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Heddle Crescent residents honour Newmarket street’s Olympian namesake

'Even though it’s very sad, because Kathleen passed away in January, it was an opportunity for the community to do something together,' says Councillor Grace Simon of the memorial ribbon campaign for Kathleen Heddle

A group of Newmarket residents is honouring the memory of one of Canada’s Olympians, whose recent passing hit close to home.

Three-time Olympic gold medallist Kathleen Heddle, the namesake of Newmarket’s Heddle Crescent, passed away in Vancouver Jan. 11, 2021, after a six-year battle with breast, lymph node, and later melanoma and brain cancer. She was 55 years old.

Heddle and longtime rowing partner Marnie McBean made history when they became the first and only Canadians to be awarded three gold medals at the Olympic Summer Games. Winning gold in the straight pairs and eights at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics and the double sculls at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics, Heddle’s career wins include a gold medal in straight pairs and eights at the World Rowing Championships and a bronze in the quad sculls at the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Heddle leaves behind a husband, Mike, and two children.

To honour Heddle’s “courage, strength, and accomplishments,” Newmarket Ward 1 Councillor Grace Simon and the residents of Heddle Crescent teamed up for a ribbon memorial campaign in the street’s neighbourhood. 

“I think people are looking for positive things,” said Simon. “Even though it’s very sad, because Kathleen passed away in January, it was an opportunity for the community to do something together.”

Shortly after Heddle’s passing, a group of residents from Heddle Crescent reached out to Simon in the hopes of commemorating their road’s namesake in some way. Simon delivered — literally — by distributing a package from the Town of Newmarket with a letter about Kathleen Heddle, a Canada flag ribbon, and instructions on how they could use it to honour the Olympian.

Residents decorated houses, trees, and street signs in ribbons to give tribute to the “astonishing and courageous” Canadian. 

“I was actually really surprised to see how many people displayed their ribbon out on their lawn,” said Simon. “Some people didn’t know who Kathleen was. When they had the opportunity to read about her life and why their street name is what it is, they really jumped on it and appreciated learning about her.”

The same neighbourhood also has streets named in honour of McBean, Heddle’s rowing partner, and other Canadian Olympians.

“I think a lot of people move and have no earthly idea what the significance is behind their street name, and think it’s just a name,” said Amanda, a Heddle Crescent resident. “I think it brings a feeling of community and history and think for sure that it’s important to raise awareness of it.”

As many streets in Newmarket are named after notable Canadians, both Amanda and Simon said they would support similar campaigns memorializing namesakes when they pass. 

Amanda pointed out College Manor, which has streets named after Pickering College professors and other local scholars, as another great example of a neighbourhood that honours Canadian history.

When it comes to naming future streets, she’d like to see outstanding youth, philanthropists and those in the arts considered as namesakes.

“There have been stories of town heroes, people who have been going above and beyond what the average human does,” said Amanda. “I think recognition of those types of people would be really lovely.”

“Just like Kathleen Heddle, if there’s another opportunity where we can honour people, I welcome residents to bring attention to what is important to them, or to the person behind the [street] name,” said Simon. “I think that’s absolutely beautiful, and greatly welcomed.”