Napanee’s new big city CAO looking forward to small town life

Matthew Grant will assume the position of Napanee CAO on June 17, 2024. Photo via Town of Greater Napanee.

In just over a month, Matthew Grant will take on the role of Greater Napanee’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), and “the small town vibe” is something he looks forward to.

The Town of Greater Napanee announced on Thursday, May 2, 2024 that it had hired Grant and that he will step into his new role on Monday, Jun. 17, 2024.

After being given a warm welcome to the neighbourhood, Grant joked as his conversation with Kingstonist began that it must be a “slow news day” — but he said he’s heard from “every single person” he’s talked to about Napanee that he will enjoy his new home. And that is saying something.

Grant is a world traveller with significant education and work experience. Born and raised in Toronto, he completed his undergraduate studies at Western University in London, Ontario. He then lived overseas for about seven years, first teaching English in Japan and eventually becoming a translator for a company there. “I got really interested in politics and political affairs and that sort of thing, so I moved to Australia to do my Master’s degree in journalism at the University of Queensland and lived there for a couple of years.”

Returning to Canada, he first worked in Medicine Hat, Alberta as an education reporter, he said. “And then I saw this really interesting opportunity come up at the Whitehorse Star, which sadly is going to close its doors after 124 years a week from now… so I was a municipal affairs reporter and a political reporter there.” This led to a job in municipal government as Whitehorse’s first-ever communications and government relations manager. 

He also worked in the office of the premier of Yukon for a year, then moved to Alberta to be the press secretary first for the minister of health and then for the minister of municipal affairs. In Edmonton, he met his wife, who hailed from the Niagara area. 

When the “Orange Chinook” of the 2015 election ushered in that province’s dramatic swing away from the Progressive Conservatives to the New Democratic Party, the government change left Grant looking for another position. After a stint in Kelowna working at the University of British Columbia, the couple moved back to Ontario to be closer to their parents. For almost four years, Grant worked at the University of Waterloo, but then the time came to return to the political realm because, he said, “I knew that was where my heart lies.”

Napanee’s historic town hall. Photo by Michelle Dorey Forestell/Kingstonist.

As communications director for the City of Hamilton, he performed chief of staff duties for the city manager and was a member of the senior leadership team during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With his boss’s retirement, Grant decided to seek out his own leadership position, “and that’s what brought me to Napanee.”

“You know, when I started taking a look at the next step in my career, one of the things we wanted to look at was a smaller community,” Grant explained. “When I lived in Whitehorse, I really enjoyed the small community vibe.”

They haven’t moved to town yet, but so far, the Grants are excited at what they have seen. They are looking for a home for themselves and their beloved pet bulldogs.

Grant said, “During the interview process, my wife and I spent some time there, sort of going around and chatting with people about the town — and what I’ve noticed is people are really proud of Greater Napanee. They’re very interested in local affairs. They’re very interested in where the community is heading, how it’s going to grow, the recreation opportunities. And that’s a great thing. I found people were really invested in it.”

“And you know, candidly,” he went on, “it’s in a lovely setting in a place that’s not quite as busy as the Greater Toronto/Hamilton area — which is a bit too busy for my wife and I. And so we’re looking forward to actually having the ability to contribute to a town that’s already well on its way. Also, living in a smaller community where [you know] the people that you’re buying groceries from, you know the people’s names who you’re buying coffee from, that’s appealing to us.”

As for the future, Grant said it will be a ‘getting to know you’ process. “So far, I’ve learned from people who’ve lived there and [from] friends, aside from being a historic and lovely community — which actually had one of the oldest furniture factories going — what people keep telling me is it’s got a really diverse economy. It’s got excellent infrastructure: it’s got road, it’s got rail, it’s got water access, which is really advantageous.”

“One thing I really noticed when I came into town is Napanee has got a very robust highway commercial [area], and it’s also got a vibrant downtown. Those two things don’t always go together,” he pointed out.

He also likes that the town is growing with lots of investment interest. “I think with the Goodyear plant expanding, the battery plants that are coming up, they’re increasing the power generation… it’s a town that is poised for some pretty interesting things.”

“I think the town of Greater Napanee has a lot to be proud of,” said Grant. “My wife and I went and spent a couple of days there because we wanted to understand if this is a place that we want to live and invest our time. The answer to that is ‘Absolutely.’… My experience of the people that I’ve talked with is that they’re very, very proud of their town, and they have a reason to be.”

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