Bob Turner, the first person of colour to be hired as a recreation director in Canada here in Cornwall way back in 1957, is likely to be immortalized once again in the Seaway City, with what we understand is a statue that will be erected in Lamoureux Park.
We say finally, because it’s only been nine years since the Bob Turner Memorial Centre was demolished. ‘The Bob’ was named after Turner in 1961, when the beloved rec director passed away at just 35, following complications from surgery.
The Bob was the centre of rec hockey and a host of other activities over the years, before being torn down to make way for the Benson Centre. The city has erected a display at the main entrance to the Benson Centre, but many in Cornwall have wondered if this enough.
We can tell you it isn’t. Enough, that is.
Which is why, when we learned of the plan to erect a statue downtown, we became very excited.
Local supporters, including Coun. Claude McIntosh, community organizer Kelly Bergeron and others, have been pushing for something, anything, to be done to recognize Turner’s impact with more passion.
Turner was not simply a pencil pusher. Turner came from New York City. As a product of the Big Apple sports was in his DNA. Turner played for the Harlem Globetrotters (yup, the Globetrotters) and was even drafted by the Chicago White Sox.
His passion for sports and young people was evident in his short time in Cornwall. The fact that he was black, and that it was the late 1950s when Cornwall saw fit to hire him, speaks volumes for some of the pressures he felt in Cornwall.
While Turner enjoyed broad PUBLIC support, behind the scenes he had to face racism and prejudices. Turner rose above those challenges – and his efforts to that end are why we celebrate his life today.
When the city rightly decided that The Bob had to go (it was too old, and too expensive to operate) the first concern was what would be done with Turner’s legacy? Those in our community who are older than 40 know much of the Turner story. But the young people who traffic in and out of the Benson Centre are unlikely to have the same appreciation as their parents.
Which is why a more public display of Turner and his work in Cornwall is deserving.
Lamoureux Park is our golden jewel on the St. Lawrence River. It is the envy of other com- munities on the river – a massive expanse of public space fit for cycling, walking, lounging, watching fireworks, working out, launching a boat, etc. etc.
In short, Bob Turner – as a recreation manager – would have LOVED Lamoureux Park. But when he was alive, there was no park. There was a canal system and a torrent of swirling water on the river.
Today the swirling torrent lives on, but the park has become our community backyard. That is the place where Turner’s legacy can and should finally live into eternity.