Sarnia’s retiring parks and rec boss a ‘homegrown success story’

Sarnia Parks and Recreation director Rob Harwood. Troy Shantz

Troy Shantz

A local kid who got started by driving the Zamboni is retiring as the head of Sarnia’s Parks and Recreation Department.

“At the age of 15 I worked at the arena, on weekends, at 5:30 a.m. every morning,” recalled Rob Hardwood.

“And believe it or not I drove the Zamboni. I didn’t even have a licence yet.”

Harwood will step down July 16 after a 41-year career with the city, completing a rise from rink rat to parks boss four years ago.

One of the highlights was serving as Sarnia’s point man on last summer’s wildly successful Tall Ships Festival, he said.

Despite early political jitters about taxpayers being on the hook for a $500,000 budget, tens of thousands of people flocked to the waterfront to see and tour six tall ships during the three-day event.

The festival involved nearly 500 volunteers and a long list of industry, business, labour, and government supporters.

And it generated $80,000 in revenue, money that’s been banked for future events and waterfront improvements.

Of course, there were lowlights as well.

Harwood can’t forget the night the refrigeration system failed at the Sarnia Arena during the Sarnia Sting’s very first home game.

The ice was soft and waterlogged and “awful,” Harwood recalled.

“I heard from multiple people that we finally got the indoor pool that we’ve been wishing for,” he deadpanned.

Harwood was an active youth who played hockey and attended the former St. Clair Secondary School, then earned an arborist certificate at Humber College in Toronto.

Working for the parks and recreation department while promoting physical activity was a perfect fit, he said.

He was a member of the Sarnia’s primary control group for 30 years and oversaw emergency evacuation centres, including the one used during the Kenwick Building fire in 2015.

The following year he was promoted from manager of arenas to parks and rec director.

“There are so many things in the background that are challenges and failures and problems and concerns that the end user never knows about,” he said.

Sarnia CEO Chris Carter called Harwood a “homegrown success story.”

“Rob has always worked extraordinarily well with City staff, local sports groups, environmental interest groups, and the community as a whole, with a true sense for the best interests of the city,” Carter said.

“He will be missed.”