With the 2020-21 academic year officially in full swing, we’re introducing the Ridley community to the newest members of our Board of Governors.
“Ridley is delighted to welcome its new governors, who each bring a distinct representation of important stakeholder groups to our great school. It is rewarding for me to see the board continue to add to our governance structure individuals of diverse competencies, sector relevance and backgrounds.”
— David K. Carter ’88, Chair of the Board
Our Board of Governors and its four Standing Committees are always on the lookout for talented members, who not only bring to the table expertise in a variety of fields—ranging from education to law, business, technology, and more—but a genuine passion for Ridley College. These individuals serve five-year renewable terms, giving generously of both time and energy as our school’s leaders and the stewards of its future.
This year, we’re pleased to introduce our community to our newest governors, each of whom bring the skill, experience, and heart needed to help advance our school. We hope you’ll join us in warmly welcoming them to Ridley.
In 2017, Dr. Fearon began a five-year term as Brock University’s President and Vice-Chancellor. Before joining Brock, he served at Brandon University as President and Vice-Chancellor and also as Provost and Vice-President Academic.
Prior to his time at Brandon, Gervan served several other academic positions, including as Dean of The G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education at Ryerson University; Associate Dean at York University’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies; a Visiting Scholar at the University of Washington; and Associate Professor at York University.
Gervan received his PhD in Economics from the University of Western Ontario, after having received his master’s and bachelor’s degrees in Agricultural Economics at the University of Guelph. He also holds a Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA, CGA) designation and an ICD.D designation.
Besides academic achievements, Gervan’s career includes several years in the Ontario government in roles as senior analyst at Treasury Board Division, Ontario Ministry of Finance; and executive assistant to Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs. He has also served on several boards, including as president of a community social services organization.
Gervan is passionate about the role of post-secondary education in supporting regional development and has served on numerous community boards and helped champion significant community development initiatives.
Dr. Suzanne Johnston is an accomplished visionary health executive, recently retired from her role as President of Niagara Health. She brings a distinctly people-focused approach to her work and calls for an unwavering commitment on the part of every leader to lead with presence, kindness and the belief in people’s desire to do the right thing.
Suzanne received both her undergraduate and graduate degrees in nursing from the University of New Brunswick and her PhD in Nursing from the University of Arizona in Tucson. She completed executive education at the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania.
Suzanne serves on the Board of Governors of Niagara College and is an Adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Brock University.
Andrew Mitchell ’98
Andrew Mitchell proudly returns to his Ridleian roots in his new role as governor—and he’ll be serving on the Finance, Audit & Human Resources Committee (FAHR) as well. As President & Chief Development Officer of Permian Industries Ltd., Andrew contributes to the oversight of Permian’s businesses and leads its M&A activities. He is also CEO and sole owner of Select Food Products Ltd., a sauce and condiment manufacturer based in Toronto. Prior to acquiring Select, he was a Manager in Deloitte’s Human Capital consulting practice, specializing in organization design and M&A integration. Andrew is a past Director of The Toronto Golf Club and Bhutan Canada Foundation. He holds a BA from Queen’s University and an MBA from the University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management.
A CPA, CA with an Honours Bachelor of Commerce from McMaster University, Ruth is the Regional Managing Partner – Regions East and Managing Partner of the KPMG offices in Hamilton, Oakville and St. Catharines. In addition to her leadership and oversight roles, Ruth is an audit partner working with private company clients as well as organizations in the charity and not-for-profit sector, including education. Ruth is actively engaged in the Niagara and Hamilton communities, having served on several boards and volunteering at various organizations over the span of her career. In addition to her role as governor, she will be lending her expertise as part of the FAHR committee.
Learn more about Ridley’s leadership and governance structure—and meet our Standing Committee members.
Meet our Board Chair! Since 2018, David Carter ’88 has been leading Ridley as the 20th Chair of our Board of Governors.
Be consumed in service. The Board of Governors and its four Standing Committees are always seeking talented applicants who are energized by the advancement of Ridley College. For more information, visit our Leadership & Governance page or apply online.
Michele-Elise Burnett on leaving broadcasting, her Indigenous roots — and how she’s helping reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape
When it comes to her Indigenous heritage, Michele-Elise Burnett ’86 is busy building bridges—and her work is helping to invigorate and reshape Niagara’s cross-cultural landscape. A proud Métis with Algonquin roots, in conversation she’s quick to laugh, wise and measured in her words, with a steady strength she credits her mother, well-known broadcaster and businesswoman, Dr. Suzanne Rochon-Burnett. Michele-Elise left a career in radio to follow in her activist footsteps, and now she’s working to find the creative platforms from which her people can speak.
“My mom was an art collector, and she would tell me that our teachings are in our art forms,” the Ridleian thoughtfully explains. “Whether it be through paintings, opera, music, or modern dance—our Indigenous artists are the ambassadors to our culture and traditions. I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”
“We’re oral people, with oral traditions, and our teachings are in our art forms—our artists are the biggest ambassadors to our culture. That’s how we tell our stories.”
To speak with Michele-Elise is to receive a lesson in conversation—but you might say it’s in her blood, coming from a heritage rich with oral traditions, and the only child of one of Canada’s broadcasting pioneers. Michele-Elise was raised in radio, her time spent playing in production studios, her world filled with music, talk and entertainers. Her father, radio-station owner Gordon Burnett, served two terms as President of the Juno Awards, and brought country music to life in Canada. In 1992, he was inducted into the Canadian Country Music Hall of Fame as one of the founding members of the Country Music Awards.
“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting,” she says, looking back. “I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.” In 1996, after graduating from Ryerson University’s Radio, Television & Film programme, Michele-Elise and Suzanne took over the radio station and launched Spirit 91.7 FM, a hard-won battle that followed two gruelling years spent in and out of the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). The women proudly became the first Indigenous people in Canada to be granted licenses by the CRTC.
“I always knew I’d go into broadcasting. I loved that you weren’t at the mercy of the size of a screen—you had to think outside the box to be able to paint pictures with only words and sound.”
Before her mother passed in 2006, she entreated her daughter to take over where she left off, to continue sharing the deep-rooted beauty of her people’s culture and traditions through the lens of art. Michele-Elise was heartbroken by the loss. Suzanne was highly decorated and revered in the community, named to the Orders of Canada and Ontario, a founding member of the Métis Nation of Ontario, recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, and the first woman to be inducted into the Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame. But she was also Michele-Elise’s best friend, her mentor and teacher.
When Michele-Elise left the business two years later, there was no set plan. “In the radio industry, I knew who I was. I lived a great life,” she shares. “But I still have pain. I still carry the pain of my mother, my grandmother, my ancestors. I just knew that I wanted to bridge people together, to find those platforms that would give our people a voice.”
“My people will sleep for 100 years, but when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” — Louis Riel
And, over time, the plan came into focus. Michele-Elise now develops projects that are transforming the Niagara’s understanding of Indigenous people—and, looking forward, she’s determined to bring those projects to life across the country.
She officially relaunched Kakekalanicks, the consulting company her mother had started back in the 1980s, which helped champion and sell Indigenous art pieces all over the world. But where her mother focused on visual arts, Michele-Elise takes a multidisciplinary approach, working to promote and educate people about Indigenous ways of life on stage, in outdoor spaces and in classrooms nationwide. The company now supports many of the area’s cultural projects.
Joining forces in 2014, she and business partner, Tim Johnson have since worked together to develop arts and educational programmes across the Niagara region. Projects include the Indigenous Cultural Map—an online resource which brings to life historic and cultural locations along the Niagara Escarpment through artistic expression; the Celebration of Nationsevent—an annual gathering of Indigenous arts and culture; and Landscape of Nations 360°—an ambitious not-for-profit which works to create, design and implement educational and expressive arts programmes to help transform public understanding of Indigenous peoples.
And Niagara has been quick to respond. In 2018, Michele-Elise won the GNCC Women in Business Cultural Arts Award for her work with the Celebration of Nations. “It felt like I was receiving this on behalf of our artists, our knowledge keepers,” she recalls, honoured to be amongst so many accomplished women. “To have Niagara honour an Indigenous person was heartwarming—because without our community behind me, nothing happens. Things are shifting.”
“I’m working to educate others on the power of healing through the arts, and help construct a strong cross-cultural community based on mutual and sustaining respect.”
The pair is now working on a new project called Empathic Traditions, a virtual museum created in partnership with the Niagara Falls Historical Museum which will teach people about the region’s rich history. “Before contact, the different chiefs would come to Niagara’s ‘Thundering Falls’ to discuss what was going on in our nations on Turtle Island,” she says, using the name used by many for North America. “It was a migration path for millennia. We’ve found artifacts in Niagara dating back 13,000 years.”
A Brock Board of Trustees member and co-chair of the Aboriginal Education Council, Michele-Elise is also working closely with the school’s inaugural Vice-Provost of Indigenous Engagement, helping to develop plans for the years to come. “It’s a moment of change,” Brock President Gervan Fearson said in an interview with Brock News. “We’re building an institution that’s inclusive of all peoples—and in particular Indigenous communities.” The university now proudly flies the Two-Row Wampum flag, gifted by Michele-Elise and Tim, and the campus roundabout has been named “Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Circle,” and a scholarship given in her name.
“We need to always think about how things are going to affect the next seven generations: How will doing this or that affect my family? Am I being a good ancestor? Will they thank me for it? Everything we do today will impact everything we do tomorrow—and when you have this philosophy in mind you will do things differently; you will think and not simply react.”
The first training programme of its kind in Canada, the Landscape of Nations 360° Indigenous Education Initiativeis going into its third phase, developing a framework for essential understandings about the region’s Indigenous peoples, aimed at educators across the Peninsula. “We in Niagara are the inheritors of a profound story involving many of the Indigenous nations,” Michele-Elise explains, hoping to expand the programme country-wide. “But students have been taught with materials which leave them with no understanding of the world-changing achievements of our ancestors. Policy decisions that negatively impact Indigenous, Inuit and Métis people—these deficiencies result, in large part, from a lack of education beginning in grade school.”
The impressive programme, which aims to soon rollout these materials in classrooms, has been eagerly taken up by schools across Niagara—including ours. This past year, four teachers from Ridley participated in the training sessions. For Michele-Elise, working to bring Indigenous history and culture to its familiar classrooms is a natural fit.
“We’re a Ridley family,” she laughs, sharing that they’re building a memento-filled ‘Ridley Room’ in their new house. “I was no longer a minority when I went there,” she explains. “There were so many different cultures and backgrounds; I was just like everyone else, all raised under the same Ridley roof.”
“To now be working with Ridley and collaborating on LON 360° is incredible. It’s family.”
One of the few women on Ridley’s U.S. Foundation Board, Michele-Elise has been an integral part of our community for years, whether serving on the Marketing Committee (now Advancement Committee), on the Board of Governors, or launching the Women of Ridley—a group where like-minded alumnae can reach out for mentorship and support.
“I was one of the few single mothers. It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”
She dreams of one day establishing a Women of Ridley scholarship. When Michele-Elise had children, it was important to her that they attend Ridley, which provided her with the discipline, global mindset, and friendships she still has to this day. “But I was one of the few single mothers,” she remembers. Her children, Zander Burnett Metz ’12 and William Louis Reich ’19 both graduated from Ridley. “It was difficult, at times, and led me to think about how we can help other women, other alumnae, who are now doing the same.”
And, as the region continues to embrace its Indigenous history, our school one of many eager to incorporate a rich and little-known past into its future, Michele-Elise’s commitment to her community only deepens, the footprints on the path her mother travelled now shared by her own steps.
“My people will sleep for a hundred years,” Métis leader Louis Riel predicted more than a century ago, a quote that’s close to her heart. “But when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.” For Michele-Elise, who has long recognized the need to rouse us all—be it by brush, on stage, or in the classroom—the voices of our past are growing louder, and the stirrings of these lands are coming to life once more. It’s time to wake up.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
“If there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion.”
As the world faces one of the largest global crises on record, one can’t help but reflect on our school’s history. From the Springbank House fire in 1903, to world wars, economic turmoil, and more, Ridley has, quite literally, risen from the ashes through more than 130 years of unexpected plight. Though it may feel as though the COVID-19 pandemic has dented our amour, we know our school will once again prove its resilience and persevere in the face of this significant event.
We’ve flipped through our anthologies to illustrate the major crises and challenges Ridleians have overcome.*
Springbank House Fire (1903)
It was a cold October morning when students were roused from their sleep by shouts of “Fire!” The boys jostled each other to get outside, grabbing a random assortment of belongings in their haste, as the fire-bell rang in their ears. They stood under the street gaslight, answering, one by one, as Headmaster J.O. Miller called the roll—thankfully, all were accounted for. By the time the firemen arrived, it was clear the building would be completely destroyed; spurred on by the wind, the fire had raced along the attic before turning its attention to the main school building. The firemen concentrated their efforts on protecting the adjacent houses, and what belongings could be saved were piled on the street and in the headmaster’s backyard. The Upper School students watched, helpless, as Ridley collapsed before their eyes.
But those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along. Boys were temporarily rehoused, and within a month of the fire, everything was relatively normal in the academic programme and general activities; there was even a gym of sorts. Miller got to work finding and securing funds to build a brand-new Upper School and chapel on the same land as the Lower School—finally bringing the schools together on the Western Hill in 1905.
“Those who knew Miller, knew that he would not give up on his beloved school. The loss of the Springbank building, though devastating, only spurred on in him a determination to build the school he’d wanted all along.”
The First World War (1914-1918)
When the Great War broke out, Old Ridleians immediately enlisted in military services, and the school was filled with the spirit of patriotism. But what started out as a feeling of adventure—the sound of marching infantry, bands playing martial music in the streets, and students filled with the rightness of the cause—by 1916 became grim, the realities of war all too real.
The Acta Ridleianas of the era published obituaries of Ridley’s dead, their names and photographs raised on panels along Chapel walls. Tributes also went up celebrating those who were decorated for valour and leadership. Students donated pocket money to social appeals, war relief funds, and hospital wards; and the boys held a minstrel show to raise money for the cause.
They were told it was their duty to perform well at school, and the students took it to heart. They found solace in music; the Glee Club was restored, concerts held, and the gymnasium was, on occasion, converted into a motion-picture theatre, where it would be filled with laughter at the slapstick comedy of film stars like Charlie Chaplin. On the ice, the hockey team was filled with a formidable fierceness, finishing the season with 16 victories.
“By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand.”
Canada lost 61,000 lives in that war, more than half of Ridley’s 800 graduates were in active service, and of them, 61 died. The Old Boys proposed a chapel in honour of the Ridleians who had lost their lives and raised nearly $50,000 by the spring of 1919. By the end of the war, the school had won a high place in public regard, and the mood on campus was one of confidence—that of a firmly established institution ready to grow and expand. Canada’s attitudes toward school and higher education grew with it; the number of applications for admittance to Ridley rose.
Recession (1922) in the midst of Spanish Flu Pandemic (1918-20) & Encephalitis Lethargica Pandemic (1915-26)
The war years, and those that followed, were plagued by worries for health, as the Encephalitis Lethargica pandemic—a curious brain-attacking disease which left its victims still as statues, in a zombie-like state, or dead—raged worldwide.
During those same years, the Spanish Flu pandemic swept the globe, killing millions. In an effort to prepare for what they worried would soon come to campus, Ridley’s governors approached architectural firm, Sproatt & Rolph to plan an isolation hospital. Construction began behind Dean’s House that September, and the new hospital was dubbed “The Pest House” by its first patients.
By October, as many as 60 boys had fallen ill. The most serious cases were reserved for The Pest House, the dorms converted to hospital bays for the overflow. Football season was disrupted, and a 10-day holiday decreed in late October to help reduce human contact. Though Ridley lost one member of its faculty and one nurse, no student died during the pandemic—a testimony to the skill and care of its medical staff. The Pest House continued to serve as an isolation hospital until the Schmon Hospital opened in 1947. With increased enrollment in the decades that followed, The Pest House was converted into a residence and renamed Governors House.
The Great Depression (1928-1932)
By 1931, as Canada’s industrial and trade situation became more desperate, it was soon evident that Ridley could face a serious crisis. By fall 1932, enrollment had plummeted, and many questioned the wisdom in building the new dormitory (which would become Merritt House). Old Boys attending the annual meeting that December were worried about the cost of the forthcoming build. Though they acted confident, Ridley’s principal and governors knew the only way they could justify the spend was to find new boys to fill its dormitories.
“We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.”
Old Boys were challenged to get to work as recruiters, and by the next fall, all heaved a sigh of relief when 27 new students started at Ridley. On campus, students became increasingly interested in current events, absorbed by questions of government, capitalism, and the various ‘isms of communism, pacifism, and fascism being debated around the world. Nevertheless, school spirit remained strong and, as early as 1933, enrollment began rising again.
Only one or two boys were withdrawn for economic reasons during the Depression, indicating that Canadians considered education important enough to be one of the last expenses to be eliminated. We can only assume that a number of Ridley families made great sacrifices to keep their sons at the school.
The Second World War(1939-45)
Still raw from the toll of The Great War, by the time the Second World War broke out, the hundreds of Old Ridleians who reported for active service did so with eyes wide open. Gone were the adventurous spirits of 1914; these men knew what it meant to be at war. Graduates of 1940 left the Prize Day presentation table went straight to the fighting forces. Many seniors didn’t even stay to graduate.
For Ridley, the war threatened to be an enormous burden; the school lost staff and students, had difficulty getting supplies, and there were problems of families divided. The mood amongst students was one of defiance, peppered by the occasional fierce display.
“During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.”
Though it was hard to concentrate—for both students and teachers alike—academic rigour was still upheld, and the boys were active in debate, public speaking, music, drama, and athletics. The new Iggulden Gymnasium revolutionized the school, the perfect site for performances and plays, and the state-of-the-art space made way for activities and sports beyond the traditional trio of football, hockey and cricket.
At the end of the war in 1945, a gesture to commemorate the dead, similar to the Memorial Chapel, was desired by all, and the Memorial Hall was planned. During the span of the war, the administration recognized the great advances being made in industrial technology, and of the worldwide move toward science. Ridley got on board, creating the strongest physics and science staff they could assemble in order to adapt to the impending age.
Recession (1950) and the Korean War (1950-53)
People had not yet recovered from the Second World War, when the Korean War broke out, and active service loomed yet again for Ridley’s seniors. The Cadets received new attention, now looked upon to train Canada’s soldiers of the future. A lavish provision of supplies filled the gymnasium’s armory with guns, rifles, drums, bugles, and signal radio equipment; the Cadet Bugle Band was upgraded with new artillery trumpets, cymbals and bell lyres. School time was spent on military training, able-bodied young men prepared to enlist for Korea or any other areas of conflict.
The numbers of Ridleians who were serving were troubling: 14 Old Boys were in the Canadian Army; five in the Royal Canadian Air Force; seven in Korea serving with the U.S. Air Force; 12 in the Royal Canadian Navy; three in the Royal Navy; and eight serving in the U.S. Navy. Though the school’s atmosphere didn’t have the same tension that was present during the major wars before it, there was a deep anxiety about what the future would hold and where communist aggression could go. Student enrollment numbers declined as the recession tightened wallets around the country but recovered in step with the war’s ending in 1953.
A Decade of Transition: The Hong Kong Flu and the 1970s
By the time the devastating Hong Kong Flu finished in 1969, it had killed over one million people worldwide, and helped kick a recession into high gear. Like many boarding schools, Ridley saw a staggering 14 per cent drop in enrollment, brought about not only by financial woes, but by major changes the country was facing at the turn of the decade: the dismantling of the conventional family; drugs; student resistance; egalitarianism; a diversifying society, and the start of the computer revolution.
“The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?“
Parents were complaining, faculty and students expressed dissatisfaction, Ridley’s policies and systems seemingly out of date. The school was caught between its conservative traditions and a society which had increasingly progressive aspirations. The question of the day was on everyone’s mind: how could Ridley preserve its 80-year heritage while adapting to these new realities?
Its answer lay with a new, young headmaster, Richard Alan Bradley, fresh from the U.K., with experience leading schools that had been through similar changes. Buoyed by a willing faculty, a loyal and dedicated group of senior Prefects, and a $5 million financial campaign, over the 1970s, Bradley made changes which would pay off in the decades to come.
Aware it could no longer solely depend on expanding its boarding population, Ridley welcomed day boys to the Upper School in 1972. By the early ‘70s, Ridley went co-ed—arguably the single most radical change in Ridley’s history. Bradley’s argument was not solely based on numbers; he saw it as a logical step in a world where equal opportunities between sexes were becoming a fact of life. The first girls attended the school in 1973; by 1978, 26 female boarders were welcomed to the school, along with 18 day girls. Ridley’s numbers were rising.
Post-Gulf War Economic Slowdown Leads to Recession: The Early 1990s
There was a general restlessness that occurred in the 1990s, brought in part by the economic recession. Parents were dissatisfied, students impatient. Many areas of the school were showing signs of wear, resources limited, and renovations were slower than some would have liked. Financial aid was stretched thin and, as the demand for information technology increased, concerns about what it might mean for the school increased with it. Co-ed programmes had been launched at Lakefield, Trinity and Appleby Colleges, and Ridley’s administration was uncertain what the competition would mean for its future.
“The Planning Committee assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.
For students, things were becoming stricter. A dress coded was enforced and rules were tightening in response to a feeling amongst faculty that the honour system was being disregarded. Spirits declined as many students chafed at the new rules; seniors felt they were losing status and privilege, and everywhere on campus people seemed to complain—whether about lagging technology, long construction projects, a disappearing Old Boys system, or something else entirely.
Students needed to feel heard and Ridley needed an ongoing, focused plan—a review cycle which would examine the school’s nooks and crannies, and take into account changing environments, new technologies, competition, and new demands. The Planning Committee ensured a wide range of Ridleians were involved in the process. They assessed all aspects of Ridley life, revisited the school’s mission statement and vision, addressed school spirit and the perceived lack of student enfranchisement in Ridley’s affairs, and created a blueprint that would move the school into the 21st century.
Changes were soon made. Seniors were given more control, more time was spent on arts and activities, Chapel service was moved to a more-convenient Friday slot, academic programmes reviewed, and changes made to student schedules. And, as the calendar pages flipped toward the late 1990s, Ridley recovered its numbers. By 1998, the school population—along with its spirit—had bounced back.
Now, another moment in time, a moment when our world feels a little off kilter, our community just a little bit raw. But if there’s anything our school’s history has taught us, it’s that these are the moments when fresh, new ideas are born, moments when we, together, rise to the occasion. Each time we’ve been shaken, we’ve stood firmer, only inspired by another opportunity to grow.
Ridley welcomes new Director of Development, Shelley Huxley
Though we’d hoped to welcome her in person, the pandemic had other plans. So, we sat down for a virtual Q&A to learn more about the Niagara native—and get a sneak peek into what she has in store for our community. With her passion for education, strong local ties, and decades-long experience working at universities across Ontario, Shelley’s ready to hit the ground running.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? I was born and raised in Niagara (specifically, Fonthill), though I left for a period of time to attend university and launch my career. After my son was born, I realized there was no better place to raise a family, so we came home. It was really important to me that my kids understand the traditions of my family and grow up with their grandparents nearby — I grew up with mine and they taught me a lot. I wanted my own children to have that same experience. Now, I live in Fonthill with my partner, Iain, my two children: Evan, who’s 16, and Nathan, who’s soon to be 12. We also welcomed a new addition to the family, a now 10-month-old Labradoodle, named Coco! We’re a busy family; the kids are involved in a number of activities, so a lot of my free time is spent supporting them.
You’re coming to us from Brock University, where you were their Director of Alumni Engagement. Can you speak a bit about your professional background? It’s usually a circuitous route that gets you to Development. [laughs] Originally, I went to Wilfrid Laurier University to study Business—I wanted to be a floor trader. But a year into school, I realized I could spend all my time studying, or I could invest in the fulsome student experience that Laurier had to offer. I switched my major to English and Sociology and spent a lot of time doing various activities on campus and working in student government.
That’s what really set me up for my career path, because it introduced me to senior administrators, and those relationships ultimately led me to return to support my alma mater professionally—initially through communications, speech writing and working for the President—and that then led to working in alumni relations.
From there, I went on to work at Queen’s University. Queen’s was embarking on a $250 million capital campaign at the time, and I was responsible for setting up their Toronto office, working with campaign cabinet members and developing campaign strategy. I next had the opportunity to work at McMaster University—which is a big research-intensive school—where I was able to blend both alumni relations and development in my role. Five years later, I had my first child and it was then that I decided to move home. By happenstance, a job came up at Brock University and I was the successful candidate. Over the past 15 years, I’ve worked in all areas of development at Brock: I started as their event planner, then as their advancement strategist, which later morphed into responsibility for donor relations and stewardship and most recently alumni relations. I’ve spent the past six years as their Director of Alumni Engagement.
What led you to Ridley—and what are you most looking forward to as you embark on this new journey? I’ve been lucky enough to work for some great institutions, so when you decide to make a move it has to be the right one, and there were a number of factors at play. The top of my list was that I would be going to a place where I felt I could make a difference, and at the same time felt that Ridley really believes in what they’re doing and how they’re doing it.
What I love about Ridley is its level of tradition, its strong reputation and collegiality, its dedication to education and commitment to innovation. Take the recent pivot to online learning: for any school to have done this so quickly would have been a challenge, but Ridley made the transition beautifully. These are all really appealing to me and working in development will allow me to use my skills to connect with alumni and engage donors in philanthropic opportunities. I’m really just hoping to help Ridley grow and prosper.
“Together, alumni and donors provide support, foster strong reputations, contribute to our admissions, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution.”
You obviously have some close ties to the local community. What are your thoughts about the changes taking place in the Niagara Region—and what is your approach to fostering relationships between school and community? The Niagara Region has been steadily growing both in sophistication and opportunity—particularly over the last ten years. We had a fair amount of big business exit our region, but Niagara’s response to that has been good: both Brock and Niagara College have developed programming and outreach strategies in terms of innovation, entrepreneurship and growth. For example, their makerspaces and the programmes they’re putting in place to help businesses develop within the community have been incredibly beneficial for us as a region.
The result is that there’s a lot of opportunity for students to participate in this innovation. I find myself thinking about cultivating the student experience, about potential experiential opportunities, and finding partners for mutual benefit. How can we engage our community partners to allow students these opportunities? How can we leverage our alumni connections both within our local community and beyond?
We’re here to build the student experience, and if we’re talking about preparing them for university—particularly our upper school students—there is a lot happening in this region from which they can learn, whether in business, tourism, or through partnerships with Brock’s Performing Arts Centre, or applied opportunities at Niagara College. There are plenty of ways we can offer experiential learning.
Your experience with events, alumni and development in the education sector is certainly impressive. What is it about this work that you find so rewarding? I find it a lot of fun. Every day is different and brings with it its own challenges. I’m proud of the work we support in alumni relations and development, and in working to educate minds. And that’s what brings me back day after day: I feel I’m making a difference and contributing to the fabric of society. That’s a pretty special thing to be a part of.
Can you speak to the importance of Development and Advancement when it comes to educational institutions? Any good school works hard to build and sustain a strong reputation—and alumni and donor engagement supports that. We think about how alumni contribute: with a sense of pride, loyalty and tradition, and a deep understanding of their alma mater. They share this not only with each other but with those around them who may want to attend or support the school philanthropically.
We think about alumni, who return to the school to engage with student life; they can be really beneficial in judging where an institution might be or needs to be. They can contribute in terms of time, talent and treasure. We think about donors, who invest in our future. Donors support an institution that knows where it is headed and the work that’s taking place now—this support is what allows faculty, students and staff to aim higher and dream bigger. Together, alumni and donors provide necessary support for our success, they help us foster a strong reputation, and are an essential part of the student experience. They’re a core part of the school’s mission and values—and that network is important for the health and well-being of any institution. For me, it’s all tied together: what’s happening on campus and what investments are taking place as well.
You’ve worked at a number of Ontario’s universities. In what ways do the approaches taken in higher education—in relation to development, events, community outreach, and alumni engagement—transfer nicely to an independent school setting? The strongest similarities, I think, will be in the student experience. Some students live on campus and others off, but together they contribute to the fabric of the school. Dedicated faculty are working hard to educate, staff are supporting students and the school at large—and when an institution is collegial and respectful of its faculty and staff, students pick up on it. A strong student experience is made up of more than what is learned in the classroom; everybody plays a role, and this creates a tight-knit community. This feeling of belonging, of family, ultimately contributes to student success, because when there’s belonging, the pride and respect come along with it. And those are wonderful nurturers for life.
We have a very diverse alumni population, comprised of different generations, who may come from or be living in different geographic locations, and who represent a range of political opinions and interests. How can we reach and keep our community strong as a whole, while also ensuring that we’re meeting the different needs of the groups within it? A diverse population contributes to a healthy environment; we learn from each other and learn to respect each other’s values and principles—and these various perspectives that students learn about at Ridley will help them to navigate life. We need to encourage open dialogue and use our vast network to reach out to each other both locally and globally. We all have stories to tell, we all have perspectives to share.
But everyone’s experience is different, and we have to approach those experiences differently. I will reach out to someone who graduated three years ago quite differently than I would someone who graduated 50 years ago; we use different platforms, we respond differently because they’re looking for different things. Each alumni is important to engage and value, to listen to, and provide with opportunity to be involved. And when we do this effectively, our alumni come forward to support us, to provide meaningful input that affects change. It’s mutually beneficial.
Welcome to Ridley, Shelley! We look forward to getting to know you over the coming months and are so pleased to have you join us—we’re sure there will be a number of exciting changes and opportunities ahead! As we introduce you to Ridley faculty, staff, parents, and alumni, is there anything in particular you’d like them to know? I am really thrilled and honoured to be joining this community and can’t tell you how much I look forward to hearing from each of you about what makes Ridley so special. For now, I will say that the Development team is here to support our student experience, to provide resources for faculty to thrive in the classrooms, and to connect alumni to one another and alumni to Ridley. We’re here to support Ridley—and you—today and in the future.
We’re wishing a fond farewell to one of our most valued colleagues, Director of Development, Susan Hazell, who will be retiring from Ridley this summer. Susan first came to our school in 1979 to teach French and Spanish; returned in 1984 as a teacher and swimming coach, becoming the official Housemaster of Arthur Bishop East the following year; and, in later years, made an enormous impact as Ridley’s Director of Development. For decades, Susan has been an integral part of our community, and we couldn’t be more grateful for her experience, leadership, vivacity, and warmth.
We asked Susan’s close friend and former colleague, Vera Wilcox—another long-time member of our community—to reflect on Susan’s career in Canada’s independent school system—and to give us a peek into what’s next. But if you’ve met Susan, you’ll know that wherever this next stretch of the journey takes her, it’s almost certain she’ll be smiling.
Sue and I first crossed paths in January 1980 when, at the suggestion of her tennis-playing fiancé Mike Hazell ’73, she came to take lessons at White Oaks Tennis and Racquet Club, where I was the tennis pro. I had met Mike a few years earlier, when my husband and I played tennis with him in Stratford.
“My first impressions include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel.”
My first impressions from those lessons include how Sue’s smile lit up her entire face, making me feel great just being around her; her eagerness to try something new—and how hard she worked to learn the skills; and her strong determination to excel. I soon realized these were not just impressions, but Sue’s inherent essence, the enthusiasm which she brought to everyone and everything in her life. In 1984, Mike was hired to run Sports Ridley, and the couple returned as teachers and housemasters of Arthur Bishop East. The move rekindled what came to be a lifelong friendship and, for me, started a period of mentorship, as we worked together in independent schools for more than 35 years.
“Teacher, coach, housemaster, parent, administrator, mentor, friend – through her warmth, enthusiasm and her strong sense of doing what is right, Susan Hazell’s contribution, not only to Ridley but to independent schools across Canada, is immeasurable.”
— Trish Loat
As Sue moved through her career—at Ridley, The Bishop Strachan School, and later at Lakefield College School—she held a variety of leadership roles, ranging from Head of Residence, to Dean of Students, to Assistant Head of School Life—always dealing with staff, students and their families. In each role, she brought with her a curiosity and love of learning (Sue is a voracious reader and researcher), sincere listening skills, and a passion for helping others to improve and get the most out of their experience in their environment.
Sue provided opportunities for people to voice their ideas, concerns and dreams, and she would always listen intently. She made them feel validated when she integrated this information into a vision, presented the group with a plan to evaluate, and then looked to each member for ownership—not only during the plan’s implementation, but its success. A consummate team player and leader, Sue always stood in front of, beside, and behind her team, whether it was made up of students, families or staff. Her passion for teaching continued with her involvement in the Independent School Management (ISM) Summer Institute, where she worked as a workshop leader alongside Ellie Griffin, presenting sessions such as “Balance Your Contrasting Roles as Dean of Students” and “Power and Influence: Women and Leadership”.
“Thinking about my relationship over many, many years with Susan, reaching back to when I was a student at Ridley, babysitting the boys, housesitting the pets, working for her at Bishop Strachan School, working in the Hazell family business, connecting with Susan in a variety of professional roles, and recently in her capacity as head of Development, simply brings a smile to my face.
Every experience has felt like its own little adventure full of friendship, optimism, energy, laughter and purpose. Susan lifts up everyone and everything she touches with humility and heart. I am one of many women who have benefitted from her mentorship and friendship over the years.”
— Georgina H. Black ’85
Sue’s role changed in the early 2000s, when she became the Executive Director of CAIS, working with heads of schools from across Canada. Three years later, her career took another turn when she was invited to become the first Executive Director of Advancement at Collingwood School in Vancouver. Both moves were built on a solid foundation of knowledge and deep understanding of the independent school system—along with her valuable hands-on experience working with staff, students, families, and alumni. And, along the way, Sue took courses in fundraising and strategic planning, earning her IAP-S and CFRE certifications. Because she was such an effective and inspirational teacher, Sue continued to teach at ISM—now as a member of the Advancement Academy, where she worked with mentees developing action plans for capital campaigns and strategic planning.
“For over forty years, Susan has devoted her professional life to advancing independent schools, especially Ridley. I’m personally grateful for her guidance and the ways she has bolstered our school’s fundraising over the past six years. Susan’s ties to our community run deep and her daily presence on campus will be missed. I have no doubt she will remain connected to the RCA as she enters into a much-deserved retirement.”
— Ed Kidd, Headmaster
This period led Sue full circle back to Ridley College in 2014, when she became the school’s Director of Development. During her time at Ridley, Sue has not only worked in Development, but has shared decades of experience in helping to develop a number of the school’s areas, such as residential life, student leadership and more.
Not one to sit still, in addition to tennis, walking, hiking, biking, spinning, and golf, Sue has now added curling and rowing to her ever-growing list of activities. With her retirement, not only will Sue now have plenty of time for these active pursuits, but she’s looking forward to spending time with family and her boys; connecting with friends near and far; planting, working and harvesting her garden; travelling; and any other new adventures that come her way. Sadly, Ridley’s loss is everyone else’s gain!
I’m sure I speak for many when I say, thank you, Sue, for sharing your passion, your wisdom, your joy in mentoring others, and your life’s journey with all of us.
— Vera Wilcox
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our summer issue.
Having redeveloped Portland neighbourhoods for two decades while creating living and work spaces for artists, alumnus Brian Wannamaker ’82 can be most fittingly described as a passionate ‘artpreneur.’
Oakville, Ontario native, Brian relocated to Oregon in 1986 following his
studies at Ridley and York University. He recalls not being entirely certain
where his path would lead, but began saving his earnings in order to acquire
property. With a strong creative compass and solutions-oriented mindset, he
soon found himself working in real estate redevelopment. Brian recalls that in
the early 1990s, his then business partner exposed him to art collecting, which
served to reignite an appreciation he had always had for artistic expression.
”There seemed to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people.”
years that followed, Brian was drawn to reimagining properties of cultural and
architectural significance around the west coast city, and eventually discovered
Falcon Apartments, a diamond-in-the-rough for which he saw immense potential.
Brian bought the property in Portland’s north end in 1997, it was a languishing,
partially inhabited apartment building with low- and fixed-income tenants.
However, he was able to envision how it could evolve into a hub for working
artists without displacing the existing tenants. Brian felt compelled to
breathe new life into the neglected building and to support the struggling tenants
Soon, his plan to transform Falcon Apartments shifted from a
business opportunity into a vision to build and empower an arts community.
Brian came up with a value strategy to blend the higher renovated apartments
rent with the existing tenants rent and the midpoint being profitable without
rental increases to fixed income residents. The “cost average “ approach allowed
judicious rent to existing resident and artists, while directing a portion of
the market rent to support a 14,000-square-foot multi studio space in the lower
level. This way, creators (painters, sculptors, musicians, writers and more)
could work in dedicated studios and feel connected to a broader creative
community. The building and guild of artists are now aptly named Falcon Arts
“My insight for Falcon Art Community came from spending so much time living at Ridley. It’s that basic concept that you want to be around people who you enjoy being around and who you find inspiring.”
that his care for the community comes in large part from his seven years at
Ridley. “It’s a compassion piece that happened at Ridley; it’s about having a
big enough perspective to want others to succeed,” he explains. ”There seemed
to be a wrong in the world where artists could work on their craft so hard and
barely make ends meet. I just wanted to do a little bit to help these people,”
Brian adds, demonstrating his embodiment of our school motto.
his career, Brian has found countless innovative ways to integrate urban
renewal with his passion for artistic creativity—whether he’s beautifying a
stretch of Portland’s North Mississippi Avenue, leasing converted cold storage
unit spaces to a general arts college, conceptualizing an inspiring venue for musicians,
or as owner of the stunning Wannamaker Estate Vineyard in Washington.
asked what advice he has for current Ridleians and youth exploring careers in
the arts, Brian imparts, “I think it’s critical to learn how to be inventive…If
you learn how to be a creative problem solver, that will help take you further
in whichever endeavour you follow through with.”
How Ridleians Are Embodying Our Motto During COVID-19
During these uncertain and challenging times, it can be hard to find the points of light, those moments when the sun spills in through the cracks. However, since the onset of this global pandemic, we’ve heard countless light-filled stories of our own alumni working on the frontlines fighting COVID-19. Their contributions are sure to fill you with pride and hope.
Check back in for updates as we bring you the stories from alumni who are working to make our world a better place, at a time when things may seem a bit dark.
As the pandemic threatens the health of people all over the world, our frontline workers are responding with care and working on a solution.
Sir John Bell ’71, one of the U.K.’s leading immunologists and life science champions, has been named to Britain’s COVID-19 vaccine task force. The Canadian-born Oxford professor and physician has been making headlines for his leadership in improving testing practices and for his cutting-edge immunization research. Knighted in 2008, Bell also continues to be a key parliamentary advisor.
New York State has been hit particularly hard during this pandemic and its healthcare workers are working around the clock to care for their patients. One of those workers is Joshua Miller ’04, an E.R. nurse at Kenmore Mercy Hospital in Buffalo, NY — the embodiment of our school motto, Terar Dum Prosim.
Local alumna, Ellen Stevens (Went) ’07 is stepping up to support our community. The Public Health Nurse is serving the Niagara Region as part of its COVID-19 response team. Prior to government recommendations that healthcare providers should only work at one facility during the pandemic, Ellen spent her days off working at the local hospital NICU.
Sisters NurNisa (Nuri) ’21 and MehrNisa (Mehri) ’25 couldn’t be prouder of their father, Dr. Mamoon Bokhari who’s working bravely on the frontlines in both Canada and the US.
A warm thank you on behalf of our community goes out to anesthesiologist, Jordan Meyers ’12. Jordan is busy caring for patients in the Intensive Care Unit and Emergency Room at Vancouver’s St. Paul Hospital.
Food banks, health care workers and underserved communities are needing help more than ever, and our savvy alumni are stepping up in generous—and ingenious—ways.
When Christopher Edwards ’87, along with co-owners of their newly expanded Dallas clothing company, was forced to lay off workers, he knew they had the means to help. The trio soon re-tooled the manufacturing side of their 13,000 square-foot store and got to work producing face masks. What started as one or two soon turned to 100 face masks a day. “We still can’t keep up with the demand,” he reports.
Clean Works co-founder Paul Moyer ’84 is using a machine built to safely and effectively sanitize fruits and vegetables to sanitize the personal protective equipment (PPE) worn by health-care workers on the frontlines of the pandemic. The company’s Clean Flow machine can sanitize as many as 1,200 masks—including N95—an hour, destroying up to 99.99 per cent of pathogens on surfaces. Learn more.
The Giffin family, which includes Alison ’98 and Doug ’07, are working hard to support the COVID-19 effort. Their solutions-based business has teamed up with the Ford Motor Company to help convert Ford’s Michigan-based components plant, so that its employees can safely work to produce 7,200 ventilators per week. Doug has proudly joined his father, CEO and Founder, Don Giffin in the family business. Learn more.
Rally and Rise
It’s easy to feel helpless during times such as these, but these motivated alumni are raising funds and finding ways to ensure communities have the resources they need.
Megalomaniac winery owners, John Howard and daughter, Erin Mitchell ’90 are helping us raise a glass to our brave frontline workers. Proceeds from their new wine, Much Obliged will be going to Food Banks Canada—but they aren’t stopping there. The Beamsville-based duo will soon be out delivering 720 bottles of their best to workers at hospitals and care facilities across Ontario. Learn more.
Kelsey Peters ’10 has written and illustrated a children’s book, Where Has the World Gone? to help explain the pandemic to little ones. All proceeds raised through Amazon sales will be donated to charitable organizations requiring an extra boost during COVID-19.
A conversation on dwindling PPE compelled community member Ryan Dorland, (son of Scott ’73), to get involved. Ryan set up a Go Fund Me page to help purchase 3D printers which can, in turn, produce the bands used to hold the plastic shields for protective masks in place. He’s raised more than $5,000 so far, has donated hundreds to Toronto East General and Milton Hospital, and currently has eight machines running. Future funding will go to pay for the plastic rolls the machines require. Learn more.
Abstractionist, Sandy Rasmussen is proving to the art world that his has staying power.
“The grid started out as a pattern
resembling my mom’s tablecloth,” Sandy laughs. “We would have dinner outside,
and she’d put a tablecloth on the counter and tell us not to make a mess. I’d
wonder, why have it? But that tension, that feeling of do not spill anything—I
Abstractionist and Old Ridleian,
Alexander ‘Sandy’ Rasmussen ’07 always knew he would work in the arts. His
grandfather, an artist and set designer at the Canadian Broadcast Corporation
(CBC), encouraged Sandy from a young age, and his time at Ridley was largely
spent hanging around the art department, fascinated by stories of the abstract
expressionists who broke visual traditions and found new ways to communicate.
From his mother’s tablecloth, to the famous grids of Agnes Martin, to the linoleum tile floors of the gas station in which he used to paint, the Niagara-based artist is looking to explore that tension, earning kudos from critics at his recent show at the Christopher Cutts gallery for his “riveting works” and “delectable passages of paint that almost shimmer.”
“The act of putting on paint
impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I
touch the canvas with that colour? What if I do this? It’s totally subversive,”
he concludes. “I’m going to do what I want.”
After graduating from Ridley, the
St. Catharines native left to study at the Emily Carr University of Art and
Design, but soon realized he was looking for a different kind of experience.
“As much as art can seem welcoming and nurturing, it can also be a towering
history of knowledge that you may not possess,” he admits. “It’s a steep hill.”
The following year, Sandy headed east to take Sociology at St. Francis Xavier
University—but he didn’t leave art far behind. “I started seeing parallels
between the things we were discussing in class and in art,” he says, looking
back. And, a year into his degree, painting pulled him home.
“The act of putting on paint impasto like I do is kind of a bold statement. What mark do I make now? Do I touch the canvas with that colour? It’s totally subversive. I’m going to do what I want.”
Sandy came back, borrowed $500 from
his dad for supplies, and got to work. He sold pieces and secured commissions.
He travelled home to paint on weekends and school breaks. He immersed himself
in art history. After graduation, Sandy started painting full-time in his
parents’ garage, then rented out space at an old rural gas station before
spending two tough years working in a cold, dim-lit barn out in Jordan
Station—an experience which he says hardened him as an artist.
He now paints in a light-filled
barn not far from campus, the rustic surroundings informing his work in
pleasant, unexpected ways. And a barn is likely the best place for him to
spread out. For Sandy, painting is a sport—and he likes to play large, whether
he’s physically stretching across a wide expanse of canvas or stretching out an
idea twenty feet. He points to influential artists like Jackson Pollock, Mark
Bradford and Joe Bradley, artists whose physicality enters their work.
“The thing I loved most about
basketball was doing layups during warmup, feeling hyped and excited,” he
explains, looking back to his days on the Ridley team. “And with big paintings
I get that same shiver down the back of my neck; I’m anxious to get going.”
You can see that energetic sprawl
across Samosas, the 8-by 24-foot abstract which now hangs at Brock University.
Sandy donated the painting to brothers Taylor ’07 and Clark ’09 Robertson in
memory of their parents and sister, Joe, Anita and Laura ’11, who were tragically
killed in a plane crash the summer of 2018. Their loss was felt across the
Niagara Region; the warm-hearted Robertsons were known widely as philanthropists
and community leaders, and they were generous supporters of both Ridley and
“When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.”
The family was very familiar with Samosas, having admired its progression at the gas station where Sandy painted, and then rolled out on his barn floor mere days before the accident. “They’d seen it so many times,” Sandy recalls. “When I heard the news, I knew pretty quickly what I wanted to do. It was always theirs.” Taylor and Clark chose to display the painting in Market Hall, now a permanent memorial at the university where Anita volunteered and whose Board of Trustees Joe had served on for nearly a decade.
“I had nearly exhausted the look by the time I got to the right side of that canvas,” Sandy smiles. “It was like finishing a marathon.” If you see it, you’ll see why. Standing in front of that painting is like going on a contemplative journey; its pathways and rivulets thread across the wide expanse, and you can’t help but follow—all the way off the canvas edge. Samosas was unveiled at Brock this past April.
Sandy’s paintings often slip to
matters of time and nostalgia, his large-scale abstractions christened with
playful names like Fresh Fresh (a nod to the woman who makes his
favourite samosas), Horse Play (a sweet response to his late grandmother’s
living room warnings), or Fat Chance (the gamble that is all art,
really—and the piece that kicked off his Toronto show).
“My paintings have their own timeline, their own journey,” he explains. “And I just have to trust that, because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and fleeting impact.”
His work incorporates memory, but he’s
also conscious of it as a deliberate reflection of the present, with the
occasional happy accident of an unplanned gesture, the quick scoot of a brush
in an unexpected way. “My paintings have their own timeline, their own
journey,” he explains thoughtfully. “And I just have to trust that, I suppose,
because chances are what you’re working on right now will have a small and
fleeting impact. To get an ego about a particular piece—that’s not going to
But as time goes on, Sandy’s proving to
the art world that his has staying power. “Rasmussen is already some way on his
journey into figuring out those techniques that give his paintings the desired
emotional content,” noted Toronto critics this past spring. “He is definitely
As for the up-and-coming artist? “There’s
no turning back,” he says resolutely. And there may be some delicious irony in
that statement, as Sandy’s paintings often capture a textured and abstract
past, even as his brush keeps going.
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.
With her new album recently released, singer-songwriter, Jane Lewis shares how she found her voice—and is helping others find their own.
The chapel light travels
warmly along the pews, coming to rest on the rich curves of the piano. A woman
sits at its keys. She’s slight, fair, her face framed by a riot of silver
curls. Her eyes are closed, fingers moving deftly along the instrument as she
sings, softly at first, then with increasing emotion: “Here we are at the end,
here we are, no regrets, just gotta take that one last step off the edge.” Above
her, the stained-glass beckons, a reminder of things beyond the chapel space.
The singer in the video is
Jane Lewis ’90, and the song, Carry You Home, is dedicated to her late father, Paul, a teacher, coach and historian
whose name many Ridleians will recognize. For the daughter of two long-time faculty
members—her mother, Janet was the first housemaster of Dean’s house the year
girls started boarding and eventual Assistant Head of Upper School—it was the
perfect place to be. “I started writing it when he was sick, and we knew his
time was limited,” Jane responds, when asked about the song. “It was really
special to be able to film it in the chapel.”
The girl who once wrote
poetry and was one of Ridley’s first environmental activists is now a musician
based in Guelph, Ontario. Her passionate vocals and piano accompaniment have been
compared to legendary singer Carole King, her songs described as “intelligent,
poetic and cinematic.” (You’ll want to get to know her playful Beatles cover of
Together—it won the Independent
Music Award for Best Cover Song in 2015.)
“It might not be the way you initially imagined, but if you have a passion for something, if it’s authentic to you, you’ll find a way to manifest it.”
Speaking to her, it’s easy to see why. She’s thoughtful, reflective, empathetic—and if you read through the yearbooks, you’ll see that early writer’s voice slowly take shape; listen to her lyrics now and you’ll still find those echoes. It’s unsurprising that she finds inspiration in confessional songwriters like James Taylor and Joni Mitchell, and perhaps even less so when she says she’ll often choose silence, as it gives space for the ideas to come. When she’s not busy writing, singing solo, or teaching vocals in the popular workshops she runs, Jane is half of award-winning folk duo Gathering Sparks. Their compelling new album, All That’s Real was just released this fall.
For Jane, the road to music
was a winding one. A philosophy major in university, she was already working in
publishing when the opportunities to perform started popping up. And, by 2009, Jane
found herself wandering a different, surprisingly natural path—“a decision that
came out of what was already happening,” she eloquently puts it.
As someone who herself was at
first shy to perform, Jane kept hearing from people who wished they could sing.
She soon realized she could fill a need. “If you don’t go to church or aren’t a
musician yourself, if you don’t have a family that sits around the piano, then
where’s your outlet for singing?” she asks.
Jane founded All Together Now, a singing workshop
series in Guelph. There’s no pressure to attend, no public performance; it’s
simply about being in the moment, about embodying music. “It can be a powerful
thing to get in touch with your voice, or the reason you’ve felt blocked,” she
says. “But to share your authentic voice as a human being can be an act of
courage. That really motivated me.” For some, these workshops have become a place
where they learn to use that voice; for others, it’s a place to stop in and just
let it all out. “I’ve had people say this is better than therapy,” she laughs.
Jane is also co-founder of
the Women’s Music Weekend, an annual retreat where women of all musical
abilities can perform in a supportive, inclusive community. There are powerful moments
at these events, moments where a woman gains confidence, where she feels brave
enough to step out front and sing on her own.
“It can be a powerful thing to get in touch with your voice, or the reason you’ve felt blocked. But to share your authentic voice as a human being can be an act of courage.”
The Women’s Music Weekend also
has a bursary
programme, now in its third season, where women can apply for financial aid.
Having herself received assistance for a workshop she’d once found challenging
to attend, the musician quickly saw an opportunity to pay it forward. “That definitely
ties back to my time at Ridley,” she recognizes. “The motto, ‘may I be consumed
in service’—that’s important.”
Ridley feels those ties
pulling right back. Last year, Gathering Sparks performed as part of an
artistic lineup at the Toronto Branch Reception at the AGO. “It was a
celebration of the arts,” remembers Jane, “and felt like a recognition that
this is an important career path a lot of people are taking.”
When asked what advice she
has for Ridley’s budding musicians, she takes a moment to reflect. On where she
came from. On the work she puts in now. On the new album that’s taken years to
come together—and the recognition that’s already trickling in. “It might not be
the way you initially imagined,” she muses, “but if you have a passion for
something, if it’s authentic to you, you’ll find a way to manifest it.”
And, if she’s learned
anything, it’s that you never know what’s next. Looking back at the road which
led her to this point, in some ways not where she thought she’d be, in others
right back here at home, Jane seems content.
“Maybe the road is still
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.
Award-winning actor, Colm Feore ’77 talks Canada’s arts scene, giving back—and how his time at Ridley helped give him his start.
Even when he’s travelling, he’s working. But after forty odd years in the business, Colm Feore ’77 will tell you it’s the key to his success. With Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics at one elbow, and a thick history of the Bard at his other, we spoke with Colm this past August when he was visiting his wife—acclaimed director, Donna Feore—while she directed Bernhardt/Hamlet at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago. “She promised me a birthday dinner,” laughs the Stratford-based actor, who just turned 61. “So, I came to collect.”
These days, Colm is delving into the ways in which Shakespeare explores the lust for power in his plays—and how society suffers at the hands of his ‘fictional’ kings. One of Canada’s most celebrated actors, the proud Old Ridleian has played many of Shakespeare’s leading characters at the Stratford Festival, and will be taking on the role of Richard III this upcoming season. The play is poised to inaugurate the Tom Patterson Theatre Centre, a stunning, 100-million-dollar space that positions the Festival at the forefront of theatrical innovation. For artistic director Antoni Cimolino, choosing Colm to utter the powerful first words at the new theatre was easy, touting the thespian as “part of the Festival’s DNA” in a recent press release. And, though rehearsals are still months away, for Stratford’s latest king there’s plenty of reading to be done.
But if you haven’t seen him on the stage, you’ll know him
from the screen. “To make a living in Canada as an actor, you have to be able
to do everything,” Colm imparts—and over the years he’s proved he has the
chops. His impressive career has taken him from stage to film, television and
Netflix, where you’ll catch outstanding performances in everything from Chicago,
Bon Cop, Bad Cop and Thor; to the critically acclaimed Thirty-Two
Short Films About Glenn Gould; to his award-winning performance as Pierre Elliot
Trudeau. You’ll also find him capturing TV audiences in a number of popular series:
think The Borgias, The West Wing, House of Cards, 24,
The Umbrella Academy and more.
“The whole point of my job is to disappear,” he says simply. “That’s the job. Be something else.”
It’s a diverse body of work that reflects his mantra—just
show up—in many ways developed here at Ridley. “That was always the lesson:
you’ve got to be here to play,” he reflects. “And it became a very simple
mantra. If you show up, you’ll learn; if you learn you’ll get better.”
Though Colm had a diverse career on campus—becoming a Prefect,
taking an active role in public speaking and debate, participating in a range
of sports, and becoming editor of the Acta’s sports and literary sections—it
was the acting bug that got him. Colm credits Ridley’s teachers with instilling
in him a genuine love for words and the stage. “We weren’t just doing the
standard production of West Side Story, or whatever was making the
rounds at school gymnasium plays,” he remembers. “They engaged us in a serious
commitment to drama, and to the idea that there might be a life in the arts.
And when you have masters and students, fellow students, above and below you,
who are all into the same thing…” Colm trails off. “Well, a guy could dream.”
“That was always the lesson: you’ve got to be here to play,” he reflects. “And it became a very simple mantra. If you show up, you’ll learn; if you learn you’ll get better.”
And as his parents returned to Ridley time and again to see
him act, they were learning just how good their son really was. “Once someone
leaned over to them during a play and said, ‘This is very good, but it’s not
really fair for them to bring in professional actors,’” he smiles.
But it was when he was applying to post-secondary school
that Colm really received their endorsement, learning they’d accepted an offer
from Montreal’s National Theatre School on his behalf—and suddenly the dream
was off and running.
That Ridleian mantra kept Colm showing up right through theatre
school and onto stage and screen, helping him navigate the requisite ebbs and
flows of the biz. “Ridley’s a school that’s based on hard work and
determination—your effort is going to matter just as much as your talent,” he
shares. “Because for every six miracles in this industry, there are a thousand
people behind them who just keep doing the work. Professionally, that pays
And as the accolades keep coming, with peers and critics alike
applauding his ability to “disappear into roles,” it’s clear both talent and
hard work pay off. In 2002, Colm received a Gemini for his performance in Trudeau,
and the Gascon-Thomas Award by the National Theatre School of Canada in 2013. That
same year he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada, for “bridging
Anglophone and Francophone cultures as a fluently bilingual performer.” This
past spring, Colm was recognized for Lifetime Artistic Achievement at the
Governor General’s Performing Arts Gala in Ottawa. But the popular actor takes
his success in stride. “The
whole point of my job is to disappear,” he says simply. “That’s the job. Be
“There’s a great application of these skills we learn communicating in the arts: speaking to one another, showing and telling our stories, exploring each other’s histories and lives. We learn from each other. And one of the best ways to do that is to take a risk, to stand up in front of people and to say, ‘I think this’—and I trust that you will find some value in it.”
In true Ridley fashion, Colm is also giving back, raising awareness of the importance of studying Shakespeare as a guest in Marvin Karon’s summer camp, Shakesperience, and as a board member of REEL CANADA, a unique programme which engages and inspires youth, and promotes Canada’s cultural identity. “REEL CANADA brings Canadian film into Canadian classrooms,” he explains, clearly passionate about the project which connects students with directors, writers, actors, and producers. “It says, ‘Here’s our story. Here’s who we are—and you’re going to see yourselves reflected in these spaces.’”
And as he sits in his Chicago hotel, thinking back to his time on the Ridley stage, of the hallways he once walked, Colm hopes his story will inspire the students who walk them now. Because he knows, perhaps more than most, that telling stories is what brings communities together. “There’s a great application of these skills we learn communicating in the arts: speaking to one another, showing and telling our stories, exploring each other’s histories and lives. We learn from each other,” he concludes thoughtfully. “And one of the best ways to do that is to take a risk, to stand up in front of people and to say, ‘I think this’—and I trust that you will find some value in it.”
This article was printed in the latest issue of Tiger magazine. Learn about our alumni, get community updates and find out where Ridley is heading next! Read more from our winter issue.