By Mike Baker
There will soon be two new faces added to the sports wall of fame at Haliburton’s A.J. LaRue Arena.
Olympian Lesley Tashlin and her brother, retired CFLer Taly Williams will be immortalized alongside some of the community’s most revered athletes after Dysart council voted unanimously to officially recognize the pair and include them on the town’s mural wall.
“I guess you could say we’re righting a wrong that was overlooked,” Dysart mayor Andrea Roberts stated during last week’s meeting, which took place virtually on June 22.
The issue itself has been driven almost exclusively by a Grade 7/8 French Immersion class at J.D. Hodgson Elementary School, who have spent three months passionately fighting to have Tashlin and Williams appropriately recognized for their athletic accomplishments.
Tashlin is Haliburton County’s only Olympian, having represented Canada at the 1996 summer games in Atlanta, Georgia. She participated in two events – the 100-metre hurdles and 4 x 100-metre relay. Williams, on the other hand, was Haliburton’s first professional footballer, representing the Toronto Argonauts and the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League in the 1990s. The pair grew up in town, attending Haliburton Highlands Secondary School. They each set numerous athletics records during their time at HHSS, some of which still stand to this day.
The siblings’ stories were shared with the entire student body at JDHES one morning this past February as part of the school’s Black History Month programming. Many from Marina Thomazo’s Grade 7/8 class questioned why they had never heard of Tashlin or Williams before. They spent time in class researching their careers and accomplishments and approached their teacher about doing something to recognize them.
“They felt inspired by what [Tashlin and Williams] did, coming from here. They wanted them to be recognized and celebrated, as they should,” Thomazo recently told the Echo.
The class soon drafted a letter and sent it to Roberts, who presented it to the rest of council in late March. The students’ request, to add Tashlin and Williams to the community’s mural wall at the arena, was forwarded to Dysart’s cultural resource committee. A sub-committee was then formed, including community members, a council representative and two students from Thomazo’s class, who continued to work on the file.
Jim Blake, known primarily to the community through his role as curator of the Haliburton Sculpture Forest, was a key member of that sub-committee. Their collective purpose was threefold, as Blake informed council last Tuesday. First, they were to establish criteria for recognition on the mural wall; recommend candidates for recognition based on who meets that specific criteria; and identify who and how candidates will be chosen, and who is responsible for the ongoing management of the mural wall.
Nominations can be made to the Dysart cultural resource committee, and will be reviewed on an annual basis. Nominations must be submitted prior to, or on July 31 each year.
It was important, Blake noted, that the criteria identified by the committee apply to the five individuals already honoured on the wall – former NHLers Bernie Nicholls, Ron Stackhouse and Cody Hodgson, current NHLer Matt Duchene and retired CFLer Mike Bradley – as well as any future potential candidate.
“We looked at a number of factors when developing the criteria… Athletes considered must have connection with Dysart in their formative years. After high school, they must have achieved excellence in organized sport at an elite level, and they must have served as a positive role model and inspiration for local youth,” Blake said.
Using this criteria, Blake said that Tashlin and Williams were prime candidates to be honoured on the mural wall.
In his presentation, he included a near five-minute video compiled by the Grade 7/8 students from JDHES, explaining why they believe Tashlin and Williams deserved to be recognized.
“Lesley Tashlin was the fastest 100-metre hurdler in 1995 in Canada, and seeing her in person would have been even more impressive from what we’ve heard from people who were lucky enough to watch her train, see her compete on TV, or participate in one of her ‘Need For Speed’ clinics she coached at HHSS back in the 90s,” said Sierra, one of the student leaders behind the movement.
“This Haliburton-grown athlete was an OFSAA champion for badminton and track and field during her time at HHSS. No wonder she won the 1987 HHSS female Athlete of the Year award. Lesley still holds the 100-metre hurdles record at HHSS after 34 years,” another student commented.
Over the course of her career, Tashlin represented Canada at six major international competitions, including appearances at two PanAmerican games, two Commonwealth games and the 1996 Olympics.
“When we look at Lesley, we can easily identify with her. She grew up here, she ran the same tracks, went to the same schools as we did and was a role model to her siblings and loved her sport… We believe Lesley has not been recognized by her hometown in the way she should be,” a third student stated.
As Haliburton’s first pro footballer, the students believed Williams paved the way for some of the community’s future footballing stars, such as Bradley, who first appeared in the league in 2002.
“When we see Taly, we see an upbeat, versatile athlete who was not only competent at any sport he encountered, but an athlete who was able to learn a sport in a very short period of time and showed above average ability… We also see a well-balanced student and athlete. Being academic and athletic and excelling at both doesn’t come without hard work and talent,” the students noted about Williams. “It’s time for the town Taly grew up in to celebrate him and give him what he deserves. He inspires us. He’s one of us.”
Ward 3 Coun. Tammy Donaldson said it “was amazing how everyone pulled together” during this movement, while Roberts commended the students for the hard work and tenacity they displayed throughout their three-month campaign.
“It’s pretty exciting when you think about it, that a letter from some Grade 7/8 students was able to generate this amount of interest and conversation,” Roberts said, noting that the story had gained national coverage through Athletics Canada, the CFL, Toronto Star and Olympics-affiliated publications.
The decision makes history for two reasons, Blake pointed out. First, Tashlin and Williams will be the first Black athletes to be commemorated on the mural wall. Second, this marks the first time that the community’s youth has played a direct part in shaping official municipal policy in Dysart.
“Well done to everyone involved,” Blake concluded.
Reflecting on the ordeal, Thomazo says she is immensely proud of her students for the work they’ve collectively put in since this issue first came forward in March.
“What happened was just right. This is a huge amends,” Thomazo said on council’s decision. “I feel so proud of my students. They have shown passion, leadership, resilience, great researching skills, tenacity and defiance. It all started with a simple email… They never gave up.”
Now that the murals have been approved, efforts to help pay for them can begin. Thomazo says her students will play an active role in fundraising the approximate $20,000 needed to complete the project. Donors who give $50 or more will receive a tax receipt from the municipality.
To make a donation, contact Dysart township at 705-457-1740, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.