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March 13, 2009

Honourable Gilbert Parent Remembered in Mattawa



This Spring I was going to profile Gilbert “Gib” Parent, one of Mattawa’s favourite sons, as a part of their 125th anniversary but when he died on March 3 in his 73rd year in Toronto of pneumonia associated with colon cancer I decided to do it now. He is best known as a 5 time Liberal Member of Parliament in Ottawa with a  27 year career. He was Speaker of the House for 7 years and Ambassador for several years, among other achievements. 

Gilbert Parent presenting Parliamentary flag to North Bay/Mattawa Algonquin First Nation 

My thanks to Band Chief Clifford Bastien Jr. for the photos. 

Gilbert was born in Mattawa and lived there for 5 years before moving to Welland with his family including his father a wounded veteran of WWII.  Many from the Parent extended family remain in Mattawa and Gilbert kept in touch regularly.  I spoke to Gilbert’s brother Gerry a month ago and he talked about visiting Mattawa several times a year. 

Gilbert’s main connection with Mattawa was after he retired and came back to search his Algonquin roots.  He made a  visit to the Mattawa/North Bay Algonquin First Nation where he brought a Canadian flag that flew over Parliament Hill as a gift  for the centre.  The visit led to the reconnection with his native roots.  Narry McCarthy, the Mayor of Bonfield and her brother Dan Paquette who are related to Parent helped with the research.  Dan is currently the Chairman of the Economic Development Board of the Band and Narry was on the board of the centre for several years. 

Past Chief Gilbert Labreche (L) Gilbert Parent and Board member Narry McCarthy

Gilbert was a good student and athlete but the family was poor and his educational prospects were nil until a priest helped him get a football scholarship in Indiana.  After he was injured in a car accident he became a catcher on the baseball team and kept his scholarship. 

He became a physical education teacher in a Catholic High  school in Welland.  My brother Paul was a physical education teacher at a Public school in Welland and their teams competed against each other regularly. Gilbert was ambitious and acquired two Masters degrees and started on his doctorate. 

He left to become a vice-principal in the Public board but soon ran for the Separate board and eventually became its Chair. In 1974 he ran as a Liberal candidate and eventually  won 5 times, only losing once over the rest of his career.  He served as Parliamentary Assistant to various ministers and Chairman of the Caucus for a period.

Gilbert was highly innovative and established a Teachers’ Institute that brought educators to see Parliament.  He also oversaw other projects. 

After retiring from Parliament he became the Ambassador for the Environment and Sustainable Development and participated in many national and international conferences and led delegations to the United Nations.  He was known for his speaking ability at these and many other events.  He retired in 2005. 

Gilbert received several honourary doctorate degrees in recognition of his work.  Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff praised Parent on learning about his death calling him an “Esteemed politician, insightful orator, dedicated educator, gifted athlete – and much more.” 

Gilbert leaves his wife Sandra and his daughters Michele, Monique, Madeleine, Terri, Aileen and Allie. His only son was killed in a car accident. He also has 13 grand children. 

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