Category Archives: Just for fun!

Good Design: Linda Alexanian ’85

On making a difference from the ground up

It was on a buying trip in the early ’90s when Linda Alexanian ’85 first became aware of the children working in India’s rug-making industry. “There were kids in the factories, on the looms, doing all processes of the manufacturing,” she says, remembering some as young as eight, “and the suppliers didn’t seem to care. It was just considered a way of life.”

That trip stoked in Linda a lifelong determination to get those kids off the factory floor—and she knew it would need to start with their mothers. Linda is part of the third generation of Alexanians, a family well-known for their imported rugs and floor coverings, along with a deep tradition of helping others. Her grandfather, Aris, who lost his family in the Armenian genocide, was instrumental in helping the government bring dozens of Armenian orphans to Canada.

Anyone who brings a product into their home should be asking the questions: who made this? What is it made from?

When she and her parents returned home from India, Linda got to work as Head Buyer for the family business and, over the next three years, weaned the company off all suppliers who used child labour. She was appalled to find there were some who didn’t take the issue seriously—but she did find one, a supplier who’d worked with her grandfather years before.

In 1996, now an outspoken campaigner for the cause, Linda was invited to be part of a government panel in Ottawa to discuss the import of products made by third world countries—countries known to turn a blind eye on illegal child labour. The timely event coincided with the new monitoring agencies starting to pop up—agencies like GoodWeave, with whom Linda works closely—who were ensuring workers were of age in global supply chains across India and Bangladesh. It was estimated there were over one million working children at the time in India’s carpet industry.

“Do you know where your clothes are made?” she asked each startled member at the meeting, walking around the room. “Do we know this was not made by a child?”

Chatting recently with the Ridleian, who’s now working from her home in Montreal, Linda’s empathetic nature comes easily across as she shares the story, as does her light and quick-witted humour, her passion for design, and her steely resolve for the cause at the heart of her career. When asked about her time at Ridley, she lights up.

“To this day, my closest friends are Ridleians. Whenever something good happens, I text my best friend, Stew,” she smiles, referring to fellow alumnus, Stewart McKeough ’85. “and he replies with this image.”

She shows a picture of a simple red circle, penciled on a white background.

“It means ‘circle the day,’” Linda explains, adding that the expression comes from Stew’s mother, Joyce (wife of former Board Chair, Darcy McKeough ’51). “We celebrate the good things that happen by taking out a pen and circling the day in the calendar. The day I started Organic Weave was a ‘circle the day.’”

The eye-catching rugs are inspired by nature, comprised of a colourful array of plant-based dyes, their details and motifs used in traditional Indian architecture.

Organic Weave came from the promise she’d made herself years before on that first trip. “No woman would send her child to work if she had an alternative,” Linda is adamant. “To fix this issue is not just to rescue kids from the looms and educate them; it’s to provide meaningful, sustainable income to women. Women need financial independence.” In 2011, she partnered with the grandchildren of Damodar Das Barnawal—the supplier in India with whom her grandfather worked—and established her custom rug company, which works with women weavers from Unnayan, a cooperative agency in rural India. Linda’s stunning carpets are not only produced in a socially responsible way, they’re helping to preserve a craft that’s increasingly threatened by automation. And, as the name suggests, they’re organic.

“The co-op is made up of a group of remarkable women who work on various handicrafts,” she says fondly. “Some knew how to weave, some didn’t, so we built looms and taught them. Since they were also making their own organic textiles, we thought, why don’t we make organic carpets?“

“We say farm to table with food, and this is farm to floor. There were beautiful rugs long before there were chemicals. We took the craft back to its traditional roots and tried to replicate the process as if we were making rugs decades ago.”

Perhaps the leap to organic wasn’t all that surprising, given that Linda started an organic shampoo business back in the ’90s with classmate, Nadine Karachi-Estrada ’86—but she hadn’t anticipated the amount of work it would take to become certified. Over the next few years, Organic Weave jumped through hoops to get the coveted Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification.

Now, she’s proud to say that Organic Weave is the only certified organic rug company in the world. “And I don’t see any competition for a while,” she notes wryly. “It was not a simple process.”

“We say farm to table with food, and this is farm to floor,” Linda further explains. “There were beautiful rugs long before there were chemicals, so we had to research age-old rug-making processes. How did they moth-proof a rug? What did they do to set the dyes? To scour the wool to clean it? We took the craft back to its traditional roots and tried to replicate the process as if we were making rugs decades ago.”

And, increasingly, it seems consumers are demanding organic. “People care about indoor air quality,” Linda agrees. “They’re making the connection between a chemical-free home and better health. Do you really want your new carpet off-gassing chemicals into your home? Do you want your baby crawling on it?”

She pauses. “Anyone bringing a product into their home should be asking two important questions: Who made this? and What’s it made from?

“People care about indoor air quality. They’re making the connection between a chemical-free home and better health. Do you really want your new carpet off-gassing chemicals into your home? Do you want your baby crawling on it?”

The eye-catching rugs are inspired by nature, comprised of a colourful array of plant-based dyes, their details and motifs used in traditional Indian architecture. And Organic Weave is also a no-waste manufacturer; each part of the process is made to order. Designed by Linda back in Montreal, her team in India dyes the raw materials at the mill before sending them on to the weavers, who return them to be cleaned, bound and shipped. “We have around 300 workers in the mill,” Linda says, “half of them women, and we work with up to 50 women weavers at a time.”

Early on, it was important to Linda that part of the company’s proceeds go back to the communities in which these women work, and she sought to find the right agency to support.

It was during an impromptu conversation with a fellow woman entrepreneur in India that Linda learned of the Sudara Freedom Fund, which helps provide safe housing and employment to women who are escaping trafficking and sexual exploitation. Evaluating its aims as similar to her own, for Linda, Sudara was the perfect fit. A percentage of the sales from Organic Weave now goes to the fund.  

“We have around 300 workers in the mill, half of them women, and we work with up to 50 women weavers at a time.”

Linda returns to India as often as possible, and her business partner, Bholanath Baranwal and his family can always count on her to bring gifts that are hip, cool and, of course, Canadian. The Ridley connection, ever global, finds its way even here: nearly 30 years ago, the Baranwal family sent their sons to Ridley on an exchange programme. “The family has very fond memories of the school,” she shares. “I’m always on the lookout for gifts they’ll like.”

This winter, Linda opened January’s RCA newsletter and was introduced to Madalyn, a new luxury skincare line launched by alumnae Savannah ’11 and Tess ’12 Cowherd. She immediately went on the website and bought their beautiful face oils to take as gifts on her next trip.

For Linda, it’s another opportunity to support her community, and speaks to her general outlook as a whole. Connection. Empowering women. Investing in entrepreneurs. Giving back. 

“When we take a genuine interest in those around us, we create community. And it’s those connections that give meaning to our lives.”

“Ridley taught me that it’s never just about us,” she says thoughtfully. “When we take a genuine interest in those around us—whether that means giving back in the spirit of Terar Dum Prosim, or simply taking the time to learn about and engage with others—we connect and create community. And it’s those connections that give meaning to our lives.”

Though, to us, they may seem far away—in some ways across the world, in others right at our feet—these connections are what drive her forward, as Linda works to weave together the traditions of the past, to help care for those who belong to its future. “As long as there’s one child still in this industry, there’s more to be done,” she says, suspecting thousands are still at the looms. And she’s right. When it comes to a just and sustainable future, Linda knows, more than most, that it’s all about good design—and she’s helping to build it from the ground 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.

Charting New Territory: Winston Godwin ’08

Winston Godwin talks resiliency, going global—and how he’s making waves in his home of Bermuda

If you’re new to Ridley and find yourself poking around the stories of its various members, you’ll hear time and again how grateful Ridleians are to be part of a truly global community. Each year, international students from over 60 countries flock to the school to study, soon discovering a second family, forming lifelong connections and learning, not only from classrooms, but each other. The result? A broad worldview which helps inform each journey, lighting paths that take them far beyond the Marriott gates. For Winston Godwin ’08, his years spent on campus were some of the best of his life. “It’s certainly beautiful,” he smiles. “but it’s the people who make it special. When I go back to visit, it all comes rushing back.”

Winston grew up in Sandys, Bermuda, where he’s known widely not only for his work in the marine field, but as an important voice from Bermuda’s LGBTQ community. For years, the aquarist and his Canadian husband, Greg led the fight on same-sex marriage—a battle which still continues to this day. Winston’s clear articulation of the argument for equal rights, along with his perseverance and resilience, led to his being named Bermudian of the Year in 2017, and a Ridleian of Distinction the year that followed.

Born of hardworking parents, Winston’s father worked for years at the Bermuda Telephone Company, his mother a housekeeper at the Elbow Beach Hotel. “My dad always felt education was the biggest investment he could make for his children,” remembers the alumnus, who attended Saltus Grammar School before coming to Ridley. “He had always wanted us to go to Canada and believed sending us away to school would help broaden our horizons, our minds—ultimately the world.”

“My dad always felt education was the biggest investment he could make for his children. He had always wanted us to go to Canada and believed sending us away to school would help broaden our horizons, our minds—ultimately the world.”

After high school, Winston studied at the University of Guelph, graduating with degrees in Geography and Environmental Analysis and Geographic Information Systems. As someone who now works in the marine field, having joined researchers from around the world on The Turtle Project and clean-up crews on plastics research vessel, the Sea Dragon, he’s long been passionate about marine life, and has seen firsthand the human impact on our oceans. He now works as an aquarist, caring for animals at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum and Zoo.

A British territory settled by the English in the early seventeenth-century, Bermuda is self-governing, a parliamentary dependency which sits under a constitutional monarchy. Its small population—around 70,000 people—lean toward conservative views. Shortly after the amendment of its Human Rights Act in 2009, which ruled it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their sexual orientation, Bermuda held a referendum to see where the public stood on same-sex marriage. Only 45 per cent voted, leaving the question officially unanswered, but of the voters, more than 60 per cent were opposed. “Bermuda’s LGBTQ community is only a small part of the population,” Winston explains. “And when you have the majority voting on the rights of the minority? It’s…problematic.”

Winston and Greg found themselves at the centre of an historic case when the newly engaged couple answered the call to challenge Bermudian law. At the time, living in Canada, they were largely out of the fray, far away from what was playing out in Bermuda’s courts. But when his post-graduate permit expired, Winston left his job at Toronto’s Ripley’s Aquarium and took a position back home. Suddenly, he was in the thick of politics, finding himself alternately challenged and supported, and moving awkwardly through the world on defence.

By May 2017, the court found with the couple, concluding that marriage is a right which all citizens are owed by law. The legal success was short-lived, however; Parliament put forth a bill (a challenge rooted in religion), which soon evolved into The Domestic Partnership Act. Though other LGBTQ couples had married by then—including Winston and Greg—the bill passed into law and, once more, same-sex marriage was illegal.

Since then, as other couples have come forward to appeal the decision and same-sex marriage has, again, been deemed legal by the Bermudian courts; the government has, again, stepped forward, taking its appeal all the way to Bermuda’s Supreme Court. After three separate cases, same-sex marriage is still legal, though Parliament continues to fight it. The final challenge, which will be heard December 2020 by the U.K.’s Privy Council, will be their final appeal, the fate of same-sex marriage in Bermuda decided once and for all.

Winston and Greg have now lived together in Bermuda for three years, Winston loving his work at the aquarium, Greg an occupational therapist at the mental health hospital nearby. Both miss the freedom they had in Canada, where it wasn’t such a challenge to simply be themselves, to simply be together. As Winston put it in an interview with The Royal Gazette, “My being gay: I have as much choice in that as I do being black. In being left- or right-handed. In being a woman or a man.”

“It’s all about being visible. Just showing who you are, speaking about what’s important to you, allowing others to see you. It shows people they can be themselves too—that’s a fight in itself.”

Change may be slow to come to the conservative islands of Bermuda, but it is coming. Like anywhere, the members of its LGBTQ community work hard to be recognized and accepted. Bermuda celebrated its first Pride this past August, hosting the largest parade the islands have ever seen. “We expected a couple of hundred people,” Winston reports, thrilled with the event’s success, “but 5,000 showed up. It was a celebration of everything that’s come before it.”

Winston, who was in his twenties when he first came out, losing the support of family and friends, found its other forms of strength where he least expected. Support can often come quietly, he’s learned over the years—a like on social media, a photo, an article shared by someone he didn’t know supports the same cause as he. “It’s all about being visible,” he imparts. “Just showing who you are, speaking about what’s important to you, allowing others to see you. It shows people they can be themselves too—that’s a fight in itself.”

Winston doesn’t know where life will take him, but he does know it’s getting easier. “It’s woefully optimistic to expect everyone to love you for who you are,” he admits. “And that’s ok too.” For the young couple, their lives together reaching out ahead of them, there’s still plenty of work to be done to ensure everyone’s rights are recognized—whether in the courts or on the streets. But for now, on the islands of Bermuda, they’re learning though the water’s surface may look still, there’s always movement underneath, and sometimes farther below that, common ground.

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.

In Conversation: Michele-Elise Burnett ’86

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 Nations event—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 Initiative is 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.

Talent, Time & Treasure

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.

Shelley is virtually introduced to Ridley team members.
Shelley is virtually introduced to Ridley team members.

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.

A Tribute To Susan Hazell

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.

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 5

Keep Moving!

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“If you eat, sleep and move well today, you will have more energy tomorrow. You will treat your friends and family better. You will achieve more at work [or school] and give more to your community.”  — Tom Rath, from Eat Move Sleep

This powerful advice is even more important today than when it was written—and more challenging when much of our day is spent inside, sitting and often in front of a screen.

So, what can you do?

  1. Ensure you and your child(ren) spend time each day outside, preferably in nature. There is a strong connection between time spent in nature and a reduction in negative emotions. Need some ideas? Here are 31 classic outdoor games for you and your family to play.
  2. Be sure each member of your household gets up and moves at least once per hour. It’s a great opportunity to get a glass of water (another important aspect of well-being!), check in with others (remember, relationships are important!), and reduce the risk of many long term health concerns. Here are some simple stretches to try during your day.
  3. Speak with your child(ren) about screen time. Its forms are definitely not all created equal. We’re now using screens in so many different ways: to communicate, create, work, and explore. It’s still important to have a balance of screen and unplugged time. Keep in mind, however, given how important relationships are for well-being, screen time spent communicating with others needs to be considered. Talk to your child(ren) to better understand how they’re using their screens, and determine together a reasonable amount of daily screen time.

And please remember, parents, eating, sleeping and moving is not just for children. Look after yourselves, too!

REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you Tuesday, May 12th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Cultivating Optimism.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

“The Pandemic Gave Me My Teenage Daughter Back” — by Katrina Onstad, for Chatelaine magazine

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Reimagining Urban Space: Brian Wannamaker ’82

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.’


An 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.”

In the 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.

When 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 living within.

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 Community.

“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.”

Brian recognizes 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.

Throughout 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.

When 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.”

Flourishing in These Challenging Times, Vol. 4

Focus on Your Strengths

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

“Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again. And in between the amazing and the awful, it’s ordinary and mundane and routine. Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary. That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life. And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.” — L.R. Knost

This quote is a reminder to us all that we will get through the “awful” and that life will be “amazing” again. One way we’re encouraging students to get through life’s challenges—in addition to its more “ordinary…mundane…and routine” parts—is to use their strengths. Beginning in Grade 3, each and every Ridley student learns about the VIA Character Strengths. Classes talk about identifying both character and performance strengths, and how to use them, not only to succeed, but to flourish.

Ridley College became a Visible Wellbeing School after spending two years working closely with Dr. Lea Waters. Her research-based book, The Strength Switch, focuses on the need for parents and educators to focus on children’s strengths in order to build resilience, optimism, and achievement. There is no more important time than now to focus on our strengths.

So, what can you do?

  1. Discuss your child’s strengths with them. Reference the VIA Character strengths survey (for more information, check out these videos), and also discuss the strengths you see in them every day. Remind them how important it is that they know and use them.
  2. Reference their strengths every day. One great activity that can be done around the dinner table is “Three Good Things,” which helps children reflect on what went well that day, why it went well and which strengths they or others used.
  3. Choose a daily activity to do together. (Here are 101 from which to choose.) Talk about the strengths you used to complete these activities, and discuss how knowing and using their own strengths will help them during this challenging time.

And please remember, parents, you are using your own strengths to navigate these challenging times! Recognize all that you are doing—and please be kind to yourself.


REMINDER: Hanna Kidd and I hope to see you next Tuesday, April 28th at 8a.m. or 2p.m. EST—wherever you are in the world—for our Tuesday Tips chat on ZOOM! Next week’s topic will be Nurturing Social Relationships.

Link to join: https://zoom.us/j/169769784

Password: 098733


Additional Resources

Tuesday Tips: Time Management (April 14th)

Tuesday Tips: Coping Skills (April 21st)

Family Guild Meeting: Tips for Parents (April 16th)

Flourishing in these Challenging Times, Vol. 3

The Importance of Relationships

By Director of Wellbeing and Learning, Sue Easton

This is a short week at Ridley, but another week of adjustments — and enhancements — for us all. To support our important work of ensuring students feel connected to the Ridley community, we’ve incorporated division-wide Assembly in Upper School, weekly Advisory times, class meetings in Lower School, and school-wide opportunities for student check-ins with teachers and Heads of House. Ridley, at its core, is built on relationships. We want to continue to maintain and grow these, knowing that they are a vital part of flourishing lives.

With relationships in mind, I share my current top five resources to support parents and introduce opportunities for them to build relationships and learn remotely with Ridley.

Top Five Resources for Parents:

  1. 7 Guiding Principles for Parents Teaching at Home (article)
  2. How to Turn your Home into a school without Losing your Sanity (comic)
  3. Who do I choose to be during COVID-19? (infographic)
  4. Get Through This: Self-Care for Parents (1 hr recorded ZOOM webinar)
  5. Coronavirus: A Book for Children (book)

In addition, we look forward to launching our Flourishing for Parents virtual connections next week. Please join us for learning and community!

Opportunities for Parents for the week of April 13th

Tuesday Tips with Hanna Kidd & Sue Easton:  8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. This week’s topic is Time Management. How can you support your child in achieving during this challenging time? Let us share some tips to support our Ridley family!

Thursday Sip and Chat: 8:00a.m. & 2:00p.m. Join us with a coffee or tea for a chat and a break from the day. We need to stay in touch!

Coming Next Week: We’ll be sharing daily activities and practices to support your whole family in flourishing during these challenging times.

Be well and Happy Easter!

Off The Grid: Sandy Rasmussen ’07

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 love that.”

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.

Rasmussen's exhibition at the Christopher Cutts gallery

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.

Fat Chance

“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 Brock.

Sandy speaks at the unveiling of Samosas at Brock University. Image courtesy of Brock News.

“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).

Alexander Rasmussen

“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 last.”

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 onto something.”

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.