Artist draws on childhood memories for Shades of Renfrew past calendar

·6 min read

Renfrew – Joanne Beattie-Kalimeris has created a breathtaking calendar that depicts 13 Renfrew landmark buildings, many that have long disappeared from the landscape.

However, their images are captured in a picturesque trip down memory lane that captures the innocence and architectural beauty of this small Valley town.

Born and raised in Renfrew, she drew inspiration from what she describes as “passionate childhood memories,” and the need to keep busy during the dark days of the pandemic that forced her, and millions of Canadians to stay home and quite often, isolate from friends and family.

An accomplished and respected artist, Ms. Beattie-Kalimeris used her talents, along with a few trips to the local archives, to vividly recreate such beloved landmarks as Renfrew’s CN Railway Station, the historic O’Brien Theatre, the stately and upscale Hotel Renfrew that once had former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker enjoy lunch in the main restaurant. It rivalled the Royal York in Toronto in terms of décor and reputation.

When asked how the response has been to her calendar, she used one word to describe it.

“Shocking,” she said. “I knew it would be popular with some residents, but never in a million years would I have guessed just how popular it is. It is mind-boggling since I originally had 25 printed for my family and close friends and it has just taken off from there. I don’t think it is going to slow down as people start thinking about Christmas gifts.”

She chose to make a calendar because several family members inquired about some of the paintings hanging in her home and how they could get a copy.

“Who has the wall space for a dozen large paintings?” she asked. “By creating a calendar containing all the buildings, it allows people to wander back to their childhood and it doesn’t take up a lot of space,” she said.

Her first painting was done several years ago and it still remains her favourite. It graces the month of July, 2022.

“Blimkie’s Booth was a candy shop located at the corner of Lochiel and Monroe streets and I have so many wonderful memories of Frank and Aggie Blimkie,” she said. “They were a retired couple who were always smiling when the children would come in with a few coins and leave with a handful of candy. I remember getting three licorice babies for a penny.”

When she completed the calendar in early September she knew there was only one place in Renfrew where it would not only be a popular item for those looking for a unique calendar, but Scott & Sons Hardware has been the face of downtown Renfrew for more than 100 years.

Co-owner Jeff Scott who, like the Blimkies, always seem to have a smile for anyone who comes through the doors and walks up and down the original wooden floors that still squeak as customers marvel at the unique items for sale, said the calendar is something that not only captures the town in its heyday, but it reminds people that no matter how much things change, some things stay the same.

“What Joanne has done is really bring to life the heart and soul of Renfrew and I can tell you when customers stop in to inquire about the calendar, they usually leave with one or two and I am sure they are telling anyone they know about this little treasure.”

Mr. Scott knows all about tradition and history because not only has the multi-generational store adapted to all the trends in the retail world, but his storefront window display is one of the highlights of the Christmas season in Renfrew. In fact, Ms. Beattie-Kalimeris created a print of the Christmas display that was used in 2012 as a fundraiser for the Renfrew Victoria Hospital Foundation as part of its annual Christmas Lighting ceremony. That print was chosen for the month of December in the calendar.

“We start decorating the front window on November 1 and there is an old saying that Christmas doesn’t start in Renfrew until Scott’s Christmas display is done,” he said.

Mr. Scott agreed to have the calendars on display inside the store because not only is he a firm believer in promoting the history and heritage of Renfrew, but part of the proceeds will be donated to the Renfrew and Area Food Bank.

“It is great that Joanne has chosen the food bank to receive some of the proceeds because they do such great work and the volunteers treat everyone with dignity and respect and sometimes that is hard to find these days,” he said.

Ms. Beattie-Kalameris said the one thing that tugged at her emotions when creating the calendar was the realization that all but two of the buildings are long gone and the glamour and beauty of those historic buildings will never return. She said there were times she would feel a swell of emotions as she began some of the paintings.

“What is sad is some of those buildings, like the Renfrew Hotel (January), were destroyed by fire and the incredible White House Motel (February) was torn down to make room for a fast food outlet,” she said. “And then there was Don’s Snooker Hall (October). It was a pool hall where young ladies like myself were told by our parents not to go inside, but we snuck in any way. It was three smokes for a quarter and 25 cents for a game of pool and you could cut through the smoke with a knife.”

She said along with Scott’s Hardware, people can purchase a copy at Finnigans Road House.

“If you go inside Finnigans, you can see all these paintings because they are framed and they are located all along the walls inside the restaurant,” she said.

Her original batch of 25 calendars have long since sold and a local printing company has already printed 300 more. Both she and Mr. Scott anticipate ordering many more if the response continues like it has over the last two weeks.

“This week alone I have had calls from California, Calgary, Halifax and other cities and most of them have a connection to Renfrew,” Mr. Scott said. “They said the calendar is the perfect way to capture those old memories.”

The artist said she made the calendar so others can share the joy of reminiscing about these old buildings.

“And for me, it was a large part of my childhood,” she remarked. “It was a childhood full of wonderful memories and friends and I hope anyone who purchases one cherishes those memories as much as I do.”

The Shades of Renfrew Past calendar sells for $20 (including taxes) and will be sold up until the end of the year.

Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader

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