SUMMERSIDE – The past president of the Summerside and Area Historical Society says the city is ignoring the public when it comes to displaying the community’s sports history at Credit Union Place but the mayor says otherwise.
George Dalton was part of a history circle about the John ‘The Realm’ McNeill Room and the future of the artifacts that were once contained there.
It was part of the former Cahill Stadium and when that structure was torn down several years ago to make room for Credit Union Place, the artifacts were stored away and have yet to find a new permanent home.
McNeill penned ‘The Realm of Sport’ in The Journal-Pioneer for over 55 years, The Realm was much loved by several generations of readers since penning his first column almost 61 years ago. For over a decade McNeill's columns in The Journal represented the newspaper's only sports coverage.
He wrote his last published column in 2001.
Dalton said there is resentment within the community that the local sports history is being lost to younger generations, whose parents, uncles, aunts and grandparents helped to create. He said these artifacts should be on display to bridge the gap between generations and bring a sense of pride to the community’s sports heroes of years gone by.
Coun. Peter Holman updated city council recently on the situation surrounding the McNeill room saying it will likely happen in conjunction with finding a permanent location for the P.E.I. Sports Hall of Fame.
Dalton said it was not Holman’s place to deal with this issue before council.
“I wanted to speak to this subject in council and was told that Peter Holman would be the spokesman,” he said. “I don’t think that the politicians should be telling a member of a non-profit group who their spokesman should be.”
Mayor Basil Stewart said Holman is the city’s liaison to the historical society and is the link between the two.
“He’s keeping the city updated on where that goes and as soon as the facilities are ready the artifacts will be going on display,” he said. “We want to make sure it’s done right when it’s done.”
Dalton said the John ‘The Realm’ McNeill room was a fixture in our old Cahill Stadium.
“What impacted upon me was that collection was the blood, sweat and tears of the community,” he said. “It soon hit me that this was the progression of sport within our community.”
The committee went to the public for ideas on what to do with the collection.
“The vision that we created came from engaging the public,” Dalton said. “How can we best utilize this collection to honour on a continuing basis, the sport? And more importantly, how could we fit this into the decor of the rink and the guidelines and restrictions?”
Dalton said a lot of ideas were presented as to how to display McNeill’s artifacts.
“The problem was the management style of the day was silo management,” he said. “They didn’t want any input from us and there seemed to be a standoff attitude. We soon picked up on this and, for a while, we stopped meeting as a committee because there was only lukewarm reception.”
Stewart said the city has professionals in Lori Ellis and Fred Horne of the Wyatt Heritage Properties and they have the expertise to decide how these artifacts will be displayed.
Stewart said there was public consultation when the McNeil Room was first opened in the former Cahill Stadium.
“It will be all on display and done professionally,” the mayor said. “Until the space is available, it will all be going back up. Do we want 15,000 decisions on what goes where? Let the people who are trained do it.”
Dalton said there have been times when the historical society would put some of the McNeill artifacts on display for special events.
“The public were just so appreciative asking, why is this stuff still sitting in a box over at Wyatt Properties?”
Dalton said the committee realized that not all of the suggestions made would be doable but the goal of the committee was to get the public involved.
“Unfortunately, looking back, the climate was not good to proceed with any such think because we were saddled with silo management in some departments who didn’t believe that this new facility is a community facility,” he said.