Governor General Recognizes Caring Canadians
THUNDER BAY – His Excellency, Governor General David Johnson shared messages of hope, and of the power of caring as he presented a deserving group of Northwestern Ontario citizens with the Caring Canadians award today in Thunder Bay. The ceremony at City Hall included addresses from the Mayor and a community discussion on the importance of volunteering.
Awards were presented to some of the deserving volunteers in our region to recognize their efforts, but the Governor General sought to encourage all to step up and get more engaged in our city.
“Sharon and I are delighted to be visiting northern and northwestern Ontario,” the Governor General said. “The communities of Thunder Bay, Sioux Lookout and North Bay each have unique strengths and cultures, and each is a regional hub of challenge, change and opportunity. We’re looking forward to meeting with community members and to participating in a series of activities related to volunteerism, mental health and collaboration with First Nations.”
Caring Canadian Award Winners
Sharon Bak – Thunder Bay, Ontario: For over 15 years, Sharon Bak has assisted people affected by loss and hardship as a disaster management volunteer with the Canadian Red Cross. She has helped provide short-term responses, whether by administering goods and services or social supports, as well as leadership and guidance in the field and in times of great need.
Sue-Ellen Blekkenhorst – Murillo, Ontario: Sue-Ellen Blekkenhorst has been helping people for 20 years through the Red Cross, Persons United for Self-Help (PUSH Northwest), and the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. Through her volunteer work, she has demonstrated her commitment to her community and to bringing people together.
Jamie Boston – Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario: For over 25 years, Jamie Boston has been involved with the Army Cadet program as a volunteer and a civilian instructor. In 2013, he co-founded the Algoma Autism Foundation, which promotes inclusion and awareness in communities across North America.
Peter Cloidt – Thunder Bay, Ontario: For several years, Peter Cloidt has been providing free income tax services to the developmentally challenged in the Thunder Bay region. He also volunteers with the Canadian Cancer Society by assisting chemotherapy and radiation patients with their transportation needs.
Sharon Corston – Thunder Bay, Ontario – Sharon Corston has been dedicated to Special Olympics Canada, the Anglican and Evangelical Lutheran Group, the Federated Women’s Institutes, and the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program. Most recently, her work has centred on alleviating poverty in Thunder Bay.
Deborah “Debbie” Demers – Earlton, Ontario: For over 25 years, Debbie Demers has been actively involved in her community. The Club Lions d’Earlton, the Fondation communautaire du Temiskaming, the Paroisse St-Jean-Baptiste d’Earlton and the Earlton Steam and Antique Show have all benefitted from her leadership and dedication.
Valerie Dennison – Thunder Bay, Ontario: Valerie Dennison has been dedicated to the well-being of the people of the Thunder Bay area for over 50 years as a volunteer with Meals on Wheels, the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the Alzheimer’s Society and the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre.
Claudette Gleeson – Thunder Bay, Ontario: Claudette Gleeson advocates for increased health, educational and cultural services offered to Francophones in northwestern Ontario, through her involvement with l’Accueil francophone, the Coopérative du regroupement des organismes francophones de Thunder Bay andl’Association des francophones du Nord-Ouest de l’Ontario.
Jerome Harvey – Thunder Bay, Ontario: Jerome Harvey has striven to make health care more accessible for people around the world for over 40 years as the CEO and founder of the Medical Equipment Modernization Opportunity (MEMO). He has helped ship 62 ocean containers of health equipment to Cuba, Liberia and the Philippines.
Cliff Huber – Thunder Bay, Ontario: Cliff Huber has been a volunteer in the Thunder Bay area for over 50 years, coaching sports teams, teaching basic computer skills, and working in the collective interests of seniors and the community through Retired Teachers of Ontario.
Nora Kolmel – Red Lake, Ontario: For nearly 20 years, Nora Kolmel has been serving her community as a member of and a volunteer with the Red Lake Lions Club and the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, helping seniors, low income families and persons with disabilities.
Pam Kosola – Thunder Bay, Ontario: For several years, Pam Kosola has been helping people through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, provided by the Lakehead Social Planning Council. She also volunteers at the local Shelter House, where she prepares meals and helps those less fortunate.
Jennifer Kushnir – Thunder Bay, Ontario: For four years, Jennifer Kushnir has been running the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program at the Seven Generations Education Institute. Her efforts help Aboriginal peoples around Thunder Bay thrive as individuals, as well as within a larger culture and community.
Kayla Levesque – Sudbury, Ontario: Kayla Levesque has been mobilizing people of varying ages and backgrounds in Sudbury for more than six years, successfully recruiting, training and organizing volunteers for the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program in Sudbury.
Rajoo Makhi – Thunder Bay, Ontario: Rajoo Makhi is building a more responsible citizenry throughout the Thunder Bay area by helping people with their taxes and providing assistance at homeless shelters. Those he helps are faced with a range of challenges, from financial limitations and physical disabilities to language barriers.
Glen Sharpe – Tilden Lake, Ontario: Glen Sharpe, an avid supporter of the Aboriginal community with roots among the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte, has devoted his life to teaching others, mentoring Aboriginal youth and passing on his wisdom to the next generation in his community.
Gerrie Vanduyn – Thunder Bay, Ontario: For nearly 30 years, Gerrie Vanduyn has laboured to help those in need in the Thunder Bay area. She established the Christian Reform Church Volunteer Group at the Dew Drop Inn soup kitchen, where she remains a committed volunteer and the group’s coordinator.
Daniel-Kaku Voss – Thunder Bay, Ontario: During the four years he was in high school, Daniel-Kwaku Voss joined various councils to represent youth in his community. He also helped launch Youth Tbay and the Thunder Bay Youth Connections Coalition, which provides safe and positive environments for local youth.
Brian Vroomen – Keewatin, Ontario: Brian Vroomen has been helping families and individuals thrive, having served as president of both the Patricia Centre for Children and Youth and Integrated Services Northwest over the past 10 years. He also continues his efforts through the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program.
Chantal Walterson – Geraldton, Ontario: For over 15 years, Chantal Walterson has helped low income families and people affected by poverty through her work at the Greenstone Harvest Centre, the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program, and the Royal Canadian Legion.
Governor General Johnson went off his prepared remarks several times in his talk today sharing stories about his experiences. (Watch the Video for the speech as presented)
Governor General’s Speech
You know how they say, “It takes a village to raise a child”?
Well, I was that child.
I’ve been to Thunder Bay many times, but I grew up in an exotic, faraway place you may have heard of: Sault Ste. Marie!
Only in Canada could two cities on the same lake be 700 kilometres apart!
One of the many things I’ve learned as governor general is just how big this country is.
And I’ve learned something else, too:
How caring it is.
That’s what I want to talk about today: how caring Thunder Bay is, how caring your communities across northern and northwestern Ontario are, how caring you are.
My briefing material for this visit included a list of your volunteer organizations.
You’re dedicated to health, homelessness, youth, public safety, the arts, heritage, diversity and sports, to name just a few.
It’s wonderful to see all of you here today. You’re good people who care.
And I want to say: thank you.
Let me encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, and go further.
It may be thankless, it may be hard work, it may seem like you’re getting nowhere.
But it’s so important.
I would know, because as I said, I was raised with the help of my village.
I grew up in a modest household—a house not unlike many here in Thunder Bay.
Maybe some of you have lived or live in that kind of household, too.
I took my first job at age 9, as a paperboy.
When I was 10, I got a job at a drugstore, unpacking merchandise.
At 11, I started working in a garage, where I learned to type and order car parts.
Don’t tell anyone, but I also learned to drive that year—it was only around the lot!
Meanwhile, I was taking part in extracurricular activities: playing hockey, baseball and football, mostly.
And of course, I was going to school!
I was lucky. People were generous to me. I worked hard, but people were happy to help a young guy trying to make his way in life—to let me work flexible hours, for example, so I could balance school, work and play.
Sometimes, people showed me kindness I’ll never forget.
Let me tell you a story about that.
As you may know, I love playing hockey. And one day, back when I was a kid in the Soo, I learned that a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs would be watching my team play.
Back then, I had never owned a new piece of hockey equipment. But when word got around that a scout for the Leafs was in town, the owner of a local sporting goods store came to me and said, “I have something for you.”
He wasn’t a man of great wealth. He was of modest means, too.
Guess what he gave me.
It was a brand new pair of skates.
Well, I scored three goals that night.
A hat trick on brand new skates in front of a scout for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Can you imagine how good that felt to a kid from northern Ontario?!
Let me tell you: it felt pretty good!
And while I didn’t quite make it to the NHL, I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve reflected upon his act of kindness.
And I believe this:
As much as those new skates helped, it was that man’s faith in my abilities that inspired me on the ice that night.
You could call it a kind of home-ice advantage.
All of you are creating home-ice advantage for people in your communities.
You’re doing it every time you volunteer an hour at a homeless shelter or hospice.
Every time you give some food to a neighbour, or money to a good cause.
Every time you mentor a young kid, or tutor a refugee in their new language.
You’re doing incredible, important work—work that makes Canada so special.
That’s why we’re presenting the Caring Canadian Award today, to recognize your extraordinary efforts.
First though, I’m looking forward to hearing from you in the discussion that follows.
Because something else I’ve learned in this job is that in a country as vast as Canada—and you know all about this in northwestern Ontario—there are no cookie-cutter solutions.
I want to hear about the unique challenges you face, and how we can rise to meet them.
So let’s have a frank and open discussion among friends.
Thank you all for being here today.
Thank you for being people who care.