WINNIPEG, MB. - We introduce this feature to Manitoba Post and Lifestyles 55 as a way of saying thank you to the remarkable men and women of our city and province who work hard and quietly in many endeavours, for which they never get thanked or acknowledged. Some of our candidates are in the news from time to time or are otherwise known for various things, but we are celebrating their special efforts that go beyond the ordinary. Others are relatively unknown to most of us and it is time we showed them our support and gratitude.
Todd Braun is a Manitoba sculptor in stone. He lives near Altona. He and his wife Lisa are the local recipients of stray and unwanted cats that they gently nurture back to health. Todd creates things of beauty out of pieces of the earth. Sometimes, he says, the stone is too beautiful in itself to be disturbed. Todd is one of the many unsung artists who express the incredible beauty of this province, expecting nothing more than that we appreciate the loveliness of the world around us.
Myrna Driedger is the Speaker of the legislature, the uncelebrated presence behind the order and decorum of the House. She is the longest serving member of the Manitoba Legislature and commands respect from all who sit before her. This year, she completed the mammoth task of making the chamber wheelchair accessible. Under her guidance, the floor was raised and the chamber transformed in such a way as to maintain the character of the room. Visitors who have been there before can barely discern the difference, but all who enter can do so with grace and equal access.
Sel Burrows is a man of heartfelt conviction. He lives to serve. He very much deserves the Order of Manitoba he received this July and we salute him for the work he has done as chair of the Point Douglas Residents’ Committee. He has done much to turn around the community, striving to drive drug dealers out of the neighbourhood and standing up for youth, hounding bureaucrats and politicians equally and without mercy. He is outspoken and fearless, a true unsung hero of our province.
Colleen Sklar is the remarkable sparkplug behind the movement to bring Winnipeg and its 16 surrounding communities together as the Capital Region. As executive director, she works tirelessly to build bridges, show where collaboration in purchasing, planning and operations makes sense so that we can keep taxes down, improve infrastructure and become an even more attractive place for investment and development. She does this in the face of opposition from some who prefer the status quo, but she never gives up.
Don Leitch, former clerk of the Privy Council under Premier Garry Filmon, has always worked behind the scenes. Today, he is the president and CEO of the Business Council of Manitoba where he has spent the past three years making the council more relevant to the business health of Manitoba, but we salute his leadership as chairman of the board of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. The health of any non-profit organization is directly affected by its volunteer leadership and Don’s steady hand on the helm is already showing results.
While not strictly a Manitoban, most Winnipeggers would agree that after living in and leading the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra over the past decade, Alexander is one of our unsung heroes for the way he embraced the community and has made it a better and richer place. He was one of the originators of the El Sistema program that brings classical music training to inner city schools, changing lives and providing a sense of possibility to the next generation. We salute his warmth and his genuineness, as well as his championship of our capital city.
Esther Pallister is the wife of the premier, the Hon. Brian Pallister. Being the wife of the province’s most prominent politician is a full time and difficult job, but one she fulfills with dignity and poise. She is always there to support the premier and recently played nurse while he recovers from a serious fall when hiking. She also is the mother of two daughters. She brings a touch of grace to a hectic office and deserves accolades as an unsung hero.
Alfred Lea is an Indigenous businessman who is putting Manitoba on the map as the owner of Tomahawk Potato Chips, which are now being sold all over North America. Using his own hard-won money that he earned working on ships on the northern seas (no government handouts for Alfred), he is building a significant business which he sees as an enterprise opportunity for young Indigenous people. This is not his first business foray – he previously started a soft drink company for Indigenous communities and helped a young friend build a retail business on that friend’s reserve. He also counselled none other than Richard Branson in the beverage biz.
Marileen Bartlett is the executive director of the Centre for Aboriginal Human Resource Development at the Neeginan Centre (previously Aboriginal Centre of Winnipeg and before that, the CP rail station). But this is just one of the many hats she wears because she has been a key force behind the success of this Winnipeg Aboriginal enterprise almost since the day it was conceived. In 2016, she received the Order of Manitoba. She exemplifies hard work and an indomitable spirit that is an inspiration to all who know what she does for her community and by extension for us all.
Crystal Kolt hails from Flin Flon, but her name is a household word among arts mavens across Canada – and even beyond. Crystal single-handedly organized Manitoba communities north of 53 to get involved with Culture Days and celebrate the unique talents of local northern artists. Her efforts have been recognized by the National Arts summit and the Canadian Culture Days committee. Crystal runs a local choir in Flin Flon that has sung with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and on stage at New York’s Lincoln Centre – by invitation! She is currently plotting how to get the choir to perform with the London Philharmonic. When you go to Flin Flon, you can feel Crystal’s vibe all over town. She makes a difference.
Near the top of a long list of Manitoba over-achievers in the medical field is Dr. Allan Ronald from Portage la Prairie. He is a member of the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He was president of the International Society of Infectious Diseases from 1996 to 1998, and he is Senior Advisor to the International Centre for Infectious Diseases, among many other international roles and achievements. It is true that he has been celebrated on many important stages, but the average person may not know his name or his accomplishments. Dr. Ronald transformed the way the world understands and treats infectious diseases, particularly HIV-Aids. His work has been celebrated globally and has been described as being “pivotal in understanding the disease in Africa.” He brought that glory back to Winnipeg. He is seen as one of the greatest 30 Manitobans of all times and was recognized by the Winnipeg Real Estate Association with a bust in the Winnipeg Hall of Fame. He wins our salute for modesty and continuing efforts.
Gail McDonald is recognized for her own unflagging efforts to attract tourism to the Interlake Region, but you might say she is the poster child for all the regional managers who work so hard to bring their areas to the attention of Winnipeggers and the world. The work that Gail and these others do often goes unnoticed, but they represent hundreds of small businesses across Manitoba that rely on traffic from Winnipeg to thrive. When they are successful, others quickly jump on their coattails but it is important to recognize those front-line efforts that mean so much to Manitobans and to the tourism industry.
Flor Marcelino is an NDP MLA who served as the Minister of Culture and Heritage and later Minister of Multiculturalism and Literacy. In her private life, Flor was the publisher of the Philippine Times, a community paper for the Filipino community here in Winnipeg. We salute her for gracefully accepting a tough position as interim leader of her party while the NDP sought a new leader, and for keeping her caucus together through a difficult time. We note that the media gave her little of the credit she deserves.
Stefano Grande is the executive director of the Downtown Winnipeg Biz. He has been advocating for Downtown Winnipeg for over a decade. His love of the city and support of downtown propels him even when things are looking difficult. He is unfailingly positive and not afraid to stand up for challenging causes, recently urging his members to put out the welcome mat for our Indigenous citizens in their own languages. He has been the driving force behind the CEO Sleepout that has raised just under one million dollars to support the homeless.
Jean Giguere is what we used to call a “housewife”. She raised a boy and a girl, both flyers, while she cared for them and her pilot husband. Along the way, she has done some remarkable things for which she has been rewarded with an Order of Canada and a Governor General’s Award. She was also chair of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. We celebrate Jean, though, as the woman who brought Culture Days to Manitoba and very much served as the keystone for the rest of the country as it struggled to get this unique arts festival off the ground. Jean is generous in her praise and promotion of others. She gives unstintingly of herself and is always willing to support other women in whatever they do.
Dorothy Dobbie, Manitoba Post
Photos courtesy of Lifestyle 55