Former amateur boxer Jaimie Peerless described herself as a “troubled youth” when she met her boxing coach Bryan Gibson in 2000 after she joined the Evangeline Trail Amateur Boxing Club in Kentville.
“I was one of the misguided youth that was going to end up in trouble,” she said in an interview with the Halifax Examiner. “And I had red flags that were going to start marking my permanent record if I didn't straighten up. And Bryan straightened me up.”
Prior to becoming a coach, Gibson boxed for Canada in the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympics. After retiring from in-ring competition, Gibson moved back to Kentville with his family where he started the Evangeline Trail Amateur Boxing Club with his late wife, Terri.
On Thursday, Peerless, now a graphic designer, unveiled a mural she created to be displayed on the side of the King’s Arm Pub in downtown Kentville. The mural honours Gibson's life and boxing career.
“I watched as this man, Bryan, pour his life into his boxing club to produce several notable athletes,” Peerless told the crowd at the unveiling of the mural. “I witnessed him consistently push for women’s boxing to be given proper recognition and consideration that it deserved. Bryan openly initiated debate within Boxing Nova Scotia to advocate for it, which made a huge impact to myself and other female boxers.”
Gibson, 74, is the third oldest of nine siblings, who were born and raised in the rural Black community of Gibson Woods outside Kentville.
He got into boxing when he was in his early 20s.
"I had a cousin named Jackie Clements, who was from Bridgetown. He was fighting pro and training. I just went down to the gym, just to exercise and meet people and then I got into it," Gibson said.
“It really grew on me, I really enjoyed it, and it became part of my life. I just loved doing it."
It wasn’t long before he started collecting accolades in the sport.
“When I first started boxing I was the Quebec champion five times, I was the Eastern Canadian champion three times, the Canadian (champion) two times, and North American (champion) one time, and runner up one time, and I fought in the Pan Am Games in Mexico,” he said.
“And I also went to East Berlin where I won a bronze medal.”
A highlight of his career was competing for Canada at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal.
Gibson was still living in Montreal at the time. His wife had just given birth to their second child, just four days before he was set to compete.
“Well, after the Olympics, I was 28 years old, and I had a family … my wife and two boys and I had to think of them,” he said.
“I sacrificed a lot, and Terri sacrificed a lot because when I was away I had to take a leave of absence. No support from the government or anybody. And so she kind of suffered, too, from me being away and to not get anything, you know, money-wise. I have to give kudos to her that she stuck with me.”
After they moved back to Kentville, Gibson said it was Terri who encouraged him to start his own boxing club. Gibson told the crowd at the mural unveiling he first ran Evangeline Trail Boxing Club out of the trunk of his car, at three different schools, three nights a week, from 1983 to 1985.
He restarted the club when he was offered a permanent location in the basement of the Kentville Recreational Centre in 1987.
In 1991, he was inducted into the Canadian Boxing Hall of Fame.
Gibson became a level-five boxing coach. Terri worked as the club's secretary, helped doctors and physicians perform medicals for boxing matches, put together the programs for the matches, and officiated amateur matches as a level-four judge.
Gibson later went onto become a referee and followed in his wife’s footsteps as a judge and a physician assistant.
Terri passed away in 2020, just after the production of the mural started. The mural includes an inscription from Terri that reads “Hugs + Kisses Love Terri-Anne.”
“This idea came about as an attempt to show my old boxing coach the love and support he deserves,” Peerless said to the crowd at the unveiling.
She said the idea for the mural originated in 2019 from a social media post where Kentville Mayor Sandra Snow and councillor Pauline Raven were discussing the need for more murals in town.
"It was just me trying to show my appreciation for everything that he's done for me," Peerless said about the mural. "But I also knew that he was still doing the boxing, which means that he was affecting many other youth in this area at the same time.”
Peerless found several sponsors to help fund the mural and she secured a spot on the side of the King’s Arm Pub, which is close to Evangeline Trail Boxing Club. Peerless designed the mural and put it together with her husband and business partner, Aaron Peerless, and a group of volunteers.
“When I made the post on social media, I was almost instantaneously overwhelmed by the amount of support that I had, and the amount of people that came out of the woodwork that had the same kind of story that I did," Peerless told the crowd. "And Bryan had turned their lives around for the better.”
Other speakers at the unveiling included Emily Lutz, the deputy mayor of Kings County, Cate Savage, the deputy mayor of Kentville, and Gibson’s brother Craig Gibson, who spoke on behalf of the Valley African Nova Scotian Development Association (VANSDA). The event was emceed by Mike Butler and two-time Canadian National Women’s boxing champion Jennifer Holleman, who Gibson also coached. Grade 8 student Naomi Fagan, who helped with the creation of the mural, read at poem at the unveiling.
“If you want to be good, you have to sacrifice a lot, and you need somebody behind you to help you," Gibson said. "The same way as this a mural that Jaimie did for me. It was her idea. It would never have happened if it wasn't for her.”
“If you want to succeed in any sport, you’re going have to work hard and you’re going have to sacrifice, and you get out of it what you put into it.”
Matthew Byard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Halifax Examiner