Spirit of Niagara Awards honours community members

By Sarah Ferguson, Fort Erie Times

The fabric of any community depends on the movers and shakers that sew it together.

These are the people who help a community to grow and thrive.

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce celebrated these individuals during the Spirit of Niagara Awards held at Queen’s Landing in Old Town on Tuesday evening.

Steffanie Bjorgan, wife, mother and founder of the Red Roof Retreat, was named this year’s Citizen of the Year.

Lord Mayor Pat Darte, who presented the Citizen of the Year Award, said Bjorgan is a “hard-working, responsible member of the community” who is committed to her family and has demonstrated “phenomenal strength, creativity and determination.”

When Bjorgan and her husband Moe learned their second son, Garrett, was born with Cerebral Palsy, she responded to the challenge by developing a centre for respite care. It was 14 years ago when Bjorgan and her husband founded the Red Roof Retreat in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where children and young adults could learn and grow in a safe and nurturing environment.

Bjorgan, who was grateful to receive the award, thanked her husband for encouraging her to see the Red Roof Retreat come to fruition.

As she held back tears, Niagara Advance editor Penny Coles accepted the Chamber of Commerce President’s Award for her dedication to sharing stories about the people living in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

The Niagara Advance, a QMI Agency weekly, has existed for more than 95 years and continues to inform residents about a variety of events, council decisions and town issues.

“I can’t take credit for the first 75 years but I’ve been around for a little while,” Coles said.

The staff at the Niagara Advance work as a team to produce the weekly newspaper. But in order for the newspaper to survive, it requires a thriving community full of passionate people with stories to tell.

“We couldn’t do what we do without all of you,” Coles told about 250 people who attended the ceremony.

“If you didn’t organize events and you didn’t ask us to help promote them, we wouldn’t be able to share your stories.”

The Christopher Newton Award for Extraordinary Business went to David Jones.

Jones grew up in Niagara-on-the-Lake, and worked at local inns and the Shaw Festival while he attended university. He left the area to pursue other opportunities and returned to invest in his hometown.

Jones received the Peter Stokes Award for restoration on the Customs, Evans and Gollop houses—buildings that now house 124 on Queen and Spa.

“Through the lens of an international travel and appreciation for heritage, David Jones was able to see the potential and critical importance of nurturing and repurposing heritage structures,” said Chamber president Rainer Hummel, who presented Jones with his award.

Regional chairman Al Caslin presented the Peter Ling Award for Entrepreneurial Spirit, which was given to Cian MacNeill, who accepted the award on behalf of Oast House Brewery.

The Oast House Brewery is a company with founders that “saw an opportunity—a way to work with a product that would inspire visitors” and produce a product that appealed “to a younger demographic and has lots of potential to be allied with fun and lively events.”

Garrett Van Iperen accepted the Company of the Year Award on behalf of Niagara Community Transport. The award which was presented by Niagara Health System Chief Nursing Officer Derek McNally.

“Community Patient Transfer Group is being recognized as company of the year for its various contributions to local partnerships, McNally said.

Community Patient Transfer Group has expanded from its original Niagara base and now provides transportation for patients to and from nursing homes, dialysis treatments, hospitals and medical appointments across Niagara, in Hamilton, Toronto and other places.

“This service allows the EMS ambulance vehicles and personnel to focus on emergency services, with the system secure in the knowledge that patients’ other medical transportation needs are being met by an organization that has fully trained personnel and the necessary equipment and vehicles to deliver the service.”

The Community Leadership Award was presented to Citizens for Accountable and Responsible Education, better known as CARE.

When Parliament Oak Elementary School was about to undergo a review, residents thought closing the school and bussing students to another school “was not a reasonable way to provide education,” said Hummel, who presented the award.

Originally, a parent community from Parliament Oak rallied to oppose the closure but the District School Board of Niagara trustees decided to close the school at the end of this school year.

“In true NOTL fashion, a group of intelligent, focused and committed people continue their question to have this decision re-examined,” Hummel said.

“The members of CARE have demonstrated incredible community leadership, meeting frequently, conquering up various fundraising ideas to finance the legal challenge. They are on a mission and one day soon we hope to be getting together to toast their success in retaining local education the Old Town.”

The Celia Liu Award for Excellence in Hospitality went to Del Rollo, director of Eastern Estates and Industry Relations for Constellation Brands Canada.

“This award recognizes his industry leadership, serving on boards such as Winery and Grower Alliance of Ontario, International Cool Climate Chardonnay Celebration, Tourism Industry Association of Ontario Grape and Wine Research Inc.,” presenter Erica Lepp said.

This year is the first time the Celia Liu Award has been presented in memory of Lepp’s sister, Liu, was who a member of the Chamber of Commerce board and served on a number of committees.

Rollo played an important role in launching the Jackson-Triggs Niagara Estate Winery in 2001, which has resulted in “tremendous growth and success,” Lepp said.

“I am proud to present the Celia Liu Award for Excellence in Hospitality to such a professional,” she added.

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