Ontario Lt.-Gov Elizabeth Dowdeswell visited the Bala Community Centre Tuesday to honour those in Muskoka Lakes who spend many hours doing whatever they can to make the township a better place.
She was joined for the special council meeting by Mayor Peter Kelley, Deputy Mayor Susan Mazan, Derek Hammond, the township’s Chief Administrative Officer, and District Chair Jeff Lehman.
Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Graydon Smith was also in attendance alongside councillors past and present, former and current township staffers, firefighters, Ontario Provincial Police officers, members of Muskoka Paramedic Services, and many residents interested in thanking the aforementioned for their service.
Dowdeswell says she always enjoys hearing stories from Ontarians who do “amazing things and so often without any need for recognition.”
“It’s particularly of significance today because it’s all about gratitude,” she says. “It’s all about giving thanks to those volunteers and those who do manage to get paid for what they’re doing but all in the interest of building community.”
With the past few years stretching many industries thin thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dowdeswell says it’s important for those supporting communities to know how much they’re appreciated. “Whether they’re from the fields of general health, medical services, whether they’re the fire service, paramedics, police and so many others who, yes, it’s their job, but they do it in such a way that really respects the people that they’re serving,” she said.
Mazan was given the distinction of honouring first responders, specifically the township’s fire department. “The way I’ve seen this group operate is truly one we should all feel proud of,” she said.
With four full-time staff and another 140 volunteers, she says they often leave their families and, in the case of volunteers, their full-time jobs to respond to a crisis. She says many residents have seen a car with a green flashing light on top of it whizzing through town, signifying a volunteer firefighter is on their way to battle a blaze. “It’s these individuals who see us at some of our most vulnerable moments,” she said.
Kelley said it’s volunteers who are the backbone of the community. Between helping to organize events, like the township’s two Santa Claus parades, the Trek to Bethlehem, or the Bala Cranberry Festival, he says volunteers are always being kept busy in Muskoka Lakes.
However, he noted it’s often the smaller scale deeds that sometimes go unnoticed. He shared that Monday night just after six he and his wife were racing through town to make a dinner date with friends when they noticed a handful of people changing the flowers at the Muskoka Lakes Public Library to a fall theme. “These are people who put the needs of our community and the needs to step up and help our community slightly ahead of their own,” he said.
Lehman said municipal staff can sometimes be the unsung heroes of communities. “Our staff works 24/7,” he said. Whether it’s an emergency like the flooding in 2019 or just a question from a resident about where to mail their tax bill, he said staff is there. “What a remarkable thing it is that we’re able to live in communities as safe, as clean, as supportive of one another as we have here in Muskoka,” he said.
He, like each speaker who stepped up to the podium, thanked everyone in the room and the many others unable to attend for supporting the community.
Hammond said one of the first words he thinks of when council is mentioned is courage. “To put your name on the ballot, run in an election independently without party affiliation, put yourself out in the community takes a lot of courage,” he said. Hammond added that commitment is another relevant word. Having to be available all day every day to listen to constituents’ concerns is now a 9 to 5 job. He added with that comes the need to be transparent and a good communicator, which he said council works hard to accomplish.
Hammond presented former councillor Donelda Hayes with a certificate for her over a decade as a councillor and, prior to that, many years working for the District of Muskoka.
“You never stop giving and being part of the community,” she said.
Kelley finished his speech by asking everyone who sees a volunteer doing something to help the community to take the time to thank them.