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Don Cousens

2013 Markham

There is no denying the incredible impact that Don Cousens has had on Markham and its surrounding area. A four- term mayor of Markham, 12 year member of the Ontario Legislature and seven year York County School Board Trustee, Don has made it his life’s priority to be involved in the creation and governance of his community.

“Politics gives a person an opportunity to serve the community,” said Don. “I was always interested in helping people and making the community better. This was the most effective way to achieve that goal.”

Yet, throughout his years of public service, Don consistently went above and beyond the call of duty. It is through his dedication, enthusiasm, leadership and experience that the groundwork was laid for many important cornerstones of the Markham community and greater York Region.

“I ended up specializing in the big picture,” said Don, who fought for and achieved the first local power plant in Markham, foreseeing the value that it could bring to his community. Now called the Markham District Energy Power Plant, it serves 36 businesses and provides 100% reliability in local and sustainable heating and cooling energy.

An obviously eco-minded individual, Don has also given much of his time to volunteer with the Rouge Park Alliance. “We have a large part of the Rouge system in Markham, but no one had really tried to do something special with it, or preserve it,” he said. Thus, Don and a group of like-minded individuals took it upon themselves to champion the important cause of protecting and preserving The Rouge Park, a 40 km squared section of the Rouge Valley wetland. “There is too much development, so we need to put barriers up and protect land and keep it from being developed. We are doing something for future generations,” he said. Since setting the wheel in motion, this initiative has blossomed and the Rouge Park is transitioning into a National Urban Park, where it will continue to be protected from development and be available for future generations to enjoy.

In 2001, Don began an initiative, now known as Character Community. The concept was initially conceived at a Character Symposium hosted by the York Region District School Board. At that event, Don (then Mayor) took on the challenge to host a forum about building cities of character. “If people could begin to have more respect for each other and care, building it into our education system; our society would be a much better place to live. This is the one thing our society needs,” he said. And that necessity became evident very quickly, as his initiative mushroomed well beyond Markham in no time at all,” he said. Now in its 12th year, Character Community has been given official charity status and continues to nurture positive character attributes across York Region.

Don has truly lived a life of service, with more than 40 years dedicated to his community. This is just a small snapshot of the impact Don has had, having contributed to many charitable organizations, which include being the Founding Director of York Region Children’s Services, Director of the York Region Mental Health Association, and Founder of the Don Cousens Charitable Foundation. In 2002 and again in 2012, Don was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal in recognition of his dedication to his community and also received a Doctorate of Law from New York University.

Don isn’t finished, yet. Now retired, he continues to spend his time helping others. He was recently appointed to the York Region Palliative Care Council. “This really speaks to me at this point in my life,” he said. “I want to help make sure we have these services available for people who need them.” A compassionate mentality that has carried him through life and is surely not about to stop now.


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