Dysart et al is considering adding two murals to the A.J. LaRue Arena after a campaign from an elementary school class attracted widespread attention.
The cultural resources committee on April 22 discussed the prospect of adding murals for track-and-field athlete Lesley Tashlin and Canadian Football League player Taly Williams. The committee opted to create a subcommittee to review and make recommendations for a policy on who should be honoured with murals on public facilities. The move comes at the request of the J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School Grade 7/8 French Immersion class. It felt the municipality should recognize the two athletes alongside the professional NHL and football players currently depicted at the arena.
Teacher Marina Thomazo said the effort has received support from the community and beyond.
“I don’t think they can stop it from happening,” Thomazo said. “It’s time for Haliburton to make amends because those people, they deserve it just as much as the others. They were here, they grew up here and they did something absolutely amazing.”
The black athletes both competed at Haliburton Highlands Secondary School (HHSS) before achieving at a top level. Tashlin competed for Canada at the 1996 Olympics in the women’s 100-metre hurdles and 4 x 100 metres relay. Williams was a defensive back with the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats between 1994-1996.
The arena currently has murals for five white athletes: NHLers Bernie Nicholls, Ron Stackhouse, Matt Duchene, Cody Hodgson and CFLer Mike Bradley.
Mayor Andrea Roberts said the town has no policy on the matter. She said it began with Nicholls and Stackhouse before an anonymous donor came forward who felt the tradition should continue, fully funding the three other murals in 2012.
“I really was thrilled that students looked at that and it was about honouring all athletes,” Roberts said. “Is the arena the best place to do that?”
She noted the new Haliburton Sports Hall of Fame will also be honouring athletes soon and there is no fund for arena murals. Committee member Anna Babluck said it is critical the two athletes do not slip through the cracks. She said they could be role models for people of colour in the community.
“It’s really important to have that representation,” Babluck said. “I just don’t want to see that lost because of policy.”
Thomazo said she is confident the class could fundraise for the murals and is preparing a GoFundMe. She said her students have taken a lot of pride in being able to make a difference.
“They witness social injustice, and they want to fix it.”
Joseph Quigley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Highlander