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Oak Bay volunteer honoured for tax work, raising Black voices from history

30 years of giving earns Ron Nicholson the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers

Ron Nicholson is a heck of a numbers man.

But he’s also a keen storyteller, weaving stories steeped in history that draw the listener in with vivid personal connections.

For both of these, Nicholson receives the Governor General’s Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers this week at the Oak Bay Volunteer Services annual recognition of its valued volunteers.

Volunteerism dates back to his days as a youth, as a kid he hung out at a community centre in his St. Catherine’s, Ont. neighbourhood coaching even younger kids in myriad sports.

A life of schooling at what was then Vancouver City College and varying careers, including leadership roles in purchasing and warehouse management, took him across the country to some big companies in B.C. and Alberta, eventually finding himself on the south Island in 1999.

He finished VCC with a research diploma and planned to follow up at the University of British Columbia, but good jobs and life played out instead.

For decades he’s helped folks with their taxes, both as a side gig and as a volunteer for those in need.

By the time he came to Oak Bay Volunteer Services 17 years ago, Nicholson had been doing volunteer taxes three years through the Monterey centre. He’d been doing them much longer after starting with his mother’s once she was no longer capable.

READ ALSO: ‘My family has been here since before Canada was a country’

It was the CRA that approached the volunteer services a couple years ago, asking if anyone seemed worthy in their organization. Nicholson stood out for the executive director.

“While Ron has made a vital impact in the lives of older adults and folks living with disabilities over his 17 years with OBVS, his commitment to raising the profile and importance of Black history not only in Victoria but across Canada will leave a legacy for generations to come,” Renee Lorme-Gulbrandsen said. “He is an engaging storyteller and educator whose passion for sharing the lived experiences of Black Canadians is a treasure for us all.”

He’s an active volunteer with the Black History Awareness Society and the Victoria Genealogical Society, often taking leadership roles in his years of involvement and giving talks across the Island and mainland.

“When I’m giving a talk, I’m not just talking about Black history, I’m talking about Canadian history,” he said, noting every wave of immigration to this country included Black people, including his own family. “I can call myself a product of the underground railroad.”

His great-grandfather escaped slavery in 1864 and made his way north before Canada was Canada. It’s documented on page 228 in the “bible” – The Underground Railroad Records: Narrating the Hardships, Hairbreadth Escapes, and Death Struggles of Slaves in Their Efforts for Freedom by William Still.

A key recent example is his research work with the for the National Apology Action Committee, offering critical historical information about the No. 2 Construction Battalion.

Starting in 1914 tens of thousands of men across Canada rushed to enlist and fight in the First World War. Black men were turned away and told “this is a white man’s war” until the battalion was officially authorized on July 5, 1916.

“They were treated very poorly before, during and after the war,” Nicholson said.

The research helped inform an official event and apology last summer.

“It was significant, I was a meaningful part of a history-making event,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson receives his medal during the OBVS celebration on July 20 at Windsor Pavilion.

Christine van Reeuwyk

About the Author: Christine van Reeuwyk

I'm dedicated to serving the community of Oak Bay as a senior journalist with the Greater Victoria news team.
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