The character of Ramara shone brightly Monday night as the first annual Spirit of Ramara awards were given out in concert with the induction of the newest member to Ramara's Wall of Fame.
Spirit of Ramara recipients were Susan Potalivo, owner of local business Catering Cuisine/Sweet Sensations, and Mary Ailene Reed, founder of the Facebook group Ramara Voice.
The Ramara Wall of Fame inductee was lumber baron William Thomson, who played a pivotal role in having Longford become a thriving community. Thomson, who died in 1928, was inducted posthumously.
Awards committee member Sam Laskaris emceed the event, with Ramara Township Mayor Basil Clarke handing out the award plaques at a ceremony at the Township of Ramara administration office in Brechin.
Potalivo, who was recognized for her work raising money for local families and charities over the last three years, said she was “honoured and happy” to receive the award.
“I started raising money during the pandemic, when my business was shut down,” she explained. “There were so many in need, I started a silent auction online. I would post the item in the morning, take the post down at the end of the day, and then drive out and drop the item off to the winner that evening.”
Potalivo also organized concerts and other events which raised money for refugees and local families in need, including the family of an autistic boy along with other local charities.
“Altogether, with lots of other people helping, there was $40,000 raised,” she said.
Reed said she was “humbled” to win the award for Ramara Voice.
“Ramara Voice began in the midst of the hardest months of COVID lockdowns when, as a community, we could not meet together," explained Reed. "It was clear from the frustrations and sometimes even the negativity expressed online that not being able to have that support and in-person contact with one another was taking its toll on our close-knit community.
Ramara Voice was started to fill that void, she said, explaing she posted photos and stories from her eighth-generation Ramara family legacy.
Reed credited research and assistance from relatives, and Joseph Jesseau, Dennis Ross, Drew Fulford, Sherri Bell, and Marcel Rousseau of Orillia Past and Present for helping her with the Facebook group, which now has 2,600 members.
Both Reed and Potalivo talked about the spirit, resilience, love, and support of Ramara residents in general, and how there were many residents deserving of the Spirit Award.
“There are dozens of other volunteers in Ramara that deserve much more praise," said Reed. "From those members of the Twisted Stitchers group who sewed masks late into the night for our residents, my fellow recipient who put in so much hard work and raised so much for various charities, to those running the good food box programs, our families in need projects, our trails committee, our librarians, emergency services, and even our township staff and council who saw us through that very difficult time — they should all be getting this award and hopefully next year, many will be!”
Mary Bingham Bouchard nominated her great-grandfather William Thomson for membership into the coveted Wall of Fame. On Monday, she was on hand to represent the family at the induction ceremony.
In her acceptance speech, she highlighted Thomson’s "quiet and gentle spirit" along with his self-effacing, philanthropic nature.
Thomson’s father, John Thomson, bought the land at Longford Township for $30,000 at an auction and founded the Longford Lumber Mill. Son William inherited the land at age 21, upon his father’s death, and continued to develop the mill.
William Thomson gave the Geneva Park land to the YMCA for its use. In its early days, Geneva Park was an amusement park for children, and Thomson also built and provided two steamships to transport children and the infirm to the park.
“The name Geneva comes from his wife’s and sister’s names,” explained Bouchard. “His wife’s name was Eve and his sister’s, Jessica, or Jen.”
Bouchard also marvelled about John Thomson’s ability to see the opportunity in the land, and the risk he took, bidding upon, and buying it.
“The lumber company felled logs, floated them down the Black River to Lake St. John, milled them on the shore there, and then continued on a corduroy road system to Lake Couchiching, then Lake Simcoe, all the way to Toronto,” she mused. “That took a lot of hard work and a lot of faith.”
Thomson also owned the Ontario Educational Leadership Centre, which was taken over by the Ontario government after his death. The property is now owned by the Chippewas of Rama First Nation.
Coffee and cake were served after the Wall of Fame plaque was unveiled by Mayor Clarke. Recipients, friends, and family were pleased with the recognition, and the ceremony.
“All of our amazing Ramara residents’ spirit and love for one another never fails to teach me that there is no other place that I could ever call home and that together we can face anything,” Reed stated.