Don Cunnings (1931–) is an educator and recreation leader who established numerous associations and organizations toward the promotion of physical education and recreation in Coquitlam. He was the City of Coquitlam’s very first Parks and Recreation Director.
Cunnings was born on February 17, 1931 in Vancouver, B.C., to Effie and Leslie Cunnings. Cunnings and his family lived in Collingwood in east Vancouver, were Cunnings attended Sir Guy Carlton Elementary School. There, school officials discovered he had congenital cataracts on both eyes, whereupon he was transferred Sight-Saving Classes at General Gordon Elementary School and later to Kitsilano Jr. Sr. High School.
Cunnings enrolled in a Provincial Recreation (Pro-Rec) class at Sir Guy Carlton Elementary, because even with his limited vision, Cunnings could still see the tumbling mats, springboard and vaulting box. He excelled at gymnastics, catching the attention of Pro-Rec instructor, Alex Strain. Under his training, Cunnings won the Provincial Jr. Boy's Pro-Rec Gymnastic Championship when he was just sixteen years old. Cunnings also became a Sea Scout patrol leader, and attained his'Queen Scout' badge, which allowed him to command a 27' whaler boat with a sighted crew.
With endorsements from both his Pro-Rec Instructor and High School PE teacher, Cunnings was accepted into the Pro-Rec Instructor Summer Training School at the BC Normal School. After graduating high school he became a Pro-Rec Instructor and was assigned a Pro-Rec class in Maillardivlle in Coquitlam, B.C.
When Cunnings was twenty-one years old, he underwent eye surgery and regained his sight. After this surgery Cunnings began his career as a physical education teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes Elementary and Secondary School from 1950-1953. He became the Division Head of Essondale's Crease Clinic Recreation Therapy Department in 1953 before taking on the position of Recreation Director for the District of Coquitlam's Recreation Commission in 1955, then Recreation Director in 1958, then Inter-Municipal Recreation Director from 1962-1965, until his appointment as the Director of the Leisure and Parks Service in 1966, which he held until 1994. By the time he retired, he had served the Coquitlam’s recreation department for nearly forty years, and has since acted as a consultant for the City.
Cunnings also received a senior gymnastic coaching diploma from the Canadian National Gymnastic Association in 1959. While he held his position as Recreation Director for the City of Coquitlam, he attended the UBC School of Physical Education & Recreation and graduated in the class of 1962, and completed an Executive Development Program for Parks and Recreation at Indiana University in 1970.
Throughout his life, Cunnings has held numerous memberships and taken on many leadership roles in his community. He was one of the founding members of the British Columbia Recreation Association (1958), and served as President for the association through 1963-1964. He also held the position of Vice President of the Canadian Association of Physical Education, Health Education & Recreation (CAPHER). After receiving emergency planning, command and control, and search and rescue management programs, Cunnings created and directed the first Search and Rescue team in Coquitlam in 1973. From 1977 to 1987, Cunnings was appointed as Acting Municipal Manager during the Manager’s annual leave. Notably, Cunnings led the visioning team that developed the City of Coquitlam’s “Town Centre” park during 1980-1994. After his retirement, Cunning has focused much of his time engaging with the community and volunteering for local organizations. He was Vice President of the Douglas College Foundation Board in 1997 and served as President of the Board of Directors for the Douglas College Centre for Sport, Recreation, and Wellness Society from 2005 to 2007.
Additionally, Cunnings has acted as a guest speaker and lecturer at local, provincial, and national conferences in Canada and the USA and has had guest appearances on television and local and provincial videos. He has published numerous newspaper articles about recreation and parks.
The City of Coquitlam, Douglas College, and School District #43 jointly named "Cunnings Field" in Coquitlam in his honour in 1999. Cunnings was inducted into the Coquitlam Sports Hall of Fame on June 22nd, 2012, recognizing his contributions as a gymnastics coach, his achievements as a gymnast, and for his work as Coquitlam's very first Parks and Recreation Director. Cunnings was also awarded the City of Coquitlam’s Freedom of the City award on May 5, 2014.