Christopher Harris has spent most of his life in Canada starting community organizations and building bridges to improve race relations. He played a pivotal role in establishing the Jamaica (Ottawa) Community Association in 1971 that now presents a Community Service Award in his name at its annual Heroes Day celebration in October.
It’s also because of his relentless activism that police and fire services in the nation’s capital have made extensive changes to their hiring practices, making their services more welcoming to Aboriginals and visible minorities.
Last week, Harris was among 11 Ontarians presented with the province’s Medal for Good Citizenship at Queen’s Park.
“This award means an awful lot because it shows that somebody appreciates the work we are doing,” he told Share. “More than the award, what is most gratifying to me is seeing people come together to make changes that benefit communities. I relish that very much.”
Harris arrived in Canada in the mid-1960s after spending six years in England pursuing science and mechanical engineering studies.
“England was always wet and damp, but nobody told me that Canada was cold and it snowed here,” recalled Harris who is the recipient of both the Order of Ontario and the Order of Canada. “I came here in the summer, so you could imagine my reaction when winter rolled around.”
Harris spent three decades with the National Research Council before retiring. He has derived much satisfaction from his community work.
The trailblazer co-founded the Ottawa-Carleton Immigrant Services Organization and the National Capital Alliance on Race Relations, and helped develop the first cultural training program for the Ottawa-Carleton police. He also served as chair of the City of Ottawa Advisory Committee on Visible Minorities for six years and was the driving force in the establishment of Ottawa’s Multicultural Centre which provides support to ethnic groups and new Canadians.
“His generosity knows no bounds and he will never say no to someone,” said Ontario’s Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Charles Sousa, who assisted Lieutenant Governor David Onley in presenting the awards.
“One of the great privileges of my job is that I get to recognize and honour outstanding Ontarians who make a vital contribution to our wonderful province. The recipients are leaders whose endeavours have made their communities stronger. They are dedicated and unwavering in their commitment to others.”
Onley reminded the recipients that there was a time when citizenship was reserved for only the privileged few.
“Today, the situation obviously has changed, perhaps to the point where far too many people take their citizenship for granted,” he said. “But thoughtful people still regard it as a privilege. For them, citizenship confers not only rights but also responsibilities.
“The winners of this award take their responsibilities of citizenship very seriously. They know that it’s not just enough to pay their taxes and cast their votes. As we will hear today by way of your citations, being a citizen is being active and involved in your communities. It’s helping young people with literacy skills, building bridges between ethnic communities, giving time and expertise to many different voluntary organizations, advocating for Aboriginal people, services, adults and children with disabilities, raising funds for charities at home and abroad, beautifying communities, encouraging the arts and preserving our heritage.”
The Ontario Medal for Good Citizenship was established in 1973 to recognize citizens who have made exceptional long-term contributions to the quality of life in the province.
Other winners this year included Markham resident, Donna Cardoza.