OPINION: It’s Black History Month, celebrate it Cornwall

Image of Nick Seebruch
By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: It’s Black History Month, celebrate it Cornwall
Bob Turner, the City of Cornwall's first Recreation Director and first black employee. Seaway News file photo.

It is February, Black History Month, and Cornwall has a lot to celebrate and remember.

Cornwall and its citizens have made their mark on Black History. Many know the history of Bob Turner, the first black Recreation Director in the history of Canada and Cornwall’s first black employee. More recently, in 2018 Cornwall elected Bernadette Clement the first black female as Mayor in the history of Ontario.

This month, Lee Theodore opened his new Caribbean flavored restaurant on First St., The Spicy Pearl. Lee is an active community organizer in Cornwall, having been involved in several initiatives and prior to opening his restaurant, held Caribbean Dinner Nights at Spinner’s Dinner regularly.

I would hope and would want every resident of Cornwall to know the history of Bob Turner. I myself am learning more about the man all the time. For example, before he began his tenure with the City of Cornwall, he was a Harlem Globetrotter, and later played for the Chicago White Sox, sharing a distinction with Michael Jordan of playing for both a major basketball team and a major baseball team.

Turner would of course go on to make history through his appointment as Recreation Director in Cornwall, but he was not universally celebrated at the time.

Coming to Cornwall in the 1950s, Turner was almost forced from the city due to hate from racist bigots until members of the student and youth community and the Mayor at the time, Archie Lavigne, passionately advocated for Bob Turner. He did not have to stand alone. Cornwall stood with him.

“He (Mayor Lavigne) went on the radio…when radio was big in this town and told them we would not put up with this in Cornwall,” Councillor Claude McIntosh once said.

This week, it was announced that a community project was launched in the City of Cornwall to create a mural in the downtown to honour Turner’s memory. The project organizer expects to be ready to accept bids from local artists for what this mural would look like by the end of the month, and I expect that its creation will be well underway by the spring.

Finally, Cornwall will have an appropriate and visible symbol that honours this part of Black History and the City’s history.

As I stated, Cornwall continues to make history, and the legacy of Black history in the city which will continue to grow as the community in Cornwall grows.

In late 2019, l’Association des communautés francophones d’SDG (ACFO) held a welcoming event at Olympia Bowling for new members of the French community who had recently arrived in Cornwall.

At that event, I saw many new black residents who had chosen Cornwall as their new home. Whether they come from the Caribbean, or French African countries, Muslim or Christian, their backgrounds were diverse, but many told me that they had chosen Cornwall for the same reasons.

One was because of our growing Francophone community, and the other was because of the warm welcome they received in Cornwall.

“I adore Cornwall,” one mother told me. “It is a very calm and welcoming community.”

This mother came to Cornwall from Haiti, and her then three-month-old son was born here.

During Black History month, we should remember that Black history, is also a part of Cornwall’s shared history and we should remember that, and celebrate that.

If you have something you’d like to comment on that you see in the pages of Seaway News, email a Letter to the Editor for nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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