Change is happening 

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Murals are prepared to be mounted on the side of the A.J LaRue arena in Dysart et al, Haliburton, Ontario.

As murals of Lesley Tashlin and Taly Williams were placed on the wall of the A.J. LaRue Arena June 14 – and will be officially unveiled June 18 – one can’t help but feel a wrong has been righted.

Exactly why the two Black athletes were not added to the wall before this is unknown to us. We’ve heard stories but nothing we can substantiate. However, the lack of their inclusion does appear to represent a societal bias of the past. After all, the overlooking of Black athletic performances across Canada has been prevalent. 

The fact it took elementary school students to correct this oversight is also telling. The students of Marina Thomazo’s J. Douglas Hodgson Elementary School class did what civic leaders of the past and present could not do. They recognized the slight and set out to overturn it.

Dysart’s cultural resources committee, and a subsequent sub-committee, picked up the ball and ran with it. They and the students are the ones who deserve the credit, not the politicians who may take centre stage Saturday. 

The students began their quest in March 2021 when they wrote mayor Andrea Roberts – explaining how the accomplishments of the siblings merited a spot on the wall.

On June 22, 2021, council accepted a report from the sub-committee, which included two of the students. The finalized report sought to “remove any barriers to inclusion” on the wall. That included formalized criteria for athlete selection and their connection to the community.

Up to now, all athletes depicted on the arena are white males: NHLers Bernie Nicholls, Ron Stackhouse, Matt Duchene, Cody Hodgson and CFLer Mike Bradley.

JDH Principal David Waito is proud of the way students pushed for change, but believes the focus is on the future and the most important thing now is two athletic heroes are properly being recognized.

He’s right. 

Tashlin is the first Haliburton resident to compete for Canada, in the 100-metre hurdles and 4 x 100 metre relay race, at the 1996 Olympics. Williams played defense for the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger Cats from 1994-1996. They both broke multiple sporting records at HHSS. They are role models for all of us.

Across Canada, this story has made waves with athletes and athletic news outlets. Former CFL star Pinball Clemons wrote a letter in support of the students’ campaign, and in May, 2021, Athletics Canada published an article about the effort.

At the end of the day, this isn’t about pointing fingers. It is about recognizing where we as a community have failed in the past and setting out to correct that failure now and into the future. We imagine Saturday’s celebrations will be emotional for Tashlin and Williams. It should be felt by all of us. 

June 18 also marks the unveiling of the Haliburton Highlands Sports Hall of Fame. The first crop of athletes includes a fair share of white males, people such as Bradley, Glen Dart, Hodgson, Joe Iles, Nicholls, Stackhouse, Jake Walker, Ab LaRue, Len Salvatori and three hockey teams. 

However, there are people of colour in Tashlin and Williams, and women such as Tashlin, Marla MacNaull, Anna Tomlinson and Linda Brandon. 

Wrongs are being righted. Slights are being corrected. Change is happening.