Nfld. & Labrador

2 Bay St. George men receive Governor General's honours for community work

Bob Miller and Jim Mercer have spent their lives helping others, and now have national awards to show for it.

Bob Miller, Jim Mercer named as honourees on Canada Day

Bob Miller, left, and Jim Mercer are receiving national accolades from the Governor General for their outstanding dedication to service and volunteering. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Two men from Bay St. George who have spent their lives helping others have now received national recognition for efforts — although each of them didn't quite believe it at first.

Jim Mercer of Stephenville Crossing and Bob Miller of Stephenville were among the 123 Canadians recognized and honoured by Gov. Gen. Julie Payette on Canada Day. 

Mercer was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal for his efforts to preserve and pass on traditional music, while Miller received the Sovereign's Medal for Volunteers for his dedication to the Bay St. George Sick Children's Foundation.

While the awards were made public on July 1, both men were called by the Governor General's office about five weeks ago and given advance notice of the national honours. Neither initially believed their recognition and thought they were being pranked.

"My cellphone rang. I looked at the number and thought, 'That's a prank call.' I got talking to this one on the phone and thought, 'This isn't right,'" said Miller.

Mercer was equally skeptical of the call from an Ottawa area code.

"I got this call from Ottawa. The Governor General's office telling me about this medal. I said, 'I don't know. Perhaps it's a scam,'" said Jim Mercer.

After the official letter arrived in the mail, Mercer began to accept his accolades. 

Mercer plays the accordion on his back deck. He has been playing music for more than 50 years. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Keeping culture alive

Mercer has been playing traditional music in Stephenville Crossing for more than 50 years.

He has an absolute passion for the genre, and plays and teaches traditional music on fiddle and accordion to students in nearby schools.

"I could not believe that these children would love that kind of music, and I'm talking loving it! These are little children in grades 4 and 5. And the way they take to this music, oh the fun of it. It really grabs hold," he said.

When people are at their worst, that's when I can help.- Bob Miller

Mercer said he's grateful for the national recognition, both for what it means to him and the province's musical heritage.

"It would be terrible to lose a song like the Squid Jiggin' Ground or Jack Was Every Inch a Sailor. If we won't play it and show the children, then they will not know these songs. And these songs have stories and traditions and everything behind them," he said.

"Culture in Newfoundland — you could cut it with a knife. That's the stuff that I think is so important to pass on to the children, so they will continue it. Because if we don't, then it will just die."

Mercer teaches and plays traditional music with students at St. Michael's Elementary School in Stephenville Crossing. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Lifelong volunteer

While Mercer tinkers with the buttons on his accordion on the back porch, Bob Miller is down the road in Stephenville packing food hampers. 

Miller and other members of the Knights of Columbus took over the local food bank for the past 12 weeks, handing out large boxes to anyone who needed it. 

Listen: Colleen Connors reports on the honours for CBC Radio's Newfoundland Morning

Two people from Newfoundland's Bay St. George area are honoured to receive special recognition from Canada's Governor-General. 4:45

"I've been volunteering all my life," Miller said.

In 1996, he started the Bay St. George Sick Children's Foundation, raising almost $1 million since its beginnings.

The foundation provides funding for families who have to travel when their children are sick. Miller has organized a telethon for the foundation each year for the past 25 years.

"People don't plan on having a sick child. The doctor says you have to go to St. John's and you need to be there now, everything just drops. And that's where we come in. When people are at their worst, that's when I can help."

Bob Miller and other members of the Knights of Columbus pack food hampers for people in need. Miller dedicates most of his time to volunteering in the community. (Colleen Connors/CBC )

Miller said he's never donated his time and efforts in the hopes of such an award, but welcomed the recognition.

"I don't do it for what you are going to get out of it. Nobody does. People don't volunteer for what they are going to get out of it. But when something comes around, some recognition or whatever … yeah, it's nice," he said. 

Both Miller and Mercer hope to attend, with their families, an official medal ceremony in Ottawa with the other Canadian recipients when one is scheduled and it's safe to do so.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.