Special To The Haldimand Press

DUNNVILLE—Art is a funny thing, completely subjective, sometimes divisive, always
inspiring. The same can be said for people. These past two weeks I had the distinct pleasure
and privilege of meeting renowned Canadian artist Christian Corbet and his protege Lukas
France, in Dunnville to work on the Centennial Park monument restoration.

Corbet’s mentor Elizabeth Holbrook had created 10 historic panels in 1967, which were
mounted to either side of a tall fountain in the fledgling park. These panels depicted
Dunnville’s illustrious history, from the early days of First Nations presence, to the
importance of agriculture and industry, to the celebration of Dunnville’s role in the history
of the Welland Canal. In the 50 years since their initial installation, they have witnessed
countless changes in our town.

They have also witnessed the ravages of time. Weather-worn and falling into disrepair, this
monument was long overdue for a facelift. However, one constant remained: Dunnville has
always had great civic-minded citizens.

Debbie Thomas, President of the Dunnville Horticultural Society (DHS), spearheaded an
initiative to restore both the fountain and Centennial Park. Soon a partnership was formed
with Dunnville Christian School (who utilize the park as an outdoor classroom) and
Haldimand County. Through a series of happy coincidences, Thomas connected with Corbet,
the one and only protege of Holbrook.


While Corbet and France were here, many had the chance to interact with the artists and
survey the progress on the restoration. I’m not sure what I was expecting the finished
product to look like, however I can say that it surpassed anything I could have imagined.

Corbet painstakingly reassembled crumbling pieces of concrete like an intricate jigsaw
puzzle, placing each piece in its rightful place. Where pieces were missing entirely, he
crafted and moulded new concrete to recreate the images, often using old Polaroids that
were relics themselves. While watching Corbet and France form the canoe for the final
(bottom) panel, I was impressed with their teamwork and the skill with which he crafted the
vessel and the waves surrounding it. However, I think I was even more impressed with the
honour he gave to his mentor as he went about his work. Always deferring to her brilliant
career, he paid dutiful homage to Holbrook, the First Lady of Canadian portraiture.

This was even more evident as he presented at the recent DHS program night at the
Optimist Hall. Watching him recount Holbrook’s many prestigious works of art during his
slideshow was like witnessing an open door to his precious memories of the years when she
mentored him. Sometimes serious, sometimes hilarious, Corbet recounted stories of
Holbrook’s life and career, each anecdote delivered with an honest sincerity that revealed
his genuine admiration for her.

Following the presentation, Corbet watched as we auctioned five original watercolour
paintings he created while working here in town. Proceeds from the auction go towards the
monument and park restoration which continues. In addition, attendees could get up close
and personal with many never before displayed sculptures, paintings and medallions by
Holbrook, which Corbet had recently acquired.

As the evening wrapped up and we said our goodbyes to Corbet and France, I considered
how fortunate we were to have had an artist of his calibre here in our small town. And
fortunate as well to have seen him working to pass the torch to his own protege France, just
as Holbrook had done for him.

Corbet’s legacy here in town will not only be the beautifully restored monument, but also
the challenge he issued to see art in the everyday things around us. The architecture on our
buildings, the designs of our gardens, the writings and wisdom in books we read, indeed in
each creature and creation in our world. I can think of nothing better to be remembered for.
Christian Corbet, for these reminders and lessons we are grateful. You will be welcome in
Dunnville any time!

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