BY LINDSAY BRISCOE
Garry Robinson says he’s sure his brother Ron Robinson would be honoured to know that the town he loved so dearly is paying tribute to him by way of a special plaque in his name in Red Lake’s Norseman Park, but like many dedicated community members and volunteers, Ron didn’t do it for an applause.
“He did it out of pride. He was always really proud of Red Lake, and of the fact that our dad was one of the early freighters here and had come and helped open up the North,” says Garry, adding that when they first moved to Red Lake he and his brother and their friends would spend lazy days laying on their backs watching floatplanes—mainly Norseman aircraft in those days—cross the sky.
As an adult, Ron would sleep with his window open facing Norseman Park to make sure he would hear if any young hooligans came along to stir up trouble there.
“Ron was very protective of that park. He didn’t want anyone to do anything that would wreck what had been done.”
As chair of the Municipality of Red Lake’s Waterfront Committee from its inception on, Ron advocated for and saw through major changes that revitalized Red Lake’s entire downtown.
In the late 1980s, the first order of business was a shoreline and underwater cleanup. Over the years everything from vehicle engines, to outboard motors, to old cyanide barrels had been left to sink to the bottom of Howey Bay, says Garry.
“After they finished doing that, they decided to concentrate on three points of interest on the bay. That was, of course, the town square, the government docks, and the Norseman Park development. At that time, we received the donation of the Norseman aircraft and it was decided that it should go up on a pedestal,” he says, adding that other projects such as various sitting areas with trees and shrubs, and the parking area next to the CIBC were also completed.
Once the Norseman aircraft was mounted in Norseman Park, the planning of a festival to honour the “Workhorse of the North” was a natural progression.
The inaugural Norseman Festival was not a big hit, but it quickly caught on, attracting pilots and other aviation enthusiasts year after year. For anyone with a connection to the Red Lake area, it was the perfect time for a reunion, too.
“It’s a big piece of our heritage. The Norseman aircraft and bush flying is what made this place grow. Ron recognized that and wanted to share that with the world,” says his long-time friend Don Nord. “Ron had a strong spirit to make it happen.”
Red Lake Mayor Phil Vinet adds that the Norseman Festival and Norseman Park are international in prominence—the envy of many other communities in the region.
“Red Lake was fortunate to have a guy like Ron to take up those causes; to take up the festival and the idea of a waterfront park. It’s a world-class park that was largely inspired by the vision and the set of values that Ron had for Red Lake. What you see today is largely the result of Ron’s efforts for which we shall be forever grateful.”
On Friday, July 10, there will be a public ceremony to unveil a commemorative plaque in Ron Robinson’s name; 6 p.m. at Norseman Park. Ron passed away in November, 2014.