Celebrated as a revered "Heritage Hero," and true friend, Pamela Minns received congratulations and thanks from family, friends and dignitaries as she celebrated her 90th birthday Sunday afternoon.
Organized by close friends, Rosemary Hale, Margaret Pratt and Nance Sigafoos, the reception was held at the St. Catharines Golf and Country Club, one day before her actual Dec. 2 birthdate.
Several speakers, letters from friends, and accolades from government leaders highlighted the afternoon and punctuated nine decades of a life well-lived.
From these emerged two distinct streams of praise that clearly painted a picture of Minns as someone who has a watchful eye on the past, but who is solidly anchored in the present.
All spoke of her unrivalled leadership in heritage preservation, while those closest to her revealed a genuine appreciation for her friendship.
"She was always there when I needed her," said long-time friend Helen Michlik, after recounting their close relationship that began while working together at Domtar.
As a testament to her 30-year tenacity in heritage preservation, it was noted that when she first became involved, there were seven or eight Thorold buildings designated under the Ontario Heritage Act. Now, there are 52 designated properties in Thorold. And those in attendance pointed out that she helped others with their efforts across the Region.
“Pamela has been not only a community leader, but in heritage preservation in the City of Thorold, a true visionary,” according to Thorold Mayor Terry Ugulini.
He revealed how Minns sends him frequent emails and he added, "I have learned so much from you; keep sending me those emails."
Before presenting her with a certificate of appreciation for her work in heritage preservation and gift from the City, Ugulini said, "And it's not just heritage preservation, but how to market it into heritage tourism. You took the leadership role in winning the Prince of Wales Prize for municipal heritage preservation. I can't thank you enough on behalf of myself and our whole community."
Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey argued that Minns is the type of person who defines what it is to be Canadian.
"Canada is all about the contributions made by individuals. In 2017 we celebrated Canada's 150th anniversary and what were we celebrating? We were celebrating people like you. We celebrated the people who make up what Canada is all about; our values that were earned through the generations," he said.
"Pamela's relentless push to get heritage on the radar of Thorold's residents and every level of government helped change the face of Thorold," he said before presenting her with a certificate from the Government of Canada and birthday greetings from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Regional Chair Jim Bradley pointed out that the invitation to the birthday celebration epitomized Pamela.
"The invitation said in lieu of presents if we wished, we could make a donation to the Beaverdams Church restoration project and that speaks to Pamela Minns' contribution to heritage preservation here in Niagara and right across the country.”
He added, "It is more difficult to not sit on the sidelines but to take a leadership role and, over nine decades, we have an individual being honoured here today who has played the very central role of heritage preservation and in other areas as well."
St. Catharines City Councillor Carlos Garcia recounted his own efforts to preserve heritage in Port Dalhousie.
“I thought I was a heritage advocate until the late Frank Caplan introduced me to Pamela and I realized I knew nothing,” he said.
Garcia pointed out how Minns' efforts went beyond the boundaries of Thorold in describing her work with the Niagara Heritage Alliance. "I shame some of my fellow councillors when I look at Front Street in Thorold and I say, this is what we should be doing. What Pamela has done is just beyond belief."
Phil Ritchie, speaking of his restoration efforts at the Keefer Mansion and the Welland Mills heritage buildings, said to Minns, “You were, without a doubt, the strongest champion in the community to put those buildings back on their feet in some sort of economic use. When I had down days, there was never a brighter voice on the phone or face to see than you, saying, 'Don't quit, keep going'."
Finally taking the podium herself, Minns explained that when she retired from Domtar, she wanted to retire to something, rather than from something.
"I got involved in volunteering to preserve our heritage. I could have picked something easier. Ask anyone who is involved. It was a walk uphill and still is. But it was a very challenging, fulfilling and productive time of my life," she said.
“Although I have retired from our Heritage Committee, I still sit on the sidelines – watching,” she warned, only half-joking.
She concluded by saying, “Thank you for coming here today to make my 90th memorable. See you in 10 years for 100.”