The Afro News Vancouver : The Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada’s unveiling of a monument in honour of one of Canada’s greatest athletes could not have happened on a more glorious day. With very few clouds in the sky accompanied by a gentle wind, Stanley Park on the morning of Saturday May 15 was a runner’s delight; it was a morning of historic achievement for Black Canadians everywhere as Harry Winston Jerome was designated as a “Person of National Historic Significance”.
Harry Jerome who was born in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on 30 September 1940, moved first to Winnipeg with his family and then to North Vancouver in late 1951. Jerome an avid athlete, excelling at football, hockey, and baseball but was best known for his outstanding performance in track and field. He competed for Canada at the Olympic Games in 1960, 1964 and 1968, at the British Empire (Commonwealth) Games in 1962 and 1966 and at the Pan American Games in 1959 and 1967. Though injuries threatened his career, Jerome’s determination and perseverance earned him six world records and Olympic medals.
Jerome retired from high-performance athletic competition after the 1968 Olympics. But it was the youth who were his passion. “He believed in the youth,” his sister Valerie Jerome told Afro News, “from engaging in programmes and sports demonstration teams to programmes at the provincial schools and community centres as well as visits to a number of the first nation’s reserves in the province.” Thus after his athletic career, he joined the federal government’s Fitness and Amateur Sport Directorate (today’s Sport Canada). Jerome subsequently designed and directed British Columbia’s Premier’s Sport Award Program, which is considered by many to be his greatest legacy. This program still provides teaching material, clinics and awards to upgrade the quality of physical education. More than one million children have been noted to have received merit badges under this program.
For persons present at the celebration ceremony, it was high time that such an honour be bestowed on an individual of such iconic status. Many felt that to have achieved what he did in his time, speaks to the greatness of his character and his will to persevere in-spite of the many barriers, racism included. The life of Harry Jerome stands as a testament of the excellence that can be achieved by Afro-Canadian youths, not only in athletics but in other areas of their lives. Stuart Parker, nephew of Harry Jerome, encouraged that racism should not be used as an excuse for not achieving greatness and that we need to look to the courage of those persons before us who have risen above and challenged all kinds of barriers. He cited that “there is no fear in us to the challenges people face but that the reason we have community, the reason that we have love, the reason that we have these things is as a way of surviving that unfairness and achieving inspite of it.” Echoing similar sentiments, Charles Arthur indicated that should a focus be placed on Harry Jerome as a role model for all young people; no matter the race or ethnic background a further step would have been reached towards engaging and inspiring the youths. John Morrison, who was also pleased and encouraged by the ceremony asserted that such an event was a significant one in marking multiculturalism in Canada and serves as a reminder, especially to our children that we are very fortunate to live in Canada, as there are many other place in the world where these events can not occur.
The ceremony was attended by government officials, members of the Afro-Canadian community, friends, family and beneficiaries of Harry Jerome’s legacy.