Merrickville Council has thrown their support behind a new bench in Cenotaph Park in memory of local resident and artist Lesley Strutt. According to Merrickville Artists Guild (MAG) President, Nick Previsich, who submitted the request to council, Lesley was a key member of MAG and a strong supporter of the arts in the community. Before she fell ill with Multiple Myeloma (bone marrow cancer), she was a member of their executive and did a lot to support MAG’s activities in the community, including their annual studio tour, and Conversations, their bi-monthly literary event.
As a talented writer and poet, Lesley was an active member of the Canadian League of Poets. In 2018, she spearheaded an anthology of poems inspired by her love of trees called, “Heartwood, Poems for the Love of Trees”, published by the Canadian League of Poets. In 2019, she wrote a novel called “On the Edge”, about a girl’s courageous sailing adventure, which was published by Inanna Press. Lesley also ran a monthly blog about learning to be optimistic and making the best out of life called “Living Starts with Love”, and published several of those essays in a book. “My writing evolved from a childhood of reading books and living in my imagination,” Lesley said before she died. “We all have access to imagination, and what we can accomplish in our lives comes from believing in ourselves.”
Lesley had an impressive academic career. With a PhD in Linguistics, she taught at the University of Ottawa and held positions at the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and at the Canada Research Chairs program. Her passion for trees led her to support an organization called TreeSisters, which inspires women to step into nature-based leadership with the mission of planting billions of trees around the world.
On top of all her talents, accomplishments, and dedication to the Merrickville arts community, Nick says Lesley was also an extraordinary woman. “Lesley had such a vitality that it was actually really hard not to be infected by her personality and her optimism…When you had a meeting with Lesley, or a chat with Lesley, you came away actually feeling much happier. She had that ability to really influence people and to make them happy. And I think that’s a really rare talent.”
To help keep Lesley’s memory alive, MAG has started a fund called The Lesley Strutt Poetry Prize, with the aim of supporting up and coming writers and poets.
“The purpose of the fund is really to help encourage existing writers and poets, both young and old, in their efforts and in their creative journey and expressing their art in poetry and in literature,” Nick says. “If we can do a little bit of that in Lesley’s name, I think she would be really pleased.”
The bench in Cenotaph Park will be called the Poet’s Bench, and MAG hopes that it will not only be a spot where people can sit and remember Lesley, but also where writers and poets can come to gain inspiration. “Having the opportunity to sit there as a visitor to the village, maybe somebody who never knew Lesley, or people that did know her, just sitting down and thinking a bit about Lesley and some of the things that she did, and perhaps writing a poem, or thinking about it, is one way to help keep her memory and her legacy alive,” Nick says.
The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 245 submitted a letter of support for the project to council, outlining Lesley’s accomplishments and noting that she was the wife of one of their members, Chuck Willemsen. Chuck and the rest of Lesley’s family are very appreciative of MAG’s efforts to make sure the Merrickville community never forgets Lesley’s contributions and that her legacy lives on.
Council was unanimous in supporting the Poet’s Bench initiative. While they are still waiting to hear from staff about specifications for the bench, MAG already has a group of people ready and willing to build the bench from scratch. “We do have some vintage antique wrought iron bench sides that we think would look really nice and consistent with the heritage of the village,” Nick says. Plans for the bench also include a plaque describing the dedication to Lesley and a little bit about who she was.
MAG is hoping to install the bench sometime in April, which is National Poetry Month in Canada. Once it is in place, they will have a small dedication ceremony in memory of Lesley. If you would like to contribute to the Lesley Strutt Poetry Prize, please send an e-transfer to firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about the fund, or to learn more about Lesley, you can also email Nick directly at email@example.com. Donations in memory of Lesley can also be made to TreeSisters at www.treesisters.org.
Photo submitted by Nick Previsich, The North Grenville Times