Two very significant stories made front page headlines in The Burlington Gazette in January 1957.
Burlington annexed Nelson Township and a small portion of East Flamboro (mostly what is today Aldershot), boosting the population to 32,000, and the decision was made to build the town’s first hospital (Jo Brant) on land leased from the Department of Highways.
A third, less than an inch in length, was buried inside on page 7. It was the birth announcement for a boy who would become, in a very simple manner, one of the community’s most valuable workers.
On Jan. 17, the same day that former Mayor Ted Smith was being honored during a testimonial dinner at the Brant Inn, little Jimmy Sisson came into the world.
More than 60 years later the affable, life-long Burlingtonian is celebrating his 40th anniversary as the official caretaker of the downtown area. He has been on the job during the terms of seven mayors – George Harrington, Mary Munro, Roly Bird, Walter Mulkewich, Rob MacIsaac, Cam Jackson and Rick Goldring.
Five days a week Jimmy steps out of the home he grew up in on Maria St., on the edge of Lions Park, and goes right to work picking up garbage strewn along the street by late-night bar and fast food patrons.
He makes his way west to Brant St., then north to the Picadilly Café for his morning coffee with toast and peanut butter. Owner Masoud Vatan Khah describes him as “a royal customer”.
Along the way he chats with folks on their way to work and tidies up the city’s main street, pulling a wagon loaded with garbage cans.
“Jimmy Sisson is an icon in downtown Burlington,” said Goldring. “His passion for our city is evident and we appreciate him for keeping our downtown clean for over 40 years.”
Jimmy was hired as janitor for the old Elizabeth St. bus terminal in October 1976. After doing that job for 12 years, he was assigned care of the entire core area.
“The job is mobile,” Jimmy said. “I’m on foot all the time and it’s good exercise. You get to see a lot more of what’s happening when you’re on foot.”
Matt Koevoets, the City’s supervisor of roads and parks maintenance, said it’s a huge advantage that Jimmy can walk out the front door and start cleaning up immediately.
“Jimmy is very dedicated to the work he does,” Koevoets said. “It would be hard to find another person to do his job for 40 years.”
Ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward, who lives near Sisson, said he has been at every single community meeting she has held in her ward.
“He’s very engaged,” she said. “He really never stops working for us. He will call me if there is a light bulb burnt out. He’s constantly on the lookout for things like that.”
Special events like the Sound of Music Festival, Canada Day celebrations and Rotary Ribfest demand extra attention from Jimmy.
During the six weeks’ vacation he gets annually, Jimmy often can be found just doing odd jobs around the house, although he is a longtime fan of the Montreal Canadiens and has taken train trips to see the Habs play.
A lot of institutions have come and gone in the 40 years he has been on duty. As a boy, he had a front row seat down the right field line for Burlington Industrial Fastball League games when International Harvester was a powerhouse. The ball diamond, which no longer exists, was replaced by a soccer field.
The Coronation Tavern on Brant St. used to be a favorite spot for him to get a bite to eat. It’s now the site of Wendel Clark’s Classic Grill and Sports Lounge.
A couple of years ago the Burlington Downtown BIA presented Jimmy with an award for his efforts, but for the most part he goes about his daily tasks willingly without a lot of recognition.
Statistics show that because of the threat of cancer people are smoking less than they used to, but Jimmy finds it hard to believe.
“I’m sweeping up more cigarette butts than ever,” he said. “Maybe next year I’ll be sweeping up marijuana butts, if they make it legal!”
Jimmy is eligible to retire now, but leaving the job is not in his immediate plans.
“Some day I might say enough is enough, but right now I’m good,” he said. “I get up in the morning and I come to work.”