By Darren Lum
Tears were shed and smiles beamed on faces as Olympian Lesley Tashlin and the area’s first pro football player Taly Williams spoke about the importance of their murals joining the wall of fame on the side of the A.J. LaRue Arena in Haliburton.
With dozens of people from the public for the official unveiling, including friends and family of the two siblings, this ceremony was decades in the making for the two Black athletes, who made their marks in the 1990s (with Taly also becoming a prominent engineer with patents for water purification) and were also inducted in the Haliburton Highlands Sports Hall of Fame (see coverage on pages 10 and 11) later that day.
Tashlin, who came from Ottawa with her husband, said this all started with an email from J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School student Sky MacArthur, who asked her about taking up the cause to add two new murals with her and her brother, Taly.
She admitted to being in disbelief initially and wondered about the timing since she went to the Olympics in 1996.
“I thought my sports career was so long ago. I gave permission for the students to present to the town council,” she said. Close to 15 months later and the mission of the students was achieved.
She was thankful to her husband Craig Taylor for his help on her Olympic journey, past high school coach Paul Morissette, everyone involved with the process such as Jim Blake and Kate Butler, to the spearheading group of JDHES Grade 7 and 8 French immersion students and their teacher Marina Thomazo, who led the effort, the decision to permit the murals by town council and everyone who contributed to the fundraising of the money to finance the initiative, which included hiring Montreal-based mural artist Annie Hamel. Hamel was unable to attend the ceremony (due to a rental need back in Montreal when moving at the end of the month is common). The artist was seen the night before the ceremony adding final touches to the murals.
Tashlin acknowledged how these murals stand for something more than her recognition.
“This mural may be of me, but I see it as the beginning of the what’s to come. Thank you,” she said.
Her brother Taly made the trip from California with his wife and children. He was also thankful to everyone involved in the process like his sister and who helped him on his journey, particularly past coaches Gary Brohman and Tim Davies, including his wife and children, and acknowledged the other athletes depicted in murals on the side of the arena such as Mike Bradley, Cody Hodgson, Matt Duchene, Ron Stackhouse and Bernie Nicholls.
He said he’s always been proud of Haliburton, but wasn’t sure if that feeling was mutual until now.
“I don’t know if Haliburton was proud of me. It didn’t feel like it at the time. I felt unaccepted in many places, stared at a lot. People were nervous when I want into a store. I felt watched at school. There was good and there was bad. We were one of only a couple of black families in town here. This was 35 years ago. Initially, it was 50 years ago when I went to the Victoria Street School. Unfortunately, I’ve spoken to other Asian families, Black families, other visible minorities. There’s still a lot of work to do,” he said.
He admits he didn’t think about being overlooked by his home town when it came to accolades or murals, as he had left and moved on. However, when the students put forth the effort towards getting the murals added it showed him something.
“But what these 12 and 13-year-olds taught me is that it may not matter to you, Taly, but it matters to us,” he said. “I’ve learned that over the past year that it matters to a lot of other people too. Other families and kids who came from not very much and don’t have much. There’s other minorities or kids who want to dream about going to the Olympics or playing a different sport … they need and deserve to see others like us, women and minorities who achieve things being celebrated by their community. It’s important to be honoured. It’s important to receive the honour and it’s important for others to see receiving that honour.”
Williams continued thanking all the various individuals and then noted how much it meant to him that students who didn’t know him or his sister took action and made everything happen.
“And, if you guys are doing this in Grade 7 and 8, world watch out for what these guys get into next,” he said.
This wasn’t possible without the leadership of a determined teacher.
“To get there, the road came with twists and turns, red lights and hurdles. With determination and patience, we navigated together towards our destination and if we did not know how to proceed, we asked for help, and this time help came flooding in. Today we reached our destination. Two outstanding murals celebrating Lesley and Taly’s accomplishments are now on this wall,” Thomazo said.
The students, who put forth the effort and attended the ceremony with Thomazo was Silas Ram, Sierra Moore, Cheyenne Degeer, Ella Gervais, Freyja Neimann-Rowe, Silas Ram, Erika Hoare and Clare Phippen.
J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School student Ella Gervais gave her insight, representing the students in attendance and those that couldn’t.
“These two fabulous murals made by Annie Hamel are a beautiful and legitimate addition to this wall of sports heroes. It demonstrates that greatness starts here in Haliburton. Now let the combination of grace, strength, and brilliance mesmerize the passerby and inspire many young people to trust their own talent!”