2015 City of Markham
“You can give back by encouraging and supporting others.”
Lorne Smith, born in 1937, lives on a corner of the farmland owned by his family since 1917. Lorne’s ancestor, Frances Andrew Smith, was one of the first settlers to arrive in Markham in 1794. Lorne is the sixth generation living in Markham. His wife Carol’s ancestors arrived in 1804 as part of the Pennsylvania German Migration from Lancaster County. After he retired from a long career within the Ontario Ministry of Education, Lorne was appointed the official town (now city) historian in 1993. As such, he has a passion to tell the stories of the people of Markham to the next generation through his volunteer activities, including his ten historical publications, videos and newsletters for the Markham Historical Society, Pennsylvania German Folklore Society and the Berczy Settlers Association. He is also working on a book about the history of Markham. Lorne explained that part of the reason for his fervent commitment to history goes back to an appreciation for the foundation the settlers laid for the generations that followed, and said, “The previous historian, John Lunau, was an oral person who could talk for hours. When I had the opportunity to go into his home after he died, I found his notes in a box under his bed. I committed then to try to get into print as many stories as I could, in keeping with Markham’s motto: to Lead by Remembering.” Lorne has his roots firmly embedded in the community and although much has changed, he has seen Markham become a wonderful harmonious multicultural community. He calls himself a ‘career volunteer’ and said, “Many are interested in buildings and architecture, but as a historian, I like people’s stories.”
The roots and economy of Markham up until 1975 were built on agriculture. It has since expanded into the high-tech and service area. The Stiver Mill, where his portrait was taken, has become an icon within the village of Unionville to highlight the historical importance of agriculture. Lorne was involved in the historically correct restoration of the Mill which is now called the Stiver Mill Cultural Centre.
His most memorable moment of giving back was a volunteer opportunity that ran for ten years at Markham Fairgrounds called, The Pizza Project. 1,500 children in grade three and four were bused in over the course of five days and taught about pizza — growing and grinding the grain, growing the vegetables, the origin of dairy products and then the making of sausage. “It was such fun to see these children come and delight in learning about all these components,” Lorne said. “We had a crew of around 40 people that came together to work on this curriculum based project.”
“Part of the Mennonite tradition I carry through my grandmother and my father is based on helping others,” Lorne said. “I have grown up in an environment where you always helped others, whether it was in the family, community or the church. My grandfather, Robert served on Markham council for 11 years, and was active in the church. My father, Nelson, served on the school board and the Town cemetery board. I grew up in that same culture where you did what you could. We have always been involved in the Bethesda Lutheran Church and I served as treasurer for 30 years. We are part of the Pennsylvania Folklore Society which involves explaining and interpreting the skills of the pioneers. We still have a sausage making demonstrations over at Blackcreek Pioneer Village annually.”
Giving back spills over to his six grandchildren as he sees them grow and develop some of the same interests and help and volunteer at community events. “I think that the greatest personal benefit of giving back is a sense of satisfaction that you have made the community a better place,” Lorne said. “When our ancestors came, they worked as a community; they had to. They had to clear the land and build their barns. If there was a disaster everybody came in to help. How do we help develop that community spirit? We live together and we have to help each other.”