Actions can speak volumes. In the early 1960s when the City of Cornwall decided to name a newly opened arena on Fourth St. after a recently passed, much beloved Recreation Director, Bob Turner, that spoke volumes. In 2011 when this same city decided to tear down the Bob Turner Memorial Arena with no plans on further honouring that man, his struggle and his legacy, that action, or lack of action, spoke volumes too.
Bob Turner is one of the most notable residents in this city’s history. He had a notable legacy before he even came to Cornwall. A former Harlem Globetrotter, a former Chigaco White Sox, a U.S. Army veteran, Bob Turner already had lived a life to admire before he came to Cornwall and became one of if not the first Black municipal Recreation Directors in Canada.
This alone is a noteworthy and important legacy to be sure, but there is more to this story, and again, actions can speak volumes. Turner came to Cornwall at a time of great racial tensions in North America. Even in Canada in the late 1950s and early 60s racism and bigotry were all too common. Bob Turner experienced that racism and bigotry first-hand here in Cornwall.
Racists tried to force Bob Turner out of this city. Students and other community leaders came to his defence. The mayor at the time, Archie Lavigne took to the radio to defend Turner and in the end Bob Turner and his supporters won and defeated the bigots. This made it all the more tragic when Turner died at the age of just 35 during routine surgery.
Actions speak volumes. The fact that it has been more than a decade for this city to honour the legacy of Bob Turner speaks volumes. The fact that there are still members of Cornwall City Council, who failed to take steps to ensure Turner was honoured in 2011, who still sit on Council today, speaks volumes. The fact that on Thursday, September 27, 2023 . . . 2023, the City of Cornwall issued a survey asking residents what they would like to see done to honour Turner, speaks volumes.
There are volunteers in this city who have been trying to engage with administration and council for years to see something permanent, and prominent, created to honour Turner. They have been making efforts to fundraise for this cause, for something significant like a mural or statue.
In recent years, the city has set aside a relatively meager $25,000 in the hopes of building a statue in his honour.
Statues are expensive, not as expensive as arenas though. The survey issued by the city asks questions like “Does Bob Turner hold any significance for you?” And then goes on to ask if residents would prefer to see smaller amounts and smaller gestures of memorialization for Turner. Did the city go to the public when the cost of the future Arts Centre ballooned?
To me, this survey is nothing more than political cover for the city so that after more than a decade of inaction, the city can replace a memorial arena with a street sign, or renaming a park.
Actions speak volumes. This city standing up to defend Bob Turner from bigots, spoke volumes. This city tearing down his arena while making no further effort to honour Turner, spoke volumes. And now, today, the action of using this survey as political cover to honour Turner in a way that is less than he deserves speaks volumes.
Bigots nearly drove Bob Turner out of this city. Apathy will drive him from memory.
A mural, a statue, just get it done.