A tribute to Bill Burns and his commitment to the Citizens Hall of Fame

Bill Burns’ chairmanship of the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame endured successfully for 15 of the 23 years the hall has existed. After a long tenure as chairman, Burns stepped aside from the unique program to enjoy his retirement from real estate. 

His retirement was cut short when he recently passed. 

Burns’ legacy is his unfaltering commitment to the Citizens Hall of Fame. He not only chaired the program for many years, but was literally its guardian angel. Up until he sold his long-time family home a few years ago, he made a conscious effort to regularly check out the Hall of Fame site a healthy walk away from the Formal Garden in Assiniboine Park. 

Burns’ proudly referred to the hall of fame as the “walk of fame” due to its physical design which encourages walking along a pathway to observe all of the 34 inductees’ portraitures and descriptive plaques. Today, it has become a walk of fame as Burns wished, following a meeting with John Hreno, the former head of parks and recreation at Assiniboine Park. In early December 1996, Burns and Peter Squire of WinnipegREALTORS® met with Hreno and finally secured a permanent home to commemorate deserving and distinguished Winnipeggers at the Formal Garden site, located in the southeast corner of the park just off Corydon Avenue. 

The sculptures of inductees originally spent their first few years sequestered in one lonely corner of the second level floor of city hall. Next, they were located along the riverwalk, a site prone to flooding and vandalism.

In 1997 all of the existing sculptures beginning with Steve Juba’s, the program’s first inductee in 1986, were installed on attractive granite pedestals in sequential order according to the year they were inducted. 

The sculptures are now showcased among the majestic elms alongside an asphalt path. The Assiniboine Park site, obtained through the goodwill of Hreno, can accommodate more busts of inductees as the years progress.

The 35th, or 2008, inductee’s sculpture will be installed this year along the opposite side of the path, since there is no room left on the west side of the pathway. Local sculptor Eva Stubbs is completing the portraiture of 2008 inductee, Bill Loewen, a business visionary and arts philanthropist.

She sculpted busts of previous inductees such as John Bulman, John Hirsch, Sybil Shack, Carol Shields, Dr. Naranjan Dhalla and Dr. Arnold Naimark. 

For more information about the 35 Citizens Hall of Fame inductees, go to winnipegfame.ca. There are excellent descriptions about what each of these outstanding citizens did to deserve their selection. 

To appreciate what the program means to 2000 inductee Dr. Dhalla and to get a real sense of pride  long-time  chair Burns had for the program, click on the three-minute video clip. To access the video, click on Inductees, then Dr. Naranjan S. Dhalla, followed by Video — Take a Walk with Dr. Dhalla.

The Citizens Hall of Fame was established by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board (now operating under the name WinnipegREALTORS®) in 1986 to celebrate the outstanding achievements and contributions of Winnipeg citizens to the city’s quality of life.  To date, 36 inductees have been selected, including former premier and senator Duff Roblin, former mayors Steve Juba, Bill Norrie and James Ashdown, former chief justice Samuel Freedman, Israel Asper, Dr. Dhalla, Carol Shields, Nellie McClung, Sister McNamara, Dr. Bruce Chown, John Hirsch and Leo Mol.

More than real estate

Deborah Goodfellow, the 2009 WinnipegREALTORS® president, is passionate about her community. 

“REALTORS® do more than just sell real estate,” she explained. “We help to build strong and vibrant communities. We’re directly involved in the communities we serve. When you’re in the various homes with people, you see the highs and lows — the 90-year-old woman who just wants you to share a pot of tea with her.

“You see the real need at the grass-roots level, and you can’t help but want to help.”

Goodfellow is driven by the need to get involved in important causes — Siloam Mission, Hannah Taylor’s Ladybug Foundation, the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s Shelter Foundation, the Canadian Real Estate Association’s REALTORS Care® committee, the Friends of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights — or just rejuvenating her beloved Transcona. There is no stopping her from wanting to make a positive difference in the lives of other people.

At last year’s WinnipegREALTORS® Citizens Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Goodfellow took advantage of the opportunity to share with the special dignitaries and guests, her belief that REALTORS® commit themselves to more than just ensuring home buyers and sellers are well served.   

Sol Kanee, the 2009 inductee, was referred to as “Citizen Kanee” in a Winnipeg Free Press tribute. Some of his most notable contributions include his commitment to creating the modern United Way of Winnipeg, helping build the Royal Winnipeg Ballet into a world-class troupe, and his leadership role in making the beautiful Asper Jewish Community Campus a reality. 

“His lesser-known activities in counseling and mentoring and helping people are the greatest attributes for which we nominated Mr. Kanee,” said Sidney Halprin, who was among the many who nominated Kanee for induction into the hall of fame. 

Mayor Sam Katz called Sidney Halprin after the ceremony to say his brother told him that when they arrived in Winnipeg in 1951 as immigrants, Sol gave him a job in the flour mill he operated. (By the way, the Soo Line Flour Mills was the first to introduce Swiss technology in North America and changed the way everyone conducted the business.)

A final comment from Sidney Halprin is worth noting as a strong rationale for establishing the Citizens Hall of Fame: “Our nomination was intended not only to recognize, but more importantly to inspire and motivate our and future generations to emulate the inspirational leadership of Mr. Kanee — in caring for people, in building community, in demonstrating that even one person can make a difference, one action at a time”

At the ceremony, Goodfellow said: “Once again we come together in order to celebrate and honour an individual who truly led a remarkable life. In doing so, he has left a legacy that will endure for many years to come. 

“Our inductee fully embraced his father’s principle that all good that is taken from the community must be paid back in kind. And that he did. Repaying his great city of Winnipeg, his country and the world far in excess of his share.

“We have all benefited from his service to community. Why? Because there are those exemplary citizens among us whose lights shine just a little bit brighter, lighting a path for others to follow. They not only believe in serving their community and their fellow man, but more importantly, they act on it with a firm resolve and unwavering commitment to make a difference.

“They inspire others around them through their actions, their counsel and their encouragement, resonating undeniable passion and the conviction that something seemingly unattainable is indeed possible.

“This is an important message to all of us. We can learn from these outstanding inductees. We are honoured to follow the path of the great men and women who have paved the way for others to provide service to our city and beyond.

“I am proud to tell you that REALTORS® in Manitoba are stepping up more to serve the community. We have thus far raised $225,000 for the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and hope to raise more by attracting other contributions from REALTORS® across the country.

“WinnipegREALTORS® has a housing opportunity partnership initiative in which it has invested heavily. A total of 70 homes have been refurbished or new infill houses built for first-time buyers in Winnipeg’s West End to stabilize and renew the area.

“REALTORS® endorsed a national quality of life philosophy whereby they are committed to improving our quality of life by supporting quality growth that encourages economic vitality, providing housing opportunities and building better communities with good schools and safe neighbourhoods. 

“We do not just sell houses. We care about the people living in them and the communities that we both live, work, play and pray in. Government cannot be left with the burden to do it all. We are proud to partner with our friends in government, at all levels.

“When I served as president of the Manitoba Real Estate Association, I had the distinct pleasure of being involved on the ground floor of setting up the Manitoba Real Estate Association’s Shelter Foundation. It started giving out its first community grants this year. The foundation specializes in shelter-related initiatives, such as affordable housing and homelessness issues. Part of this effort has included work with Siloam Mission, providing Easter dinners and lending support for our homeless.

“The REALTORS Care® fund-raising division hosts its annual golf and fishing tournaments every year in support of the foundation.

“REALTORS® are a committed and dedicated group and this only scratches the surface. 

“The national REALTORS Care® foundation board, of which I sit on, serves as a vehicle for collecting, sharing and promoting the extensive community and charitable contributions made by REALTORS®. We want to bring attention to the many great causes and initiatives from coast to coast, so that we can follow on a path that can lead to a better future for all.

“In the past one and a half years alone, REALTORS® have raised over $10 million.

“I am proud to represent an industry that understands the meaning of community.

“Perhaps it is because we are building them every day and we see the needs and  identify with them. We are a part of their mosaic.  

“This is the reason why our industry likes to get together and celebrate the heroes like the Sol Kanees and our other inductees; because we are thankful for their contributions. They are beacons of light. 

“If we are serious about making this program resonate with our future generations, so they will be motivated to follow in the footsteps of some terrific role models, a good education and pursuit of continuous learning and improvement cannot be stressed enough. 

“For these outstanding citizens all exhibit, in my humble opinion, a real passion and desire to learn and equip themselves with the necessary tools and skills to achieve the feats they did. The success they enjoyed allowed them to help others and the community as a whole.”