Accepting the dedication of the J.–Léonce-Bernard arena at the Evangeline Recreation Centre are family members, from left, grandson Félix and son Charles, son Pierre, Mrs. Florence Bernard, daughter Francine Poirier with her children Renelle and Damien, and son Michel.
ABRAM-VILLAGE – The Evangeline Recreation Centre arena has been officially named in honour of J. Léonce Bernard, who was a stalwart promoter of youth, community and his Acadian culture.
Bernard first came to prominence as a promoter of the co-operative movement, but was active in his community in many ways over the years.
He began a political career in 1975, when he was elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of P.E.I. for Third Prince, which he represented until 1991. He was appointed as a minister in government during his career and, ultimately, was appointed Lt.-Governor for P.E.I. in 2001 for a five-year term.
After leaving office, he continued to apply his efforts to his community, including becoming honorary chair of the finance committee to fund a new recreation facility after the former structure burned down in April, 2010.
Unfortunately, Bernard was also dealing with a cancer. He did witness the successful completion of the new recreation center, but had little time to enjoy its potential before the cancer took his life in March, 2013.
The Club Richelieu, a service organization that raises funds in support of youth organizations, and with which Bernard had been a longtime and valued member, proposed the dedication to the Evangeline Recreation Commission, according to club representative Gabriel Arsenault.
Commission chair Gilles Arsenault detailed that the idea was recommended at a monthly meeting and passed at the annual meeting, applying the honour to the major facility in the centre in respect of the extent of Bernard’s efforts and commitment in the community.
Smaller spaces in the center had already been named for the Veterans of Canada and for significant donors to the rebuilding of the center.
The official announcement and unveiling of the new arena sign took place during the 2014 Ice Show of the Evangeline Skating Club. Bernard’s daughter, Francine Poirier, addressed the audience and expressed the family’s gratitude for the honour.
The current MLA for the region, Sonny Gallant, later expressed that the decision showed community support for a wonderful individual who worked behind the scenes rather than for the fanfare.
“He wouldn’t have expected it, but he’d probably be happy,” Gallant reflected.
Florence Bernard found the attention and ceremony for her late husband a bit difficult, coming as it did shortly before the anniversary of his death. She recalled him going door-to-door after having radiation treatments, continuing to promote fundraising to rebuild the recreation centre.
She appreciated that the arena was named after him, but she didn’t know what he might have said about it.
“He didn’t seek attention. (His efforts were) something he liked to do, for the community and his passion for the youth of today,” she related.
Gilles Arsenault looked on the dedication as a tangible reminder of Bernard’s character.
“I always felt he wanted to leave a legacy, and this is a fitting one,” he concluded.