OPINION: Things left undone

Image of Nick Seebruch
By Nick Seebruch
OPINION: Things left undone
Bob Turner, the City of Cornwall's first Recreation Director and first black employee. Seaway News file photo.

Less than two weeks from today we will already be in the second month of 2022. Time flies, things change, but some things stay the same.

February as many of you will know is Black History Month. One thing that has been consistent for my time here at Seaway News over these past five years is the call for a public tribute be made for Bob Turner during Black History Month.

Turner was the first Black man to be employed by the City of Cornwall. He was also the first Black man to be a Recreation Director in the province of Ontario if not first in the whole country.

Turner was hired in the 1950s and did face racial prejudice which included personal attacks against him as well as physical threats, including on one occasion being pursued by a bigot in a pick-up truck.

He nearly considered leaving Cornwall, but students and other youths in Cornwall demonstrated on his behalf and asked that he stay. The Mayor at the time, Archie Lavigne, passionately advocated on his behalf over the radio. Turner did not have to stand alone, the community stood with him.

Born in South Bound Brook, NJ, Turner got his Bachelor of Arts in Physical Education from New York University, he served four years in the U.S. Army as a recreation director before moving to Canada.

Turner was himself an accomplished athlete. He had stints with the Chicago White Sox in the late 1940s and with the Harlem Globetrotters.

He tragically died at the young age of 31 in 1961 from complications during what should have been a routine operation on a hernia.

On his death, Turner was lauded as one of the most popular department directors in the City, particularly with children who participated in municipal recreation programs.

“He often went beyond the line of duty,” said then Mayor Nick Kaneb. “The city will have a most difficult job of finding a replacement of Mr. Turner’s significant qualifications.”

After his death, a then new sports complex on Fourth St. across from the Cornwall Armory was named in his honour as the Bob Turner Memorial Arena.

In 2014 the Bob Turner was demolished after the new Benson Centre sportsplex was completed.

Since that time the only evidence that this remarkable man existed is a bust of his likeness that sits in the entrance to the Benson Centre. There are no streets named after him, no buildings, no soccer fields or tennis courts, nothing.

Bob Turner was an accomplished athlete, who broke barriers in his professional career, and who stood up to racism and bigotry all right here in the City of Cornwall. This is a part of Cornwall’s history and a part of the city’s connection to Black History month, yet for eight years now no Council has taken steps to fix this mistake. The mistake of letting this important character of our history be left forgotten.

This year is a municipal election year. If this Council won’t take steps to find a place of honour for the memory of Bob Turner then I think it should become an election issue that we ask candidates when they are out campaigning.

History is important. Who Bob Turner was is important. Honouring and remembering him is important.

What do you think readers? How should Bob Turner be remembered? Email me a Letter to the Editor at nseebruch@seawaynews.media

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