The first RRA initiative, conceived by Marlee Robinson, was the “Art Windows in Ridgetown” project placing artwork in windows of temporarily empty stores on Main Street. The first window featured photographs by local photographs Val and Bob West, installed in July 2008. The project continues today thanks to the efforts of Jane Dempster.
The concept of “Art Windows in Ridgetown” is simple. Owners and managers of stores which are temporarily empty are encouraged to allow their shop windows to be used by local artists and artisans to show and sell their work. The programme is run by art historian Marlee Robinson of the Ridgetown Rejuvenation Association.
Artists working in a variety of mediums – painting, sculpture, craft – set up their own displays in a designated window for approximately 1 or 2 months. They post information about themselves including prices for their work and contact information.
The innovative programme gives Chatham-Kent artists a new way to allow potential buyers access to their work. It also means that shop windows which may have had a neglected feel are cleaned up, adding to instead of detracting from the streetscape. And pedestrians frequently stop to look at the windows and art.
Shop owners do not charge for use of the space and no commission is charged for any sales so this is a free programme for artists.
Mayor Randy Hope joined over 50 Ridgetown residents yesterday (Wednesday 11th August) for the official dedication of newly installed memorial trees, artist-designed benches, new waste receptacles and planters along the town’s Main Street.
In a ceremony at the plaza in front of the Royal Bank, Ridgetown Rejuvenation Association (RRA) member Bob Todd thanked the sponsors who have helped make these two projects possible. They include the Community Partnership Fund (for both projects – trees and furniture), IODE Confederation Branch, Ridgetown Rotary, Ridgetown Beautification Committee (which is part of the Ridgetown Horticultural Society and Communities in Bloom) and Precision Machine & Ironworks (RPM). He also acknowledged the strong support and cooperation Ridgetown had received from the Municipality in the placing and installation of the trees and street furniture.
The project to plant trees began about four years ago through efforts of Bob Todd and Jane Dempster. With advice from Kennedy Moulton, arborist at University of Guelph, Ridgetown Campus, 18 trees of different indigenous varieties were planted – each selected because they are hardy, have minimal leaf litter and demonstrate resistant to wind and salt. Some will have fragrant white flowers in the spring; others will have decorative bark in the winter. Each tree has been sponsored as memorials with names of those remembered marked by a plaque from Mittons Jewellery.
The concept of street furniture incorporating designs with local art was an early project of the RRA. Local stained glass designer and restorer Adam Frazee created the images for the benches. Precision Machine & Ironworks (RPM) of Ridgetown not only made the benches but also donated specially designed planters.
Mayor Hope congratulated Ridgetown on taking the initiative on beautifying their town. He commented that Ridgetown’s Main Street now sets a higher benchmark for other areas of Chatham-Kent. Ben VanHeeswijk, President of Ridgetown Rotary Club proclaimed Ridgetown was now not only the “friendliest town in Ontario” but also one of the prettiest.
In keeping with the continuing upgrading of Ridgetown’s streetscape, Chris June, Manager of the town’s Royal Bank, announced that plans are in progress to renovate their building which stands on a key corner of town, giving it a more traditional flavour in keeping with the Victorian architecture of the area.
These two citizen’s initiatives are finally complete and the Ridgetown Rejuvenation Association anticipates that the trees and benches will add to the enjoyment of residents and visitors to the town for many years to come.
Former Ridgetown resident Heather Gaze led the battle to get interurban bus transportation to link the town and University of Guelph Ridgetown Campus with Chatham. This was a result of a meeting, also organised by Heather, between representatives of the town (service clubs, Chamber of Commerce, RRA members and others) with Ridgetown Campus Director Ed Schaafsma, other staff and student representatives. Lack of municipal transportation was pinpointed as the number one issue for students at the university.
Tall Tales & Memory Making, a practical workshop in writing memoirs, took place in April 2012 at Smith & Wilson Estate Wines in partnership with the Ridge House Museum and Ridgetown Chamber of Commerce as well as the Buxton Museum and Dickens Fellowship with lead sponsorship from the Community Futures Development Corporation. RRA member Tom Button joined Marty Gervais (Windsor’s Poet Laureate), John B. Lee (Brantford’s Poet Laureate) and Bryan Prince from North Buxton in a successful day of writing. It is anticipated that this kind of workshop will be repeated in the future.