Siblings’ ‘grateful’ parents will be recognized at new Collingwood Park and Memorial

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Wilson siblings feel gratitude and loss to receive an apology for their father’s death and a memorial to honor their parents’ story

As Carolynn and Sylvia Wilson watched Monday’s council meeting from their Collingwood home, they both felt a mix of emotions regarding the city’s recognition of their parents’ legacy after nearly 70 years of struggling for may their story be told.

On Monday evening, the council voted in favor of building a memorial and the name of a park in honor of their father Herbert Wilson, a black man who died in suspicious conditions while working for the city in 1955. His wife, Yvonne Sheffield, will also be recognized.

On September 14, city staff presented a plan to the council’s standing committee on business and community services, recommending that the city name the parks adjacent to Admiral Collingwood Public School “Wilson-Sheffield Park”.

Council also approved $ 35,000 as part of the 2022 municipal budget for a memorial to be installed at the site of Wilson’s death on Sixth Street Boulevard near Maple Street that will tell the story of the Wilson’s life.

“We are grateful and grateful that the municipality recognized our father. It was major. It is a great honor to remember our father’s legacy. It will also be a chance for the community and our family to do some healing, ”said Carolynn. CollingwoodToday.ca this week.

“It’s almost like a weight has been lifted,” Sylvia said. “We can finally catch our breath. Finally, someone is listening.

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 of old age.

“The facts of the Herbert Wilson tragedy easily raise concerns that the accident suffered was, at the very least, related to racial discrimination,” the city staff report said.

Wilson was married to Yvonne Sheffield who also grew up in Collingwood and was a gifted athlete at Collingwood Collegiate Institute. Despite her gifts, she was denied access to competitions, including the 1938 Track and Field Championships in Orillia due to the color of her skin.

Yvonne and Herbert had three children. Their son, Herb Wilson lives in Wasaga Beach. Their daughters Sylvia and Carolynn still live in Collingwood. Sylvia was three months old when her father died.

To read more stories about the history of the Wilson and Sheffield families in Collingwood, click here, here or here.

Sylvia says she wishes her mother, who died in 2016, as well as her uncles who also worked to bring attention to the 1950s incident, were alive to see the recognition.

“Things like this help when we tell our stories. Often people of color don’t want to tell their stories because, who is going to listen and who is going to care? Sylvie said.

“It’s probably very shocking to people who don’t know this happened,” Carolynn said. “Herb’s life should have counted. It helps for our story to come out like this, even though it took so long. We have worn this all of our lives.

“It won’t solve anything, but erecting a monument and naming a park are good acts of citizenship. It just doesn’t resolve the question of how it happened or why it happened, ”Sylvia said.

“We are grateful, but under that feeling there is also a loss,” added Carolynn.

Sylvia says the memorial and the park will make a difference not only to the Wilson and Sheffield families, but also to the black community of Collingwood and South Georgian Bay as a whole.

“They were all under the same pressure from outside forces as our father. Who spoke for them? Sylvie said.

“I would love to have our mom and dad with us, but I know they would be grateful that we continued and took care of each other. My mom always said, you stand up for truth and righteousness and lead by example, ”Carolynn said.

At the September 14 meeting, Mayor Brian Saunderson also proposed an amendment for the current city council to apologize on behalf of the city to the Wilson family, which was passed in committee and in council.

“It was a perfect example of how people in position should stand up and apologize,” Sylvia said. “It was spontaneous and sincere. Let him recognize this in words with apologies … do you know how long we have been writing to Ottawa to apologize to our people? “

“He is a good example for others in other communities to follow,” she said.

“We would like to thank him. It has been an honor for us, ”said Carolynn.

With files from Erika Engel.

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