David Onley – A Personal Reflection

Chris Snyder, Chair, HIP(Honouring Indigenous Peoples)

We were very saddened to learn of the passing of the former lieutenant-governor of Ontario, The Honourable David Onley. Mr. Onley was a great supporter of HIP and encouraged us every step of the way.

Each lieutenant-governor, when they come into office, chooses a theme to focus on during their term of office. Mr. Onley, because of his polio as a child, chose as his theme the breaking down of barriers including accessibility facing other disabled persons.

He also chose to carry on the Indigenous theme of his predecessor The Honourable James Bartleman, Ontario’s first Indigenous lieutenant-governor. Indigenous Peoples, he believed because of their treatment by others, also had accessibility issues.

Mr. Onley hosted a number of Indigenous-focused events at Queens Park which included some networking opportunities with other groups who were Indigenous or involved with working with Indigenous peoples.

Board members of HIP were fortunate to be part of the creation of these forums. He also introduced us to many key people who helped to move our mandate of education, awareness and building of relationships forward.

My first involvement with Mr. Onley came because of a trip to Deer Lake, NL a fly-in community in northern Ontario to start the Dolly Parton Imagination Library Reading Program. The idea for it resulted from discussions we had with his predecessor, the Honourable James Bartleman, Ontario’s first Indigenous lieutenant governor. His term of office had just finished.

Mr. Onley could not go on the trip because the government aircraft had not yet been renovated to accommodate his special needs. His wife, Ruth Ann and Mr. Bartleman ably filled in for him.

This was the first Indigenous/Dolly Parton Imagination Program in Canada. It has since been expanded to 250 First Nation communities across Canada.

Mr. Onley was a gracious person and an outstanding communicator. He moved about on his electric scooter but often stood holding on to the podium to make a speech. He did though want the scooter in sight as an example to others. If he could do it, they could too.

There is a fascinating and telling photo of Mr. Onley as a young boy at the Blue Mountain Camp(Easter Seals) in Collingwood, the first Canadian camp for children with physical disabilities shaking hands with the Queen. Many years later he became the Queen’s representative in Ontario.

I was privileged to know and work with Mr. Onley and HIP and the work we are doing benefited immensely because of his input.

The world will miss the Honourable David Onley, May there be many more wonderful people like him.

Condolences to his wife Ruth Ann and their 3 sons.