The history of Cornish blacks

We are in February and it is the month of black history. It's a special year for the history of black Canadians in Cornwall since we elected the first female black mayor to the mayor of Ontario.

The story of Bernadette Clement settling in Cornwall, where there is success in both public and private life while breaking down barriers, is not entirely unique in the history of the city. Bob Turner was the first director of recreation in Cornwall. In addition to being his first recreation director in Cornwall, he was also the first black employee and the first director of black recreation in Ontario.

Turner was hired by the city in 1958. At the beginning of his tenure in the city, Turner was victim of race-based harassment in the form of letters and night phone calls to his home. The messages sent to Turner were, according to all accounts, hateful, full of n-word and always anonymous.

Turner made the decision to move his family out of the city and was ready to stop and leave. The community however rallied around Turner. Members of the community, young and old, came out and marched in front of City Hall to show their support to their recreation director.

Mayor L.G. Lavigne went on the radio and called Turner's assailants "cowardly, vulgar and slanderous cowards" that they were.

Fortunately, Turner decided to stay in Cornwall. The recreation programs that it started saw more than 9,000 children register and enjoy it.

In 1961, a new recreation center was built next to the Fourth St. Football Field.

Barely a year later, Turner died tragically at the age of 35 after falling into a coma on the operating table of the Cornwall General Hospital. His new recreation center was renamed the Bob Turner Memorial Arena in his honor.

This arena was demolished in 2013.

To this day, no building, football field or park bench bears the name of Bob Turner, which, in my opinion, constitutes a sad injustice for a man who has played such an important role in the history of Cornwall.

I have been covering Cornwall City Council since 2016. Every year on this date, the council is coming up with ideas on how best to honor Bob Turner's memory. I think these efforts are important and a good start.

I think the sites that could be renamed for Bob Turner include the new Lamoureux Park Rotary Outdoor Gym, perhaps the shellshell, or the planned soccer fields that should be located next to the Benson Center, pending funding advice.

Perhaps this year, in February, it will be during this month of Black History that Bob Turner's place in Cornwall's history will finally be honored.

What do you think, readers? Should we commemorate something in Cornwall in honor of Bob Turner? If yes, what? Send me your letter to the editor at nicholas.seebruch@tc.tc