Winners of the 2023 Haliburton Highlands Chamber Gala awards stand for a photo on Friday, Oct. 20 at the Eagle View Event Centre at Sir Sam’s Ski/Ride. /EMILY STONEHOUSE Staff

Zilstra acknowledged as Highlander of the Year

By Emily Stonehouse

Context means a lot. The place, the time, the setting that you know someone – those are all factors that contribute to the knowledge and understanding around that person. 

When David Zilstra was announced as the Highlander of the Year during the annual Haliburton County Chamber of Commerce Awards Gala on Oct. 20, no one was surprised. Zilstra is seen around the community in everything from Highlands Summer Festival productions to behind the scenes at the Haliburton Highlands Hospital Foundation. 

Everyone knows him, but each from a different context. “It would be fair to say that few people are as committed to the Haliburton Highlands as David Zilstra is,” reads the first line from his letter of nomination. “For nearly twenty years,  David has been working tirelessly behind the scenes in Haliburton County, serving on a variety of boards, committees, service clubs and more.”

Zilstra moved to the community in 2005. Originally hailing from Whitby, Ontario, he jumped in with two feet the second he landed in the community. “I always grew up being involved in things,” he said, referencing his childhood of joining boy scouts and volunteering at various organizations as he grew up. “I like to get involved in things, and if you really want to get involved, there are so many ways to do that.”

Many would recognize Zilstra from the Rotary Club in Haliburton, where he was the president in 2014-2015. “As a Rotarian, he has been honoured with a Presidential Citation and the Fred Jones Award,” reads his nomination.”Some of his Rotary highlights include chairing the famous Pumpkin Roll at the annual Colourfest event, and helping to organize initiatives such as Music in the Park.”

On top of Haliburton Rotary, Zilstra is the current president of the Haliburton Business Improvement Area (BIA). This is one of those roles that’s a little more behind the scenes, but to be frank, Haliburton looks as good as it does thanks to the tireless efforts of Zilstra and the loca BIA team working in collaboration with Dysart et al to ensure flowers are watered, banners are hung, and decorations are placed. 

To further his creative interest, Zilstra is a member of the Highlands Summer Festival Board, and works diligently to bring high-end theatrical productions for all to enjoy in the Haliburton Highlands. He has even graced the stage himself more than once to dabble in acting, singing, and dancing. 

To round out his resume of involvement, Zilstra is heavily involved in the Haliburton Highlands Health Services Foundation board, making decisions about upcoming fundraising initiatives, and dedicating time and energy to ensure the people of the community have access to the best rural healthcare measures. “His active work on the board has helped bring in thousands of fundraised dollars for capital equipment,” shared his nomination. 

But the way we all know David Zilstra, the context he is clearest in for so many, is as the publisher of the Haliburton Echo, the Minden Times, County Life, and two other community newspapers in Bancroft. While Highlander of the Year is an award given that’s not necessarily a reflection of professional endeavours, Zilstra’s ties to local newspapers are instrumental in his community involvement. 

“This job and the community work I do really go hand in hand,” said Zilstra, noting that much of his time is dedicated to listening to people, to learning from people, and to sharing a mutual interest in the betterment of our community. 

When asked about his favourite organization to be a part of, Zilstra chuckled. “Each organization is like family to me,” he said, “if I had to pick a favourite, it would be like picking a favorite child.” 

Zilstra noted that even though he is proud of the accomplishment, he feels humbled by the number of nominees, and the winners who were present at the evening. “It was a very inspirational evening,” he said, “a great celebration of our community.” 

Overall, Zilstra has dedicated thousands of hours to making our community brighter, bolder, and more beautiful. His long-term commitment to sharing the highs and addressing the lows of rural life is seen in his work ethic, resilience, and passion for the Haliburton Highlands. “David’s passion for Haliburton County is clear and constant,” said his nomination form, “and is shown throughout all his diligent work and volunteer efforts. There is no one more deserving of this honour and award.”

From everyone at this local newspaper, we congratulate our publisher, David Zilstra, for not only putting our paper on the map, but making our community a little bit better, each and every day. We’re lucky to have him in each and every context he’s involved in. 

The following are additional award winners from the Chamber Gala on Oct. 20: 

• Warden’s Award (presented by Liz Danielsen: Places for People 

• Highlander of the Year: David Zilstra 

• Customer First – Business: Haliburton County Chiropractic & Rehabilitation 

• Customer First – Employee: Rebecca Neave

• Young Professional of the Year: Sarah Dollo

• Tourism and Hospitality: Boshkung Brewery

• Not-for-Profit of the Year: Abbey Retreat Centre 

• Business Woman of the Year: Brandi Hewson, Kohara & Co 

• Innovation and Creativity: Kennisis Lake Marina 

• New Business of the Year: Sweat Social Health and Fitness 

• Industry andTrade: Chaulk Woodworking

• Entrepreneur of the Year: Jenn Emmerson 

• Business Achievement Award: Sylvia Holland Wind in the Willows 

• Fleming Crew’s Employer of the Year: Pefferlaw Creek Farms