One was a community activist and athlete, the other was one of Canada’s most renowned artists. What they both have in common is that they were inducted last week into the Winnipeg Citizens Hall of Fame.
John Carl Ridd and Lionel Lemoine Fitzgerald became the 28th and 29th inductees into the Hall of Fame, established by the Winnipeg Real Estate Board in 1986, which honours Winnipeggers who have made an outstanding contribution to the community’s quality of life.
“These inductees leave us all asking what can we do individually and collectively to also make our city a better place to live,” said WREB president Cliff King at the induction ceremony held last Thursday evening in the Assiniboine Park Conservatory. The busts of past inductees are displayed in the Formal Garden at Assiniboine Park.
“Lionel Fitzgerald is a thoroughly deserving inductee,” said Patricia Bovey, the former executive-director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. “He was a very high impact artist in this community and in this nation. His contributions to Winnipeg artists as a teacher, friend and mentor are significant.”
Fitzgerald actually used Winnipeg as the subject of many of his works. Some of his earliest works come from a camping trip along the Red River in East Kildonan in 1912.
He became known as the “Painter of the Prairies,” and the 11th member of the famous Group of Seven which used the landscape of Canada as its theme.
“This honour today is Carl’s gold medal,” said Dr. Gerry Bedford, a fellow professor with Ridd at the University of Winnipeg, while making a reference to the Athens Olympics just past and the fact that Ridd played for Canada’s national basketball team at the Helsinki Olympics 52 years ago.
“Carl didn’t have a body,” said Vic Pruden, a former University of Winnipeg basketball coach. “You had to look hard to find a muscle. Without his glasses he couldn’t see ... (but) what he brought to the basketball court was an indomitable spirit.”
Ridd, despite the lack of the typical basketball player physique, was a star on the court. When playing for the University of Manitoba from 1947 to 1951, the graduate of Gordon Bell High School led the team in scoring. Besides playing at the Helsinki Olympics in 1952, he was on Canada’s team during the World Championship at Rio de Janeiro in 1954, the same year he led the Winnipeg Paulins to the Canadian championship.
Ridd was so good on the court that he could have played in the National Basketball Association, but turned down a contract with the Milwaukee Hawks to pursue academic studies and a life of service to the United Church, community and the causes of justice and freedom.
“It was Winnipeg’s good fortune to have him in the community for almost all his life,” said Dr. Bedford.
Two of Fitzgerald’s works were on display during the ceremony, including one which depicted peace celebrations in Winnipeg at the end of the First World War.
Born in 1890, Fitzgerald was inducted into the Hall of Fame in the historical category. He spent most of his life in Winnipeg, contributing greatly to the growth and appreciation of art in the city.
After leaving school, Fitzgerald wrote: “I worked at a wholesale drug office and finding the job not quite satisfying, I felt the first real urge to draw, so I got some drawing paper, a pencil and an eraser and started work.” He was 14, but didn’t become a full-time artists until he was 22. Fitzgerald studied art in Winnipeg, Pittsburgh and New York.
Starting in 1924, Fitzgerald was a teacher at the School of Art at the University of Manitoba. He received an honourary degree from the U of M in 1959. He became the art school’s principal in 1929, serving in that capacity until 1949 when he retired. The Fitzgerald Study Centre and the Fitzgerald Building at the U of M are named in his honour.
His artwork was created in many mediums — oil, watercolours, print making and drawing. He is known for his landscapes of Manitoba and the West Coast where he went after retiring.
After the Group of Seven disbanded, he was a founding member of the Canadian Group of Artists which was established in 1933.
“Many of his works were simple objects from his house on Lyle Street — ordinary jugs and bottles,” said Bovey.
Throughout his career, Fitzgerald retained a strong creative dependence on Manitoba. His paintings are of prairie scenes, a neighbour’s backyard, a Winnipeg alley or a potted plant. In his later years, he focused on abstract paintings and still lifes, working mainly in chalk, ink and watercolour.
In 1973, Ridd received the U of W’s Robson Award for Excellence in teaching.
In 1983, he helped found Project Peacemakers, after which he became involved in peace walks, peace worship services and sent letters promoting peace and social justice to politicians and newspapers, as well as appearing on talk shows, panels and commissions to express his views.
He also still found time to devote hours of volunteer time as a basketball coach in Rossbrook House and received the 1999 Kateri Award for Volunteer of the Year sponsored by the house. He died in 2003.
“It’s (the Hall of Fame induction) a very fitting award for Carl who believed the highest honour is that you are a citizen who actively participates in the community,” said his wife, Bev.