This is an example of just one of the pieces of art sold at the auction. It is called The Castor River by Megan Cameron. Courtesy photo

RUSSELL – A former Russell resident has held an online art sale to help out a Black Lives Matter (BLM) group in Toronto.

When Tessa Cameron heard about the debate over the namesake for the village of Russell, she wanted to do something.

Being an artist in her own right she is well connected to the artistic community in the region and set out to hold an online auction of local art.

She raised over $3,000 which goes directly to the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter.

She had bids from Ottawa, Russell and Toronto. The art sale ended on July 26.

Cameron grew up in Russell. “I have a very strong connection with the town of Russell. I grew up in Russell and lived there from the age of one to eighteen, when I moved away for university. I now live in Toronto, but visit Russell frequently as my mother still lives in our family home there, on the bank of the Castor River. My sister, Megan Cameron, who organized the art auction with me, also grew up in Russell and now lives in Manotick,” she said.

She has fond memories of her hometown.

Cameron said, “I have always felt a very strong connection to the town of Russell. It was a lovely place to grow up. In recent months however, the desire to be “home” has been stronger than ever. My father, Michael Cameron, who lived in Russell for 30 plus years, passed away on May 5, 2020. Leading up to and since his passing, I spent more time in Russell than I had in years. Being in Russell made me feel closer to my father and gave me a sense of calm during a time of despair and turmoil, both personally and globally. I had always been proud to call Russell my hometown, until of course, it was brought to light that the town of Russell was named after Peter Russell, a slave owner.”

She and her sister Megan heard about the petition to change the name of her hometown. “After all, this man’s politics and ethics are not reflective of the community we want Russell to be. After signing the petition in favour of the name change, we decided to organize this art auction in solidarity with the movement.

Since then, it has been decided that the town name will stay the same, but an official “re-dedication” of the name will take place, once the town has decided on a more honourable “Russell” to use as its namesake,” she said.

“I am a multidisciplinary artist,” she said. “I studied Fine Arts at Concordia University, specializing in drawing and painting, and then went on to study jewelry design and goldsmithing at L’École de Joaillerie de Montreal. For the Art Auction, I have donated both a jewelry item from my collection, and a watercolour painting that was created specifically for the event. The painting is of a Great Blue Heron, a majestic bird which can often be spotted along the banks of the Castor River. My sister, Megan Cameron, is a visual artist as well, and works as an arts teacher. She contributed a collage work of the Castor River, which was also made special for the auction.”

Her choice of Black Lives Matter for her donation was timely.

“The Toronto Chapter of Black Lives Matter – Canada was the perfect organization to send our donations to, for several reasons. After a little research, we found out that Peter Russell, the namesake for Russell, Ontario, had once owned two thirds of the slaves in the Toronto area in the late 1700s. We wanted the organization that we chose to be locally focused. We wanted the money that we raised to do good in the place that Peter Russell had once caused so much harm,” said Cameron.

The art auction was the first time the sisters took on this kind of fundraising but they were happy with the result. We definitely feel positive about the experience,” said Cameron.