Remembering Johnathon Skeete.
Examining the story behind event honouring Jonathan Skeete
The Jonathan Skeete fun run/ walk is a five km road race held ever year in Whitney Pier.
It starts and ends at the longstanding Menelik Hall. Afterwards there’s lot of snacks, awards and chatting amongst the runners of all ages; from little kids to folks in their 80s like Peter Hanna and Hilton Smith, a consummate runner who passed away in 2016.
It’s named after Jonathan Skeete who grew up just a few homes away from the Menelik Hall. He was the son of Olga and Lem Skeete whose families came from the Barbados to work at Sydney Steel. Jonathan was the first black person from Cape Breton to become an RCMP officer and be given a post. Unfortunately he died of cancer in 1987 at age 35.
That same year his fiancé Debbie Morrison, and friends, Blair Best and Bradley Burke decided to honour his memory with a run because fitness was paramount to him.
“He wanted people active at any age and his friends respected what he wanted to do,” said Charles Sheppard who won the inaugural race.
Debbie’s brother Michael Morrison said Skeete was the kind of person who’d do anything for you and people would do anything for him.
“He was an athletic guy, and he was pretty smart too. There were no barriers for Jonathan,” Morrison said.
Skeete graduated from Dalhousie with a B. Comm. before entering the Mounties.
Skeete and other students from Sydney were part of the transition year program at Dalhousie for black and Indigenous students. Keith Marshall recalls their intramural team won at least one sports championship every year in ice hockey, floor hockey, flag football, soccer and basketball and may be “the only team that went undefeated in basketball during our four years together.” Marshall remembers Skeete for his “leadership, passion and friendship.” Dalhousie has a scholarship in his honour.
There’s a lovely pencil drawing in the Menelik Hall of Jonathan Skeete in his Mountie hat. He cuts a handsome figure. Debbie Morrison said Lem Skeete formed the United Mission Pony softball league for young girls and boys in the Pier and Jonathan was the coach. The Pony league was for kids who didn’t make Little League.
Long time friend Rocky Coward says for a 17-year-old coach, Jonathan was all about the team.
“He never missed a game or practice and was totally dedicated to the younger kids. He was full of wisdom, yet very humble, never panicked about anything and was an outstanding human being.”
When he was posted to Bengough, Saskatchewan, he became part of the community by starting a baseball league there.
“It was an isolated community and for almost everyone there Jonathan was the first Black person they ever saw. And he was the RCMP officer too,” Debbie said.
Jonathan was involved in many sports as a young boy growing up in Whitney Pier according to Sheppard. He liked football and rugby and baseball and running. He always enjoyed coaching the younger kids in the neighbourhood. He was all about his community. A community that’s been shrinking in numbers but growing in purpose.
Michael Morrison is running an educational day camp for grade six kids at the Menelik Hall. It’s used for numerous other activities and is a community hub not only for residents of the Pier but for people all over town. It serves as headquarters for the five year Sydney-Toronto reunion of black families that moved away for work years ago.
On Monday, like last year, there could be over a hundred people meeting at the Menelik Hall for the 30th running of the Jonathan Skeete Fun Run. On the sign above the steps is the Hall’s motto, “the spirit of a community is in its people.”
There will be lots of kids, some running the first time, more seasoned runners, members of the Cape Breton Road Runners, and lots of community. Everyone is welcome, wear your sneakers.
The run goes right past Jonathan Skeete’s family home. No doubt his mom and dad will be on the steps watching. She still plays the piano and he just turned 95 and is the oldest surviving African Nova Scotian Second World War veteran.
This is the Dalhousie TYP intramural team circa 1975. From left to right, front row, Jonathan Skeete, Michael Lucas and Enus Crawford; middle row, left to right, Herbie Desmond, Elkinney Simmonds, Kyle Patterson, Keith Marshall, Gilbert Daye and Garfield Yakimchuck and back row, left to right, Pat Viner, Steve Lee, Ray Simmonds, Rocky Coward, Ivan Wyse and Kevin Jackson.
This drawing of Jonathan Skeete was done by the Sydney Academy Art Class project.
ABOVE: Jonathan Skeete is shown here inspecting cadets at an event.
RIGHT: Jonathan Skeete’s parents Olga and Lem Skeete are shown in this 2016 photo.