Re­mem­ber­ing Johnathon Skeete.

Ex­am­in­ing the story be­hind event hon­our­ing Jonathan Skeete

Cape Breton Post - - Cape Breton - Paul MacDougall Paul MacDougall is an ed­u­ca­tor and writer. He lives in Syd­ney. His col­umn ap­pears monthly in the Cape Bre­ton Post. Paul can be reached at paul_­mac­ and says “it was great to talk about my friend Hil­ton Smith, gen­tle­men and ath

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.

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