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Deborah Thompson, Lola Brouillette named Nelson’s cultural and sports ambassadors

The pair were among residents honoured by the city at its Annual Reception
Deborah Thompson is Nelson’s latest cultural ambassador. She’s seen here receiving the honour from Mayor Janice Morrison (left), Nelson and District Arts Council executive director Sydney Black (centre left), and the City of Nelson’s cultural development officer Joy Barrett (right). Photo: Tyler Harper

A visual artist who has taught generations of Nelson residents and a young boxer with her eyes on the Olympics are among the latest recipients of the city’s annual ambassador awards.

Deborah Thompson, a founding member of Oxygen Art Centre, was named Nelson’s latest cultural ambassador at the city’s Annual Reception on Tuesday.

Thompson said she was humbled and surprised by the honour, which recognizes local artists or groups who have achieved artistic excellence and have also contributed to the city’s cultural community. Thompson is an award-winning painter, but said Oxygen Art Centre is her proudest creation.

“It’s always been the heart of my community here and a really important place.”

Thompson moved to Nelson in 1999 and taught at Kootenay School of the Arts. She was also named the second curator at then Touchstones Museum.

In 2002, Thompson was among 14 people laid off from the school during a period of downsizing. A group began to meet weekly with plans to start their own school, and Oxygen Art Centre was established shortly after.

“There was such incredible energy,” she said. “Instead of grieving it and being grumbly it was like, we’re going to start a school, of course we’re going to start our own fine arts school because we all love to teach.”

Oxygen didn’t end up being an academic institution, Thompson said, because of a local demand for community art classes. In 2005 the centre moved to its permanent home in downtown Nelson and has since offered classes and exhibition space.

Thompson still teaches at the centre and is routinely inspired by her students, many of whom she says are better artists than she is.

“There’s something magical about the Oxygen classroom, which is like this little roomy incubator where we meet and the world is shut off for a while and things can happen. It’s pretty neat.”

Thompson’s work has shifted from painting to stop-motion video. Next year she has been invited to a residency in California and has a solo exhibition opening in May at the Grand Forks Art Gallery.

She’s grateful to be exploring a new medium, for which she received a Canada Council of the Arts grant.

“It has had me go deeper into who I am and what it is I want to say in my work. I’m still baby steps in it, but it’s very exciting.”

Nelson boxer Lola Brouillette (left) is the city’s newest sports ambassador. She received the award from Mayor Janice Morrison during a ceremony on Dec. 12. Photo: Tyler Harper

Sports ambassador

Lola Brouillette stepped into a ring for the first time just three years ago. Now she’s on her way to becoming among the best boxers in Canada.

Brouillette was honoured as the city’s latest sports ambassador. The award, now in its fifth year, goes to athletes who have achieved high standards not just in Nelson but also abroad.

She has done that and a lot more. This year Brouillette was selected to Team Canada for the first time and competed at the AMBC Elite, Youth and Junior American Boxing Championship in Cali, Colombia, where she won a silver medal.

Her year also included trips with Team B.C. to Mexico and Ireland, and victories at several events with the Nelson Boxing Club.

Brouillette just happened to receive the civic honour on her 18th birthday.

“I was shocked when I got the email because there’s so many talented athletes all around in the Kootenays who are hidden little gems. So it was very unexpected to me.”

Brouillette’s mother Dede said her daughter has always excelled in athletics, but her progression as a boxer has been eyeopening.

“Just amazing. I’ve watched her go from shy to this powerhouse. She’s super confident and I love watching her. I love watching her grow as an athlete, as a human.”

Brouillette said her focus now is on competing for Canada at the 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles. No one should be surprised if she makes it.

Hume Hotel’s Leandra and Ryan Martin received the city’s heritage award for restoring a hand-painted sign advertising the hotel that originates back to the 1950s. L-R: Mayor Janice Morrison, Leandra and Ryan Martin, Heritage Working Group chair Berdine Jonker and City of Nelson’s cultural development officer Joy Barrett. Photo: Tyler Harper

Heritage and sustainable leadership awards

The city also honoured residents for their dedication to heritage and the wellness of the community.

Hume Hotel received a heritage award for its restoration of a sign for the hotel on Baker Street that had been hand painted in the 1950s but was nearly faded away.

Berdine Jonker, chair of the city’s Heritage Working Group, praised hotel general manager Ryan Martin in her remarks for his efforts to restore the sign, which required consultation with a heritage expert and work by local company Valor Painting.

“Every aspect from the lettering and the spacing to the font was meticulously studied and recreated to ensure historical accuracy. And the newly restored Hume Hotel sign with its hand-painted charm and historic brick serves as an homage to the story and history of the community.”

The city’s sustainable leadership awards meanwhile went to Dan Thompson of Rokform Solutions, the Street Outreach Team, and George Chandler.

Thompson was awarded for his commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship, and a dedication to low-carbon concrete solutions.

The Street Outreach Team of Jeremy Kelly, Lyann Hunter and Ryall Giuliano were honoured for their front-line work with Nelson’s street community.

Chandler also received his award as an advocate for public spaces. Chandler volunteers with Nelson at its Best and in October helped organize a pop-up town square downtown.


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Tyler Harper

About the Author: Tyler Harper

I’m editor-reporter at the Nelson Star, where I’ve worked since 2015.
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