Former Canadian Prime Minister John Turner led an extraordinary life, but it is less well-known that the man born in the U.K. also spent a few memorable years of his childhood growing up in the small West Kootenay community of Rossland, B.C.
The Trail Times received an email from former Times reporter Jim Swettenham, who fondly recalls a day spent with Turner back on July 1, 1971.
“The day with John Turner was very enjoyable,” said Swettenham. “Mr. Turner treated my wife, Gerry, and I like we were long lost friends. We felt very much at ease with him.”
Turner passed away in Toronto last week (Friday, Sept. 18) at the age of 91. His accomplishments are many and varied, but he is likely best known as the Liberal leader, whose brief 79-day tenure as Prime Minister in 1984 is the second shortest in Canadian history.
A lawyer by training, he served as justice and then finance minister from 1968-1975. It was during this time he returned to the West Kootenay.
Turner toured the LeRoi mine where his grandfather worked, visited the Rossland Historical Museum, and returned to his home, with the Trail Times reporter in tow.
“He took us into his childhood home and let us listen in on his phone call to his Mother,” said Swettenham. “He was so excited to be back in his childhood home and was doubly excited to tell his mother all about it.
“Hi, mom…I’m in the house!,” Turner shouted into the phone to his mother, Phyllis Gregory Turner, who by then resided in New Brunswick.
Turner’s mother had returned to her hometown of Rossland, after her husband Leonard Hugh Turner died suddenly at their residence in London, Eng. in 1932.
She was an economist by trade, having graduated UBC, and studied at the London School of Economics. Phyllis and her two children stayed in Rossland until she acquired a position with the Public Service of Canada in Ottawa. Her accomplishments were considerable and she eventually became the first female Chancellor of UBC.
John meanwhile also became an exceptional academic and athlete. He was a Rhodes Scholar, and after graduating at UBC in 1949, attended Oxford. He was also a national sprint champion and qualified for the 1948 Olympic Games. While at Oxford, he raced on the same track team as Roger Bannister, the first runner to break the four-minute mile barrier.
After a courting of Princess Margaret came to an end, Turner wed Geills McCrae Kilgour, a systems analyst for IBM and the grand-niece of Canadian army doctor John McCrae, who also penned the ever-popular poem ‘In Flanders Fields’.
Swettenham, who now resides in Winnipeg, says the meeting was memorable, and the impression made by the late John Turner, obviously, a lasting one.
“Mr. Turner is one of eight Canadian prime ministers that I have had the good fortune to have met over the years and I think I would be safe in lumping him with Lester B. Pearson and John Diefenbaker when it came to being down to earth and in touch with the common people in that they didn’t put on aires.”
You can’t get much more Canadian than that.