Petite Riviere is recognizing the contributions of the last surviving founding member of the community's volunteer fire department, which started in the late 1950s.
Gordon Whynacht recently celebrated his 90th birthday and more than 60 years with the department. Despite hanging up his helmet years ago, he remains on the department's roster as an honourary member.
"I kept attending meetings and staying involved," he told LighthouseNOW.
At a ceremony at the fire department, local MLA Mark Furey presented Whynacht with a mock-up of the new free licence plate that retired volunteer firefighters and ground search and rescuers in the province who have at least 15 years of service will be eligible to receive next winter.
"It was at the celebration of the presentation of Gordon's 60 years of service that members of the [Petite Riviere volunteer fire department] advanced the idea of a specialty license plate for retired firefighters," Furey noted on social media on February 22. "Happy birthday Gordon, and thank you for the opportunity to initiate the discussion around a retired volunteer firefighter plate. It was so appropriate to launch this plate with you, on the occasion of your 90th birthday," he said.
Whynacht hasn't been able to do much in terms of fire department activities over the past year, partly due to public health restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and partly due to his age.
"When you get close to 90 you want to tuck away when evening comes," he commented with a chuckle.
Whynacht, who served as Petite Riviere's deputy fire chief for about 15 years, still drives his Kia Optima to and from Bridgewater on a regular basis.
"He's contributed a lot to the fire department over the years," Robert Croft, a firefighter and safety officer with the department, told LighthouseNOW, "and it's something we wanted to do for appreciation for what he's done."
Over the years, Whynacht worked in construction and survey jobs, was a bus driver, and even owned the general store in the community.
With the grassroots feeling that the nearest fire protection service was too far away, Whynacht was there to help get the ball rolling on a new fire department and station.
"We just built a small building with an upstairs where we used to have our meetings," he said.
The structure was able to accommodate a truck and had the basics in terms of suppression equipment. The fire station is still in the same spot near the corner of Highway 331 and River Road, but it's much more than what is used to be.
Gone are the days of personnel riding on the outside of a truck to an alarm, or working in hazardous conditions without cylinders containing breathable air.
"It kept getting better all the time," Whynacht said of changes to firefighting over the years. "Better equipment and better training."
These days, Whynacht, whose wife died years ago, calls himself the "chief cook and bottle washer" in his house, and finds joy on his property, especially in the nice weather when his vegetable garden is in full tilt.
He feels fortunate to have left a legacy through his 60-year-plus connection with the volunteer fire service.
"I'm pleased the fire department and the community has thought that much of me," said Whynacht.