Herbert Wilson died in suspicious conditions after suffering violent racism at work, when sprayed head to toe in hot tar
Collingwood City Council will vote later today on a plan to build a memorial and name a park in honor of Herbert Wilson, a black man who died in suspicious conditions while working for the town in 1955.
On September 14, city staff presented a plan to the council’s standing committee on corporate and community services, recommending that the city name the park adjacent to Admiral Collingwood Public School “Wilson-Sheffield Park”.
The report also recommends the installation of a memorial on Sixth Street Boulevard near Maple Street.
Herbert Wilson was the first black foreman employed by the town of Collingwood, where he worked in the 1950s.
He died of a fall from a ladder while working on a tree in March 1955. He was 37 years old. Some reports suggest his colleagues sabotaged the tree branch that knocked him off the ladder.
It’s also unclear why Wilson, as a senior service executive, was the one rising through the ranks.
There was no investigation into his death at the time. Her death follows another violent work incident. Months before his death, Wilson ran home from work early a day after being sprayed head to toe in hot tar.
While there was a police investigation into Wilson’s death in 2002, by that time most of the people who witnessed his death had died in old age.
Wilson was married to Yvonne Sheffield and the two had three children. Their son, Herb Wilson lives in Wasaga Beach. Their daughters, Sylvia and Carolynn Wilson, still live in Collingwood. Sylvia was three months old when her father died.
“The facts of the Herbert Wilson tragedy easily raise concerns that the accident suffered was, at the very least, related to racial discrimination,” said the staff report, which will be submitted to the board on September 20.
The staff proposed monument would be located at the site of Wilson’s death and would convey the story of Wilson’s life and death.
“Aside from a life taken from his family, Collingwood has not lived up to the standards we hold ourselves to today,” said Dean Collver, director of parks, recreation and culture and senior member of the municipal staff presenting the report to the Committee. “We believe the community should create a testimony of this event that has happened in our history.”
Mayor Brian Saunderson also added that he would like the current city council to apologize on behalf of the city to Wilson’s family.
In addition to naming the park near Admiral School after the Wilson and Sheffield families, Collver said staff were working on ways to provide more information in city parks that are named after people.
Wilson was a WWII veteran and an active member of the community. His wife, Yvonne Sheffield, was a track and field champion in her youth, but was denied entry to competitions because she was black.
She has since been inducted into the Collingwood Collegiate Institute Black and Gold Society for her athletic achievements and for the titles she would inevitably have won had she been allowed to compete.
The Wilson and Sheffield families both settled in what is now Collingwood before the town was incorporated. Their history is well preserved thanks to the efforts of Carolynn and Sylvia Wilson, who own and operate the Sheffield Park Black History Museum.