By Barry Penhale
The Lester B. Pearson Peace Park on Highway 7 between Madoc and Tweed is the result of one remarkable man’s vision of a world free from war. Roy Cadwell was that man, a Bay Street lawyer, soldier during the Second World War, and administrator of military hospitals in Canada and England.
Jim Burns, the park’s chairman since 2002, believes Cadwell’s main motivation in establishing the Peace Park evolved from the considerable sympathy he felt for the soldiers killed or maimed during the Second World War and admitted to hospitals under his administration.
The park came into being during Canada’s Centennial Year in 1967 on a 20-acre site Cadwell owned and initially housed the Madoc-Tweed Art and Writing Centre. The first director of what was also the first residential art centre in Eastern Ontario was the Polish-born artist Mary Schneider. Over many years she and her professor of architecture husband, Roman, became highly recognizable area personalities.
A scrapbook-style publication capturing highlights of the Peace Park’s quarter century of existence in 1992 was compiled by Cadwell. On its pages readers become acquainted with him and learn of the transition of his property from Art Centre to a Peace Park bearing the name of his former boss. Cadwell had become a legal advisor within the federal Department of External Affairs, at a time when Canada’s “quiet diplomacy” approach was gaining momentum internationally. His boss, of course, was Lester Bowles Pearson, the Newtonbrook, Ont. native who became Canada’s 14th prime minister and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957. A man of modesty and known to many as simply “Mike,” Pearson's numerous accomplishments include giving Canada a new flag.
In his 25 Years of Peace, Cadwell introduces those Canadians whose contributions to world peace resulted in their being awarded the Man, or Woman, of the Year Peace Award, presented annually by the Lester B. Pearson Peace Park. These significant awards, originating in the centennial year, were phased out following the passing, in December 2000, of Roy’s wife, Priscilla, the Peace Park’s co-founder.
One cannot but be impressed by those voices of peace from all walks of life being so honoured, from politicians, religious leaders, and educators, to journalist, author, and editor, Peter C. Newman and the late publisher Mel Hurtig, whose passion for a fair-minded Canada knew no bounds. When this Edmonton-based book publisher received his award in 1988, he saw to it that Hastings County libraries received copies of John Columbo's Quotations of Famous Canadians. Other recipients include the colourful premier of Newfoundland, “Joey” Smallwood, humanitarian Cardinal Paul Emile Leger, the greatly admired Rabbi Gunther Plaut of Holy Blossom Synagogue in Toronto, who was honoured in 1990 for a lifetime body of work related to the humanities, and the first woman to receive the award, Mme. Paule Gauthier, then president of the Canadian Bar Association and director general of Laval University.
Further recognition of a different nature were the scholarships and poetry prizes also introduced by Cadwell and presented by the Peace Park. Local winners would include Alan Smith of Havelock, who received a scholarship in 1992 in a ceremony at the Marmora Legion Branch. The following year Shelley Cooke of Stirling (as a descendent of a Legion member in District “F”) received a similar scholarship — her father, James Cooke, being a member of Stirling Legion, Branch 228.
Between managing the maintenance of a sizeable acreage dependent on donations and a workload that included scholarship and poetry awards Cadwell’s unflagging efforts are much more than merely impressive. Perhaps the right word could be “staggering” when one is reminded that this unique man of peace, known widely as the “gentle pacifist,” soldiered on well into his nineties, clinging to his vision right up to his passing at age 96 in 2003. Fortunately, a fortuitous meeting with Burns in July, 1989 provided Cadwell with the helper he needed.
As Peace Park chairman since 2002, Burns has worked wonders. It all happened when the Tweed-based educator approached Cadwell and purchased some scenic Black River property from the older man. At the time Burns was asked if he would help out around the park, which had become far too much work for its founder. In truth, the park had become quite rundown. Burns immediately plunged into what resulted in continuous work of repairing and replacing structures. The transformation over the past decade has been wondrous, with improved signs, new flower beds, and an inviting self-guided nature trail around the outer perimeter of the park property. Much needed repairs to the Mothers' Shrine have been completed and all park structures stuccoed and painted.
By his own admission the former elementary school principal with the Hastings & Prince Edward Board of Education has always had an interest in science. He remembers well how his class at Centenary Public School created a nature trail in a field behind the school — it became the inspiration for today’s Peace Park Trail.
With the needs of Highway 7 travelers in mind, this dedicated park custodian is grooming the Lester B. Pearson Peace Park to become a welcoming site for those who wish to stop, relax and nourish their own inner peace. He is bolstered by repeated compliments from visitors who take delight in a site so quiet and peaceful. As more and more people become involved in what has been termed “Forest Bathing,” Burns sees the Peace Park as an ideal spot to do just that. With this in mind he looks forward to 2017 and the opportunity to welcome “Forest Bathers.”
When considering ways to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday next year, may I suggest that the Lester B. Pearson Peace Park be on your bucket list. And should you get there, and while basking in the serenity, take a moment to remember our armed forces and tip your hat to a former prime minister and statesman — and to the Peace Park founder Roy Cadwell.
With thanks to Jim Burns, Lester B. Pearson Peace Park & Evan Morton, Tweed & Area Heritage Centre.