On February 23rd, Markham lost a pillar of its community with the passing of former mayor Donald Cousens. Flags at city facilities were lowered as people remembered a man whose influence in Markham and York Region will live on.
Cousens served as mayor from 1994 to 2006. He entered politics in 1981 when he was elected to the Ontario legislature. He went on to become Minister of Correctional Services, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Citizenship and Culture, and Deputy Speaker of the House. Prior to starting his political career, he had been an ordained Presbyterian minister, an officer in the Canadian Forces, as well as an executive at Honeywell Ltd.
Cousens was also a longstanding member of York Regional Council and played a role in a number of important strategic initiatives that made the City of Markham what it is today. These include negotiating with IBM to relocate their research facility to Markham, helping to create Markham District Energy, and building the York Region Character Community concept. He also served as chair of World Vision Canada and helped to found York Technology Network (now TechConnex). For these and many other efforts, a public school as well as the Donald Cousens Parkway were named in his honour. In 2007, the Markham Board of Trade introduced the Donald Cousens Conservation and Environmental Leadership Award to honor one of Markham’s longest serving mayors in recognition of his outstanding leadership on tough local issues, including protecting the environment.
But Cousens will be remembered for more than his accomplishments or the infrastructure that bears his name. He was known as an honest and generous man with a great sense of humour, one who was quick to offer guidance and leadership. This, as much as anything, will ensure his enduring legacy.