In 1957, Cornwall hired Bob Turner to operate the city’s recreation program. American born, Turner came to Cornwall from the town of Colborne where he held the same position, but was constantly harassed. Turner, Canada’s, and possibly North America’s first Black recreation director, was more than qualified for the position, with his degree in physical education and experience as a professional baseball and basketball player.
This is not to imply that it was all smooth sailing. A few local bigots tried to hound Turner and his wife out of town, but War Veteran and Mayor Archie Lavigne sensed the mood of the populace and went on the radio, proclaiming enough is enough, ensuring Turner’s tenure.
Turner overcame any prejudice through his personality and ability, making him “one of Cornwall’s most popular city officials, particularly with children,” and when he died suddenly from a routine hospital operation, four years later, aged 35, the City was grief stricken.
Paying tribute to Turner’s work, Mayor Nick Kaneb said: “He often went beyond the line of duty in performing his duties…The city will have a most difficult job in finding a replacement of Mr. Turner’s outstanding qualifications.”
Kaneb added that Turner developed one of the best recreation municipal recreation programs in Ontario, if not Canada.
The community paid tribute to Turner’s memory when they renamed the Memorial Centre across from the Cornwall Armouries the Bob Turner Memorial Centre. Now demolished and replaced by the Benson Centre, Turner’s bust is on display here, while discussion continues how best to memorialise his lasting contribution to Cornwall.
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