Coming from a very small rural Guyanese village, George Horton felt at home when he decided to settle with his family in Hamilton in 1972.
After living in two major American cities – Maryland and New York – while pursuing post-secondary education, Horton was relieved to land in a place that reminded him of Zeelandia, a fishing village in the Essequibo Islands where he was born 73 years ago.
While visiting a friend in Hamilton 41 years ago, Horton immediately fell in love with the port city and moved there.
“I pledged after finishing school in the United States that I would never live in a big city again because I came from a tiny village where everybody knew everybody and helped each other,” said Horton, who was the recipient of the Award of Merit at the 17th annual Rev. John Holland Memorial Awards banquet last Saturday night in Hamilton. “I always refer to this place as my beloved city because that’s the way I have experienced it.”
Horton has been an integral part of his community for the past four decades.
The ordained minister taught child development at Mohawk College, ran the Sprucedale School for troubled young people in Hagersville for nearly a decade and pastored at several churches, including Westmount Baptist and King Street Baptist before becoming Minister Emeritus at Stewart Memorial Church which was founded by fugitive slaves and freemen 178 years ago.
During his tenure at Stewart, the church has been engaged in many outreach initiatives with many organizations, including the Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton.
“Rev. Horton has built some important bridges between Hamilton’s Black community and others, particularly in his collaboration with leaders in the local Jewish community,” said Holland Awards founder, Evelyn Myrie.
Prior to settling in Canada, Horton spent two years in Trinidad & Tobago with an uncle, represented Guyana in track & field and was a member of the Guyana Police Force for five years before enrolling at the Historically Black Morgan State University, where he competed in soccer and track & field and met the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“On the weekend that he came to our campus to meet with a group of us that I was part of, a student from Africa was turned away from a restaurant close to our school,” said Horton, who is a married father of four daughters. “When Martin heard what had happened, he rallied us to stage a sit-in at the restaurant, and that turned out to be a huge success. Shortly after, that restaurant along with others in the area and barbershops became integrated.”
A few months after that visit, Horton and a few of his classmates went to Washington in August 1963 to listen to Dr. King deliver his “I Have a Dream” speech.
Horton, who has Master’s degrees in Education and Theological Studies from New York University and McMaster University respectively and was a Canadian Masters track & field representative, said he was very honoured to be recognized at the premier African-Canadian Achievement Awards gala in the Golden Horseshoe.
“I have received many medals and trophies for my athletic accomplishments, but this is special because it’s coming from people and a community that have embraced me and my family for many years,” said Horton, a Hamilton Police chaplain since 2008. “This is a fulfilling moment for me.”
Over the past 17 years, a number of Hamiltonians and other Ontarians who have made significant contributions in the areas of art, business and community service and youth engagement have been recognized with Rev. John Holland Awards.
Born on Christmas Day 1882 to a runaway slave who came to Canada through the Underground Railroad in 1860, Holland was a railway porter for 33 years, the pastor at the historic Stewart Memorial Church and the first Black Canadian to be honoured for humanitarian service with Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year Award in 1953. He died a year later.
Firefighter Ron Summers plans to celebrate his Community Service Award by continuing his advocacy for the Hamilton Fire Department to become more inclusive and reflective of the community it serves. He was the second Black fireman hired 22 years ago and that number has increased by just three in an organization of about 535 members.
While in university, Summers – he was born in St. Catharines – wrote a paper, “Systemic Bias in the Hiring Practices of the Fire Department”.
“I sent it to the Fire Department and city council, but it didn’t go anywhere,” said Summers, who is a former member of the Hamilton Hurricanes football club. “Our Service has not done a good job in terms of hiring minorities. The problem is that we don’t have a recruitment unit that go out and actively recruit people. The fire service still goes on the old doctrine of who gets the best marks gets in.”
Summers, who was on vacation during the 1997 Plastimet fire that burned for four days in Hamilton’s west end, has raised funds for several organizations, including the Hamilton General Hospital Burn Trauma Unit, the Jurivinski Cancer Centre Research Library and Ronald McDonald House.
Former United Nations secretary general special envoy for HIV/AIDS, Stephen Lewis, was honoured with the Ally Award; registered nurse, Mohawk College part-time lecturer and Jamaica Foundation co-founder, Elene Witter, was presented with the Business Professional Award; Burlington Caribbean Connection president, Ancilla Ho-Young, received a Community Service Award and 2012 Caribbean-Canadian Literary Award winner, Jody Nyasha Warner, who authored Viola Desmond Won’t be Budged, which is used by Toronto District School Board Grade Seven students and was a finalist for the 2011 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s non-fiction, was the Arts Award winner.
In 1946, Desmond – a Halifax beauty shop owner – refused to sit in a New Glasgow theatre balcony section designated for Blacks.
“She appealed to me as a subject matter because when I worked as a librarian, teachers and parents would come in during Black History Month looking for resources and most of the books we carried were about American Black history,” said Warner.
Youth awards were presented to aspiring cardiologist, Alexandra Yhan-Thomas; Barton Secondary School student council president, Alexis Brown; Sir John A. Macdonald High School student, Jamie Kasiama; Westdale Secondary School student, Henry Idehen and Don Mahleka, who is enrolled in McMaster University Business Administration & Management program.
Westdale Secondary School Grade 12 student, Daoui Abouchere, who came to Canada with her family from Niger via Saudi Arabia almost 12 years ago, was the recipient of the inaugural Lincoln Alexander Memorial Youth Award.
“As someone who is very interested in politics, I obviously looked up to Mr. Alexander because he was a trailblazer as Canada’s first Black Member of Parliament,” said Abouchere, who is the general secretary of the Hamilton Area Model United Nations Club.
Previous Holland Award winners include entrepreneur, Michael Lee-Chin; late Olympian, Ray Lewis, who won a bronze medal in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics 4 x 400-metre relay event and Jamaican-born Canadian soldier, Mark Graham, who was killed in Afghanistan seven years ago.