Skip to content

Oak Bay’s philanthropic centenarian scores Canadian citizenship

John Hillman, 103, has raised well beyond $300,000 for Save the Children over three years
Kenny Podmore, left, inspired by John Hillman’s philanthropy, pushed to get the Oak Bay centenarian his Canadian citizenship. (Christine van Reeuwyk/News Staff)

A casual question in conversation between two veterans led to one Oak Bay 103-year-old earning his Canadian citizenship.

Sidney resident Kenny Podmore arrived at Carleton House on sunny summer morning in 2021 to offer a donation to the charity of John Hillman’s choice. Hillman was walking laps daily of the retirement residence courtyard to raise money for Save the Children.

Hillman has raised more than $300,000 for Save the Children doing walks each year since he turned 100. In 2020 he was inspired by fellow centenarian and British veteran, the late Capt. Tom Moore who raised funds walking laps at his UK residence. After learning Moore died in February 2021, Hillman repeated the event. In 2022 the struggles of children from war-torn Ukraine spurred a third walk, at 103.

Podmore is among the many, many people Hillman chatted with while lapping the cobblestones each year.

“Are you a Canadian citizen?” Podmore popped the question in as the pair enjoyed some shade after on of Hillman’s morning walks in 2021.

When Hillman said no, Podmore’s wheels started turning.

Hillman, a British veteran, came to Canada more than two decades ago, landing in a condo on Beach Drive.

But he had a long connection with the country prior as his sister-in-law married a fellow from the Canadian Air Force. John and Irene Hillman and Lloyd and Mary Harvey even had a double wedding on Dec. 27, 1941 with each fellow serving as the other’s best man. From then on the couples travelled back and forth visiting between England and Canada.

Canadian citizenship wasn’t a priority for Irene, who died in 2021 at 100, so Hillman didn’t pursue it.

When Podmore asked, it ignited an idea.

“I thought to myself, I’m virtually Canadian anyway and Canada has been so good to me personally in many ways. I decided to pursue it,” Hillman said.

That unleashed the power of Podmore, who phoned, emailed and made continuous connections with the Canadian government in a bid to both earn Hillman citizenship, but get it gratis, as a thanks for all he’s done for the country.

“I heard nothing, then I started doing a little chasing, and then an election came and everything went by the wayside,” Podmore said.

READ ALSO: Youngsters offer pocket money donation as Oak Bay veteran finishes fundraising walk

He started all over again. This time he nominated Hillman for the Order of B.C. along the way, and got Saanich-Gulf Islands MP Elizabeth May’s office involved.

“John is an amazing man I’ve never met anyone like him before. What an inspiration, at his age doing the fundraising he’s doing,” Podmore said.

After a blizzard of emails spanning far more than a year, Podmore and Hillman’s son-in-law Ralph McDiarmid finally tied all the pieces together – Hillman would receive citizenship with the tab covered by local Rotarians.

Now 103, Hillman becomes a dual citizen via virtual ceremony at his daughter and son-in-law’s house in Oak Bay on July 21.

“I’m proud to become a Canadian,” Hillman said. “It’s my destiny.”

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.
Read more