By Chantal Gallant, Actor-Interpreter
Walking along the seawall in Stanley Park, you may come across a large statue of a runner, in mid sprint, bearing that name. This is Harry Jerome, Olympic medalist and iconic Canadian athlete. With ties to North Vancouver (he spent much of his childhood here) his legacy lives on through the naming of the local Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre.
But there is another Jerome, Valerie, who deserves recognition for the impact she has had as an athlete, coach, educator, and leader.
Sprinting into the athletic world at only fifteen years old, Valerie Jerome competed in the 1959 Canadian National Championships.
In 1959, she went to the Pan-American games (where she competed in long jump, high jump and placed third in the 4×100 relay), and then reached the ultimate Olympian status, competing in Rome for the 1960 summer Olympics.
Experiencing Racism on the North Shore
Valerie’s athletic success was celebrated in North Vancouver–a block party was even held in her honour–but her family’s presence in North Vancouver was not always welcomed.
Discovering that a Black family would be moving into the neighbourhood, their new neighbours organized a petition, aiming to prevent the Jeromes from living there. The petition was not successful and the Jeromes stayed, but the exclusion and racism continued for the Jerome children at school. On their first day, Valerie and her siblings were met with rocks being thrown at them by the other kids.
Even when a fire forced the Jeromes out of their house, no one opened up their homes to them. Valerie Jerome recalls seeing the blinds on the nearby houses flutter open and close. Other than a phone call to get the fire department on the scene, no one lent a helping hand. Instead of being welcomed in by their neighbours, the Jeromes with their young children, found safety in a local shelter.
Beyond Athletics, Continuing the Story
Eventually, Valerie Jerome took off her track shoes and stepped into the classroom. She coached, and continued to share her and her brother Harry’s story.
Today, Valerie can be found giving lectures and talks to schools and community groups. She tells about their experience in athletics, about being the only Black athlete on the track, and a minority on the North Shore. She shares their trials and their triumphs, and keeps the Jerome story alive.
So next time you pass the Harry Jerome Community Recreation Centre, or walk by his statue in Stanley Park, take a moment to reflect on Harry, but also on Valerie. Reflect on what she went through, what she achieved, and what we can learn from her story.
Recently, Actor-interpreter Taylor Williams shared Valerie Jerome’s story as part of MONOVA’s recently launched VR Voyage tour “MONOVA: Stories of Belonging on the North Shore.” Take a look.
“MONOVA: Stories of Belonging on the North Shore” can be accessed on either The VR Voyage or by QR code when visiting the Museum of North Vancouver. The virtual tour costs $14.
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We respectfully acknowledge that MONOVA: Museum and Archives of North Vancouver is located on the traditional lands of the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) First Nations, whose ancestors have lived here for countless generations. We are grateful for the opportunity to live, work and learn with them on unceded Coast Salish Territory.