THUNDER BAY – Thirty years ago, the idea of being recognized as a community hero would have seemed unfathomable to Ron Kanutski.
But after years of working professionally as a mental health and addictions consultant, as well as making a name for himself as a stand-up comedian, Kanutski officially has that honour.
Kanutski was one of seven individuals and organizations to be recognized with a Mayor’s Community Safety Award, with the presentation of the eighth annual awards made at Monday night’s Thunder Bay city council meeting.
“It’s good to know I’ve gotten to a point in my life where I’m doing the right thing, as opposed to maybe a time in my life when I was younger and I was doing the wrong things,” Kanutski said.
“I’ve always said that before I leave this earth I want people to say he was a good guy and actually mean it. That means something to me, that at least I know I’m doing the right thing now.”
Kanutski said there was a period of his life when he took shortcuts, didn’t take the best advice and would break the law from time to time.
“I didn’t have the best behaviours. I joked around that between 1987 and 1989 I probably could have won another award here in Thunder Bay and it wouldn’t be for anything positive,” he said.
“It probably wouldn’t be the community hero, it would be the community idiot.”
Kanutski said 1989 was a rough year, but one that made him decide that he wanted to live. He said he started getting his act together in 1990, and gave special acknowledgement to the late Vince Bogdan, who at the time was running the Shelter House. Kanutski said Bogdan gave him a chance to work with people and lifted his spirits.
It was the start to getting on the path he is still travelling, he said.
“It’s just amazing to be living well and trying to be the best I can be to my family and my friends around me and being good to myself,” Kanutski said. “Not being self-destructive but treating myself respectfully.”
Joshua Donald Hewitt, the founder of the local StandUp4CleanUp grassroots community beautification initiative, was one of four recipients of the outstanding community project award.
Hewitt held his first community cleanup on July 4, 2017, while he was homeless and staying at the Salvation Army’s shelter.
Having struggled with addiction issues stemming from childhood bullying and child abuse, he found passion in cleaning up the community that has played a vital role in his personal recovery.
“I never really thought I would get to this stage of my life,” Hewitt said. “During this time of homelessness, I had been going through recovery and cleaning up the city was very challenging. To have the impact that I have had, is really unexpected.”
Rahne Mehagan was recognized with the young leader award, who was rose to the top cadet position in the Thunder Bay Police Youth Corps five years after joining at the age of 13.
Dalton Shapwaykeesic, a regular fixture volunteering with Evergreen a United Neighbourhood, received the neighbourhood youth action award.
Outstanding community project awards were presented to Grace Place for their Out of the Cold program, Neechee Studio and the Thunder Bay Situation Table, which is part of the North West Community Mobilization Network.
Kanutski, who admitted to being initially reluctant to accept the award, said there are a lot of people in the city who deserve recognition.
“I think everyone plays a role in the community. We all do things. We all have an opportunity in life and I think we all play a part in that,” Kanutski said. “If I could give out awards, I think there are a lot of people that deserve awards.”
The awards, which began in 2011, have honoured 45 individuals and projects.