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Newmarket to honour York Pride organizer with Main Street rainbow bench

'It’s a great way to bring forward where Newmarket stands, its inclusivity,' says downtown councillor of the installation in memory of Gillian Barker
June 17, 2021

Newmarket will soon have a new rainbow Pride bench on downtown Main Street to commemorate Gillian Barker, a York Pride organizer who passed away in 2020.

“This bench is going to be the most perfect symbol of our work and the memories of Gillian,” York Pride spokesperson Jacob Gal told councillors. “We want to call it the Friendship Bench because Pride is all about socializing. It’s all about being yourself, being authentic, and just feeling comfortable.”

York Pride, which will cover the cost of the bench, is thrilled to be working with the municipality to have one symbolic fixture of Pride in the community, Gal said.

The request was approved at a committee of the whole meeting June 14.

The bench will be installed on Main, across from the clock tower at Park Avenue.

“I’m really happy to see this,” downtown Councillor Bob Kwapis said. “It’s a great way to bring forward where Newmarket stands, its inclusivity.”

Barker worked with York Pride for more than a decade, and served on its board of directors starting April 2018. In addition to strategic planning, the organization credits her with forming ties to the Chippewas of Georgina Island.

“Gillian was kind of like the mom of Pride. She was the voice of reason, and she was the one that kind of kept everybody calm, cool and collected,” Gal said. “She was really good at slowing things down and trying to see what the bigger picture was.”

He added that Barker was devoted to Main Street, which became a central area for York Pride when it moved its parade there in 2017.

“Main Street was Gillian’s favourite place,” Gal said. “She was always supporting local businesses in the downtown core.”

Mayor John Taylor said the town has been happy to partner with York Pride and the community has embraced the celebration. He said some will not love the idea, but it aligns with municipal priorities.

“This is a great opportunity to further our work in inclusivity and diversity,” Taylor said.

Gal encouraged the community to get involved and volunteer for Pride celebrations. Virtual celebrations continue until the end of June, with plans to honour Barker later in the month.

“The bench is a great idea to really kind of encompass all of her work and her legend,” Gal said.