By Darren Lum
It’s only a matter of time now to see the realization of a student-led effort to right a wrong in adding murals depicting Haliburton’s only Olympian Lesley Tashlin and first professional football player Taly Williams to join the wall of heroes on the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton.
At last count, the $35,000 goal to cover expenses was just about met and experienced artist, Annie Hamel of Montreal has been chosen to paint the murals, each measuring 12’ high and 18.5’ wide.
The inclusion of the two siblings, who graduated from Haliburton Highlands Secondary School, to the wall of murals on the side of the A.J. LaRue was the result of an effort started last winter that was led by J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School Grades 7 and 8 students looking to resolve what they believed was an injustice not having the two Black athletes recognized for their achievements. They presented their case to Dysart et al Township, seeking approvals. Their campaign included raising awareness of their cause through social media platforms, which garnered support from various people of prominence, post-secondary institutions, Athletics Canada and professional football teams, the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Once authorized by Dysart, the effort continued with fundraising and working through the municipal process to commission Hamel.
French Immersion teacher Marina Thomazo, who has been the guiding light for the students through this process, said hitting the fundraising total in only a few months says a lot about the community and that the realization of these murals serves as an example of what’s possible for young people.
“For me, this journey is about what young people are capable of when they push for change and social justice. It’s also about the inspiration of Lesley and Taly, and about how our whole community came together behind our young people to get Lesley and Taly the honour they have deserved,” she said in a prepared statement.
The students initially learned about the HHSS alumni achievements, which included various records at the high school level that still stand today, during a morning public announcement at the school.
Hamel said initially she didn’t know about the JDHES students leadership in bringing the murals.
“When I started researching about the project and about the two athletes I found a lot of articles talking about the kids [and how] they want to make a tribute to these athletes, especially the other murals are just hockey players [and one football player] and there weren’t any women also. For me, it is very interesting … that this is from the kids,” she said.
She appreciates being part of this effort to bring Tashlin and Williams to the side of the A.J. LaRue
“At the same time, I hope to not disappoint them. It’s a big responsibility,” she said.
Her work can be seen in cities in Canada, but also in France, Belgium and Mexico. See her collection at her website www.anniehamel.com.
She would love to meet with the students, if it is possible.
Mural project co-coordinator Jim Blake said after the jury selected the two finalists to complete the work, siblings Tashlin and Williams selected Hamel. The French Canadian artist’s work stood out for its quality, particularly with her portraiture work and how it effectively conveys expression, and the depth of thought she displayed in her proposal, which included mural ideas depicting Tashlin and Williams that also related to each another, Blake said. Money is continuing to be accepted and what isn’t used for the mural will be used for a related cause. She will be collaborating with the athletes and will be painting the murals on panels at her studio in Montreal.
She recognizes the value of the collaborative process inherent to completing murals.
“Painting is my passion. At the same time, I work for people. It’s a commission. I want the city, the kids, the athletes. It’s important they are involved in the process because it’s their image,” she said. “For me it’s very normal. The great thing is because when we agree with the design. They will agree with the design and be happy about it after,” she said.
Hamel will come and visit Haliburton to see the A.J. LaRue and the community before she starts work on the murals, which will take close to two months. Being awarded both, she said, will enable her to create one image that combines the two murals into a single frame.
The murals will be installed with Hamel in attendance in May 2022. Thomazo said Chris Youngdale of Vista Signs has agreed to create and put up two signs/banners in the blank spaces where the murals will be, announcing the scheduled installation.
Her start in mural painting began as a student with a collaborative effort, completing the mural, La fresque du CJC with her friend, Marie-Hélène Fauteux in 2000. She admits they made a lot of mistakes, but that start coincided with what she described as the “beginning of the movement” when it comes to murals. Typically, many of her murals, she said, measure 30’ x 30’.
She adds painting large murals is easier for her because it’s easier to see the details from the projection of the image she’ll work from to paint the mural.
There are pros and cons to mural work, whether it’s outside exposed to the elements or inside her studio. When it’s outside there are the obvious challenges with the weather, but it offers space unlike when working in a studio, which can lead to being too focused on the details and forget to stand back and see the mural from a distance.
After 15 years of experience, Hamel said having her murals have a place in a community is a privilege for her and that an effective mural is less about her and more about how it resonates to the people that see them.
She adds it’s part of her personality to give everything she can when completing her work.
“I do things the best as I can or I don’t do things,” she said. “It’s one of the good things of my personality. I will put all of my soul in the realization.”