By Jonathon Gatehouse - Saturday, February 16, 2013 - 0 Comments
Jonathon Gatehouse on the woman behind the John Furlong allegations
At first, Laura Robinson didn’t believe it. The tip from a native artist she met by chance in Vancouver’s Robson Square in the fall of 2009, suggesting John Furlong, the high-profile head of the Vancouver Winter Olympics, had a secret past as a teacher at Indian residential schools in British Columbia, just seemed too much of a stretch. After all, the soft-spoken Irishman had been the public face of the 2010 Games for years, travelling the country and the world to promote the dream. And he’d spent countless hours meeting with the province’s native leaders, brokering agreements on everything from venue construction to cultural exhibitions to Aboriginal-themed souvenirs. How could it not be common knowledge? So the Ontario-based freelance journalist poked around on the Internet for a couple of hours and, finding nothing, let the matter drop.
It wasn’t until a year after the conclusion of Furlong’s big show—a dazzling home Games where Canada captured 26 medals, including 14 golds, and the entire country celebrated—when she even really thought of it again. The Anishinabek News, a paper serving 39 Ontario First Nations, had asked Robinson to review Furlong’s new memoir, Patriot Hearts. She started reading the book while covering cross-country skiing’s 2011 world championships in Norway, and something in the tale the former VANOC chief executive told of his 1974 arrival in Canada—that he had been recruited in Dublin to head up the physical-education department at an unnamed high school in Prince George, B.C.—didn’t sit right. To her mind, it seemed a long way to go to hire a then 24-year-old with an impressive history as an athlete, but little experience as an educator. So, at the end of a race day, she returned to the web. It didn’t take long to find the secondary school (then the only Catholic one in the city) and determine that almost all the staff in that era were from Ireland, members of an organization called the Frontier Apostles, the Church’s answer to the Peace Corps. Their Facebook group led Robinson to scanned yearbook pages with photos of the young Furlong, and the surprising information that he’d served as a coach and instructor at oblate mission schools in B.C. years earlier than he’d said. And now, suddenly Laura Robinson was convinced she had a very important story indeed. “I looked up and realized that it was 10 p.m., and I was all alone in the press room, except for the cleaners.”