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By: Karen Wolfe

John Sibbald, former owner of The Briars Resort

John Drinkwater Sibbald III (1928 – 2020) was a charming friend who had an iconic presence in our community. With a legacy few others will ever achieve in Georgina, his passing on Friday, March 20 creates a huge void, certainly among his family, but also among those of us who cheered his passion, his commitment and his candid conversations. 

Known as the patriarch of the Sibbald family and the “Squire” of the Briars Resort from the 1960s until it was sold in 2017, John was a life-long champion of the arts, local history, the environment and his beloved Lake Simcoe. His stewardship and public service were recognized by his peers and he accepted numerous awards and notable distinctions over the years for his leadership in environmental and heritage preservation. In 2011 he was the recipient of the Ontario Lt.-Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for working to preserve Georgina’s rich heritage. In 2012 he won the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority 2012 George R. Richardson Conservation Award of Honour and became an honorary lifetime member of the Board of Directors.  

He led the way by extending the summer resort season from two to six months, and later made The Briars one of the first Ontario year-round resorts. He spearheaded the Lake Simcoe Tourist Association and the Ontario Travel Association, and chaired Tourism Ontario for seven years. He championed environmental issues long before it was popular to do so. He was Vice Chairman of the Ontario Provincial Parks Council whose achieved goal was to work with First Peoples and non-indigenous stakeholders to preserve millions of hectares of boreal forest. His efforts were instrumental in creating LSEMS, the policy prior to the Lake Simcoe Protection Act. He was governor of the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain.

A respected business leader and at one time, Georgina’s largest employer, he became the first lifetime member of the Georgina Chamber of Commerce and with his wife Barbara, were Georgina Citizens of the Year. He also rescued the Red Barn Theatre from development, acted as its Executive Director and primary supporter for two decades and then mourned its loss as Canada’s oldest professional summer theatre venue when it was devastated by fire in 2009.  He was a passionate supporter of our volunteer community and our many not-for-profit organizations. He will be sadly missed by all of them. 

Our condolences go out to his devoted family–his wife of 61 years, Barbara (nee Watts) and his three sons, Peter (wife Nancy Fretter, their daughters Rebekah and Maya), Hugh (wife Sheila Maxwell) and Andrew (wife Janet nee Henriksen, their children Kaitlin, Anne and John) and their extended family. I hope their sorrows and grief will be lessened by the collective affection of a community who is grateful for the passion of a young boy who proudly stood up before his grade one class and declared…”I am John Drinkwater Sibbald the third”. Rest in peace, John.  

Due to the pandemic, a community celebration is being postponed. Memorial gifts to the Alzheimer’s Society of York Region, the St. George’s Endowment Fund or Lake Simcoe Conservation Foundation are appreciated. Please support your local Food Bank. Donations, the sharing of stories and memorial condolences may be arranged through Forrest & Taylor, Sutton, 905-722-3274; forrestandtaylor.com.

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