Claude Charbonneau makes every effort to ensure residents in his neighbourhood have a safe park and playground to enjoy, a place where kids can have fun and make lifelong memories.
Born and raised in the historic Flour Mill near downtown Sudbury, Charbonneau returned to live in his childhood neighbourhood in 1985. He and his wife, Louise, have two children. Grandparents of three, they anxiously await the arrival of a fourth grandchild this summer.
“Both our kids grew up helping others, and now as adults they continue to give back to community,” Charbonneau said.
Claude Jr. is a local pharmacist and president of the Sudbury Charities Foundation, dedicated to raising funds for local underprivileged children.
In 2011, as one of the first graduates from the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy, he earned the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association Student of Distinction Award for outstanding leadership in service to the profession.
Daughter Valerie is a manager with the Student Engagement Team at Laurentian University.
While playing varsity hockey at Carleton University, she facilitated a running and reading program for youth in underprivileged neighbourhoods. This continued when she returned to Sudbury, where she founded an anti-bullying campaign for youth called Cool Kids Lead.
Before retirement in 2014, Charbonneau worked for 37 years as a train conductor for the Canadian Pacific Railway. His wife retired that same year, having served 37 years as a secretary with the French Catholic school board. “We decided there was more to life than work,” he said. “For Louise and me, retirement is freedom to enjoy life even more and continue dedicating time to community.”
The Charbonneaus reside four blocks from the home where he grew up.
“It’s so special to bring up your kids in the neighbourhood you grew up in,” he said. “They learn about family history and create another generation of good memories.”
Every week, they host family to a sit-down dinner. Louise prepares a delicious meal, and then everyone enjoys games and some relaxing downtime together.
According to the Charbonneaus, family closeness builds character, confidence and compassion for others. “This tradition is very important to us. It keeps our family together and strong.”
Charbonneau’s parents instilled strong values in their 12 children. Despite having little themselves, they always helped others.
“They welcomed the less fortunate into our home for a hot meal and sent them off with a packed lunch for the next day,” he said. “Today, people are afraid to do that but, rather than walk past a homeless person, connect with them. Even just a smile will make their day a little better.”
With his father on disability pension, Charbonneau’s mother became the main breadwinner. “Every pay day my mom would buy tobacco and cigarette papers for clients of the Salvation Army where she worked as a cook,” he said. “She always took time for others. I learned from my parents’ example that it’s important to be kind to others, no matter what your own personal situation.”
Charbonneau’s mother passed away when he was just 12. As a young boy, he found solace being with friends at the playground. Growing up near Percy Park, many neighbours were involved making sure children had a safe place to play.
“We need that kind of volunteer commitment today more than ever,” he said. “I remember all the fun we had as kids. Those activities really helped put me in a better place.”
Percy Playground holds a special place in Charbonneau’s heart. Three generations of his family have enjoyed the park.
Soon after moving back to the Flour Mill, he became involved helping coach his son’s and daughter’s hockey teams.
He also helped improve the park field house and, with other volunteers recruited from the neighbourhood, these improvements have expanded into regular upgrades. Today, Percy is one of the earliest ice rinks to open in the city and, because the rink is now paved, it is used year-round for many different sports.
“What has resonated with me over the years is that when you take care of your neighbourhood playground and add activities, residents come together. At Percy, we adults use the field house and gazebo as a meeting place for our Flour Mill Community Action Network (FM-CAN) meetings and we bring neighbourhood issues to the city’s attention.
“Getting together like this also gives residents an opportunity to get to know one another better and commit to keeping a watchful eye over our neighbourhood.
We have each others’ backs because of that camaraderie and common purpose.”
With his wife’s constant support, Charbonneau has been dedicated to Percy Park for more than three decades.
“I don’t know what I’d do without Louise’s talents for organization and communication,” he said. “She’s the one who puts together the presentation packages and grant applications. She’s the one who helps keep residents informed about our CAN meetings, as well as our councillor’s lobbying efforts.
“Many of us grew up around here, so the playground is close to everyone’s heart. Ours is a rich neighbourhood because we have a safe, healthy place for our children to play and make wonderful memories.”
Claude Charbonneau’s Words of Wisdom:
- It’s so important to be involved with your children outside the home. Whether it’s sports or culture or some other activity, volunteer with their teams and help organize events. It also sets a good example for the kids. They learn from what they see and grow up valuing the meaning of giving back.
- In our communities, there’s always a need for playground volunteers. What better way to ensure your kids play safe than to roll up your sleeves and chip in.
Marlene Holkko Moore is a local communications professional and occasional contributor to Sudbury.com.