Cold War from 1969 to 1971.
“It was a communist society at its best,” he said. “We lived in an apartment that was mostly foreigners, I believe, but we did interact a little bit with the common people. But you know, as a six or seven year old, it was an eye-opening experience that sticks with you for your whole life.”
In 1986, Behan graduated from Carleton University with a Bachelor of Journalism degree. Soon after, he stumbled upon his dream job as a sports reporter.
“As it turned out, one of my mother’s uncles lived in Fort Frances, and happened to hear about a job opening at the local paper. He knew I graduated with a diploma so he let me know about it. I applied. And I got the sports reporter for the Times,” he said.
“I think that was the dream job of being able to watch sports and write about it. And I caught that dream about someday covering the Stanley Cup Final or the World Series or the Super Bowl, but I met somebody and of course, the rest is history.”
Behan moved to Fort Frances in June 1987 to start his career as a young journalist. He took over as editor of the Times on May 1, 1990, a position he held for 29 years before retiring on April 30, 2019, to focus on his duties as town councillor.
“I just thought it was a natural transition to go from being the editor of the local paper to local politics and local council,” he said. “I didn’t think it was ethical for a councillor to also be the editor of the local paper, editing stories and copy, writing editorials about things that I’m involved with, so that’s why I stepped away.”
Despite the hundreds of articles he has written since moving to Fort Frances, some can never be forgotten.
Behan recalled the excitement he felt being a young sports reporter when the Muskies won the Ontario championship on home ice at the Memorial Sports Centre with 3,000 people packed into a little arena to watch the final game.
“That was a very magical night,” he said. “I think it was April Fool’s Day, if I’m not mistaken, April 1, I think, 1989. That was certainly a crazy time. Back in those days, Muskies were on the radio and everybody followed them religiously. And that was certainly one of the highlights of my time.”
Another unforgettable night was when the local curling club had won a contest and one of the prizes was a live broadcast of TSN’s SportsCentre, hosted by broadcasters Darren Dutchyshen and Jennifer Hedger.
It was at the peak of summer, 42 degrees Celsius, yet the whole town gathered at the Sorting Gap Marina for the national broadcast. “It was just a real example of community pride coming together and it just put Fort Frances on the map,” he said.
Lou Grant, an award-winning television series starring Ed Asner as a newspaper editor of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune, combines comedy with a serious examination of ethical questions in journalism. Similar to the main character in the show, Behan recalled his first editor at the Times, Harry Vandetti, a man that resembled Lou Grant and who “told it like it is.”
“He taught me lots about how to be a good journalist and editor. And I learned a lot from him in the three years that he was my editor,” he said about Vendetti’s impact, who held the editor position before Behan took over.
Behan also thanked the Cumming family for giving him the opportunity to work at the Times as a new and upcoming journalist, the seed that gave root to his decision to settle permanently in northern Ontario.
“I always appreciated them giving me a chance when I was a nobody out of J-school (journalism school), coming up to the great northwest and not knowing where I’m going or what I was doing. I appreciate them giving me the opportunity and I did my best to put out the best paper I could every week for 29 years,” he said.
After the recent election for the 2022 to 2026 term, Mayor Andrew Hallikas approached Behan to serve as his deputy mayor.
“I’ve been lucky to work with a tremendous team of people both on council and at the Times that made my job so much easier over the years,” he said.
Pulling lessons learned from his time in newspapering and town council, Behan encouraged young people to consider running for council to bring new ideas and diverse perspectives to municipal matters.
“All you can do is what you think is in the best interest of the long term of the community. And that’s how you sleep at night,” he said. “There are good days and bad days. There’s lots of responsibility and lots of issues that you’re constantly being bombarded with. You have to be patient and tackle them one at a time and, yet be very well read.”