MM Robinson High School was named after him - why? He made a huge contribution to sports - a legacy that could be repeated

By Pepper Parr

January 12th, 2023



In her book, The Growing Years, Dorothy Turcotte wrote: Have you ever wondered what M.M. Robinson did to have a secondary school named in his honour?

Melville Marks Robinson was a native of Peterborough. Almost everyone knew him as M.M. or Bobby. He left school at 13 and took a job at the Toronto News as an office boy in the circulation department. Later he became assistant sports editor at $8.50 a week.

In 1910 he was hired as sports editor at the Hamilton Spectator at $15 a week, and later became city editor of the paper.

This was the dress code for Commonwealth Games. Note the seal in the lower right corner – making the photograph official

One day in 1927, he was chatting with a colleague who had been director of athletics at the University of Western Ontario. They were deploring the fact that Canadian runners lacked the competition they needed to develop into top athletes in their fields.

The colleague mentioned the Empire Festival, which had been held in England in 1911.

As a builder, Bobby was known in athletics circles for getting things done. He was a Sports Editor at the Hamilton Spectator from 1908 to 1931.

Bobby came up with the idea of having a track and field competition that involved athletes from nations within the British Empire. This led to Bobby founding the British Empire Games (now known as the Commonwealth Games) that was first held in Hamilton in 1930. He managed the 1934 team.

Bobby Robinson took up the idea immediately. He began lobbying for the establishment of the British Empire Games, which he wanted to be held in Hamilton.

In 1928, he went to Amsterdam as manager of the Canadian Olympic track and field team, and took the opportunity of selling the idea of the Empire Games abroad.

In order to develop the necessary facilities for such games, Hamilton had to have a stadium and indoor swimming pool.
T.B. McQueston, then chairman of the Hamilton Parks Board who was subsequently instrumental in the founding of th Royal Botannical Gardens in 1932, convinced the city council that it would be worthwhile to spend the money needed.

As a result, Civic Stadium and the Municipal Pool were built at a cost of $160,000.

Bobby Robinson went abroad to approach other countries in the Empire. They were all enthusiastic, except for one. When Robinson met with Lord Derby in England, Derby insisted that the games weren’t practical due to the Depression and lack of funds.

Robinson is reported to have said to Derby: ”If Britain won’t play with us, we will turn south — to the United States.”

That convinced Lord Derby that Britain should compete. The British Empire Games (BEG) were held in Hamilton in 1930, and are still being held. In 1958 they were renamed the Commonwealth Games.

Percy Williams – did Track at the 1930 games

The program for the first British Empire Games that took place in Hamilton in 1930. Will the Games return in 2030?

The Amsterdam Olympics provided Robinson with a venue for the contacts he would need to sell the idea of holding British Empire Games in the “spirit of friendly competition”. The first British Empire Games were therefore held in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada in 1930.

As founder of the Games Robinson continued to manage the Canadian Olympic and B.E.G. track teams until 1938.
Lt. M. M. Robinson, served as a Lieutenant 86th Machine Gun Battalion

Sports and education were the two fields in which he made a mark.

Robinson was a sports person and an educator. He left school at the age of 13 and came to realize that having an education mattered. In 1920, Robinson was elected to the Hamilton Board of Education where he helped promote the city as a leading centre for track & field in Canada. He also played an active role in the creation of the Canadian Legion, a non-profit Canadian veterans’ organization

Robinson knew the value of learning and was a champion of education. He served for many years on a various school boards.

In 1959 he became the first chairman of the newly-amalgamated City of Burlington’s Board of Education.

Bobby played an active role in the creation of the Hamilton Olympic Club, becoming the first Club President in 1926. He was the manager of the 1928 and 1936 Olympic teams.

He was later appointed to the board of Burlington High School, serving from 1940 to 1963, including as its president from 1950 to 1963. Upon his retirement, a new school, M. M. Robinson High School, was named in his honour.

He died in Burlington on June 6, 1974 at the age of 86 and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery in Burlington

Robinson clearly knew how to lobby and convince people what a good idea looked like and then get them to act on the idea.
Last week the eight Chambers of Commerce that make up the Hamilton 2030 Commonwealth Games Bid wrote the Premier to express their support for hosting the 2030 Commonwealth Games in the Golden Horseshoe Region. The group that signed the letter included eight municipalities and two First Nations.

They were advocating for a one-time, multi-year, pan-community building opportunity that boosts Ontario’s economy, drives private sector investments, delivers economic Impacts and legacies, and helps achieve several Ontario government mandates (accessibility, affordable housing, environment, indigenous affairs, community infrastructure, sport, culture, tourism, and trade.)

A proposed investment of $440M from the Ontario Government that catalyzes federal and private sector funding, will result in a $1.2B+ boost to regional GDP including 16K+ new jobs, and $400M+ in Games contracts for local businesses. In the lead up to and for years following the Games, national and international sport events, festivals, tradeshows, and conventions hosted in Ontario will more than double, benefiting the tourism and hospitality sectors. Owing largely to private sector leadership, a trade program will result in new deals with key Commonwealth countries worth hundreds of millions of dollars, forge new international partnerships, and fuel growth across the Golden Horseshoe Region.

Hosting these Games
• brings reality to the Made in Ontario narrative, with Ontario producing raw materials and manufactured products showcased in all development projects – showing the world what Made in Ontario means and that Ontario is Open for Business.

Melville Marks Robinson – everyone called him Bobby

• provides a platform for showcasing environmental and sustainability best practices, improving people’s and business sustainability habits and behaviors for the long term and is a powerful enabler in achieving Ontario’s commitment to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals

• has support from a broad range of business, community and sport organizations, and 8 municipalities and acts as a connector between all levels of government and the private and public sectors, resulting in an increase the confidence and pride of all Ontarians for generations to come.

It sounded like Melville Marks Robinson lobbying for a sports event he brought to the area close to 100 years ago.

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3 comments to MM Robinson High School was named after him – why? He made a huge contribution to sports – a legacy that could be repeated

  • Stephen White

    Great article Pepper about an important figure in Burlington’s history!

  • Grahame

    Bobby was quite A legend in Burlington.His daughter Edna was my French teacher when Nelson High opened .She went on to be Principal there well after my time.

  • Oscar

    To continue this, what is Burlington doing to prepare for the World Cup in 2026? Matches will be hosted in Toronto and surely some exhibtion matches in Hamilton just before, surely we can upgrade some of our facilities to host national camps and foriegn media as their teams and federations considering basing out of Burlington for Training in the run up to the festival of football!