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ROOTED: Honorary Citizen Award is Newmarket's highest honour

'The award is a symbol of our gratitude and the plaque’s prominent location in Fairy Lake offers inspiration to the many people who pass by each day,' mayor says of honour bestowed only six times in 17 years

To recognize outstanding community members in Newmarket, the town created the Honorary Citizen Award.

First presented in 2006, it’s a nomination process in which the mayor and members of Newmarket Council make appointments through a formal resolution to highlight an individual or group for their outstanding service and commitment

“It’s important to celebrate individuals whose extraordinary contributions make our community a great place to live and work,” said Mayor John Taylor. 

Taylor said that there are many unsung heroes leaving a legacy in Newmarket that can encourage future generations. 

“The award is a symbol of our gratitude and the plaque’s prominent location in Fairy Lake offers inspiration to the many people who pass by each day,” he said.

The most prestigious honour the Town of Newmarket gives out, the Honorary Citizen Award has been given out just six times in 17 years.

“There are people who continually make us all think about how much more we can do for each other and are courageous enough to do what is not expected of them,” said Ian McDougall, chief administrative officer of the Town of Newmarket. “Some of these people have rarely been heard of, though their impact can be felt throughout the community.”

With Newmarket being a community-oriented town, the award was a way in which dignitaries could highlight the importance of volunteer work.

“Newmarket is a community filled with citizens that contribute tirelessly to the town and we wanted a way to officially acknowledge our gratitude for unrewarded effort,” said McDougall. “This award represents the highest level of recognition by the Town of Newmarket.”

Award nominees are provided by Newmarket council members and reviewed on a case-by-case basis with selection of Honorary Citizens being determined in closed session by council.

“The concept was to look for a way to officially celebrate and acknowledge unprecedented effort in the community, as well as inspire future generations,” said McDougall. “This award shows our appreciation for their efforts and can inspire others in the community to follow in their footsteps.”

To forever honour the recipients of the Honorary Citizen Award, a permanent plaque with their names was unveiled at the monument at Fairy Lake Park in 2020.

“The installation recognizes recipients of the award and enhances the community through public art,” said McDougall. “It’s a landmark within the park and a place for the community to recognize exceptional efforts and connect with the definition of an Honorary Citizen.”

To be nominated for the Honorary Citizen Award, a resident must “render extensive and valuable services” to the community, or make a significant impact in the areas of business, science and technology, information communications, education, health, arts and culture, sports, tourism, community services, or security.

Most recently, the award was given to first responders, frontline and essential workers in 2020 for their service to the community during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“During these unprecedented times, it is these individuals who work hard day and night to ensure that we are safe, allow us to obtain our everyday essentials, provide us access to the health care we need and take care of our loved ones,” Taylor said at the time.

The first winner of the Honorary Citizen Award was Ernie Crossland in 2006. Crossland dedicated his life to community work and volunteer efforts to protect Ontario's lake ecosystem; he also won the Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship.

In 2008, former Newmarket councillor and interim mayor Bob Scott became the second recipient for his contributions to the town.

Four years later, Clay and Rita Stones became the first co-winners of the award. They were recognized with the honour in 2012, Clay was a Royal Canadian Legion Dominion Life Member and Meritorious Service Medal Recipient and Rita worked for the York Region Housing Authority for 20 years and was a member of Royal Canadian Legion.

In 2015, the town gave out the award for the fourth time, honouring Alf Neely, a Second World War veteran who served in France, Holland, Italy and Germany. He worked for the town as a community manager from 1963 to 1987 and dedicated his time as a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and by volunteering with the Newmarket House League Hockey tournament for more than 49 years.

Jackie Playter was the recipient of the award in 2017. Referred to as the “Queen of Newmarket” by many community members, she has volunteered with organizations such as Belinda's Place, Victim Services, Newmarket Historical Society, and Awesome Foundation.

“All of the recipients received the award for different contributions to the town, but they all worked tirelessly to make Newmarket even better,” said McDougall. “Their exceptional contributions to the Town of Newmarket have helped build a strong community.”