Toronto (Ont.)



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Toronto (Ont.)

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Toronto (Ont.)

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Toronto (Ont.)

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Turnbull, Barbara

  • Person
  • 1965-2015

Barbara Turnbull, Toronto star reporter, advocate and disability activist, was born February 7, 1965 in Montreal, Quebec as the third born of five daughters. At the age of seven, she moved with her mother and four sisters to Mississauga, Ontario where she attended elementary and high school.

On September 23, 1983 Turnbull was working part time at a Becker’s convenience store in Mississauga when the store was robbed at gunpoint. Turnbull was shot in the neck and sustained a spinal cord injury which resulted in her becoming quadriplegic. The event became high profile news, and the media, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, followed Turnbull’s recovery and the subsequent criminal trial for the men involved in the shooting, into 1985.

In the years after her injury, Turnbull took courses at the University of Toronto, and eventually moved to attend Arizona State University, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, graduating Magna Cum Laude and as the class valedictorian. Upon returning to Toronto in 1990, she was hired by the Toronto Star as a reporter, where she then worked for the next twenty-five years.

Turnbull became an outspoken and avid advocate for those with spinal cord injuries such as herself. This advocacy led to the founding of the Barbara Turnbull Foundation for Spinal Cord Research, and the creation of the Turnbull-Tator Award in Spinal Cord Injury and Concussion Research, alongside Dr. Charles Tator, one of Barbara’s original doctors at the time of her injury. The award aims to annually recognize outstanding publication by an independent researcher at a Canadian institution in the field of spinal chord and/or brain injury. Turnbull’s advocacy efforts extended to creating real change toward accessibility. In 1993, Turnbull filed a complaint with the Ontario Humans Rights Commission over the lack of accessibility in cinemas operated by Famous Players. (Four other complaints were made by Marilyn Chapman, Domenic Fragale, Ing Wong-Ward and Steven Macaulay.) In 2001, the court ruled in Turnbull’s favor and as a result Famous Players was required to make all their cinemas fully accessible, which resulted in a few downtown theatres being permanently closed.

Throughout her career, Turnbull was acknowledged by many organizations for her work and advocacy, including two honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Toronto and York University. Posthumously, she was awarded the Order of Canada.

Turnbull died in 2015 at the age of 50.