By Mike Baker
The local movement seeking to add Black athletes Lesley Tashlin and Taly Williams to the mural wall of fame at A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton is starting to receive national attention.
As reported on page 17 of this week’s Echo, Athletics Canada recently published a piece on their website, highlighting the incredible work of Grade 7/8 students from J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School in bringing this issue to light back in March. Since then, many have called on the municipality to recognize a pair of phenomenal athletes who grew up in the community.
And deservedly so.
Tashlin was one of the country’s best track and field stars in the 1990s. She won gold in the 100-metre hurdles at the 1995 Canadian Track and Field Championships, and represented Canada in two events at the 1996 Summer Olympics.
Williams, after learning to play football as a student at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, played two years in the Canadian Football League, representing both the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the Toronto Argonauts.
Looking at their accomplishments, there’s no doubt that they deserve their place alongside Haliburton’s athletic elite.
The mural, as it stands today, depicts four men who have played in the National Hockey League and one former CFLer. Ron Stackhouse and Bernie Nicholls enjoyed hugely successful careers in the NHL, while Matt Duchene has long been recognized as one of the league’s most exciting forwards. Cody Hodgson was a 10th overall selection and one-time 20-goal scorer in the league. Mike Bradley played 100 games for the CFL’s Edmonton Eskimos in the early to mid 2000s.
It’s impressive that a small town like Haliburton has produced so many top-level athletes. The five men listed above earned their spot on the mural wall and absolutely deserve the recognition they have received
But it’s high time that Tashlin and Williams are recognized too. There is arguably no greater honour for a professional athlete than to represent your country, and Tashlin did that on the absolute grandest stage. Williams was Haliburton’s first pro footballer. The pair still hold a collection of track and field records from their time at HHSS, more than two decades after graduating. They are true sporting superstars.
There has been some suggestion that the pair’s omission is more malicious than simply being overlooked. Given that the five athletes immortalized on the mural are white men, and both Tashlin and Williams represent minorities – both being Black, and Tashlin being a woman – it has been said the decision not to honour the pair up until this point has been racially motivated.
There has been no indication by anyone involved in the decision making process that this is the case. Clearly though, there has been preference in the past to honour Haliburtonians who made it in the NHL.
A sub-committee has been established to come up with a system that would dictate how and when individuals may be nominated to go up on the mural wall. That’s great – hopefully that means people won’t fall through the cracks in the future.
For right now though, it’s pretty clear that Tashlin and Williams have earned their spot. The JDHES students have offered to fundraise the $20,000 that will be required to complete the addition. The Haliburton community has displayed, on numerous occasions, that it is willing to step up for different worthwhile causes. This is something, I think, people will get behind.
Now it’s up to Dysart council to do the right thing and give these athletes the recognition they deserve.