Magnetawan man named senior of the year

·4 min read

A long-time resident of Magnetawan is being recognized as one of Ontario's Seniors of the Year.

Garfield Robertson was nominated by the local Lions Club for his long history of volunteerism to the community.

The club sent Robertson's name to town council asking it to submit his name to the provincial government.

Mayor Sam Dunnett says that's what council did, but it wasn't an easy decision to make.

Dunnett says in addition to Robertson, council was asked to consider two other nominees. “They were all well qualified, believe me,” Dunnett said.

“It was not an easy decision to make, I can assure you. It was extremely hard.” But in the end, council picked Robertson and his name has been forwarded for recognition to the Ontario Honours and Awards Secretariat.

The award recognizes different fields an individual may have contributed to including arts, literature, humanitarian service, environment and fitness.

Other criteria in order to qualify for the award include community service, education and volunteerism.

After council agreed to send Robertson's name to the secretariat, Dunnett let Robertson know about the council decision.

“He was a little embarrassed to say the least. He didn't expect to be recognized for the amount of work he did.”

Dunnett says he's known Robertson for at least 40 years and “I know what a community volunteer he's been”.

Born and raised in nearby Dunchurch, Robertson made his way to Magnetawan as a young man where he taught elementary school beginning in the 1950s.

Dunnett recalls Robertson became a member of the local Agricultural Society, serving on the board of directors including a time as president.

“This was during his teaching career and as he moved around the (Parry Sound) district, he continued to volunteer heavily in the Magnetawan area where children were involved.”

Dunnett says Robertson was part of the education system for 30-plus years, becoming a principal along the way. Robertson has been retired from the teaching profession for about another 35 years.

But although he retired from the education sector, Dunnett says Robertson never retired from volunteerism.

As a teacher, Dunnett says Robertson joined the local Lions a couple of years after it was formed and over the years helped initiate many of the projects and programs the club was involved with.

He was president of the Lions at one point and Dunnett adds Robertson also served on the local town council before amalgamation in 1998.

Although it was the local Lions Club that put Robertson's name forward, Dunnett says other community members also suggested his name because of his contributions over the decades.

“He's considered an icon in this community as far as volunteer work goes,” Dunnett said.

“Volunteerism is synonymous with his name. You don't have to be anymore descriptive than the name Garfield. Whenever you want a resource for a volunteer organization in the municipality, Garfield is who many people go to.”

During his early days in Magnetawan, Robertson met his future wife Gayl.

Dunnett says Gayl Robertson was “also a great volunteer in the community.”

The couple had been married for about 60 years before Gayl Robertson passed away in 2018.

The cecretariat passes the Ontario Senior of the Year awards to the municipal councils to be handed out.

Dunnett says at this time, he's not sure how Robertson will be bestowed his provincial recognition because of COVID-19.

But the Magnetawan mayor says Robertson will certainly get the recognition he deserves and that also includes congratulating him with a certificate from the municipality itself for his many years of service to help build the community.

Although the Senior of the Year award has been around for more than a quarter century, Dunnett says it's the first time he's aware that Magnetawan has participated in the nomination process.

“I would put the bug in people's ears in the past saying there are people out there who should get it,” Dunnett said.

“But we never received a nomination until this year when three came in.”

Dunnett now expects Senior of the Year nominations to be made on a regular basis in future years.

During his discussion with Robertson when Dunnett told him about the award, “I said with the volume of work you do, there's going to be provincial recognition and municipal recognition”.

“He was very happy about that and it's well deserved,” Dunnett said.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The North Bay Nugget