Chatham-Kent’s rich cultural history has taken centre stage with a dozen names enshrined in the newly unveiled Arts and Culture Heroes Wall of Fame.
The inaugural class includes current and former members of the local community who are being recognized by the Chatham-Kent Arts and Culture Network for their contributions to the sector, both locally and beyond.
An induction ceremony was held at the Chatham Armoury Wednesday evening, followed by the unveiling of plaques mounted at the Chatham Cultural Centre. A virtual Wall of Fame can also be found on the CKACN website.
Sculptor, painter, and North Buxton native Artis Lane, who says being recognized at home is humbling.
“It’s as though you’ve been obedient to God’s message for you, it affirms that you have stayed devoted to what you’re here to do,” Lane says. “It’s been an exciting life.”
Recording artist and Chatham native Sylvia Tyson, half of the folk duo Ian and Sylvia, member of the group Quartette, and a solo artist in her own right, says she’s delighted to be one of the first added to the Wall of Fame.
“It’s always great to be honoured by the place that you come from, because that’s what your history is. Of course, a lot of my songwriting is based on early Chatham. It was a great place to be a kid in, I’ve got to say, it was really quite idyllic.”
James Snyder, chair of the Chatham-Kent Arts and Culture Network, says this is the beginning of a cultural renaissance in the municipality with many more people and organizations to honour in the years ahead.
The group is planning a studio tour across Chatham-Kent in the spring, followed by the next round of Arts and Culture Heroes Wall of Fame inductions in the fall.
Listen to 99-1’s Robyn Brady’s interview with CKACN chair James Snyder about the importance of a healthy arts and culture sector (and thanks to the Wallaceburg Brass Quintet for the background music!)
VISUAL ARTS THEATRE MUSIC
Artis Lane b.1927
Born in North Buxton, sculptor and painter Artis Lane trained at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto and then Cranbrook Academy of Art in Detroit where she received a Master of Arts degree. In the US, she established herself as a leading portrait painter commissioned to paint such notables as President John F. Kennedy and Aretha Franklin. Lane challenges herself to create art that communicates a spiritual truth that guides her as she sees her subjects as “an expression of God’s highest idea.” Her 12-foot “Emerging First Man” bronze sculpture is featured at Sankofa Park in Los Angeles and her bronze bust of civil rights leader Rosa Parks was honoured by the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and later selected for display in the Presidential Oval Office. In 2009, Michelle Obama unveiled Lane’s bust of abolitionist and suffragette Sojourner Truth at the US Capitol, the first African-American woman to be installed in the new Emancipation Hall. The sculpture she created of her great-great aunt, abolitionist and publisher Mary Shadd Cary, resides in Chatham’s Freedom Park. Lane, recipient of numerous awards, lives in Los Angeles.
Janet Forsyth b.1931
Blenheim native Janet Forsyth (née Sparks) has had a lifelong passion for painting, and has shared her talents with student artists for decades. Prolific in her output, working originally in oils and later in watercolours, her works grace walls in several churches as well as public, corporate and private collections. She has a particular eye for landscapes, often rural or historical in nature. Studying at the Faculty of Fine Arts at the University of Windsor and Waterloo’s Doon School of Fine Arts, she led arts excursions and presented her work in galleries around the world, including Mexico, Ireland, UK, Portugal, USA and Canada. Among the many highlights of her career were the opportunity to paint the official portrait of the King of Western Samoa, Malietoa Tanu Mafili II, and an invite for tea at Buckingham Palace with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In later years, she focused on writing children’s books.
Kenne Duncan 1902-1972
Earning the nickname “The Meanest Man in the Movies,” Chatham-born Kenne Duncan (Kenneth Duncan MacLachlan) was a successful B-movie actor credited with 235 movies, predominantly westerns, but also crime, horror and science fiction dramas, several with famed director Ed Wood. Active from 1928 to 1962, Duncan appeared in Riders in the Sky (with Gene Autry), Oregon Trail, Cheyenne Kid and Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars. He also had numerous roles in television series such as The Cisco Kid, Bat Masterson, The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon and Rawhide. An accomplished horse rider and trick shooter, he toured US military bases in Japan in 1950 entertaining the troops. Struggling with addiction in his later years, Duncan died in 1972 at his home in Hollywood, California.
Theatre Kent est.1978
Established as an amateur community theatre group in 1978, Theatre Kent has entertained audiences with a wide variety of Broadway and homegrown musical, comedic and dramatic performances. With well more than 200 unique shows on its resume, Theatre Kent has provided a platform for community members to develop their skills in acting, directing, producing, stage managing, costume and set designing, lighting and sound engineering, and marketing. Over its history, the group has won a number of awards at the Western Ontario Drama League’s annual festival and the Theatre Ontario Festival. Shows have been staged primarily at the Chatham Cultural Centre’s Kiwanis Theatre and adjacent Studio One, with special performances at the Chatham Capitol Theatre and the Tecumseh Park Band Shell. For years Theatre Kent has served as a local patron of the National Theatre School DRAMAFEST (formerly the Sears Drama Festival), in which thousands of high school students from across the province compete.
Jeanne Gordon 1885-1952
Jeanne Gordon (Ruby May Gordon) was an opera singer active during the early 1900s. Born in Wallaceburg, Gordon was educated at Havergal College, a private school for girls in Toronto. Studying at the Royal Conservatory, Gordon was a natural vocalist with a true contralto voice of extraordinary range and richness, and in her early years she had the opportunity to perform for Sir Wilfrid Laurier. Gordon married, moved to the US and began her career as a professional singer, getting her big break in 1919, when she was offered a contract with the renowned Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She changed her name to Jeanne, and recorded eleven single-sided 78 RPM discs for Columbia and Victor. Her version of “Silent Night” was a national best seller and she helped promote “talkies” by singing in several early short films. Touring extensively across North America and Europe, she became so popular that in 1925 she was invited by Calvin Coolidge to sing at his second presidential inauguration. Poor health forced her to end her career in the 1930s and in 1952, at age 67, she suffered a fatal heart attack.
Sylvia Tyson b.1940
Chatham born Sylvia Tyson started performing professionally in 1959 as one half of the internationally acclaimed folk duo, Ian and Sylvia and, in 1962, wrote her first song, You Were On My Mind. Through the 1960s and early 1970s they produced 13 albums and toured extensively in North America and Europe. The duo went their separate ways in 1977 and Sylvia continued to have a successful solo career, recording ten albums, writing more than 200 songs and, for the last 25 years, performing in Quartette with three other Canadian female singer-songwriters. An emeritus member of the boards of CARAS (Juno Awards) and FACTOR (Foundation to Assist Canadian Talent on Records), Tyson is a founder and past president of the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, which she was inducted into in 2019. She is a member of the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame and, in 1994, received Canada’s highest civilian honour, The Order of Canada. In 1985, she co-edited a book titled And Then I Wrote–The Songwriter Speaks, a collection of quotes from well-known songwriters. Her novel Joyner’s Dream, a work of fiction, was published in 2011 and she has recently completed the third book of a trilogy of murder mysteries.
Shae-Lynn Bourne b.1976
Excelling in a discipline that is equal measure athletic and artistic is a true accomplishment, one which describes Chatham-born ice dancer Shae-Lynn Bourne’s career. With partner Victor Kraatz, she won the Canadian Championship ten times, the Four Continents Championship three times, the 2003 World Championship, and finished fourth place at the Winter Olympics twice (1998 Nagano, 2002 Salt Lake City). Their captivating dance performances featured inspired and challenging musical selections. Since retiring, Bourne has earned a reputation as a leading choreographer having coached skaters from around the world and designed many World and Olympic winning programs. She has also choreographed ensemble numbers for major skating shows. Bourne was named the inaugural winner of the Best Choreographer Award by the International Skating Union in 2020, and International Figure Skating magazine wrote in its August 2020 issue that “creativity absolutely oozes from Bourne.” A 2007 inductee in the Skate Canada Hall of Fame, she was awarded the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross for addressing unfair judging practices in the sport.
Florence Abel b.1936
For more than 64 years, Chatham native Florence Abel has inspired and influenced generations of young dancers in Chatham-Kent and beyond. A natural teacher, she came to dance late at age 14, but by age 20 had opened the Florence Abel School of Dance, focusing on ballet and tap. Achieving accreditation from Canada’s Royal Academy of Dance and the British Association of Teachers of Dance, Abel taught thousands of students, held hundreds of recitals, and hosted examiners from around the globe. Many of her students have gone on to careers in dance, or to open teaching studios of their own. Among her more notable successes as an instructor are David Nixon, artistic director of the Northern Ballet Theatre in Leeds, England; Patrick Kastoff, dancer and teacher with the National Ballet School of Canada; and Ben Alexander, a young dancer now with the Vienna State Ballet in Austria
Robertson Davies 1913-1995
Born in Thamesville, novelist and playwright Robertson Davies was a distinguished “man of letters.” A graduate of Upper Canada College, he studied at Queen’s University and Oxford, graduating from the latter before joining Saturday Night magazine as literary editor. After helping establish Stratford’s Shakespeare Festival in the 1950s, Davies moved to academia, teaching at the University of Toronto’s Trinity College, and was later named Master of Massey College in 1963. Author of 18 books and numerous plays, he is best-known for penning The Deptford Trilogy including titles Fifth Business (1970), The Manticore (1972) and World of Wonders (1975). His writings routinely featured characters loosely based on people from the small towns he had lived in. Among his many accolades were the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour, the Governor’s General Literary Award, and the Order of Canada (Companion). He died in Orangeville in 1995.
June Callwood 1924-2007
Often called “Canada’s Conscience,” Chatham native June Callwood rose to acclaim as a journalist, author and activist. Starting at the Brantford Expositor, she advanced to The Globe and Mail. As a freelancer, she authored numerous articles for Maclean’s and Chatelaine as well as 30 books. From 1975 to 1978, Callwood hosted CBC’s In Touch series. Committed to social justice issues, she founded Nellie’s, one of Canada’s first women’s shelters, Jessie’s Centre for Teenagers, and Casey House, the country’s first HIV/AIDS hospice. She was also a passionate advocate for women’s reproductive rights. Founding member of the Writer’s Union of Canada and the Canadian chapter of PEN, a global organization that raises awareness of freedom of speech, Callwood was named to the Order of Canada (Companion) and the Order of Ontario, and inducted into the Canadian News Hall of Fame. She passed away in Toronto in 2007.
Gwendolyne Gold 1926-2016
Gwendolyne (Smith) Gold was a life-long resident of Chatham-Kent. After attending business college, she married her husband Orville in 1946. Years later, she was approached by members of the then-struggling Thames Theatre Association for the Arts to serve on their board. The Association had been established shortly after several Chatham citizens purchased the empty Chatham Vocational College with the hopes of establishing an arts centre. As eventual board president, Gold lobbied government and led fundraising campaigns in the community. Over the next three decades, she helped create what became the Chatham Cultural Centre. After convincing Windsor’s St. Clair College to establish a Craft and Design Program there, she was appointed to its Board of Governors and went on help deliver the vision of the Thames Campus in Chatham. Many years ago, the couple established the Gwen and Orville Gold Fine Arts Award, an annual scholarship for a secondary-school student pursuing further education and a career in the arts. In 2016, she received Chatham’s May Court Club Women of Excellence Award for Arts, Culture, Education and Training. After passing, her family created an annual St. Clair College Gwen Gold Scholarship Award for a student in business with an interest in the arts.
Barbara Jean Rossini 1949-2021
Originally from Owen Sound, Barbara Jean Rossini (Smith) moved to Chatham during childhood and later married local restaurateur William Rossini. Though perhaps best remembered for her tireless philanthropic and volunteer efforts in supporting people living with diabetes, a disease her oldest son had when he passed at age 21, Rossini was also involved extensively in furthering the local Chatham-Kent arts community. An active volunteer at the Chatham Cultural Centre, she was involved in the creation and early success of Eye for Art, a juried exhibition and art sale that serves to highlight, and raises funds in support of, the local artistic community. Rossini was also instrumental in starting what is now the Chatham-Kent Film Group, first informally at the Centre in 1996 until established as a non-profit organization in 2004. The Chatham-Kent Film Group brings screenings of Canadian, foreign and independent films to the community which otherwise would not be shown locally. A member of Film Circuit, a division of the Toronto International Film Festival Group, movies are shown at Galaxy Cinema Chatham or the Capitol Theatre.