Dr. Drew Markham spreads the word of inclusion

Huntsville’s Got Talent- opening the doors of possibilities, one star at a time
By Michelle Ainsworth

Meet Drew Markham- the creator of “Huntsville’s Got Talent”

**This interview was conducted last February 2017 and has been updated**

The stars shone brightly in downtown Huntsville over the weekend at the Algonquin Theatre for the event Huntsville’s Got Talent hat took place on Saturday February 10, 2018! Created by Drew Markham with all the proceeds being generously donated to Community Living Huntsville. Drew Markham has always given back to the community and has always done so through the filter of inclusion and belonging.

Some people grow up with inclusion being woven into their upbringing as a way of life. This is true for Drew Markham. Drew’s father worked for the Ministry of Community and Social Services in a variety of capacities. In fact,he played a role in the closing of institutions and implementing policies and procedures for supporting people with developmental disabilities to become included in community.

Drew Markham is recognized as an Ambassador of Inclusion for all that he does in the Huntsville community.  Not only is he a local dentist but since moving here 12 years ago he has given back to the community in ways that go above and beyond the average citizen.

Drew grew up in various parts of Ontario as his father would obtain various positions in the social services sector. He went to the University of Toronto and also attended dental school in Michigan and had a practice there. Both of his children were born in Michigan. Drew and his family moved to Sarnia and decided that although they loved Sarnia they wanted to make a change. That is when he purchased a practice in Huntsville.

When asked about why he chose Huntsville Drew shared that like many, he was drawn to Huntsville because of a cottage experience.  He and his wife both visited Huntsville when they were 13 years old- they were both avid figure skaters and through that they were invited to a cottage in Huntsville for a weekend. Although Drew did not pursue figure skating as a career path his wife did and even went on to represent Canada Internationally. His cottage experience is what initially drew him to Huntsville but soon the family discovered that Huntsville had so much to offer.

“When I came up to visit the practice that I was considering purchasing, it was a September morning and  the leaves were turning and I was so impressed at how much was available in the town. I thought a town of 18, 500 wouldn’t have a lot in terms of amenities but I saw very quickly that Huntsville had and still has so much to offer. It became clear within an hour or so of visiting that practice that this was the right move for us. We wanted to provide our kids with an opportunity to have a spot to call home for a long time and we felt it was best to raise them in a small town where they could have opportunities”.

Opportunities were what Drew and his family were seeking but it turned out that Drew was the one that provided opportunities to so many through the volunteer work he has done over the years.

Drew recognized that living and working in a small town provided his family with the advantage of relationships that were easier to build because there were not as many people. Over the years Drew had lived in a wide range of different cities and towns and he learned through experiences that immersing oneself in the community would have many professional and personal benefits.

Drew Markham introduced the Huntsville Makeover and connected with various businesses in order to make this life changing event such a success. He offered the makeover for 5 years to a different community member in Huntsville.

When Drew moved to Huntsville he had been receiving training in dealing with complex cosmetic cases, including people who were missing teeth- restorative dentistry and this was something that appealed to Drew. Initially he donated this to some people as he recognized that the procedures involved can be very expensive and some people may not feel ready for it.

“I felt that I wanted to do a one case per year on someone and I would take care of the expenses. I did a few of those and saw what an impact that had on the individuals. One person was a recluse and through the makeover was able to be involved in her community and with her family because she felt more comfortable and confident. Instead of doing a lot of little changes on a number of people I liked the idea of a massive change on one individual.”

That is when Drew Markham created the Huntsville Makeover. To have a greater impact on one person. Drew recognized that together the Huntsville community could collaborate to create positive change for community members. The makeover became a community event that he ran for 5 years in collaboration with many local businesses.

In addition to providing the Huntsville Makeover for 5 years Drew also spent time volunteering his time coaching hockey and is very involved in Rotary.  Drew has been a Rotary member for 5 years and through that participates in a variety of community projects.

When the Huntsville Makeover ended Drew still wanted to contribute and an idea formed that was inspired by his enjoyment of reality television. As Drew says, “I’ve always been a sucker for reality TV and “The Voice” and “American Idol” was a pretty positive way for people to showcase their talent that may not  have the opportunity.  In arts there is always more talent than the opportunity to market it. People can’t always make a living on it. Knowing there was a lot of talented people in Huntsville the idea formed to create “Huntsville’s Got Talent”. It took me over a year of planning to make sure that the project would be feasible and I feel that the timing for this event is perfect.”

Drew chose Community Living Huntsville (CLH) as the recipient of the proceeds of the event because he was inspired by a Rotary meeting that he attended where he introduced the brick concept at the wall at the band shell in Rivermill Park.  At that same meeting CLH was there speaking about their services and supports. In particular, Sheldon Eaton was a huge source of inspiration for Drew. Sheldon shared his story of receiving supports and the benefits that Community Living Huntsville has to offer for people who live with the label of a developmental disability.

“The young man that spoke that night was Sheldon and a lightbulb went off and I thought that Community Living Huntsville would be a worthy recipient. During that meeting Cathy Stroud, Executive Director at Community Living Huntsville, was talking about being able to reach people who fall between the cracks but still require supports. I thought of my experiences growing up with my dad and his career-  He was very involved in the closing of institutions and developing policies into community and group homes and this seemed that this was something that could honor him as a recipient.” In honor of Drew’s father, a community event was created and the proceeds go directly towards supporting community members who live with the label of a developmental disability.

“We would visit my dad at his office and get a chance to see residents and get to know them. As you get older you realize how sad a situation for many it was and back then my dad would talk about how it was common for people to drop their children off as infants into institutions and never see them again. As a culture we learn from the past and you see the evidence of that in Huntsville, a lot of places are inclusive and welcoming such as employers and to me that makes a lot of sense”

When asked about inclusion, Drew shared, “I think it’s important that I was exposed to people with developmental disabilities at an early age as it helped from a comfort level perspective.  A lot of people are scared by what they don’t know or understand. Even when I was in dental school they were still using the R word as a scientifically driven term. I remember correcting my professor when she used the term (retarded) and she said that was the term that was used”. Even then Drew realized how hurtful the R word can be and he teaches his children to use respectful language: “In my house you can say anything but the R word is the top of the list of words NOT to say”

Huntsville’s Got Talent is an opportunity for people to showcase their talent and to highlight the contribution of Community Living Huntsville.

“With what CLH does and hopefully with this weekend,”  Drew said,  “More people will understand just how able people that receive support through Community Living Huntsville are”

The people who participate in Huntsville’s Got Talent also have the opportunity to win and receive $1000 and a trophy. The four judges did a phenomenal job of judging the contestants.

It is apparent that Drew Markham is one of Huntsville’s Ambassadors of Inclusion in all that he does. Drew helps to make Huntsville a better place through his contributions and the support he provides others.

Drew’s message for the  Huntsville’s Got Talent Performers last year was carried on to this years performers:

“I greatly appreciate the bravery it takes to put yourself out there, whether you are experienced or not. Also, the ones who did not make it into the show- it does not mean they didn’t have talent. It is heartwarming that so many people submitted”.

Drew, the Huntsville community greatly appreciates the contributions you have made- you are a shining star in the eyes of many.

For more information about Huntsville’s Got Talent you can visit their Facebook Page or website at http://drdrew.ca/huntsvilles-got-talent/

To learn more about the work of Community Living Huntsville you are invited to attend a free one hour “Celebrating Inclusion Tour”, where you will learn about the work of Community Living Huntsville and hear stories shared from people who live with the label of a developmental disability. The tours are all about community and all are welcome. For more information visit www.clhuntsville.ca


Community Living Huntsville would like to sincerely thank Dr. Drew Markham and his team for organizing such a fabulous show! Thank you and congratulations to all of the performers, winners and everyone involved in Huntsville’s Got Talent!

We are so grateful for the opportunity to be the recipients of the proceeds for the show.

All the performers did an amazing job and we were blown away by the phenomenal talent!

A HUGE Congratulations to Andrea Hill, winner of the 2nd Annual Huntsville’s Got Talent. Congratulations also to runners up Josie Robinson and Christina Hutt!!