Norm Miller, MPP for Parry Sound-Muskoka, joined his Legislative colleagues in paying tribute to the late Ken Black, former MPP for Muskoka-Georgian Bay from 1987 until 1990.
“It was an honour and a privilege to pay tribute to Ken Black, a great champion for Muskoka,” said Miller.
This is the full transcript of his comments at Queen’s Park (or you’ll find video of his comments at the bottom of this post):
Thank you, Speaker. Let me begin by welcoming all of Ken’s family and friends who have made the trip to Queen’s Park today. You mentioned some—Ken’s wife, Beth, and kids—they’re not kids anymore—Greg, Debbie and Kendra, and I believe David’s still in the Yukon, and grandkids and friends, nieces and nephews who have all made the trip here. It’s great to see such a huge group down to pay tribute to Ken today.
My family has had a long association with the Black family. Ken’s brother, Lyle was our family doctor when I was growing up. Lyle was also president of the Muskoka Progressive Conservative Riding Association. He did my aviation medicals when I learned to fly. I was about 20 years old when he very generously let me fly his beautiful Cessna 182 whenever I wished for many years. I’ve always wondered why he entrusted that to me.
I have to admit that, with his older brother so involved with the PCs, I always assumed that Ken must be a Conservative and was a little shocked when I heard he was running for the Liberals. It was around the time that Lyle passed away, so I always assumed he waited until his older brother passed to show his true Liberal colours.
The Blacks lived just down the road from us on the Muskoka River. Ken’s wife, Beth, played the piano for singsongs we had at our lodge when we hosted senior bus tours. I still find myself whistling some of the songs without realizing I’m doing it. Son Greg and I played hockey together on Monday nights in Port Carling and in the Lovable Losers Hockey Tournament for many, many years.
Ken was principal of the Bracebridge and Muskoka Lakes Secondary School that I attended. Ken certainly commanded respect at the high school. He kept his finger on the pulse of the school by walking the hallways on a regular basis. Actually I would say he strutted the hallways, often wearing a bowtie to go with his dapper suit. As a student, you knew not to question his authority. He took pride in his work, and he ran a tight ship.
One of the highlights of my time at high school was a two-week trip to England in 1974. Ken had spent a year in Nottingham furthering his education and, over that time, had made many contacts, so it was arranged that the high school band, in which I played the trumpet not very well, planned a trip to England. Conducted by Mr. John Rutherford, we headed to Nottingham to play a series of concerts. We were billeted by families for the week, and my family was the Cresswell family.
Ken made the trip with the band and let us know the rules. Remember, as a student you did not break Ken’s rules. One of the rules was, you were not allowed to drink alcohol. I barely stepped foot in the Cresswells on the Friday we arrived and they informed me they were going to the pub as was their Friday night tradition. I informed them that I was not allowed to drink, and they said I could stay home alone if I wished. I guess it’s safe to admit now that, within an hour of arriving in Nottingham, I was in a local pub enjoying a pint of very good English beer and hoping that Principal Black would not decide to visit the same pub or somehow find out that I had.
Thank you to Ron Jacques and Bill and Jan Dickinson for sending me information about Ken at school, about his involvement with environmental causes. The Dickinsons sent this story:
“During our second year in Bracebridge, we had some monstrous snowfalls and, as you know, we were living in the gatehouse at P-K Lodge owned by the Miller family. Ken was always insistent that if you chose to live out of town, you had to get to school ‘no matter what.’ On one of those wild snowy mornings, Ken picked up Ron Jacques on his snow machine and in they went.
“We were still snowbound and thought we were excused. Didn’t happen. Ken found out that the Knowles had a plumbing truck in the area and he arranged for that truck to pick up the Whitelaws, Dickinsons and Agnes Tough—who was the secretary—in the back of the truck and ship them to school. Ken ran a tight ship and he worked hard. Consistent with his personality he expected those around him to do so as well.”
Thanks to Greg Black for digging up this letter from my father to Ken after the graduation of June 26, 1975.
He wrote, “Dear Ken,
“I’m not one, as you know, to write letters patting people on the back. I did want though, to compliment you on your address to the students and parents during the graduation ceremonies.
“You expressed very well the very feelings I have had over the past two years. We have been living beyond our means; we have been using our resources at an unseemly and unjustifiable rate. Whether we like it or not, life will change in the near future.
“This may not be a bad thing. For all the wealth and affluence around us, there are far more unhappy people today than there were 30 years ago.
“The world has begun to look upon their rights rather than their responsibilities, with the result that everyone want something more for doing less.
“I’m sure your speech was accepted very well by both the parents and the students.
“Frank S. Miller
“Member for Muskoka”
Ken Black was elected to the Ontario Legislature in the riding of Muskoka–Georgian Bay in 1987. Thanks again to his son Greg, I have a poem handwritten by my father to Ken. Now, I can’t ever remember my father writing a poem, so I don’t know where this came from, but he did give me a copy of it, so I’m trusting this. This is the poem:
I give you this tie that is plaid,
To remind you of times I once had,
When Conservatives reigned
And the Liberals complained
About all of the things that were bad
I was able to reach for top spot
And to get there I struggled a lot
So you’ll have to agree
That the tartan for me
Once helped me to hit the jackpot!
However the voters were fickle
And my charisma was not worth a nickel
Don’t let Bay Street schmoes
Make you change your clothes
Stick with plaid, and you won’t be in a pickle.
Ken went on to serve as the Minister of Tourism and Recreation, and he was appointed special advisor to the Premier to coordinate the government’s assault on drug use in Ontario. He conducted a one-man task force and coordinated the anti-drug strategies of seven ministries.
However, politics was just one chapter in Ken’s remarkable career. After his term in office, Ken later served as president of the Muskoka Heritage Foundation and founded the Muskoka Watershed Council in 2001.
Bill Dickinson wrote the following for Ken’s nomination for an environmental award, the Wayland Drew Award:
“Perhaps Ken’s greatest contribution to the Muskoka environmental scene was the conception and development of the Muskoka Watershed Council. He saw the need to somehow partner the district of Muskoka with a local NGO environmental organization the Muskoka Conservancy (the Muskoka Heritage Foundation at the time) to attain a new level of environmental awareness. Ken used his role as president of the Muskoka Heritage Foundation to facilitate this. With great perseverance and determination he was successful in achieving this goal.”
Prior to the council there was no conservation authority in Muskoka and no single agency responsible for water quality throughout the watershed. Ken has left a legacy of watershed report cards, research partnerships and position papers that will measure Muskoka’s watershed health and guide governments.
Later in life, Ken continued to advocate for environmental protectionism and focused on volunteering and writing columns for the newspaper, including “In My View” for the Weekender and muskokaregion.com. His last column was titled “Time for an International Agreement on Sharing Great Lakes Water.” His blog dated August 22, 2016, asked us to take better care of our fresh water resources. He wrote, “I suggest individual citizens, the business and corporate sectors, and the governments we elect, all need to get serious about a resource that is under threat from a changing climate, and is also one we all too often take for granted.”
Ken cared deeply for Muskoka, for its people and its natural heritage. Sadly, we have lost a strong advocate and a strong voice for our area. He was passionate about his community, a proponent of equal opportunity and a true champion of Muskoka, and that is how he will always remain. Thank you.
Ken Black died August 29, 2016. Read more about him here.
Don’t miss out on Doppler! Sign up for our free, twice-weekly newsletter here.