'Just get involved:' City honours volunteers with first-ever Order of Hamilton awards

Historical cemetery tours, efforts to save the city's environment and anti-racism and women's advocacy were among the efforts honoured with the city's first ever set of Order of Hamilton awards.

"The unsung heroes of our communities are the endless volunteers."

The city awarded its first set of Order of Hamilton awards to 10 community volunteers. It plans to make this an annual event. (Submitted by the City of Hamilton)

When Robin McKee stands before a gravestone, he thinks about three things.

"The birth date, the death date an the dash. But it's the dash in the middle that's important," he told CBC.

"That's the story of the stone. I tell the story of their dash, the dash of life.

McKee, 67, has spent more than 20 years breathing life back into Hamilton from unlikely locations — the city's cemeteries.

After studying history in school, McKee realized Hamilton's cemeteries were full of untold stories and legacies. 

He's created 12 unique walking tours on topics ranging from the war of 1812 to firefighters to Hamilton's most important women, all for free.

"It's like Pokemon, you have to get them all to get the full story," McKee said.

And he's led the last two years of tours despite his cancer treatment rendering him legally blind.

While some 800 people take part in his historical walks, it only took one person to nominate the history buff and have his work immortalized.

"It was a complete surprise," he said.

The unsung heroes of our communities are the endless volunteers.- Fred Eisenberger, Mayor of Hamilton

McKee is one of 10 community volunteers honoured with the city's first ever set of Order of Hamilton awards.

Mayor Fred Eisenberger told CBC he saw similar accolades in other municipalities and felt local volunteers deserved to be recognized.

"The unsung heroes of our communities are the endless volunteers," he said in a phone interview Monday.

"They all contributed in different ways, some recently and some for 50 plus years."

The awards are being given to recognize "exceptional volunteer contributions to building our city and making it a better place to live, work and play," said the city in a press release. They were given out at a ceremony Sunday.

After considering the more than 40 nominations from the public, the ceremony celebrated the 10 chosen volunteers, gifting them an over-the-shoulder ribbon with a toonie-sized medal. 

Kenneth Hall, 90, was another winner for his efforts to improve Hamilton's environment by leading the Hamilton Bay Area Restoration Council, working on other committees and for his extensive work on the fishway near Cootes Paradise.

"I wish I were at least 10 years younger so I could have more input," he told CBC.

"Just because you're a senior, you don't give up activities you're involved with. Try to stay involved as long as possible."

Evelyn Myrie, a community advocate who has advised Hamilton's police chief on racism and diversity, won an Order of Hamilton award. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The city also recognized the activism gone into social causes, celebrating LGBTQ activist Latisha Laing, the chair of the Rainbow Youth Collaborative, and Evelyn Myrie, a longtime anti-racism advocate.

"We have to continue being agents of change to make the world a better place," Myrie told CBC.

"This brings home the fact that volunteering is an important part of our community in Canada and Hamilton."

And for those who want to get involved but don't know how, McKee said people should think about their interests and then take one more simple step.

"Just get involved," he said.

The other winners are: 

  • Kathy Cooper, a basketball coach and coordinator in Hamilton for the last 50 years.
  • Dave Glover, a coach in midget boy's baseball, girl's senior softball, bantam boy's hockey for almost 60 years.
  • Dr. Joan Heels, a devoted volunteer at the Rotary and creator of the Rotary Remembers Calendar.
  • Nancy Hewer who has spent almost 40 years contributing to local sports in executive leadership roles.
  • Nina Maljar has been an active volunteer in her church and communtiy for more than 55 years.
  • Dr. Anne Pearson donating her time to support faith in Hamilton and led various religious gatherings in Hamilton.


About the Author

Bobby Hristova


Bobby Hristova is a reporter/editor with CBC Hamilton. Email: bobby.hristova@cbc.ca