Take a stroll down Elgin Street in Ottawa, Canada, and you’ll find a public park honoring Canadian sports hero Jack Purcell. The park features new racket-shaped lightbulbs, a fitting tribute to the late badminton champion. This would all be fine, except that this Jack Purcell is not who the park was built to honor.
The “other” Jack Purcell was a local hero who made his claim to fame repairing sticks and skates for local youth hockey players. Matthew Pearson has been covering the mix-up for the Ottawa Citizen, and he joined Bill Littlefield.
BL: How was it even possible that the architects who designed the park and city officials missed the fact that they were honoring the wrong Jack Purcell?
It seemed like the landscape architect Googled “Jack Purcell,” found out about badminton, and then used that as inspiration.
MP: I think that’s a question that many folks in Ottawa are asking themselves. Essentially, it comes down to the fact that when you enter “Jack Purcell” into Google, the first thing you come up with is the community center and park, but further down you come up with hits for Jack Purcell, the badminton player.
One of those hits even suggests that the community center in Ottawa was, in fact, named for Jack Purcell, the badminton player. But if you were around Ottawa in the 50s and 60s you would remember that there was a very different Jack Purcell in the neighborhood, and I think that he’s been forgotten a bit because he lived and died before the internet.
BL: It strikes me that he will never be forgotten again after this incredible mix-up.
MP: No. In fact, the city councillor for that ward, Diane Holmes, has said that she would like to put a plaque in that park so that it’s clear who the park is named for.
BL: Tell me a bit about Jack Purcell, the hockey stick mender, and why folks in Ottawa felt that a $500,000 tribute to him was a good idea.
MP: I should say that the park and the adjacent community center are named for him. This park upgrade wasn’t intended necessarily to be in honor to him, although it seemed like the landscape architect Googled “Jack Purcell,” found out about badminton and then used that as inspiration. But the public art wasn’t necessarily intended to honor him.
Jack Purcell was a man who lived off Elgin Street. Kids could come to the house and he would fix their hockey sticks, and then he later went on to even sharpen skates. So he was known in the community as the “stick doctor.” In the 60s, when they were getting closer to having this community center, there was a real movement in the community that this park and center needed to be named for Jack Purcell.
BL: At what point did the park’s designers realize that an error had been made, and what happened when they came to that realization?MP: What I understand is that they submitted their plans for the park, and a local historian said, “Hey, wait a second, this park is named after a different Jack Purcell,” and went to the city archives and, sure enough, found that there was a local Jack Purcell who had nothing to do with badminton.
And so they told the designer. We haven’t seen the original drawings for the park, but they look like rackets. Some people think they look like question marks or keys, and the city councillor said that the initial plan was to string the rackets so that they would look more like rackets.
BL: Do you think that this description of what’s up there now as “trees” is actually truthful or is somebody scrambling?
MP: Well, it seems like a stretch to me. But I feel maybe because I was originally told that they were supposed to be rackets I can see the rackets in them. So it’s kind of a head-scratcher.
BL: You interviewed Carrie Purcell Grant, the great-granddaughter of the badminton champion. What did she have to say about the mix-up?
MP: It’s kind of funny. Carrie moved to Ottawa from Toronto about 10 years ago, and while she was studying she figured that it must be named for her great-grandfather. And so she called her mom and said, “Why didn’t you tell me this?” and her mom said, “I don’t think it’s named after your great-grandfather,” so they went to Google and found that, according to one website, it was.
So they actually visited the community center, and the staff said that the park was named for “the local guy” and they showed them a picture, and it definitely wasn’t Carrie Grant’s great-grandfather. But then the community center staff said, “He also was a famous badminton player.”
So it seems like even they were a bit confused and were sort of conflating the two men. And what I think is kind of a funny coincidence is that she didn’t play badminton; she played hockey. So the Jack Purcell hockey stick mender would have been a good friend of hers.