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'One of the great Canadians': War hero celebrates 99th birthday

Jim Parks, who served in the Second World War, celebrated his birthday with more than 100 community members in Newmarket today

Birthdays are a milestone event in everyone’s lives, a time to see friends and family and reflect on accomplishments.

With more than 100 people in attendance at his 99th birthday at the Newmarket Royal Canadian Legion, Jim Parks did just that.

“I’d like to thank all of you for showing up,” he said.

“You only become 99 once in your life, so at least I’ve got a good celebration. They said they were going to wait until the 100th, but they didn’t think I’d make it," he joked. 

“My Dad certainly appreciates this and he’s honoured to be here,” said Parks’ son, David. “He’s been an inspiration to our family over the years and he never stops telling jokes.”

Parks is a Second World War veteran who has been recognized with medals for his service from Canada, France and Germany after his time with the Royal Winnipeg Rifles.

During his service, he helped liberate France from Nazi Germany and was involved in engagements such as the Battle of Putot and the Battle of Carpiquet. 

“When you stop and reread everything about Jim and his contributions to this country, what I’m left with is the thought that Jim is one of the great Canadians,” said Newmarket Mayor John Taylor. “He’s one of the great Canadians representing all of Canada and, of course, we’re also proud he’s representing East Gwillimbury, Newmarket, and this area.”

Parks was wounded in Delfzijl, Netherlands during his service when he was blown through a window under shell fire and woke up in a military hospital with shrapnel in his arm and legs; the shrapnel in his leg remains there today because it’s too close to a main artery to be removed.

Recently, Parks and his family were in the Netherlands and gave Taylor a pin with flags of Canada and Friesland, a Dutch province.

“My mother grew up in Friesland and fled after the war. Her farm was occupied by Nazis while they were there,” said Taylor. “Your incredible contribution and sacrifice is the reason my mother is here today, and it’s why I’m here today.”

With his ongoing engagement in the community, Parks has been participating in the Royal Canadian Legion’s Memory Project for more than 20 years where he shares his knowledge of the Second World War and visits schools to educate youth. 

“Your contributions in the war are amazing to read,” said Taylor. “But to continually be engaged, and be a leader and representative of that incredible time in our history is so important. We’re working hard to keep the youth engaged and understand the importance of remembrance, your role in that is simply massive.”

Parks has also been heavily involved in fundraising with the Juno Beach Centre, a Second World War museum and cultural centre in Normandy, France. With a goal of raising a dollar for each of the 18,700 soldiers killed in Normandy, Parks raised more than $20,000.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done for the centre,” said Alex Fitzgerald-Black, executive director for the Juno Beach Centre Association in Burlington. “There are very few Second World War veterans left in this country, 1.1 million served and we’re down to maybe 15,000 and thankfully Jim is one of them.”

To celebrate Parks birthday, several local dignitaries representatives were in attendance, as well as members of both the Newmarket and Mount Albert Legions, and members of the Men’s PROBUS Club of Newmarket, where Parks has been a longtime member and was awarded with a free lifetime membership to the club as a birthday gift.