Freemen of Burnaby

Honouring outstanding individuals

The City of Burnaby has had the honour over the years of giving special recognition to a few exceptional citizens whose contribution to the community and their fellow citizens has been exemplary.

Before the 1960s, Burnaby's top citizens were given an award of merit known as the 'Gold Key'. This award was only presented to 4 individuals in recognition of their excellent work on behalf of the city's residents. Other Gold Key recipients include Her Majesty The Queen (then Princess Elizabeth) and Princess Margaret, presented to them during their respective visits to Burnaby in 1951 and 1958.

Since the 1960s–when the BC Municipal Act was amended to give all municipalities the unique ability to recognize outstanding and worthy individuals–City Council has bestowed the title of 'Freeman' on a few special individuals. Those who receive this award have served and contributed significantly and selflessly to the wellbeing of Burnaby's citizens and the community.

Burnaby's Freemen

Awarded Freeman status: June 14, 2010 (presented on June 4, 2010)

Michael J. Fox moved to Burnaby in the early 1970s when his family relocated to BC following his father's retirement from the Canadian Armed Forces. While his birth name was Michael Andrew Fox, he chose Michael "J" as his professional name after moving to Los Angeles.

Michael's rise to fame as a celebrated and successful actor began early in life. Encouraged by his teacher Ross Jones, at then Edmonds Junior High, he successfully auditioned for the role of Jamie in the television program "Leo and Me". In his senior high school years at Burnaby Central, he attended class during the day and worked in the theatre or other shows at night. At age 18, he he decided acting would be his life's vocation and left home to move to LA to pursue an acting career.

However, life in the big city wasn't as easy as it seemed. It wasn't until he had sold every stick of furniture in his apartment for food and rent that he finally received his big break: the role of Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties.

Since then, Michael has forged an extremely successful career as an actor, writer, director and producer starring in blockbuster movies such as the Back to the Future trilogy and long-running television programs like Family Ties and Spin City. He has also guest-starred in recurring roles in various television shows, including Boston Legal and Rescue Me. He's won 5 Emmys, 4 Golden Globes, 2 Screen Actor's Guild Awards, the People's Choice Award, and a Grammy.

While fame and fortune have the power to change some people, Michael has always been a down to earth person with a strong sense of social responsibility. We can see evidence of Michael's commitment to Burnaby through the various benefits we enjoy today.

The Michael J. Fox (MJF) Theatre opened in 1993 as part of Burnaby South Secondary School. The theatre plays an important role in the Burnaby community, hosting multicultural performances, dance, theatre, music and other community events.

Officially named after the actor in November 1995 to recognize his achievements in the arts and commitment to the community, the theatre is today one of the busiest venues in the Lower Mainland. Michael and his family have consistently demonstrated their commitment to the theatre, giving their generous support—time and funding—to ensure its long-term viability.

MJF Theatre Society provides a post-secondary scholarship program for students pursuing education in an arts discipline. Initial funding for these scholarships, part of a ten-year program, was provided by Michael. In 2005, a total of $100,000 was granted to more than 35 students attending schools in the Burnaby School District. Another 12 winners were awarded scholarships from 2006 to 2008.

The Michael J. Fox Annual Golf Tournament is a popular event and the primary source of fundraising for the MJF Theatre. Michael and his family regularly attend this event to promote and support the theatre. In 2009, Michael paid $5,000 to the charity auction for the privilege of renaming a street in Burnaby. Funds from the auction also go towards the theatre and scholarship programs.

In 2010, the previously named Riverway Place in front of the Riverway Golf Course where the annual golf tournament is held was renamed Bill Fox Way, after Michael's late father.

Michael is a self-described 'incurable optimist' and that optimism was put to the test in 1991 when he was diagnosed with the onset of Parkinson's Disease. Together with his wife Tracey and his four children, Michael has learned to meet this challenge with the same tenacity, energy, humour and optimism he has displayed throughout his life.

Michael is a role model for many on moving forward and building a happy and fulfilling life despite the challenges. In 200, he created the Michael J. Fox Foundation to find a cure for Parkinson's, raising awareness and funds. The MJF Foundation has raised $179 million so far and of that, 84% goes to research programs.

Throughout this journey, Michael has never lost his sense of humour or curiosity for what comes next. That curiosity, coupled with his humour and generosity, have driven him in new directions. He writes in his new book, 'Always Looking Up, The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist,' that "Work, politics, faith and family are the struts of my existence." He's fearless, learning that "you just take it as it comes"; every day is an unpredictable opportunity for a new experience.

His latest project is an empirical examination of optimism the world over: what is it? What does it look like? Why are some people perpetually optimistic regardless of their experiences? He examines these questions and more in a television special titled "Michael J. Fox, Adventures of an Incurable Optimist".

He's compassionate, kind and understanding, fulfilling the wishes of children through the Kids Wish Network. Michael works tirelessly, travelling the world to raise funds and promote awareness for research into a cure for Parkinson's. He's dedicated to his family and says the greatest gift from Parkinson's is the time he has had with his children.

This is not to say that it's been an easy road, nor one in which everything has easily fallen into place. Michael has experienced loss, denial, fear, anxiety and pain. What's inspiring about Michael and what sets him apart from most in similar situations is his unfailing optimism, determination to meet each challenge with humour and hope, and finding ways to experience happiness each day. He has found a positive channel for his pain, using the creativity he once expressed on the screen to launch projects for people's betterment the world over.

Burnaby is proud to be considered Michael's "hometown", the host City for his annual charity golf tournament, and home to the Michael J Fox Theatre.

In recognition of Michael's contributions to Burnaby and our citizens, his creativity and his success in theatre and life, City Council is pleased to grant Michael J. Fox Freedom of the Municipality.

Council member 1981-1993

Awarded Freeman status: January 12, 2009 (presented on May 1, 2009)

Dr. Egon Nikolai ran for City Council in 1977 after having lived and worked in the municipality for many years. He raised four sons with his wife Fern while practising dentistry in the city for over 14 years.

A graduate of the University of Alberta, Dr. Nikolai also attended UBC before his bid for office and was seen as a highly motivated and dedicated newcomer to the political scene. Although unsuccessful in this initial attempt, Egon would serve as councillor for 12 years from 1981-1993.

In 1993, when Egon was seeking re-election, he said in an interview that his goal was to represent citizens more democratically and "build a safer, crime-free, healthy community." As was evident in his service as a councillor, these were goals that he had worked hard to achieve. During his 12 years in office, Egon served as Chair of the Community Issues and Social Planning Committee, was founding chair of the Crime Prevention Committee and a member of both the Traffic Safety and Transportation committees.

Egon worked tirelessly to promote expanded block watch programs and increase the number of civilian staff in the RCMP offices, allowing the officers to focus on crime prevention, not administrative tasks. He also served on a committee to oversee the phasing out of the Oakalla Prison and advocated for crime prevention.

In some ways, it's Dr. Nikolai's work outside of local politics that has earned him the respect of many worldwide. For more than 40 years, Egon has taken his desire to serve the community outside the borders of our country and has devoted countless hours to international aid missions. Egon first started volunteering in the 1960s when he took his skills to the isolated communities of Nootka Sound. Since then, he and his family have been to Ecuador, Jamaica, Peru, Nicaragua and Honduras, providing medical and dental aid and education to those who need it the most.

In 1998, Egon received the Paul Rondeau Humanitarian Award for his exemplary service to the dental profession and his community. He has served on the Burnaby Hospital Board, the South Burnaby Men's Club, the Burnaby Association for the Mentally Handicapped, the United Way and numerous other organizations and groups. For these countless hours of volunteerism and his commitment to the citizens of Burnaby, Dr. Nikolai has earned his reputation as a humanitarian and devoted public servant.

In memorium

James A. Barrington


Richard Bolton 

Gold Key recipient

Charles Brown 

Gold Key recipient

Donald N. Brown


William J. Copeland


Eileen E. Dailly


Douglas P. Drummond


John D. Drummond


Alan H. Emmott


Douglas G. Evans


George A. Grant 

Gold Key recipient

George Green 

Gold Key recipient

David M. Herd


James G. Lorimer


Charles W. MacSorley


George H. F. McLean


George A. Morrison


Major-General George R. Pearkes


William A. Pritchard


Robert W. Prittie


Celeste M.H. Redman


Robert J. Robertson


Victor Stusiak



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